► Aston Martin DB11 verification prototype driven
► We find out what the new twin-turbo V12 is like
► ‘The DB11 already feels incredibly well resolved’
The swirly camouflage reveals this is not a finished Aston Martin DB11. Instead, it’s a final verification prototype, meaning this car is largely representative of the finished product but requires fine-tuning over its final month of development.
Aston engineers are hacking about in a number of similar prototypes, but this is the dynamics car. Refinements from other prototypes will give the final bits of fairy dust to powertrain and stability control calibrations and the like, which will all meld in to the mix before production.
We took the opportunity to drive the car at Bridgestone’s Proving Ground near Rome, ahead of first deliveries scheduled for the final quarter of 2016. The DB11 wears specially developed 20-inch Bridgestone Potenza S007 tyres, 255/40 up front, 295/35 at its wide-hipped, broad-tracked rear – hence the testing location and prominent branding.
As it replaces the DB9, the DB11 is hugely important for Aston Martin. We wer invited along to get a first taste of this crucial new car, and to give Aston’s engineers some fresh input. One claims it helped ‘stop us disappearing up our own backsides’, apparently an occupational hazard when you spend weeks strapped in a car doing endless loops.
Is it an evolution of the DB9?
No, the DB11 is a clean-sheet design. It still uses a bonded aluminium chassis but it’s around 40kg lighter and 20% stiffer than before, though overall vehicle weight is similar at 1770kg dry; the DB11 is a bigger car at 4739mm long, 1940mm wide and 1279mm tall, compared with the DB9’s 4689/1912/1282mm. The wheelbase grows by 65mm, the tracks 75mm/43mm wider front and rear.
There’s a new bi-turbo V12, new electric power steering system and, of course, a gorgeous new Marek Reichman design too, which blends classic Aston cues with some very now aerodynamics. The side strakes and subtle vents sculpted into the C-pillars (and the air exiting via an aperture in the bootlid) increase downforce without the need for ugly wings. It’s the kind of aerodynamic sculpting we’ve seen on the Ferrari F12 and 488 GTB.
Another key new component is chief engineer Matt Becker, who plied his chassis wizardry at Lotus for many years before being enticed away by the lure of working on an all-new platform. He’d waited years for one at Lotus, and then five came along at once (only to disappear before production). With Becker’s reputation, we’re expecting great things from the electric steering and double-wishbone front/multi-link rear suspension, the latter being new to Aston.
Tell me about that new twin-turbo V12…
The DB11’s V12 might be new, but it’s still an Aston Martin-designed unit built at Ford’s Cologne engine plant. It displaces 5204cc compared to the DB9’s 5935cc, but the twin turbochargers boost power from 540bhp to 600bhp – and torque from 457lb ft to 516lb ft.
It’s not a massive leap (especially when the Vanquish squeezed 568bhp and 465lb ft from the old V12) but it feels it from behind the wheel because peak torque now kicks in from 1500rpm and hangs about until 5000rpm, where the old car needed 5500rpm to give you less. You can well imagine that there’s plenty of overhead in the new motor, too, with more power for hotter versions only a few more pounds of boost away.
The new V12 makes the DB11 feel much more urgent than its predecessor and gives it an unflustered, almost regal turn of speed that still combines a good dose of excitement. Better still, there are no drawbacks. The way this engine retains the Aston V12 character is truly impressive. It is immediately responsive to throttle inputs, and sounds as rich and fruity as a V12 should. In a weird way, the old naturally aspirated V12 felt laggier than this because it took a while to clear its throat and get on with it.
The turbo motor delivers peak power at 6500rpm, which isn’t huge, but I never clipped the limiter and – besides – the old car made all its shove barely any higher at 6750rpm. Is it as good as a Ferrari V12? Of course not, but it’s very good. Cylinder deactivation and stop/start tech promise further efficiency gains, but those figures haven’t yet been verified.
The V12 is married to an eight-speed transaxle, which is two speeds up on the DB9 but a match for the later evolution of the Vanquish. It’s quick enough on upshifts – especially in Sport Plus mode – and smooth too, but it can be a little reluctant to downshift on track. Unsurprisingly, a Ferrari dual-clutcher is far more incisive, but Jag’s eight-speed torque converter feels significantly punchier too.
You can leave it in auto, or control it via slender long paddle-shifters that are fixed to the steering column. Select Sport or Sport Plus and all you need do is tap a shifter for it to lock into manual mode.
How about the suspension?
The DB11 uses double-wishbone front suspension, with a multi-link rear, the latter replacing the previously favoured double wishbones. Three damper modes are available: GT, Sport and Sport Plus.
We started in Sport mode. The body controls its mass very well through direction changes, and it’s easy to bring the rear end into play, either through harder acceleration or just being a bit more aggressive with the steering; it’s a very adjustable, playful thing for all its weight and size – and traction is very good. But through faster corners it slips into understeer a little too readily for my liking. Aston is working on torque vectoring, and this should help push the inside front wheel into the apex.
And it has to be remembered that we were mostly driving on a fast, fairly technical circuit with some fast entry speeds. When we briefly switched to a much narrower perimeter road the DB11 came into its own, jinking left and right with exceptional agility, control and compliance, and actually feeling small and wieldy. This is when you really notice the step on from the DB9, which had a lovely languid balance, but not this level of precision and control. This should be how the DB11 feels on the road. You just don’t have the space to regularly stress the front tyres in that kind of situation.
Switch to Sport Plus and you notice the body control tighten up, the tendency of the front end to roll a little in corners – understandable with all that V12 up there – subdued, but it still feels compliant and precise, not skittish like some sporty modes can in rivals.
Does electric steering spoil things?
The DB11’s system can’t replicate the almost shocking tactility of the V12 Vantage S, but it’s very, very good. The 13:1 steering ratio is swift, and it builds naturally in its relatively light weight as you twist the rim off centre. Approach the limits of grip and you’re very clearly told what’s occurring through the helm via grumbles from the tyres and a drop off in steering weight; it’s impressively feelsome.
Brembo six-piston brakes with grooved discs are standard (there is no carbon-ceramic option), and hold up well to hard use. I’d prefer a more immediate bite from the top of the pedal, but we’re told a new brake booster is being added, which should resolve that minor gripe.
What about the driving environment?
Aston has worked hard to create more interior space in the DB11, and there is plenty of legroom and shoulder room up front. You sit low on comfortable and supportive seats, and the steering wheel is comfortably sculpted and relatively small, in a good way.
While the interior in this prototype wasn’t the finished article, there were several elements of note. The downward sweep of the centre console makes you feel cocooned in the car, upping its sporting feel. The TFT digital dash with its prominent central rev counter – no more backwards rev counters! – is both striking and easy to read.
Aston’s steering-wheel mounted switches for damper and powertrain modes are a little awkward, though, lacking the intuition of Ferrari’s brilliant manettino. It’s also hard not to notice the Mercedes switchgear and the carryover piano-black buttons for the transmission.
Apparently there’s 87mm more legroom in the back, but the DB11 is very much a 2+2 with emergency accommodation, and not a place to stow friends on a long weekend break.
Aston could have strapped us in the passenger seat and let chief engineer Matt Becker smoke us around the test track, so it’s brave of the team to let us have a go in a car that’s only 85% ready at best. Saying that, the DB11 already feels incredibly well resolved. It has a supple, biddable chassis, tactile, precise, communicative steering, and an incredibly impressive new turbo V12. It also promises to offer excellent comfort and refinement, though we really need a drive on public roads to verify that.
The stuff we’d work on? Sharper gearshifts (particularly downshifts), a more feelsome brake pedal at the top of its travel, less understeer and more subtle stability control intervention. Easy for us to say, somewhat tougher for Becker and his team to integrate into the finished product. But you can be sure they’re working on it, and when they’re finished I’d be very surprised if the Aston Martin DB11 wasn’t an exceptionally satisfying GT. We’ll find out soon.
See more pictures of the new Aston Martin DB11 here
We’ve been expecting you: new Aston Martin DB11 in detail, CAR April 2016