May 9, 2017
|I purchased my first Aston Martin, a V8 Vantage Roadster, in 2009, and immediately fell in love with all things Aston. As a result, I am now the Regional Representative for the Aston Martin Owners Club, which basically means I run the club for much of the Central US, including Texas where most of our club events take place. This last weekend we had our annual Spring Drive through the Texas Hill Country, and I was given the opportunity to test drive the new 2017 DB11 for the day. Our test drive went through 200 miles of rolling hills, twists, and straightaways - the perfect proving ground for this type of performance vehicle.|
|Since buying my Vantage I have upgraded to a Vanquish Volante, the flagship of the Aston fleet. I have also driven almost all of the other Aston Martin models that have come out over the last eight years, but I can safely say that none of them put a bigger smile on my face than the DB11. That’s not to say that the DB11 is perfect; there is definitely room for improvement in a few places, but the experience I had on the drive far exceeded my expectations. There are hundreds of other reviews and write-ups that talk about the mechanical and styling changes that define the new architecture of the DB11, so I’ll skip that conversation and focus on what really matters: how the car was to drive, and how it made me feel.|
First, let’s talk about the DB11’s performance. The engine generates 600 horsepower with the assistance of twin turbochargers. The turbos kick in at around 1500 RPM, so there’s virtually no turbo lag, and the boost they provide is incredible! It feels like being catapulted out of a slingshot when you apply the gas. However, horsepower alone does not make a great driving experience. All the power in the world won’t matter if the gearbox isn’t any good, and the gearbox in the DB11 is absolute perfection! The gear ratios are the finest I’ve ever experienced in any Aston to date. Accelerating up the gauge in 2nd gear is a tremendous rush, and then shifting into 3rd there’s no loss of torque or power at all. There is a seamless transition of acceleration with each gear change, so you never lose the face-ripping G-forces even for a second! I wish the car had a G-force readout because it sure felt like we were pulling near 1G at times.
The other important aspect of performance is handling, and here the DB11 does not disappoint. You just point the steering wheel where you want the car to go, and it goes. The car stays perfectly flat around the bends, and feels extremely confident. There are several suspension modes, and I preferred the middle stiffness. Similarly, there are several Sport mode settings: GT, Sport and Sport+. I found the Sport+ mode to be a bit too twitchy for me, so I drove all day in the regular Sport mode. The throttle had excellent sensitivity and was very reactive, and I drove using the paddle shifters rather than letting the computer control the 8-speed automatic transmission. The computer does a reasonable job in full automatic mode if you’re just driving to get somewhere, but if you’re driving for fun use of the paddle shifters is an absolute requirement.
The DB11 was a really easy car to drive, and it felt reasonably light and very agile. The throttle does exactly what you want it to do, and the car stays planted on the pavement. Despite the ridiculous acceleration I never had any problem with losing traction. In both my Vantage and Vanquish I always have to be careful about really punching it because it is so easy to get the rear wheels spinning, triggering the traction control warning light, but during my entire 200+ mile trip in the DB11 I never had the traction control light come on even once, and I never felt like I was holding back. I could give the car all the power I wanted and there was never a point where I lost confidence in the car’s ability to grip. Without incriminating myself, let me just say that the top speed I reached felt amazing! The car got up to top speed quicker and more easily than any other Aston I’ve driven, and I felt totally safe doing it. As far as the power and performance of the DB11 goes I would give it a solid 10 out of 10. There is absolutely nothing bad that I can say, and nothing I would recommend that Aston change because it was sheer perfection and excitement!
Acceleration and handling alone are not the only things that define the Aston Martin driving experience. There is a third element which is equally important: the exhaust note. Aston Martin is known for having some of the best exhaust notes in the business, and they’re called “notes” because it’s not just a blast of obnoxious noise like you might hear coming from a cheap American muscle car. The sound that comes out of the back of an Aston is truly a symphony of sound that is quite distinctive. You can tell an Aston is coming from a mile away, and there’s no confusing it with any other car. Unfortunately, the exhaust on the DB11 is surprisingly subdued for an Aston. Part of that may be because the engine is not naturally aspirated like the older models, but I suspect it’s also a conscious choice by the designers to appeal more to the Lexus crowd. You’re definitely not going to wake your neighbors in the morning when you start up this car, and you’re not going to be able to vent your frustration on slow minivan drivers as you blast by them in 2nd gear - an act which, in any other Aston, creates a sound not heard since the creation of the universe. The DB11 is not silent by any means, but it simply lacks the statement-making sound that is such a defining feature of the older models.
Not all driving is going to be performance driving. Sometimes you just want to get from Point A to Point B in style, and that’s where comfort, technology, and ease of use comes into play. Thanks to the Daimler-Aston partnership the technology in the cockpit of the DB11 is vastly different from the previous generation. Easily the best technology upgrade that the car has is keyless entry and push-button start/stop. Talk to any existing Aston owner and they’ll tell you how annoyed they are by the ECU (“Emotion Control Unit”) which is basically just a key fob from a Volvo. The only emotion that cumbersome glass key ever evoked from anyone was frustration, but luckily those days are over. You can now leave your key in your pocket. The doors unlock automatically, and the car starts with a simple push of a button… like every other luxury car made in the last decade.
Another tech upgrade that’s new in the DB11 is the 360º parking camera. Instead of just a single backup camera, the DB11 has cameras all around the car, and the computer stitches together a 360º top view image of the car and its surroundings. Parking has never been easier. No more worrying if you’re going to bust your $4000 front splitter on a concrete parking block. Now you can see everything around the vehicle.
|The rest of the new tech, frankly, I could live without. The old analog dashboard has been replaced with an all-digital one. If the digital dash somehow improved the experience that would be fine, but it doesn’t. I prefer the elegance of real gauges that look like fine timepieces. Analog guages that are complemented with smaller digital displays for things such as fuel economy, tire pressure, etc. are the best, but a single, all-encompassing, digital display takes some of the classiness away from the car.|
|Luckily, unlike many cars these days Aston didn’t replace every button and switch on the center stack with a distracting virtual touchscreen equivalent. There are still real buttons for most of the important things like radio and A/C controls. Touchscreens are not a bad thing, don't get me wrong. Modern cars simply have too many gadgets for each of them to have a separate button, switch, or dial (although Porsche would disagree since the interior of the Cayenne looks like the cockpit of a Boeing 747).|
Unfortunately, the Daimler technology isn’t touchscreen based. Instead, it relies on a large dial and mouse-like device. I’m not a fan of this. It’s cumbersome and slow to use compared to a simple touchscreen, and the worst part is that it uses up valuable real estate below the center stack. No longer is there a 12v receptacle for radar detectors and other devices, nor is there anywhere to put your phone. There is a small, plastic tray at the base of the console which at first glance looks like a spot to put your phone, but it isn’t. A phone wouldn’t last 3 seconds in there when the car is moving.
The only place to plug in your 12v device is in the receptacle in the very back of the armrest which is actually behind you. So, you have to stretch your radar detector’s cord like a guitar string, and then work with it so you can partially close the electronic armrest. There is a tray in the front area of the armrest where you can put your phone, but it’s too far back for you to actually see it while driving. This may seem like a silly thing to nitpick about, but it’s actually a major problem for me. I use ‘Waze' almost daily for my navigation, so I need to be able to see my phone while driving, and I don’t want my radar detector’s cord strung up like a clothesline down the middle of the car. This is the one thing about the DB11 that I would strongly encourage Aston Martin to redesign.
Center console issues aside, the DB11 truly is an impressive and beautiful car. I thoroughly enjoyed my extended test drive, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I was more impressed with that car on the open road than any other Aston I’ve driven. Astons have always been considered “The Gentleman’s Sports Car,” and the DB11 certainly keeps that tradition alive with its beautiful styling and outstanding performance.