Last week, I took a day off work — a well deserved break from the Gizmodo office.
Instead, I spent my work day behind the steering wheel of a $400,000 Aston Martin DB11.
What Is It?
The Aston Martin DB11 is the newest car from the storied British motoring marque, and is the most highly evolved vehicle that Aston has ever built. A new aluminium chassis and frame means the DB11 is lighter where it counts and significantly stiffer throughout, despite being 65mm longer and 28mm wider in track and wheelbase than its DB9 predecessor. From the front, the DB11 is instantly recognisable, but from the rear it's an entirely new look: sleeker and sharper in the taillights and rear quarter, with a styling slice through the bootlid that carries those LED taillights almost through to the iconic Aston Martin badge in the centre and reminds me a lot of the One-77.
Inside, the 2+2 grand tourer has had a complete overhaul: its entirely leather-wrapped, quilted and painstakingly stitched interior is an absolutely wonderful place to be for a day's driving, with only the best materials used throughout. The launch edition that I drove was finished throughout in dark leather with the occasional satin metal accent, with beautiful switchgear in the centre console — that's also where you'll select drive, reverse or park with an automatically applied electronic handbrake. The 8-inch infotainment system is lifted from Mercedes Benz and brings Bluetooth, satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio that previous Aston Martins haven't had access to. The driver's display is a 12-inch LCD which can be customised and that changes its look according to whatever driving mode you're in.
The DB11 is powered by Aston Martin's most powerful engine ever: a 5.2-litre V12 with twin, twin-scroll intercooled turbochargers. Built at the Aston Martin Engine Plant in Cologne, Germany, it's produced alongside the company's existing 6.0-litre V12 and 4.7-litre V8, but the refined design means it's lighter and more efficient: expect 600bhp (447kW) and 6516lbft (700Nm). These are world-moving numbers. And having driven the car, I believe them. It's also built for grand-touring, road-tripping efficiency: the car has intelligent cylinder deactivation for displacement on demand — it'll shut down a bank of six cylinders — and stop/start to save precious petrol from the DB11's 78-litre tank at traffic lights.
What's It Good At?
When it comes to driving? Well, uh, everything. The DB11 is an incredible driver's car. It has been designed from the ground up — and I know everyone says that about every new car, but this car genuinely was — to be optimised for the person behind the steering wheel. The DB11 is a GT car, not a go-to-whoa stop-light street-racer, but it's still stupidly quick and it's still utterly responsive as a corner-to-corner handling machine.
0-100km/h is dealt with in 3.9 theoretical seconds — and maybe a little bit of a chirp from the rear tyres in real life before traction control kicks in — and Aston Martin's choice of excellent ZF 8-speed automatic means you can churn through gears quickly either in automatic or manually using the steering-column-mounted paddle shifters. That massive 5.2-litre V12 and its twin turbochargers are incredibly tightly packaged very slightly behind the front wheels, and the seating position is low-slung, so there's not a hint of body roll even when you're carving around a long bend at high speeds. This car handles beautifully, simply beautifully, for its not-insignificant size and weight.
Adaptive dampers and adjustable gearbox and throttle response settings on the DB11's steering wheel mean that you can choose between a reasonably plush, comfortable ride in Comfort and a more jarring and firm and dynamically responsive platform in Sport+, with a middle-ground in Sport that edges closer to comfort in its gearbox shift speeds but closer to sporting in the firmness of the suspension. Whichever mode you're in you're guaranteed to have a good time, but even in a GT like the DB11 it's tempting to stay in full ten-tenths suspension and engine settings whenever you're behind the wheel.
The car's aero starts at the front bumper and finishes at the rear wing, but it involves every single slice of the Aston Martin DB11's bodywork. There are aero ducts behind the front wheels that channel air to keep the front of the car flat and stable, and there are aeroblades behind the DB11's C pillars that draw in air and channel it through the bootlid to behind the supercar's pop-up rear spoiler — an invisible but highly effective tool for keeping those fat 295-section rear tyres planted to the road. Everything has been designed smartly to ensure the DB11's bodywork looks classically Aston but hides an entirely modern vehicle underneath.
It's also gorgeous. I mean, just look at it. Just look at it. From the front, the DB11 has all the classic Aston Martin cues — that upside-down-HDMI-port grille, the wide and low front bumper and scalloped bonnet — that you'd expect. The rear of the car is less conventionally Aston, but it's also still good-looking in the way that modern hypercars are. From the front and from the three-quarter view, the DB11 actually looks smaller than it is in real life. From the rear, it's both more striking and probably more polarising — at some angles it looks a bit concept-car-ish, like something that hasn't left the pages of an artist's sketchbook yet.
What's It Not Good At?
Aston Martin's new in-car entertainment system is... interesting. It's perfectly capable, of course, and it's paired to an utterly beautiful Bang & Olufsen stereo, but you're given so many different ways to interact with it that it can be confusing for a first-timer. There's a touch-sensitive trackpad, there's a BMW-style click wheel that also functions as a directional pad, and there are tactile buttons on the dashboard itself. Combine that with steering wheel controls and you have four different ways to skip a track on the stereo. What I'm saying is that it feels a little bit over-engineered, especially in a world where we have the sleek touchscreen dashboards of Volvo and Tesla.
If you're trying to fit two passengers in the rear seats of the technically-it's-a-2+2 Aston Martin DB11, they'd better be children. And children with very short legs. In my time with the DB11, I tried to get into the back seats precisely once. Soon after, they became the home for my backpack and my baseball cap; anything more than that is a little bit optimistic. Being a grand tourer, you're meant to be able to take the DB11 for a weekend trip up to the Hunter or down to the Yarra — but look, you're probably better off leaving your kids at home for that anyway.
It's a big car, too. Big enough that you'll want to be very, very careful with your circa $400,000 investment as you drive it around the ever-narrowing roads of your home city. In the hills of Rushcutters Bay and the winding streets of Cremorne, the DB11 is at home amongst the multi-million dollar houses but not so at home among the skinny streets and speed bumps. I took the DB11 through Cremorne McDonald's drive-thru and it was a tight fit. It's expensive and it's wide — and that's a recipe for an expensive repair job if you're not careful. When I handed it back at the end of the day unscathed, I breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
Should You Buy It?
Are you kidding? What do you think? Of course you should. Why are you asking me?
In all seriousness, if I had $400,000 to spend on a car and had the free time to drive it enough to make that purchase a worthwhile one, the DB11 would be at the top of my list. It's utterly beautiful to look at and to be inside — even for a single, short day — and it's even more beautiful to actually drive. It's an addictive vehicle to spend time behind the wheel of.
You're paying all those dollars for a car that is designed to the Nth degree. Every inch of its exterior is equally designed for stylish looks and for optimised airflow. Its engine is the most powerful Aston Martin has ever made, but it's also the most efficient. Its interior is the most modern the company has built and has the most home comforts you'd expect a supercar to have, but it's also not pretentious or excessively flashy. You're paying for quality.
Everything in the DB11 has been carefully thought out and brought to life in an amazing way.