If anything, it’s a surprise it’s taken Aston Martin this long to do the whole SUV ‘thing’. Porsche’s first foray into the world of high-riding 4x4s seems like a distant memory, Bentley’s Bentayga has been around for a good few years now, and quite a bit of time has passed since Lamborghini unleashed the Urus.
Aston Martin is late to the party. Perhaps even past the point of being fashionably late. Having waited all this time, though, the British firm is doing things rather differently. Unlike all of its rivals, the DBX rides on a completely bespoke platform, something which has required a hefty investment.
With that in mind, it really ought to be a hit. It needs to be to Aston Martin what the Cayenne was for Porsche - a vehicle that turns the brand’s fortunes around while staying true to what its maker stands for.
A bespoke platform, however, does have its advantages. Borrowing one from technology partner Daimler would have brought with it various immovable ‘hard points’, but going their own way meant Aston had - as far as car design goes, at least - free rein. It simply wouldn’t look the way it does otherwise.
Speaking of which, it’s quite a compact-looking thing, despite having a similar footprint to a Porsche Cayenne. There’s a very Vantage-like rear, which I’m rather fond of, while the front owes more to the DB11. I’m still not sure about the latter, but it does mean the DBX is unmistakably an Aston from most angles.
It sounds like one, too. Thumb the starter button and the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 rumbles into life nicely. It may be sourced from Mercedes-AMG, but the use of Aston’s own exhaust system means it sounds unlike any of Affalterbach’s stupidly powerful road-missiles. It sounds distinct from any other V8-powered Aston, for that matter. It’s a little more grown-up, while still emitting plenty of childish pops and bangs despite the fitting of gasoline particulate filters. Aston is working hard to get some upshift noises added for the final production version too, but the GPFs are proving a problem.
Put your foot down and the DBX feels fast, but not ridiculously so. It doesn’t give you that wide-eyed look of surprise and terror experienced with the Cayenne Turbo, but it’s still faster than a car like this ought to be. 0-62mph is over and done with after 4.3 seconds, while the top speed is 181mph.
Interestingly, the power figure is different from any other car using this engine. You’re looking at 542bhp, while torque sits at 516lb ft. Each shift from the nine-speed ZF automatic gearbox is nicely aggressive, although it often seems a step or two behind when left to its own devices. There’s still a lot of software work to do, so the production car may fare better.
All of that poke is sent to all four wheels via the centre differential normally found in the Mercedes-AMG E63 S, distributed across the rear using an E-diff pinched from the same car. The E63, you might remember, is conspicuously rear-biased, and so it goes for the DBX, which can send up to 100 per cent of torque away from the front. Particularly in Sport Plus mode, it’s always wanting to step out, despite some vast 325mm-wide, bespoke Pirelli Scorpion tyres living at the back. The fronts aren’t much smaller - these measure in at 285mm across. Being a 2.2-tonne car, understeer in the middle of a tighter bend is inevitable, but the DBX does a valiant job of avoiding it.
What sticks out most isn’t the wannabe drifter stuff, though - it’s how well the DBX rides. And not just in normal mode - slap it in Sport Plus, and the damping from the three-chamber air springs is still soft. This brings with it some body roll, but that’s just fine. The DBX shows the clear understanding the development team had about the limitations of designing a fast SUV - it hasn’t just been given an absurdly firm ride (cough BMW X3 M cough) to make up for the extra suspension travel.
It does have some off-road nous, with on-paper mud-plugging ability more in line with a Porsche Cayenne (you’re sensing a theme here, aren’t you?) than a Range Rover. The closest we got to testing that was sliding around on some Omani dirt roads, which - while hilarious fun - didn’t reveal a whole lot.
A more useful experience was wafting back to the hotel, giving a chance to enjoy the ride and the plush cabin. Following the awkward integration of last-gen, hand-me-down Mercedes tech in the DB11, Vantage and DBS Superleggera, Aston Martin has finally discovered how to do infotainment properly. We have a nicely integrated screen - not one that’s poking out of the top of the dashboard - with newer, smarter software that’s still in use in various Merc products.
More importantly, it’s roomy in there. Aston likes to make a big deal about fitting sports car-style seats (they’re not far off what you get in a Vantage), and it’s paid off - legroom in the back is class-leading. The interior design is a step up from what the company has been doing recently, and a good sign of what’s to come. You get a huge boot, too - 632 litres, which is expandable via a 40-20-40 split rear bench. Sit one of these next to a Vantage (or a Porsche 911, perhaps), and you’ll have yourself a two-car garage to tick pretty much every box going.
This being a 1PT prototype (to be followed by 2PT and 3PT machines), we can’t make our definitive verdict on the DBX yet - that’ll come this spring when we drive the real deal. But if the DBX is to only get more polished from here, the early signs are good.
Perhaps the idea of Aston Martin’s future riding on something that, erm, rides high may not sit well with purists, but if you’re going to do the SUV thing, the DBX looks set to be one of the best ways to do it.