2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8 First Drive: Addition By Subtraction
– Rancho Santa Fe, California
When Hunter S. Thompson wrote, “buy the ticket, take the ride” he was not speaking about sports cars. But for some reason it’s that phrase that’s echoing in the back of my head as I kick the throttle of this Aston Martin, and cause an eruption of sound energy to crack through the dry air of the surrounding Sonoran Desert.
There’s something about driving hard into the desert. And though I’m no kind of Gonzo, the sound and force of this Aston V8 does serve as a kind of liquor in the blood, the harder I push and the higher it howls.
Call this a Mercedes motor if you must; I’ll call it sonic force for delight as the revs pile up.
“V8” isn’t a footnote or a throwaway line here, either, it’s the reason Aston asked me out to southern California at all. It’s been a year since we brought you the First Drive of the DB11 with a traditional V12 under hood. Now the British company is ready to launch the slightly less expensive V8 iteration of the GT car – a car that, frankly, won’t be sold much in the U.S. but should do well in markets like Asia and Europe. And the truth is that, down on power or not, it might just be the pick of the line.
The engine at issue is a biturbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that you’ll recognize from the very sexy Mercedes-AMG parts bin. Developing 503 horsepower and 498 pound-feet of torque, the V8 gives up 93 hp and 18 lb-ft in addition to 4 cylinders, but it’s down just 0.1 seconds to 62 miles per hour, versus the V12 DB11. And though I personally find top speed to be the most irrelevant statistical measure in motoring, I will report that the DB11 V8 can only muster 187 miles per hour, to the double ton registered by the V12.
Call this a Mercedes motor if you must; I’ll call it sonic force for delight as the revs pile up. Aston has completely retuned both intake and exhaust to make the German engine sound more British. For those of us that don’t collect classic supercars, “British” here that means a much smoother exhaust note, one that’s quieter at its peak volume than, say, a Mercedes-AMG GT. Though to call it “quiet” overall would be a lie. In fact the Aston engineers have done a wonderful job allowing the V8 to be heard – growly but not harsh – even at low speeds, so one isn’t tempted to drift into a leather-clad stupor, and forget what they’re behind the wheel of.
Even in the most relaxed of the three driving modes (GT, Sport, and Sport+) throttle response is sharp, and speed piles up in a linear, thrilling fashion.
Forgetting the noises it makes and the stopwatch reading, the DB11 V8 feels extraordinarily quick. Even in the most relaxed of the three driving modes (GT, Sport, and Sport+) throttle response is sharp, and speed piles up in a linear, thrilling fashion. Here’s where the desert portion of my drive route really showed the Aston well, with long, straight stretches of undulating pavement just begging for high-speed frolic.
The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission is absolutely a partner to the engine, and not a gatekeeper to delights. Sport and Sport+ mode auto shifts happened when and where I wanted them, though I was happy, when climbing and descending mountain roads, to grab for gears myself, via two big and useful paddle shifters behind the wheel. That kind of quick reaction time, combined with smooth low-speed take-off in traffic and around town, meant I was never left wanting a dual-clutch.
Now, let’s talk about mountain roads. Trip planners thoughtfully included routes up and down San Diego County’s Palomar Mountain, on roads that I was lucky to find basically empty, save other DB11 drivers (and one very enthusiastic Nissan GT-R). I tend to think of Aston Martins as exceptional fast GT cars, not as well suited for tight roads – a feeling that’s reinforced when I look at the DB11 in profile, where it appears to be a mile long stretch of car-formed sex.
The Aston Martin proposition has as much to do with style, as it does blistering performance. And let’s face it, this car looks insanely good.
But the new Aston was not only willing, but eager, to eat up miles of switchbacks and other tight corners. It was here that the stiffest of three adaptive damper settings felt pretty perfect, allowing for remarkably quick changes of direction, followed by the grip and thrust allowed by giant rear rubber (295 section tires) and the healthy power delivery. Steering action was light and accurate, and though I didn’t get a huge amount of feedback through the tiller, it was never so vague as to kill my confidence. It bears mentioning that the more than 200 pounds saved with the V8 versus the V12 helps, of course, in this sort of driving.
If I’m being totally honest, even with the excellent behavior on good roads, there are faster, more nimble vehicles to be had in the lofty world of $200,000 sports cars. Does the Audi R8 or Porsche 911 Turbo or McLaren 570S get me up and down the mountain faster? Almost certainly. But, of course, the Aston Martin proposition has as much to do with style, as it does blistering performance. And let’s face it, this car looks insanely good.
The DB11 shape is an instant classic, somehow much more demure than other supercars while still looking like an absolute spaceship when seen next to mortal cars on regular roads. The Aston is long, curving and lovey, its shape painstakingly encapsulating complex aerodynamic aids without resorting to anything so common as a wing. There is a small deployable spoiler that creates downforce from air channeled through vents that start behind the doors, but it’s quite subtle, even when raised. And when I look at the classic wide grille on the low, comely nose, it’s almost like looking into the future of the Pebble Beach lawn. The DB11 is also far less shouty a design than the current Vanquish, it must be said.
I’m happy to report – for myself and for the current crop of NBA guards – that the front chairs sit a six-foot, five-inch body just fine.
In other Aston tests I’ve written, this would be the part of the story where I gush over the craftsmanship of the interior, while bemoaning its functionality and tech, relative to the price. The bitchy part of that equation has been mostly excised in this new DB. Aston’s technical partnership with Daimler has also netted its own version of the COMAND infotainment system, meaning the car gets modern navigation, stereo controls, and connectivity, to go along with acres of unblemished Bridge of Weir leather upholstery.
The cabin is completely sumptuous to look at and to sit in. And I’m happy to report – for myself and for the current crop of NBA guards – that the front chairs sit a six-foot, five-inch body just fine. The seats drop really low to the floor so I didn’t suffer for headroom, and it wasn’t a problem finding a vantage point for great forward visibility (minus the very thick A pillars). The rear seats are perfectly trimmed cubbies for your laptop bag or some light shopping – human passengers need not apply.
The DB11 V8 will start at $198,995 in the U.S., a surprisingly thin discount over the $216,495 price of the V12. But, of course, the cost of a Kia Rio isn’t going to make the difference for any buyers in this stratosphere. For me, it’s the neater handling of the lower-powered car, far more than the price, that makes it an obvious choice as the DB to have. I also like the cleaner look of the V8’s two-vent hood, when compared with the V12’s four-vent affair, but that’s clearly pretty personal.
The true test of the DB11, in that price range, is whether it will falter or flourish versus cars aimed squarely at performance, like the aforementioned 911 Turbos and McLaren 570S’ of the world. After all, the competition around $200k is staggering, and, really, there’s not a goat (or, G.O.A.T.) amongst the group.
But for those who have already been infected with Aston Martin lust, or collectors and connoisseurs of the brand, the DB11 is as much a gem as the V8 engine that lives beneath its hood. Given the cash, this is one ticket I’d be happy to take ol’ Hunter’s advice on.
Photos: Drew Phillips / Aston Martin