Knowing what we know about car writers, we can safely assume that at least four out of every five of them in attendance at the Geneva motor show this week planned — probably well in advance — to evoke a tired bit from This Is Spinal Tap in their coverage of the debut of Aston Martin DB11. And yet, as unimaginative as such a reference surely is (and it is), there is some truth to it. In creating its successor to the 13-year-old DB9, Aston Martin pushed, quite boldly, into new territory. The new DB is more sophisticated, more user-friendly, more capable, more comfortable and, though it hardly seems possible, more beautiful than the car it replaces. Aston’s DB11 is, stated plainly, Geneva’s Best in Show.
The DB11 is the first new Aston to leverage the company’s budding relationship with Daimler — an agreement that eventually will beget a bespoke Aston-AMG V8 engine — and it does so with impressive finesse. That’s a good thing, because this is an important car for Aston Martin — probably the most important model in its 103-year history. It the first to follow CEO Andy Palmer’s ambitious strategy to catch the eye — and win the loyalty — of his ideal customer: a wealthy American woman in her 30s. He’s even given his fictional dream girl a name: Charlotte. “She’s a cool lady, she’s an attractive lady,” Mr Palmer told BBC News in an interview last year.
And the svelte DB11, which is fearsome without being frightening, happens to be a very cool car.
The shape is an artful mash-up of DB9 and Vanquish cues, with a helping of the made-for-Spectre DB10 thrown in, as well (the wheels, for instance, are straight from the DB10, and are even fitted with bespoke Bridgestone “S007” tyres). A vast forward-opening clamshell bonnet defines the front end, and the rear features a dazzling bit of airflow-management magic called AeroBlade (that’s a trademarked term, mind). Aft of the C-pillars, subtle openings channel air into the rear body work and out through a narrow slot on trailing edge of the boot lid. Aston calls it a “virtual spoiler”, and it generates significant down-force at speed without requiring a ungainly fixed wing. So clever.
The DB11 uses a new twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12. The engine, designed in-house, produces 600 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque — which is, yes, more than the naturally aspirated 6-litre V12 in the flagship Vanquish. For now, at least. Aston promises the DB11 will run from zero to 62mph in 3.9 seconds, which is brisk if not world-beating, and keep moving until the speedometer needle touches the 200mph mark.
The 2+2 interior is as enticing as the exterior, and entirely more habitable by humans — two plus two of them, in fact. And the boot, claims Aston, is “large enough to accommodate two large holdalls plus carry-on baggage”. The cabin materials, colours and textures — particularly the brogue-detailed leather surfaces — are sumptuous and daring, highly evolved from the DB9 yet unmistakably Aston. Gone, alas, is the crystal-topped Emotional Control Unit, a conversation-piece key that slotted into the centre console and served as a glowing engine-start button.
Aston prudently leaned on Daimler to help develop the DB11’s instrumentation and infotainment setup. A 12-inch TFT LCD screen provides a virtual gauge cluster, with infotainment functions handled on an 8-inch screen atop the centre console. A rotary knob controller is standard, but buyers can opt for a clever touchpad (from the Mercedes S-Class) that incorporates character recognition, multi-touch and gesture support.
Now, the DB11 again highlights a small problem for Aston Martin: model overlap. The company makes several rather similar sporting cars. The V12-powered DB9 served alongside the V12-powered DBS and the V12-powered Vanquish, and for a short time a V12-powered DB9 lookalike called Virage joined the mix. Aston will be quick to note that each model is meaningfully different, but there’s no denying that Gaydon builds more than its share of long-bonnet-two-door-twelve-cylinder grand tourers.
One clever way the company is differentiating its models is by shaping their “sonic identities.” Simply stated, this is the way a DB11 sounds — and not just the exhaust note, but traits like the fasten-seatbelt warning tone and the click of a turn-indicator stalk or the creak of the leather on the driver’s seat. Says Aston, “Each [sound] has been paid close attention so they have harmony and a proportionate context to one another. Nothing has been left to chance.” This kind of psycho-acoustic fine-tuning — the conscious decision to make a warning chime sound “suggestive” rather than “demanding” — is quite cutting-edge, and further highlights the DB11’s importance, both to Aston and the industry at large, where vehicles are increasingly created through corporate partnerships (the mechanically similar Mercedes-Benz GLA and Infiniti QX30 come to mind).
This year’s Geneva motor show was surely not without its heavy hitters. The Bugatti Chiron and the Lamborghini Centenario are faster, more tech-laden and more dramatic than the DB11 (though not necessarily in a good way), but the Aston comes off as more original, surprising and important. Even working within Gaydon’s well-known DB boundaries — twelve cylinders, long bonnet, et cetera — Aston’s stylists managed to create a car that feels absolutely fresh. Unlike most of the performance-car debuts in Geneva this week, the DB11 exists not for the sake of simple one-upsmanship or braggadocio. It exists for something better, something more lasting: progress.
Aston Martin kindly included pricing in its debut announcement: The DB11, deliveries of which commence late this year, will command £154,900 in the UK, €204,900 in Germany and $211,995 in the US.