► First Aston to get an AMG engine
► 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 with 503bhp
► V12 DB11 continues on sale alongside
Perhaps there should be an ‘achtung!’ sticker on this DB11’s bonnet release, just for Aston traditionalists.
Pull it and they’ll not only discover a modern big Aston with a V8, but one built by a Mercedes-AMG person, in Affalterbach.
It’s the next logical step in the relationship between the two manufacturers, which started with the DB11 getting Mercedes electrical architecture. Some won’t like it, but get over that little hurdle and this new entry-level DB11 is very good indeed.
Click here for more on the new Aston Martin DB11 V8
So Aston is still building the V12 version?
It continues on sale, but it’s some £13k pricier than the V8’s £144,900. Other boons for V8 buyers include a 4.5mpg increase in fuel efficiency, to 28.5mpg, and a 40g/km CO2 decrease in CO2 emissions, to 230g/km.
Furthermore, naturally, the smaller engine is lighter and protrudes much less over the front axle. So the aluminium DB11’s kerbweight falls by 115kg to 1760kg, with the engine accounting for about 100kg of that, the smaller cooling system the rest.
A handy side effect is that more of this DB11’s heft resides between its axles: weight distribution swaps from the V12’s 51/49% front-to-rear, to 49/51%.
Click here to read CAR's review of the V12 Aston Martin DB11
The downside being you get much less power, presumably?
Of course, but there’s a little more to it than that. Aston has taken the engine from the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, fitted a new intake, exhaust and wet sump, and given the existing Bosch ECU a little tickle, with a particular focus on the torque map.
All told, the V8 makes 503bhp and 498lb ft, which is plenty, but easily shaded on paper by the V12’s 600bhp and 516lb ft.
Factor in power-to-weight, though, and the water muddies: the V8 is just 34bhp-per-tonne down on the V12, but actually 8lb ft-per-tonne better off. You might note at this point that AMG fits a much more powerful V8 in the E63 S. But product planning and all that.
Fire up the engine and immediately the V8 feels right at home, rumbling tunefully, ripping through the revs with an abundance of rich character, and crackling boisterously on the overrun if you select the bassier, crowd-pleasing Sport and Sport Plus modes.
There’s very clean response from low down the rev range, so little turbo lag we devoted effort to detecting it, and an impressive shove in your back from as little as 2400rpm. The V8 genuinely feels like it could be from the same engine family as the V12, and there just isn’t the feeling of selling yourself short than you get with some downsized sports cars.
The eight-speed ZF auto – arranged in a transaxle – is quick and smooth, but there is an underwhelming slur to its engagement. Nothing to frustrate, but a little extra snappiness in Sport Plus wouldn’t hurt.
Unfortunately we tested in very wet conditions, on Spanish roads that are typically baked with dust. The V8 struggled for traction on the ice-like surface, but we’ve previously found the V12 pretty capable in the wet; I’m inclined to give the V8 the benefit of the doubt. Need another go, etc.
Is the chassis much different?
The front springs are softer to balance out the lighter engine, with the rear springs unchanged. Settings for the adaptive dampers’ Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes are also said to feature more pronounced steps between each mode.
There are stiffer rear subframe bushes, with the aim of creating a more incisive response between your steering command and the rear axle’s reaction to it. The electrically assisted steering has also been recalibrated for a meatier feel, but 20-inch Bridgestone Potenza tyres carry over unchanged.
Very quickly, the V8 DB11 feels like a very different car to punt down a twisty road. You notice the extra effort required to tease the steering off-centre, and the consistency with which that effort increases as you wind on more lock, providing a rewarding sensation of accuracy and feedback, even if it is accompanied with something of a synthetic after-taste. Nothing wrong with the V12’s helm, but it’s noticeably lighter.
You also notice how much more energetically the smaller-engined model swings for the apex – together with firmer steering and the more aggressive response, it definitely adds a more sporting character, though the V12 hardly feels stubbornly nose-heavy.
The steps between the damper modes not only seem more pronounced, but even the Comfort mode feels significantly uprated. It’s never uncomfortable – there’s still a flow to the way the Aston tackles a tricky road – but there is a level of agitation over even relatively smooth surfaces. The payback is a feeling of tighter control of the body, particularly at the back end. Wind it up to Sport Plus and suddenly it’s so firm you’d probably only use it on a track – I remember thinking a V12 felt just about useable for a quick drive down a challenging road, if too lumpy at low speed.
The V8’s brake calipers’ pistons are smaller compared with the V12, which should result in a more immediate response at the top of the pedal. Our test car felt a little soggy – engineers wondered if it was due to over-eager journalists – which jars a little with the tighter chassis and steering. Carbon ceramics aren’t available, though the DB11’s actual stopping power wasn’t an issue.
How do I tell V8 and V12 models apart?
Good question. Inside, they’re identical, which means a 2+2 layout, more space than its DB9 predecessor, and lots of nice craftsmanship sitting alongside greatly improved infotainment and instruments. It also means disappointing seats, with rock-hard headrests, casual lateral support and less under-thigh support than a ski lift.
Outside, your hotel valet has more of a chance of telling the two apart, but it’s still fiendishly tricky: a new alloy wheel finish, dark headlamp bezels and two instead of four bonnet vents are as obvious as it gets.
V8 Aston DB11: verdict
Perhaps you won’t consider an Aston Martin without a V12, perhaps you really want the speed and sound of the big hitter, maybe its more languid chassis too. If you do, fine, the V12 is great. But we’d argue the V8 is the better DB11, because it’s cheaper, lighter, more agile, more fuel-efficient too, and almost impossible to differentiate from a V12. That it still sounds and goes like an Aston should only seals the deal.