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‘I’d rather be in Leicestershire’ is not a slogan long overdue its own T-shirt but, when it comes to roads on which to really get to know a new car, it’s a truth with few exceptions. Tuscany, California, the south of France – they greedily hoard more than their fair share of the world’s great roads. But one of the greatest can be made to link the Midlands with south Lincolnshire, and in almost everything I find myself driving the thought pops up: ‘What would it feel like there?’ Among friends it’s known, with only mild exaggeration, as The Best Road Of All Time (TBROAT).
One of many great things about that spring Thursday was the coming together of me, a DB11 AMR and TBROAT. Rain plumed from the Aston’s perfectly formed rear end and its endless nose swung this way and that over glassy, grip-free January tarmac. The pedal by which the V12 and I conversed was treated gingerly, and spent precisely no time buried in the carpet with carefree abandon. But it was still an entirely absorbing 20 minutes, and about the best way I can conceive of for starting to get to know this extraordinary car – a car that’ll be with us (well, me, let’s be honest) until summer’s banished January’s brittle chill to a distant memory.
So, why this Aston Martin? After all, 2020 marks both the 70th anniversary of the Vantage (the name first adorned a high-performance DB2 in the ’50s, with a high-comp engine and bigger carbs) and the seismic event that is the arrival of Aston’s very promising first SUV, the DBX. Both would be worthier machines for long-term stewardship, no? Well yes in the case of the DBX, but the idea is that Aston sells every DBX its new St Athan facility in Wales can make, rather than handing them out for months on end free of charge. And the Vantage? Lovely car, but the DB11 is surely peak Aston Martin; beautiful, almost practical, effortless, understated.
Since its introduction, with Aston’s ‘down-sized’ twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12 under the bonnet, the DB11 has become a three-car range: the V8; the drop-top Volante; and the flagship V12 AMR. (There’s a flagship beyond the flagship, the DBS, but that’s re-bodied and a discrete model.)
The AMR owes its existence to a conversation between CEO Andy Palmer, fresh from a thoroughly enjoyable drive in the then-new V8 DB11, and Aston Martin’s chief engineer Matt Becker.
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‘The original DB11 was a long way into development when I arrived,’ Becker tells me in a rare moment of down time at Aston Martin’s Gaydon HQ. (He’s busy putting the finishing touches to the DBX, mainly calibration of the electronics.)
‘The car wasn’t quite as connected as I wanted it to be; that sense of connection you want to the rear axle. When we did the V8 DB11 we made some chassis changes, not just because of the new engine but because I also wanted another go at the chassis. We increased the stiffness of the rear subframe and camber-link bushes. This boosted lateral support, for sharper steering, and at the same time we increased the low-velocity damper control, for more vertical support. The changes gave the sense of rear-axle connection I was after.
‘Andy drove the V8 on the launch in Spain and told me he really liked the feel of it. I told him why, and that it’d be good to have another go at the V12. Next thing I know we’re in a conference call and Andy’s proposing the V12 AMR; more power and my V8 chassis tune. A five-minute conversation with Andy turned into a new model. It happens quite often.’
Our car isn’t brand new but it’s so ridiculously clean as it sits for my delectation in Gaydon’s customer suite that it might as well be. The specification – those faintly polarising stripes aside – is fabulous. Skyfall Silver perfectly showcases the immaculate surfacing and just-so creases over which design boss Marek Reichman’s team toiled those many months. And all the details that made such an impression when I first saw the DB11, way back in February 2016 – the machined muscularity to the car’s haunches; the origami around the rear lights; the slash-like vents aft of the front wheels – have refused to date.
In Gaydon, under lights and amid myriad paint and leather samples and a tiny Valkyrie cockpit buck, the AMR felt alien, unknown and way too clean. A couple of hours later, thanks to The Best Road Of All Time, it was none of those things.
By Ben Miller
Logbook: Aston Martin DB11 AMR
Price £178,495 (£209,350 as tested)
Performance 5204cc twin-turbo V12, 630bhp, 3.7sec 0-62mph, 208mph
Efficiency 24.8mpg (official), 17mpg (tested)
Energy cost 41p per mile
Miles this month 445
Total miles 2577
The last time we lived with an Aston Martin: our DB9 long-term test