We’ve been expecting you: new Aston Martin DB11 in detail, CAR+ April 2016

Published: 26 March 2016

► We take a look at the new Aston Martin DB11
► 5.2-litre V12 with two twin-scroll turbochargers
► Daimler partnership brings interior upgrades

Bond got DB10. This year, and not before time, the rest of us finally get a new Aston Martin DB, the DB11. With an aluminium chassis, a V12 engine up front and some classic Aston design cues in place (albeit deftly re-imagined), you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘new’ is a bit strong. But new the DB11 is.

Get into the detail, from the rigidity and fiendishly clever packaging of that bonded aluminium monocoque to the twin-turbo V12’s wanton surplus of torque, the innovative aero solutions to the unmistakable dynamic fingerprint of ex-Lotus ride and handling ace Matt Becker, and it becomes clear that this is the Aston Martin we’ve been waiting for, one whose links to the past have been carefully edited: out with the carry-over engineering you don’t want, forwards with the values David Brown held dear. The timeless GT concept re-imagined with advanced fluid dynamics, elegant forced induction and a very sharp suit. No wonder it took a while.

Here’s why it’ll be a whole lot different than anything that’s come before:

1) Because the engine’s a monster

Sick of labouring up hills and having to back out of textbook overtaking opportunities because your 6.0-litre naturally aspirated Aston V12 is so lacking in guts? Gaydon feels your pain. Here is your salvation. 

‘Why are we down-sizing and pressure charging? Because we wanted 600bhp and we were at the ceiling of what we could do with the normally aspirated 6.0-litre V12,’ explains director of product development Ian Minards. ‘We wanted to make the car more fuel efficient too of course, but one of the great things about pressure-charging is that you get a lot more torque a lot lower in the rev range. Ultimately people buy power and drive torque. Plus turbocharging is more cost-effective than supercharging, easier to package and has lower parasitic losses.’

Gaydon is adamant the engine is an all-new unit but we’ve a hunch that the engine toolkit you’ve carefully built up over the last decade or so, for the maintenance and occasional fastidious disassembly of your old V12, will still be relevant.

Two twin-scroll blowers bring the forced induction, a much more 21st century solution than the twin superchargers that gave the old housebrick Vantage its unholy turn of speed, but interestingly there’s no Ferrari-esque fiddling to try to create a naturally aspirated feel here; no restricted boost at lower revs to encourage held gears and lofty revs. Instead DB11 promises effortless any-rev performance thanks to 600bhp and an almost omnipresent 516lb ft of torque. (V12 Vanquish enjoyed 568bhp and 465lb ft.)

Two vast snorkels feed the AeroBlade which, together with the small rising Gurney, mean DB11 can go wing-less

‘The twin-turbo V12 had to drive like an Aston Martin engine, like there’s a hand behind the car thrusting you forward,’ continues Minards. ‘That’s Aston Martin; effortless performance.’ He also promises a ‘healthy improvement in fuel economy’ and a ‘healthy reduction from DB9’s 325g/km CO2’, partly from the turbos and the reduced capacity, partly from stop-start functionality and cylinder deactivation, which will shut down one bank of six cylinders under light load and intermittently swap to the other to keep the catalytic converters warm and happy. Clever stuff, but crucially Minards reckons this is still a V12 to fall in love with: ‘It still goes and sounds like an Aston V12, just a different Aston V12.’ 

2) Because it’s a team effort

Laughable though his cars’ pace was last season, McLaren boss Ron Dennis is adamant you can’t be an F1 frontrunner without your own tailor-made engine. Ferrari makes its own motors, as do champions Mercedes, crafting their bespoke V6s and integrating them so seamlessly into their cars that they derive a competitive advantage beyond the engines’ bald power and torque figures. Aston will tell you the same level integration went into DB11, as well they might, but speak to the men involved and it rings true.

‘It’s the first time the CFD guys in my team have worked so closely with the designers,’ explains Matt Becker, chief of vehicle attribute engineeering. ‘Take the aero targets – they were set at the beginning of the programme, but only through the relationship between us and the design team could we hope to come up with a beautiful shape that also hit those targets.’ 

‘DB11 is about balance,’ continues Ian Minards. ‘We’re a leader in design so my job was to give Marek’s team what they wanted without compromising anywhere else.’

Art and engineering in harmony, or at least settling things with Queensberry rules behind closed doors? Sounds promising.

3) Because ‘it’s the most beautiful car in the world’

Aston Martin can legitimately lay claim to having given life to some of the most beautiful GT cars of all time, so it’s not like chief creative officer and Aston design overlord Marek Reichman could have taken up his role unaware of the pressure such an illustrious past places upon a car maker’s future. But still a brief demanding ‘the most beautiful car in the world’ – the words of Aston boss Andy Palmer – must have warranted a stiff drink and a long sit down. 

‘It’s fantastic to be given this responsibility and opportunity,’ laughs Reichman pretty convincingly. ‘Yes there’s pressure – the DB lineage is so important to this company; it’s been the backbone of who we are since David Brown – but I’m a competitive person anyway: every designer at the top of their game is their own worst critic. I’m not going to let the company down with something that I don’t think is the most beautiful DB car that we’ve ever produced.

‘The challenge was moving from the expected DB to something that wasn’t expected,’ continues Reichman. ‘Yes James Bond took DB10 but really the message is that we’ve made a generational technology shift, and we wanted that technology to be visible, to inform the design.’

For Reichman the DB11’s technologies presented two huge opportunities: to be able to set the car’s key chassis dimensions and proportions just as he wanted them, unencumbered by an inherited platform, and to be able to create a pure form uncorrupted by wings, fins and splitters.

‘I had complete control over the proportions – I didn’t have to fit them around an existing package,’ explains Reichman. ‘And the AeroBlade means we have no rear wing [air ingested at the C-pillars is directed to the rear of the car where it creates a wall of air, a virtual wing if you will, that’s cleverly speed-dependent – more speed creates a stronger AeroBlade effect] so we’ve been able to give the car this very clean, beautiful and unique silhouette at the back.’

There’s a little science in the DB11’s art too, with Reichman looking to the ratios and relationships found in biology, geometry and architecture to deliver a car that looks right because mathematically it is. ‘Lamborghinis and Ferraris are fashionable – Aston Martins are beautiful,’ he says. ‘DB11’s proportions are classical, and rooted in the golden ratio – one-thirds to two-thirds – that occurs again and again in nature, from the patterns waves make on a sandy beach to the elegant, spiralling beauty of a nautilus shell.

On the DB11 the ratio of body to glass is two-thirds to one-third. The bone line is set two-thirds up the side of the car, emphasising its length. And there’s sound visual geometry – the line of the A-pillar passes through the centre of the front wheels. You can’t avoid thinking the car’s proportions are good because I know they’re good!’ 

Here are some of the DB11’s key design highlights:

A powerful front end

‘This is the most powerful grille we’ve done, except perhaps Vulcan. The S-curve is really strong. DB5 was dramatic and DB11’s is also,’ says Reichman. LED headlights and four cooling vents cut into the vast, shutline-free clamshell bonnet (right), one of the largest single aluminium panels in production. Somehow the V12 sits underneath. ‘It’s tight under there,’ smiles Reichman. So tight the manifolds are recessed to take the struts of the under-bonnet cross-brace.

Pretty in (low) drag

Aston is calling them ‘Curlicue’ – we’re calling them front wheelarch vents. Whatever, the claim is of striking design and slippery aero (claimed cd is 0.36, versus DB7’s 0.362) in holy matrimony. ‘CC100 had a similar treatment, as did Vulcan,’ says Reichman. ‘Air is pulled from the wheel wells and directed around the screen, reducing lift and drag. DB4, DB5, DB6, DB7 and even DB9 were just about beauty. Customers now want to see the technology in their car.’

Those roof strakes

‘I wanted to change the upper character of our cars,’ explains Reichman. ‘I first showed the roof strakes on the DBX concept car – we had to know we could push that far. They’re dramatic. Go for the polished aluminium and in sunlight they really stand out. Just think how striking they’re going to be on a Californian coast road or in a city in the Middle East. They’re the feature this car will be remembered for.’

Timeless restraint

The fashion at the moment is to have a lot of visual excitement cut into the surfaces but that quickly dates,’ says Reichman. ‘On the DB11 the visual excitement comes from the restrained embellishment of the proportions – that’s my take on timelessness. It’s going back to the DB5, that same confidence. Take Jonathan Ive’s iPhone. It’s not fussy. It says, “This is pure, this is right”.’ 

Perfect proportions

Increased track widths gave the opportunity for an exaggerated waisting to the body. ‘There’s a real muscularity to the car,’ says Reichman. ‘The body has a pronounced coke-bottle shape with the most dramatic flare out to the rear wheels – it’s beyond One-77 even. Our DNA is in there but it’s also like no Aston we’ve ever done before.’

4) Because Gaydon stole Lotus’s secret weapon

Dynamics alchemist Matt Becker joined Lotus as a 16-year-old apprentice. He stayed there 26 years, helping create a series of cars – notably the series 1 Elise and Evora – that elevated the chassis engineers’ art to new heights; agile, communicative, involving. Becker’s cars even rode bumpy roads without breaking a sweat. Clearly the man has a gift. Fortunately for Aston he also had itchy feet…

‘I was ready for a new challenge and I’d always admired Aston Martins, they’re stunning cars and they sound great,’ explains Becker. ‘My reason for coming was that I wanted to make them drive great too; I wanted to add a bit more polish. I like working on new cars – one of the most exciting projects I did at Lotus was the Evora – and Aston was offering the opportunity to do a new car again.’

Becker arrived in January 2015; too late to input into the design work but just in time for a few modifications, and for the all-important calibration work. ‘When I turned up it all looked good, as you’d imagine – there are some clever guys here. But I was able to influence one or two things. I’ve got this thing about rear axle connection and stiffness. Someone once taught me that if you think it’s the front it’s the rear, and if you think it’s the rear it’s the rear. You need stiffness to give the driver the sense of immediacy and response you’re looking for. The numbers weren’t where I wanted them to be, so we did a new rear subframe. There was a reasonable amount of cost involved but Ian [Minards] and Andy [Palmer] wanted me to be able to put my mark on the car. 

‘DB11 is a GT car but because of the adaptive dampers and the torque vectoring we can turn that up and down, both in terms of dynamics and sound quality. In GT mode it’s a relaxing car. In Sport+ it’s very playful on a circuit; positive on turn-in, and it oversteers in a way that you can control quite easily. Torque vectoring is a powerful tool but if we use it too much you wear out the rear brakes really quickly. GT mode doesn’t use it much, not least because the car already has a fast steering ratio, 13:1 – DB9 is around 17:1 and Vanquish and Vantage are around 15:1. It comes back to the rear axle again and that stiffness I wanted. With that level of steering response the rear needs to be alive and awake.’ 

DB11 marks Aston’s first foray into electric power steering. On that front Gaydon’s a late adopter. The message, according to Becker, is relax: they haven’t messed it up. ‘Don’t panic! I’m confident the steering is very good. The fast steering ratio really helps with EPAS. My desire was to create a GT car that belies its size, that feels small and agile and that’s easy to position accurately on the road. We’ve done that.’

The Daimler touch

5) Because there’s a little bit of Mercedes in it (in a good way) 

Aston’s tie-up with Stuttgart means two things for DB11: a Comand-based interface now and the potential for a more affordable DB11 powered by an AMG-based V8 further down the line. The Daimler-based MMI gives Gaydon a modern, user-friendly interface, though the company’s quick to point out that it pimps the Daimler hardware and software beyond recognition.

‘The embedded system is Daimler but it’s our screen [an 8-inch TFT display, with a 12-inch screen for the instruments], our graphics, our sounds. The layering will be familiar but everything you see and touch is ours,’ says Reichman. ‘The rotary controller is a real metal part, and we have our own trimming around the touchpad. And we only chose the functions that we feel are right for Aston. So the 360° camera, yes, we’ll have that, because one of the biggest pains is pranging a rim, so now you can keep an eye on the kerbs.’

6) Because you won’t have to make excuses for the interior

Space, the GT frontier 

‘We’ve taken away a little of the intrusion that comes with a traditionally powerful Aston Martin centre stack,’ says Reichman. ‘There’s less of that sports car pushing through and more of you the GT driver pushing back at the sports car. In DB11 it’s your space – you’re more important than the car – so we’ve pushed some of the interior volumes away.’ Despite appearances headroom is up, by a significant 40mm in the back.

Everything in its place

‘Part of the GT remit is restraint – it’s a comforting place, not over-excited or tiresome,’ explains Reichman. ‘The inside of the DB11 is like a butler: quiet and in the background until you need it. Most endearingly it’s just a very nice place to be. The door handle is an aluminium casting that feels beautiful to the touch. The speakers are machined from billet aluminium. Even where carbon or leather appear on the centre stack, it’s less likely to be affected by sunlight – a problem we have in the current cars – because it sits lower.’

Authentic materials

Leather abounds, naturally, but whatever contrasting hard trim you go for you’ll see plenty of it. ‘60% of the door cards are given over to the material you’ve chosen, be it carbonfibre or wood,’ says Reichman. ‘The car really showcases its materials and everything you touch – aluminium, leather, glass, wood – is authentic.’ Aston clearly wants you to go to town; options include quilted leather, jewellery packs, brogue detailing, embossed headrests and open-pore ash inlays. And of course its Q service will be on hand to help.

Wheel of control

Winglet theme of the shift paddles is repeated in the controls for the different drives modes; three for the chassis (left), three for the powertrain (right). They’re independently adjustable and entirely distinct from the three-stage stability control (on, off and Track). Further steering wheel buttons and thumbwheels link to the MMI, with phone, volume and menu functionality.

The right toys 

Selective raiding of Daimler’s systems bin plus some of Aston’s existing gadgetry has given rise to a suitably genteel array of tech; optional 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system (standard is 400 watts), 12-sensor parking control with parallel and bay park assist, wi-fi hub, keyless go, that 360° wheel-saving camera.

7) Because it’s been designed to be personalised 

Aston Martin was quick off the mark with its personalisation service, Q. Bring along your favourite tattoo or cupcake and Aston’s steady-handed craftsmen will, sometimes begrudgingly, let you steamroller over the careful work of design brains far more educated than your own to make your dreams a reality. DB11 will offer huge scope for personalisation from the off, with a range of six broad design themes, from the elegant to the exuberant, and myriad material, finish and colour choices within those. 

‘We see through Q that our customers want very different looks to their cars, and you can do that with DB11,’ explains Reichman. ‘The roof strakes are a great example. Go black on black and the car looks low and sporting. Opt for the polished aluminium and the car stands up in the road. Or go completely covert with roof strakes in the same colour as the body.’

8) Because it’ll sound like an Aston Martin 

If all this talk of turbocharging and refinement has you worried the DB11 won’t sound like an Aston, relax. Gaydon is well aware you fall in love with the sound of its cars as much as their style or speed. 

‘In an Aston you want to be able to hear the engine, and for it to be genuine,’ says Reichman. ‘We’re not going to push artificial noise at you through a speaker. You hear the engine through a symposer that takes the best of the natural harmonics of the manifold – go up through the driving modes and you’ll hear more and more of it. It’s a V12 Aston Martin and it sounds like one.’

In response to customer demand the DB11 also has a quiet start function: press and hold the starter button and the V12 comes to life without drama or exuberant silencer bypassing, for those early starts and covert missions. 

9) Because they know aluminium

More stiffness (up 40% from DB9), less weight and more interior space – faced with a brief that tough it’s little wonder Aston’s engineers stuck to what they know, or more accurately everything they’ve learned over the past 15 years blended with the very latest in manufacturing techniques and metallurgy. It’s a state-of-the-art monocoque. It is not the old VH tub tweaked…

‘We’re not calling it VH,’ says Minards, flatly. ‘The principal is the same – a bonded aluminium monocoque – but it’s all new. We haven’t thrown away the construction principal because it works for us but everything is new, incorporating lessons learned on Vanquish, DB9 and Rapide.’

The lightest, stiffest structure Aston has ever devised comprises hundreds of individual parts glued together with epoxy. Fewer space-stealing extrusions and a greater reliance on sheet aluminium, some of it fashioned into fiendishly complex forms using hot quench forming, has created more interior space with larger door apertures for similar external dimensions, while the optimisation of each part’s individual design and material composition has increased stiffness while reducing weight. The suspension too is aluminium-intensive, with double wishbones at the front and a new multi-link set-up at the back, both controlled by Bilstein Skyhook adaptive dampers. Ceramic brakes don’t feature – ‘The car doesn’t need them,’ says Minards, simply.

10) Because it’s ready to take on the world’s best 

Porsche 911 Turbo S: £145,773 | 572bhp | 2.9sec 0-62mph | 205mph

New, now with even bigger blowers and still performing the same old script: (relatively) lowly 2+2 sports car does supercar fast with all-wheel-drive security and a couple of back seats. Still the default sports car for versatility with their thrills. A worry for Gaydon, though it’ll lack DB11’s exclusivity.

Jaguar F-type R: £86,810 | 542bhp | 4.2sec 0-62mph | 186mph

Equally British and beautiful but prefers superchargers to turbos. Available in a string of variants to rival Porsche’s line-up: V6 or V8, coupe or convertible, auto or manual, all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive. Extrovert, charismatic and very, very capable in R form, if lacking the 911’s focus (and rear seats). DB11 well beyond even the flagship V8 F-type R on price and power. 

Bentley Continental GT Speed: £156,700 | 626bhp | 4sec 0-62mph | 206mph

Nipped and tucked for 2016 but the Conti GT is still served in two distinct flavours: (slightly) more wieldy V8 and mighty, monstrous W12. Fantastically refined, the W12 Speed sits at the heavyweight end of the GT scale: to gel with it you need care more for effortless progress than nuanced driving satisfaction. Lovely though.

Mercedes S63 AMG Coupe : £125,595 | 576bhp | 4.3sec 0-62mph | 186mph

One from the Bentley school of GT engineering; fabulous, brawny engine thumping along a heavy but beautifully appointed cabin of sumptuous refinement. A handsome and very charismatic beast, if lacking a little in delicacy.

The spec: Aston Martin DB11

Price: £154,900 (including five-year service plan)
Engine: 5204cc 48v biturbo V12, 600bhp @ 6500rpm, 516lb ft @ 1500-5000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph 3.9sec, 200mph, n/a mpg, n/a g/km CO2
Suspension: Front double-wishbone, rear multi-link, adaptive dampers
Weight/made from: 1770kg/aluminium (dry)
Length/width/height: 4739/1940/1279mm
On sale: Now (first deliveries October 2016) 

Read more from the April 2016 issue of CAR magazine

By Ben Miller

The editor of CAR magazine, story-teller, average wheel count of three