As the rear tyres light up in third gear and the 5.9-litre V12 up front lets out an ungodly snarl, I realise that sport mode on a near-freezing, damp road probably isn’t the best idea. But, as I’m piloting this Aston Martin V12 Vantage S (below), marvelling in its magnificent naturally-aspirated engine, I’m wondering just how its turbocharged replacement will hold a candle to it.
It’s a week and a half before the Aston Martin DB11 is due to make its debut, and happily, I’ve been granted an audience with the new car and given some time with Dr Brian Fitzsimons - the company’s Chief Powertrain Engineer - to find out as much as I can about the new V12.
No one is immune from downsizing, so it’s no surprise to see that Aston Martin has produced a smaller, turbocharged V12. “Surprisingly, there is still demand for more power and more torque. To get more power and torque, it means we have to turbocharge it, and that actually is where the industry is going,” Fitzsimons explains.
In the new engine, displacement is down to 5.2-litres, and it’s gained a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers, plus a pair of charge coolers. To cope with the force and pressure of turbo power, almost every component needed replacing: the block, the cylinder head, pistons, con rods and crank shaft - it all had to go.
Although it’s a smaller engine, there was never the chance of a drop in cylinder count. Fitzsimons says: “the fact that our halo engine was going to be a V12 was never in doubt. The all-new V12 twin-turbo unit gives us an engine that will be a credible proposition moving into the future”
When Aston Martin’s technical partnership with Mercedes-AMG was announced, speculation suggested that the company’s next V12 would be sourced from Affalterbach. While it’s understood (but unconfirmed) that the AMG 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 will make its way into Aston Martin models in the future - including the DB11 - an AMG V12 was never an option.
“It had to be a V12, and it had to be our V12. The option of an AMG V12 was never on the table,” Fitzsimons confirms.
As far as full-on production engines go (ignoring the 7.3-litre lump in the One-77, since it was a limited affair), this is the most powerful engine Aston is yet to produce. We’re looking at 600bhp and 516lb ft, up from 568bhp and 457lb ft in the former most powerful Aston - the Vanquish - and up from 540bhp and 420lb ft in the DB9 GT.
Pleasingly, there’ll be plenty of need to rev it out, with peak power coming in at 6500rpm, just 250rpm down on the N/A DB9 GT. Predictably peak torque is now a lot lower, with the full 516lb ft felt from 1500-5000rpm - on the DB9 you had to wait until 4750rpm.
What we love most about the old engine is the beautiful soundtrack it kicks out of the tail pipes. While we remain a little skeptical that the new one will provide quite such a gorgeous note with a pair of turbochargers sucking on the exhaust gasses, Fitzsimons is adamant that it’ll sound just as good.
The fact that you’ll still need to crank it up to around to 6500rpm for peak power helps (as does the 7000rpm red line), but Fitzsimons also explains that having electronic wastegates - as opposed to pressure actuated - that are programmed to open exactly when needed will help. “We’ve worked really hard on mapping [the wastegates] and making sure that [the DB11] does sound as good as our current car,” FItzsimons states.
Exhaust technology will help too, as the DB11’s stainless steel pipework is electronically-controlled. Its levels of shoutiness vary depending on whether you have the DB11 set to GT, Sport or Sport Plus mode, and there’s no synthesised nonsense sent through the speakers.
On the subject of noise, there’s also a new ‘quiet start’ feature, which prevents what Aston refers to as the ‘rousing flare of revs’ you get on start-up, or as your neighbours would probably put it ‘that douchebag down the road making noise in his flash car’. A good thing to have if you ever leave the house early….
After sound, the next worry with a move to a turbocharged engine is responsiveness. Fortunately, Aston Martin has an answer here too, as explained by Fitzsimons:
“Because we’ve put turbochargers on it, we can now take the engine and make it a little bit smaller. But not too small, because what we want to do is retain sufficient capacity in the engine to allow it to breathe when the turbochargers are not working. That means you can get far better throttle response.”
As with Aston Martin’s current engine line-up, the new motor will be made by Ford at the Blue Oval’s Cologne factory. “We engineer that engine into that plant to be manufactured by that equipment. Don’t forget that’s the same plant that’s won Engine of the Year for the three-cylinder fox engine for the last three years,” Fitzsimons says.
It makes sense: Aston has a good thing going with the Cologne plant, and shifting manufacturing over to the UK would require a colossal investment.
When we took the DB9 GT to Wales last year, we reset the trip computer at the beginning of a day of hard driving, and ended up with a rather scary figure of 6.6mpg.
While there are no economy and emissions figures for the new engine at the moment - as it’s yet to be certified - it should be a damn sight more efficient, and not just because of the reduction in size. There’s also cylinder deactivation for the first time in an Aston engine, which is able to shut down one bank of cylinders when not needed.
OK, so we’re not strictly talking about the engine itself here, but where the V12 engine sends its power is of interest. It’s one of only two cars in production to have ZF’s slick eight-speed automatic gearbox mounted at the rear in a transaxle configuration - the other being Aston Martin’s own Vanquish. Having it mounted at the back means more space for those sitting in the front, and better weight distribution.
The six-speed ZF ‘box in the old DB9 is a tad cumbersome, so we’re pleased to see it replaced with the eight-speeder.
600bhp is just the start for this engine. Once it appears in the Vanquish replacement (and hopefully the Vantage replacement, if Aston doesn’t come over all sensible and just stick to a V8 in the ‘baby’ of the range), we’ll be looking at a lot more poke. How much more power is the engine good for? Gaydon is remaining coy on that for now, but Fitzsimons did exclaim “lots!” when pushed.
Given that Aston Martin has given the DB11 a healthy 60bhp boost over its predecessor, we could be looking at a Vanquish with 650bhp or beyond. And if there are any special, limited models like the One-77 on the horizon, even more than that.