With the engine and suspension turned up to their respective ‘Sport+’ modes, the windows down and my right foot primed, it’s time to find out if the new Aston Martin DB11 has lost some ‘magic’ over its predecessor. And to also see if the throttle response and exhaust noise has been ruined. Why? Because the replacement for the DB9 has become the latest victim of the dreaded downsizing trend.
The looks have been radically overhauled, too. It’s still unmistakably Aston, but it’s now incorporating bits of the DB10 - James Bond’s ride - and the Vulcan track special. The result is - to my eyes - a car that isn’t classically beautiful like the old DB9. It’s a feast for the eyes, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing - there’s so much going on you could accuse it of being fussy.
With arguably inferior looks and the potential for disappointment under the bonnet, I’ve been approaching my first drive in the DB11 with trepidation. But with a windy Peak District road in front of me, I’m able to hoof it, finding that I needn’t have worried at all.
It’s at 2500rpm where the anger starts to build, and at 3000-4000rpm I’m pinned back in my seat. A quick scrabble from the 295-section rear tyres is quickly put down by the over-eager traction control, but before I’ve time to gather my thoughts, we’re already at 6500rpm - peak power - and it’s time for a gear change.
A tickle of the right-hand column-mounted gear shifter, and the next cog is smoothly and efficiently slotted in. That itself gives the DB11 a victory over daddy, as this ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox - mounted at the rear like in the Vanquish - is clearly leaps and bounds ahead of the DB9’s clunky six-speeder.
For the next sequence of bends, I hold it in third gear and find myself coming on and off throttle a few times, giving me a bit of a shock: this new engine is damn near as responsive as the old N/A; the throttle response is crisp, and as far as lag goes, I’m struggling to find any.
The move to our next shoot location takes me up the Winnats Pass, a narrow squiggle of asphalt winding through massive, imposing limestone cliffs. It’s busy at this time of year, but by some miracle, I’ve a clear run up.
Shifting down to second and burying my foot into the deep pile carpet - which I have the strong urge to shove my face in - those flipping great cliffs erupt with V12 reverb as the DB11’s twin tailpipes belt out an epic soundtrack. It’s smooth, creamy and throaty, and I love it.
None of this should come as a surprise. Earlier in the year I spoke extensively with Dr Brian Fitzsimons - Aston Martin’s Chief Powertrain Engineer - about the DB11’s new turbo’d powertrain, and he told me that due to the modest reduction from 5.9 to 5.2 litres, throttle response shouldn’t suffer much. Makes perfect sense: don’t make the engine too reliant on the blowers, and it won’t be a laggy son’bitch. But still, I’m taken aback by the sharpness of the thing.
The Good Doctor also insisted that the DB11’s shrunken motor would sound “as good as our current car,” something I was hugely skeptical about. Here, today, I’m ecstatic to announce I was wrong. If anything, its muscular exhaust note is actually superior to the old 5.9. To manage this, Aston’s engineers must have employed some Gandalf-level sorcery. And I adore the fact it has a 7000rpm red line. You don’t need to rev it as high as that, but you bloody well should do.
You seemingly get none of the usual turbo drawbacks, but you sure as hell get the benefits. The two twin-scroll turbochargers give the DB11’s 12 banger 600bhp to play with, and 512lb ft of torque. We’re looking at increases of 60bhp and almost 100lb ft of torque, with peak twist arriving at just 1500rpm - the DB9 made you wait to 4750.
Another stamping with the throttle sees me rapidly cycling through the gears and enjoying that more versatile torque delivery, and the sheer pace on offer. I’ve no trouble believing this is a car capable of 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 200mph. It’s even more economical: on the way up here yesterday, I actually managed to clock 31mpg.
It’s easy to get caught up in talking about that 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 nestling under the bonnet, simply because it dominates proceedings. But we can’t forget the DB11 sits on a whole new bonded aluminium platform with all-new suspension. Oh, and the power steering’s now electric.
It’s reasonable in terms of feedback rather than exceptional, and a little too light for my tastes, but you can’t argue with its speed and predictable nature.
What’s more interesting is what Aston has done with the chassis: it’s noticeably softer than the DB9 and its brittle ride. That means if you go steaming into a bend with a little too much enthusiasm, you’ll be administered a significant dose of body roll, and occasionally, some understeer to swallow with it.
But that’s how it should be. This is the GT car of the range, and there’ll be replacements for the ageing Vantage and Vanquish pretty soon if you fancy something more Chuck Norris approved. Besides, there’s a pleasant fluidity to the body movements - the DB11 never feels like a floppy mess, and the 600bhp going to the rear tyres can easily ‘cure’ the understeer if you’re feeling brave.
With our videographer for the day announcing he’d like to get some juicy static shots, I pull over and let the car tick cool, giving me the perfect opportunity to analyse the DB11’s bodywork. And you know what? I’m warming to the way this car looks. Slowly.
The DB9 may be more conventionally pretty, but look past the overall shape, and there’s not a lot else to see. With the DB11 on the other hand, the beauty is in the details. The concave arse with its slender boomerang lights. The One-77-inspired teardrop wing mirrors. That massive, one-piece clamshell bonnet. The more you look, the more you see.
It’s radically different from the Astons we’ve come to know, and that’s the point - Gaydon’s cars have become ridiculously samey in the last few years, so a little boldness is exactly what the company needs.
And there are clever touches too - the Aeroblade system, for instance, channels air through the C-pillars through to a slot in the bootlid, creating a spoiler made of air. Meanwhile a device called a ‘Curlicue’ pushes high pressure air out of the front arches through the ribbed side strakes. This, ladies and gents, is an Aston of the future, not the past.
Aston also needs more functional, better put together interiors, and - thank God - that’s exactly what the DB11 has. The leatherwork is stunning, the electrical systems - since much of them have been borrowed from technical partner Mercedes-Benz - actually make sense, and the whole shebang has an air of elegance about it.
So, can you seriously consider one of these £154,900 Astons over something like a Bentley Continental GT, making an argument that goes beyond a purely emotional one? Well, there are still flaws that might make you decide otherwise.
The doors require the Power of Greyskull to close on the first attempt. The cupholders look like a bit of an afterthought, and the finish in places - both inside and out - doesn’t feel quite as good as it should, something I’m hoping is down to the fact that ‘our’ car is one of the very first to leave the production line.
The brakes aren’t the best either. They could do with being stronger, and a little more resistant to fade (carbon ceramics aren’t available). The pedal’s over-assisted too, which takes some getting used to.
These aren’t deal-breakers, though - this isn’t like looking at a dated DB9 and choosing it even though logic suggests you’re doing the wrong thing. But has Gaydon neglected the emotional side in the process of making something that’s actually a decent product? Is it still a proper Aston Martin?
With our day’s filming at an end, I endeavor to find out. Everything is still set in the angriest mode possible, only this time, I up the ante and stick on track mode, which sees the electronic aids take a back seat, ready to intervene only if I do something extraordinarily dim.
Heading away from the hive of dawdling tourists, the roads are getting quieter, but are just as deliciously twisty. Now allowing for a little slip at the rear wheels without the traction control systems clumsily stepping in, the DB11 takes on a new ferocity I’ve not experienced all day.
Every apex nailed, every moment of wide-open throttle, every last-gasp gear change - I relish it all. Yes, it’s a drizzly Wednesday in Derbyshire, but right now I could be on the sun-soaked Route Napoleon in the South of France.
That’s all down to the way the DB11 makes you feel. It has character. It’s utterly lovable, and whatever you do, it’ll get under your skin. Sounds like a proper Aston Martin to me.