The Aston arrives at my house while I’m out walking the dog. In photos the DB11 can appear a bit flimsy and hollow at the front, as if there’s no engine under the bonnet and the front wheels are connected by a thin metal rod, like a Matchbox car. In real life, this problem doesn’t exist. The front is low, wide, handsome, and a tiny bit sinister. It helps that this demonstrator is white and all the grilles and gills are blacked in, as are the two rails running either side of the roof. This results in a slightly messy cluster of black panels around the C-pillar and back window, but overall it’s a very good looking car. Not as clean and elegant as a DB9 but striking and modern. Also, it immediately makes my son want to paw at it in an excitable way. And if an Aston Martin can’t elicit that sort of reaction from an almost-three-year-old, we’re in trouble. Opening the door for the first time, it does that funny diagonal sweep in the accepted Aston style, but the action seems smoother, the hydraulic stops more inclined to hold it where you want it. The whole thing feels of better quality and the same is true of the interior. Under the terms of a new deal with Merc that will lead to AMG V8s going into some models, Aston gets Benz electronics and with that comes the radio/nav/phone roto-controller from the S-class. This is no bad thing, because it works well. Keen Merc-o-philes will also spot the parts cupboard indicator stalk used in everything from the A- to V-. Since recent Astons have soldiered on with the stalks from the Jag X-type, we’ll consider this a step on. The buttons on the dash are home grown, they’re touch sensitive, and amazingly they work really well. The rotary headlight switch also seems to be Aston’s own and works with a delightfully crisp, hefty precision. Almost everything inside, from the little knobs that turn off the vents to the real metal gearshift paddles feels solid and high quality. It’s quite a shock. Even the little grille in the ceiling covering the Bluetooth microphone is a lovely little perforated metal disc rather than a cheapo plastic wart. Previously, Astons felt like they were doing their bloody best to feel expensive and well made but it was a ruddy nightmare for all concerned and, well you know, Ken’s on holiday this week and, oh for goodness sake Judith, help me hold this airbag cover straight while I, oh dammit, I’ve got glue on my hand now and, oh dear, it’s all skew-whiff, oh well, I suppose that will have to do. On the evidence of this early DB11, not any more.
There’s an Aston Martin outside but there are also other things that I need to be doing, so it sits by the kerb getting photographed by local yoofs. You can’t deny, the DB11 has star quality. Later I take the Aston for a trip to the supermarket. Waitrose, obviously. From this I learn that the DB11 has a smaller boot than I expected, and quite a narrow slot through which you must insert your Bag For Life containing your Essential hummus, langoustines and guava halves. You could probably get a small suitcase in there, but it’s more a squashy bag sort of place. Something nice about this car is the start procedure. The daft glass ‘emotion control unit’ bollocks of the old cars is gone, as is that ‘Power, beauty, soul’ horse cock that used to pop up in the instrument panel. It’s full keyless now. The key itself is reassuringly weighty, but it can live within your trousers. Then you dab the starter button in the middle of the dash to get full WHUUUUUUUMMMMM theatrics on start up or, and this is the clever bit, hold the button down to activate the ‘quiet start’ facility, which is less bellendic in a built up area or supermarket car park. I like having the option not to seem like an attention seeking tit. Sadly such good work is undone on this particular press demonstrator because it has an awkward number plate that starts DB11. Oddly enough, there’s no actual DB11 badge on the car, but it does have a pair of small, slightly naff V12 badges on the front wings. They’re a delete option, thankfully. Another observation from trundling around town is the quality of the ride, which is very good. It’s not super soft, but it cloaks firm control with fluffy edges in an impressive way. The set-up was signed off by an ex-Lotus chap which might be why it’s well mannered and comfortable without being mushy. It feels like a finely judged piece of work, even on the run to buy spuds.
The DB11 has a brand new V12, downsized from the 6 litres of the old car to a microscopic 5.2 litres. To compensate, they’ve added a couple of turbos and then cemented the general theme of greater efficiency by giving it a stop-start system. It feels weird to have a big V12 coughing back into life at traffic lights. Also, I’m not sold on the noise. Compared to the old Aston V12 it’s lost some gravel at the bottom end and a bit of Tom Jones doing Thunderball at the top. It’s a bit ugly and rough sounding at low revs and when you cane it, it sounds like the engine isn’t really enjoying it. Tonally, it’s just not as nice as the warm woofle of an XJR’s V8 or the alto fizz of a pre-turbo Ferrari, particularly when you know that V12s are inherently very quiet and smooth, and this is all just exhaust and intake chicanery.
My brother has come to stay. We go out for a drive in the Aston and I find a quiet bit of dual carriageway on which to give it the berries. ‘God, this is fast,’ he exclaims. He’s right, it is. And instantly so because, like a lot of new school, turbocharged performance car engines, you get the grunt straight away. There’s no chasing the on-cam explosion, no waiting for the revs to rise until the blammo moment of max power. It’s just there for the taking whenever you want it. Which isn’t quite as much fun, though you can’t deny it’s very impressive if you want to cause your own brother to smack his head on the cheesily logoed DB11 headrest. Another option, mercifully. You could order this car to look very tasteful. Or you could go for what I gather some people within Aston call ‘twat spec’.
At last, some free time to go for a proper drive. Starting with a long striding leap up the M1. The DB11 has surprisingly quick steering which, you might imagine, would make it a bit edgy on a brisk cruise. But not so. It’s a very relaxed, brutally fast way to chew some miles until finally we pull off the motorway and onto a nice stretch of damp British B-road. The first thing to note here is that, with the amount of power on tap and the instant way that great boulders of torque can be delivered, full throttle is not something you go near unless you want to trigger an excrement festival in your undertrousers. Instead, you tread carefully, squeezing it on with circumspection. That quick steering makes the car feel lively and agile, but combined with the torque-tastic delivery, you also get the sense that on a sheeny road surface the DB11 would take no provocation to kick out its tail and demand the finest dabbing of oppo at your earliest convenience. Sure enough, when I push the steering wheel toggle to change it into sport plus mode, which means greater engine and gearbox aggression, shoutier exhaust and more laid back stability control, it does indeed kick out, but in a very friendly, balanced way. It’s a bit wet out though, so I’m not turning off all the safety nets because there’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity, just as there’s not much gap between an email that starts, ‘Dear Aston, thank you for lending me your £160,000 car’ and one that begins, ‘Dear Aston, I’m so, so sorry for what happened…’
A good long B-road thrash later, I have to conclude that this isn’t necessarily the DB11’s natural habitat. I mean, it’s very good at covering ground and frequently good fun, but it’s also quite wide, that insta-grunt means you have to be careful not to accidentally arrive at a blind corner at what feels like 240mph, and the suspension sometimes gets a bit pattery and feels like it’s flustered by ruts and dips and potholes all happening at once, thought it remains good at soaking up bad surfaces for your comfort. There are three modes for the dampers, operated by a separate steering wheel button, but there aren’t great steps between so you’re really just choosing between slightly better ride or marginally better body control. The middle sport setting is a good compromise, but all three are perfectly decent and feel subtle in a way that betrays the hand of sensitive engineers rather than a leaden marketing department. The biggest concern for me is the brakes which are weirdly grabby round town yet feel soft and unreassuring at speed. The do actually slow and stop the car, but the pedal travel is too long and the feel too mushy. It’s a shame, because everything else about the DB11 comes across as amazingly polished, especially for a brand new design from a tiny company. Along with the brakes, the other exception to emerge today is the door trim which zizzes infuriatingly on that sort of rough British back road surface that seems designed to grate fallen bikers. It’s such a minor yet profoundly annoying problem that if this was my car, I’d be back to the dealer brandishing a copy of the warranty before you could say, yes sunshine, this gun is loaded. Then I pull onto an A-road and suddenly the Aston is in its element. With a bit more room to play with, with better sighted corners and greater overtaking opportunities, with a smoother surface so the fucking door trims don’t fizz like the dash of a nine year old Citroen, suddenly the DB11 finds its purpose as a sleek, leather lined missile, a destroyer of weaker cars, a potent, hand-made way to get to point B before the people at A have noticed you’re gone. It is sensationally good.
When I get back home, a man appears to take the Aston away and this is such deeply sad news I consider clubbing him over the head and then scarpering the long way to Geneva. It would be a pleasure. Apart from the GBH bit, obviously. There are a few flaws with this car of course. I’m not sold on the noise, the brakes are too soft for my taste, and the micro rattles from the doors undermine the otherwise convincing air of quality. But in all other respects, it’s great. More than that, it feels like there’s real intelligence in its design and execution. I like the calm, restrained design of the TFT instruments. I like the way they’ve accepted a bit of body roll and some heave over crests and yumps in return for an admirably comfortable ride. I like the way they’ve gone for church and state separation of the damper settings and the overall sport modes. I like the way they decided the standard Merc warning tones were too strident and commissioned a composition company to create gentler, more polite sounds and an indicator noise that sounds like the ‘muted tom tom’ setting on a 1980s drum machine. I particularly like the way you can start the engine without shouting LOOK AT ME! if you so choose. These would be fine, impressive decisions from a massive car maker like BMW or Toyota. But from titchy old Aston they’re amazing. It seems extraordinary that such a small, well-meaning but sometimes flaky company has somehow created such a modern, polished, accomplished car. It’s like discovering that a shambolic old mate from university who was tremendous fun but a total train wreck has not, as you expected, drunk himself to ruin and got arrested for stealing but is now the sales director for Apple. And is actually making an incredibly good job of it. Somehow, Aston has pulled this one out of the bag. A few little flaws remain, but overall the DB11 is a modern, charismatic and genuinely excellent car that still manages to feel like a proper Aston Martin.
The car talked about here is an Aston Martin DB11. It has a 5.2-litre, twin turbo V12 engine making 600 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 3.9 seconds and has a top speed of 200mph. Before options, it costs £154,900.