► Riding in Aston's SUV
► New DBX unveiled on 17 Nov 2019, on sale in April
► First impressions of Urus rival
In March this 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.
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.
To find out how Aston Martin's most ambitious project to date is shaping up, we drove a prototype DBX in the hot, rolling roads of Oman.
Aston Martin DBX prototype drive
Before we get to the off-roading, we experience the DBX in city traffic – where the premium SUV customer will expect it to excel just as much as its Range Rover, Bentley, Porsche and Lamborghini rivals.
The car we’re driving is one of 70 or so pre-production prototypes running around the globe, in baking deserts and freezing snowscapes and into crash-test barriers, as Aston readies the DBX for its first customers’ eager clutches this spring.
We sit in plump, supportive sports seats, behind a digital instrument panel which will be configurable in the production car but is fixed in this car. Various active safety systems are also not yet connected, the display scrolling through a Rolodex of warning messages for active cruise, lane-keep assist and the like that are currently being tested on other prototypes.We pick up speed and the steering gets a chance to shine. As the roads get twistier it’s keenly responsive off-centre, yet still measured, and well insulated from bumps while giving you a decent report on the front tyres’ findings. There are two steering weights to choose from: Comfort and Sport.
We’re told Sport is ‘about there’ in this prototype, and feels good – the right mix of heft and feel. Comfort will be made slightly lighter in production DBXs for a little less resistance at parking speeds, based on feedback from female drivers. More so than previous Aston Martins, the DBX is being designed to target women just as much as men. Further to which, the floating centre console incorporates a stowage area beneath with space to keep a small-ish handbag out of sight next to its wireless smartphone charging pad.
Throttle response – from the same AMG 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 we know and love from the Vantage, DB11 and various Mercedes-AMGs – feels smoother than ever, and the gearbox likewise. That too is Daimler-sourced, a nine-speed 9G-Tronic auto.
On loose but fairly smooth surfaces it’s child’s play to incite and maintain a powerslide, holding third gear on the responsive manual paddles from corner to corner and dipping into the eagerly responsive engine’s 516lb ft reserves. In steady-state driving the DBX is 100 per cent rear-wheel-drive, but can bundle 47 per cent of its torque to the front when required, via an active centre diff similar to that found in the Merc-AMG E63, from which a carbon propshaft links to an electronically controlled locking diff at the rear.
Prodding from GT mode to Terrain or Terrain Plus raises the car on its standard three-chamber air springs; pushing the down button for Sport and Sport Plus hunkers the DBX’s springs accordingly. Altogether there’s 95mm of ride-height adjustment (higher by 45mm, or lower by 50mm) for the air springs, which are paired with adaptive dampers and mounted to double wishbones at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear.
Ahead of us are some wicked-looking ruts and rocks to traverse but the DBX sweeps over them. That’s thanks to both a stiff structure and eARC, Aston’s take on electronic roll control. Electric motors allow the car to optimise the roll bars on the fly, relaxing for effortless wheel travel on rough ground and increasing the bars’ anti-roll control at speed on smooth surfaces.
The Bentley Bentayga and Porsche Cayenne, among others, have similar systems but the DBX’s system is particularly powerful – as much as 1033lb ft of force can be applied to each axle.
In a straight line? Here the DBX has speed in abundance. The quoted maximum of 181mph is entirely believable given the way the Aston accelerates through its gears – not too shabby for a 2.2-tonne car, and a great soundtrack to match. The superb AMG V8 sounds purposeful when you’re trying and sublime when the taps are fully open but settles to an unobtrusive burble at a cruise. All courtesy of exhaust valves; you’ll find no speaker synthesis here.
What about the tech and interior?
The infotainment system isn’t fully up and running in this car but will use a clickwheel and touchpad combo, with similar MBUX software to the current Mercedes E-Class – which is not as advanced as the system fitted to newer Mercs. There is undoubtedly a danger this interface will feel off the pace when the DBX joins the fray in a market heaving with buyers hungry for the latest and fanciest.
Visibility is spot-on. With the driver’s seat motored all the way down to its runners, you feel properly embedded in the car, almost like you’re driving a GT, yet you can still see the end of the contoured bonnet over the curved dashboard, putting you at ease with the DBX’s bulk. A driving position that’s all things to all men and women is a tough brief but the DBX nails it.
Aston Martin DBX: early verdict
There’s one dynamic flaw at the moment, which Aston Martin promises will be sorted for production cars. The front spring rates are currently slightly too soft. When turning into a corner at high speed, there’s more roll than is ideal and a rather abrupt sensation of rebound in the first phase of a corner, which can rob you of a little confidence at speed.
Aside from that, it’s hard not to be impressed by this hard-working prototype, heat spilling from its brakes into the still-warm evening air as darkness draws in
There are still some rivers to cross between now and March, but in the development of arguably its most important car yet, they are leaving no stone unturned. And raising plenty of dust.
Check out our Aston Martin review