► Riding shotgun in Aston's SUV
► New DBX unveiled on 17 Nov
► First impressions of Urus rival
In March next year, Aston Martin will start deliveries of the DBX, its first SUV. The £158,000 off-roader represents a new market, an all-new platform, and a new production facility too; the DBX will be produced at St Athan in Wales, not Gaydon.
We’ve come to Aston’s new test facility at the Stowe Circuit, Silverstone, to get an early passenger ride in a camouflaged test hack, chief engineer Matt Becker at the wheel.
What does the DBX have to do?
No Aston has ever had to achieve more: not only accelerate 2245kg (more than Lamborghini Urus, less than Bentayga) from 0-62mph in around 4.5 seconds and top 180mph, but corner enthusiastically, grip securely, ride smoothly, encourage easy conversation at high autobahn speeds, wade through 500mm deep water, tow 2.7 tonnes and carry a 100kg roofload.
Its competitive set is tough, and Aston has benchmarked a long list of high-performance luxury SUVs: Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, Range Rover Sport SVR, BMW X6 M, Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
Becker – formerly of Lotus, where he also consulted on numerous projects, not just sports cars beginning with ‘E’ – describes DBX as ‘probably the hardest project I’ve ever done’.
Give me some DBX details
The DBX’s new aluminium platform employs extruded aluminium chassis sections with cast aluminium nodes at each corner. Torsional rigidity is 27,000Nm per degree. Becker’s happy with that. ‘You could make it stiffer, but then it’d be heavier,’ he says. The wheelbase is longest in class, but the overall length more compact than Bentayga – so longer than 2995mm between the axles, shorter than 5140mm between the bumpers, though Aston isn’t confirming yet.
There’s double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, standard triple-chamber air springs, Bilstein adaptive dampers, and a 48-volt active roll-control system to replace conventional anti-roll bars (which can induce ‘head toss’, or the feeling of a tall SUV rocking side-to-side). 22-inch alloy wheels are shod with 285/40 front and wider 325/35 rear tyres – a nod to DBX’s dynamic focus. A choice of summer, all-season and winter Pirellis is offered, however.
The Mercedes-AMG 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 has previously done service in both Vantage and DB11, here with 542bhp and 516lb ft – a shade up on Vantage, and Cayenne Turbo Bentayga V8 competitive. It’s paired with Merc’s nine-speed auto gearbox (other Astons get eight speeds) and a Mercedes-derived all-wheel drive system with a carbon prop, active centre diff and electronically controlled rear locking differential.
Five driving modes span maximum off-road ability in Terrain Plus, through Terrain, GT, Sport and Sport Plus, with the ride height adjustable through 75mm on the move (and dropping a further 20mm in access mode).
The interior of his test hack is draped in black fabric and far from representative, but you can see how it looks here. The driving position feels low set and sporting, but also extends through a far greater height range than existing Astons – tall men, small ladies, the DBX has been designed to make them all feel comfy. The back seats too (it’s a five-seater, at least at launch) offers generous room, even for those significantly over six-feet tall.
On and off-road in the DBX
The circuit’s slick from recent rain, but when Becker accelerates hard the DBX’s all-season Pirellis dig in to the surface and we shoot forwards, the V8 sounding warm, rich and purposeful if not as overtly sporting as the Vantage – nicely judged for the market, in other words. It’s quick too – not sensationally rapid, but flexible through the rev range and more than quick enough to lend urgency and drama to what’s playing out through the windscreen. No doubt there’ll be faster ones, but personally I wouldn’t feel the need for anything swifter.
Becker says he likes this circuit, but it’s quite tight and technical, and that he’s got to be careful not to dial out too much understeer during development. ‘You get to the faster stuff and suddenly you think “ah, that’s a bit pointy [oversteery]”. It’s why we cross-check at our Nürburgring facility.
Nonetheless, it’s notable how keenly the DBX grips and turns in to the first slow left-hander, then grips hard again as we get back on the power. The active diff and torque vectoring contribute to the agility, though there’s no rear-wheel steering - Aston has ‘package protected’ for it, so there’s no reason the new platform couldn’t accept it later. ‘The systems can feel weird, and we have a lot to integrate already, so we didn’t want to introduce too much at once,’ is Becker’s take.
The DBX isn’t only about composure – it’s tuned for playfulness too, especially in Sport Plus, the only mode in which stability control can be disabled. Becker explains that the active centre diff typically puts 100 per cent of drive to the rear wheels in steady-state driving, with a maximum of 47 per cent to the front (the peak load for the transmission, but Becker wouldn’t want to chuck any more forwards anyway). When he pitches it in to the next left-hander, it feels highly rear-wheel drive – there’s what seems like silence as Becker uses a little body roll to rotate the DBX into oversteer off-throttle, then blips at the throttle to ride out the slide smoothly, with seemingly little of the frantic scrabble and correction you often get when all-wheel drive suddenly diverts power to the front axle.
It’s a nice trick to prove the bandwidth of the DBX’s chassis, but mostly, of course, owners would be in less aggressive modes with stability control engaged, relying on the system’s inherent traction. It’ll do that too.
Becker says these aren’t quite the final chassis settings, and that they’re working on finessing impact absorption at the front and that he’ll tweak the 48-volt active anti-roll for a little less body roll in Sport Plus. It’s a fiendishly complex system controlled by electric motors at each axle that can muster 1033lb ft (more than rivals), and could actually make the DBX roll in the opposite direction to the corner if that was actually desirable. It also has to complement tuning of the steering, diffs, air springs.
But already the DBX has less roll-per-g than the Vantage, has achieved faster corner speeds (slow corners and faster corners too) and can out-brake the DBS Superleggera, despite lacking the latter’s carbon-ceramic brakes – the 22-inch tyres provide big contact patches, and the bespoke Pirelli P Zero rubber is apparently now approaching grip levels previously offered by the far more hardcore Corsa tyre.
A quick trip around a tricky off-road course suggests the DBX has more off-road ability than owners will need (certainly far more than the A6 Allroad levels of capability initially planned) and that it’s refined, comfortable and suitably dynamic on-road too.
Aston Martin DBX: first impressions
The DBX certainly seems an impressive package from the passenger seat, then, and we’ll report back on what’s it’s like from the other seat early next year.
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