Aston Martin DB11 AMR Review: The Imperfect V12 Beauty

Chassis tweaks and a new set of lungs have transformed the DB11 into the car it should have been from the off

The Aston Martin DB11 AMR is not the car you probably think it is. With the ‘Aston Martin Racing’ designation slapped on the end, you might imagine it’s a slightly sharper, slightly noisier DB11 to sit alongside the regular model. But you’d only be half right.

The AMR is the DB11 V12 by Matt Becker. The former Lotus man joined Aston Martin too late to influence the way the original car handles, but the tauter setup of the later V8? That’s the doing of Becker and his team, and the V12 AMR carries over much of the V8’s chassis tweaks. Also, the 5.2-litre engine’s output is upped from 600 to 630bhp, and it sounds ruder than before.

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Rather than sell both this and the standard V12, Aston chose to bin the latter from the line-up. This almost seems like an admission from Gaydon that this is the car the DB11 should have been from the start. And now that I’ve driven one, I certainly think it is.

The problem with the DB11 Aston Martin launched two and a bit years ago was the soft suspension setup. Yes, the old DB9 had too brittle a ride for what was supposed to be a GT car, but the 11 went too far the other way. It’d hustle, but approaching the limit, the amount of lean would start to become somewhat alarming. And when the rear would break loose, the car felt uncomfortable and somewhat wayward.

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Now though, the body actually behaves itself in more demanding driving conditions, and it is, on the whole, a lot more settled. Suddenly, the DB11 feels a lot more comfortable with being driven like a sports car, but without ruining the whole GT car thing. The latter it can still do fantastically - you simply switch it back from Sport or Sport + to GT mode, and get on with wafting in supreme comfort.

You are still constantly aware of the huge mass of that engine dragging down the front end when you’re turning in - it’s 100kg heavier than the Mercedes-AMG-sourced V8 - but with sharp, fast steering and the V12 trying to do its own steering at the rear axle, the DB11 AMR is a very exciting car to drive fast. Not as capable as the Bentley Continental GT, perhaps, and it doesn’t feel like a car that’s several hundred kilos lighter. But I can guarantee you’ll be having a better time here.

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Traction is a little tricky to judge, as Aston Martin sent us this AMR on winter tyres, and damn, do they struggle when inflicted with 516lb ft of torque. Even in the dry I became intimately acquainted with the flickering traction control light, and in the wet….well, good luck putting down anything over half throttle. I found myself going for the Track ESP setting just to stop the driver aids further hampering progress - I’d rather have a little bit of slip at the rear axle, and this more lenient setting does a great job of letting you have a bit of fun while still giving you a big safety net.

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The deliciously smooth engine is the kind of having your cake and eating it affair we all wish big turbo engines were more often. And by that, I mean there’s loads of mid-range torque to play with, but you do still need to change up with the revs relatively high to get the most out of it. It’ll keep going until 7000rpm, should you wish. Is the extra 30bhp necessary? Not really, but I’ll take it, particularly when it drops the 0-62mph time from 3.9 to 3.7 seconds. That’ll do nicely.

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I suspect I’m going to unleash the hatred of the entire Internet here, but I don’t miss the old N/A engine. Aston’s 6.0-litre V12 was far less vocal in the DB9 than it was in the V12 Vantage and Vanquish, and now this downsized turbo lump has been made more shouty, I reckon the DB11 AMR sounds just as lovely. Plus, as a tourer rather than a sports car, don’t you think a torquey turbo engine is a better fit? Yes, there’s a sizeable dollop of lag with every full throttle application, but it’s a fair trade-off.

Everything that’s been done here has made for a better car. I can absolutely see why the ‘boggo’ 11 was dropped- who’d want one now?

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What Aston Martin hasn’t managed to do is improve the interior to a significant degree. The AMR garnish - which in this Signature Edition includes lime green stripes on the seats and roof - can’t hide an unattractive, cluttered centre console design. The plastic lower section is a cheap-feeling mess of controls, while the click wheel things on the steering wheel need an excessively firm push to work - on several occasions I found myself prodding them multiple times only for sweet naff-all to happen.

It’s not good enough in a car that costs £174,995, especially when the aforementioned Continental GT is a quilted leather world of joy on the inside - there’s precious little to pick fault with the fellow British bruiser. The Aston is there in terms of the leather work, which is beautiful, but it’s let down by sitting next to nasty materials and previous-generation tech borrowed from Mercedes which isn’t always integrated so well. Seriously, who signed off on the placement of the pointless trackpad, which gets right in the way of the rotary infotainment controller?

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Thankfully, though, the stuff the DB11 AMR gets right, it gets so right, that you’re willing to overlook things like naff bits of interior trim. You want one over a Bentley or a Mercedes S-Class coupe because it’s a striking vision of beauty with a god-like soundtrack. You want one over a DB11 V8 - which makes far more sense than this - because you just do. I’ll have mine with the big lime green stripe on the bonnet, please.