First drive: 2017 Aston Martin DB11

The DB11 may be an Aston for Americans, but it hasn't lost its V12 accent

Every so often, I wake from a terrible nightmare. When I enter the dream world, there isn’t a 20-foot shark waiting in the deep cerulean waters, nor is there an axe-wielding lunatic panting from behind a rotting shed. Rather, my nightmare is set somewhere in the not too distant future, and I’m in a tremendous panic from behind the wheel of a sports car.

Aston Martin DB11 keeps the dream of driving alive and keeps the nightmare of mundanity at bay.

Ten minutes into the dream, I’ve finally been able to regain control from the autonomous driving system once the vehicle was a “safe distance” away from civilization. “Finally”, I think to myself, I can do some proper driving. But my glee quickly turns to horror as I turn the wheel and mash the throttle. I hear nothing; I feel nothing. My eyes tell my brain that the car is turning and that my surroundings are blurring from an increase in velocity…but my hands and feet process no feedback.

I want to weep. “This isn’t driving!” I cry out to an empty cabin. As if in response, the on-board computer chimes in, “highway approaching…resuming autopilot.” A small but painful shock pierces my hands. The steering wheel has electrocuted me for attempting to fight the transition.

I’m awake again, and terrified.

First drive: Aston Martin’s 12-cylinder opus reaches its crescendo in the last-ever DB9

I used to think I was cracking up: I mean who’s afraid of their car? But then I spent some time with Aston Martin’s CEO Andy Palmer – In Siena, Italy as it were. While I can’t say whether the automotive executive has quite the same nighttime trauma, I can say this: he and his brand are concerned for the future of driving. It’s his hope (and mine) that the Aston Martin DB11 keeps the dream of driving alive and keeps the fear of mundanity at bay.

The Aston Martin difference

Hopefully, you’ve heard of Aston Martin. The UK-based automaker that’s supplied 007 with transportation in the last several Bond films produces some of the most beautiful vehicles in the world, each with the absolute minimum of computer-controlled mechanics. Aston’s leadership wishes the brand could continue dishing out unfiltered sports cars until the end of time, but reality is an ugly beast.

Emissions and fuel economy regulations are tightening, quickly, and a fleet of naturally aspirated V12 and V8 cars simply won’t fly. Additionally, by Palmer’s own admission, Aston Martin struggles to gain traction in the American market. “We’ve agonized over how to communicate who we (Aston Martin) are to Americans. It’s like Cricket: to us, it makes sense, but Americans have only heard of it and don’t quite understand it.”

So here’s the plan: between now and 2020, AM will produce one all-new model each year, including a fully electric car (RapidE), a crossover (DBX), and replacements for its Vantage, Vanquish, and DB9. The latter car is the reason I’m in Italy (rough life – I know). The DB11 is a grand touring sports car that aims to capture the iconic beauty of its predecessor while modernizing the brand and helping American consumers catch the vision.

Functional beauty

For the last dozen years, the DB9’s silhouette has loosened the jaws of onlookers while its V12 bellow crammed velvet in their eardrums. Wouldn’t you love to be the chap tasked with following that up?

The DB11 is like reveling in a production of Troilus and Cressida, leaving the audience in a passionate sweat.

Thankfully, a team of designers has risen to the challenge, and broken the damn mold. Aston Martin’s Chief Creative Officer, Marek Reichman is walking me through the DB11’s styling, but I can’t seem to focus on his words. The car is singing its siren song and my brain has turned to putty. In the brief moments where I return to reality, I catch notes about the vehicle’s single-piece clamshell hood, wider aluminum grille, shark-like nose, and airflow manipulation.

There would be time to analyze each body panel, but not until the DB11’s amalgamation has totally consumed me. More than any Aston Martin models before, the DB11’s aerodynamics compliment its design. The aggressive chin splitter pulls air over the front tires, through the curly-cue air ducts, along the jutting side skirts, into the open C-pillar buttresses and through the trunk. The exiting air is tightly funneled over the rear end in the form of a patented “airblade.” As the DB11 gains speed, this invisible spoiler can propel air up to a meter high.

First drive: We left the skis at home and shredded some powder in an Aston Martin instead

Wider, longer, and lower than the DB9, the DB11’s bonnet seems endless, its rear haunches are nearly horizontal shelves, its floating roof strake is like a stylist’s swath of color in an aphotic hairdo, and its rear has been creased into slivers of light and metal. Even motionless, the DB11 is like reveling in a production of Troilus and Cressida, leaving the audience in a passionate sweat.

Perennial plushness

As mystifying as the DB11’s exterior may be, owners will, eventually, consider driving the thing. And here’s where the nouveau Aston Martin experience truly begins.

Gone are the DB9’s analog gauges, low-resolution displays, and chunky dashboard designs. Instead, a blend of supple leather, Alcantara, ornate stitching, and glass surfaces are paired with a choice of open-pore wood or chopped carbon inlays, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, and Mercedes-Benz’s electronic architecture. This is a thoroughly contemporary cabin with all the luxurious amenities that define the grand touring segment.

2017 Aston Martin DB11 First Drive
Miles Branman/Digital Trends
Miles Branman/Digital Trends

Though the DB11 comes equipped with Merc’s COMMAND infotainment and a digital driver display, it’s not quite the S-Class technology experience. Still, the system is a considerable upgrade from Aston’s AMI III module and includes features like a surround view camera system, smartphone integrated contacts and music, navigation, and vehicle settings from either the steering wheel controls or mouse. The center stack has also been updated with a myriad of touch controls and a line of toggles for key functions like the defroster and fan speed.

Driver and passenger are treated to sculpted front buckets that provide a respectable amount of support but stop short of gripping too tightly – after all, this is a car designed with the more “robust” American buyer in mind. Rear passengers benefit from an ounce of additional legroom compared to the DB9, but the molded seats are still no place for full-size adults.

The enveloping cabin is exquisitely constructed by hand yet there is nary a man-made fault to be found. Each stitch and panel is perfectly fabricated. This is certainly Aston Martin’s most sumptuous cabin ever, with contemporary conveniences to please occupants even when the DB11’s all-new V12 is in its most tranquil state.

Go on, drive it

The DB11 is powered by a new 5.2-liter twin-turbocharged V12 that produces 600 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Connected to a ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox, the sports car catapults to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and effortlessly muscles its way to a 200 mph top speed. For now, the DB11 is available exclusively with 12-cylinder power, but we can expect a bi-turbo V8 from Mercedes-Benz to slot under the hood in the near future as an entry-level variant.

Despite its larger dimensions, the DB11 is 86 lbs lighter than the outgoing DB9, augmenting the potency of its more powerful engine. Aston’s engineers have also managed to pull the powertrain completely behind the front axle, a first for the brand. Rounding out the performance enhancements are a dynamic torque vectoring system and adaptive drive modes. The latter system can independently tune the powertrain and suspension for GT (comfort), Sport (excitement), or Sport+ (you’d better be paying attention) characteristics.

As I wend my way through Tuscany’s narrow, serpentine roads, I can imagine a satisfied smirk on the faces of Aston’s vehicle development crew. The surge of power above 3,000 rpms is deftly controlled by the DB11’s duo of braking performance and torque vectoring. In an instant, the suspension morphs from pliant to nimble, squeezing the DB11’s substantial body through tight bends with ease. Governing the car’s electric steering system (another first for AM) through each corner is equally satisfying – and confounding to my hydraulic rack loyalties.

And all the while that V12 melody draws Italians from their homes in search of its source. But I’m long gone, vanquishing all traces of my old nightmare.

Highs

  • Stunning Design
  • Ferocious Power
  • Adaptive Suspension
  • Precise Steering
  • Exquisite Interior

Lows

  • Restricted Forward Visibility
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