Aston kicks off its ‘second century plan’ with an all-new turbo V12 grand tourer
What is it?
How, then, do you feel about an Aston Martin equipped with a Mercedes engine? Does it really matter? Should it matter, so long as it improves the product? After all, this ‘new’ eight-cylinder engine is a good one, with 503bhp and rampant torque. You may also have heard that this is no case of a straight engine swap, but perhaps you haven’t, so now that we’ve got the DB11 V8 on home Tarmac, let’s recap.
The DB11’s ZF-sourced automatic gearbox remains entirely unchanged, sitting a fraction ahead of the rear axle complete with eight short ratios, while elsewhere, Aston Martin has made numerous amendments to the car in its attempt to best exploit a 115kg weight saving brought about by the loss of four cylinders.
For one, the brake balance has been altered, with changes to the piston size at the front. Efforts have also been made to improve pedal feel and address complaints from owners who felt the system was a little grabby at low speeds. The electric power steering has been retuned for slightly greater resistance off-centre and a greater feeling of confidence.
Spring rates are reduced all round, the anti-roll bars are stiffer and so too are the rear axle bushings, in order to mitigate the V12’s tendency for awkward diagonal weight transitions, so says chief engineer Matt Becker. There have also been detail changes to the suspension geometry, including a new lateral link in the multi-link rear.
As for ‘Aston-ising’ the barrel-chested 4.0-litre AMG engine, the air intakes, exhaust system and ECU software are fresh, although the greatest difference is that unlike in the Mercedes-AMG GT, it has a wet sump. That’s not only to do with cost savings and packaging – the engineers at Gaydon also don’t anticipate their cars will experience the prolonged lateral loadings that would necessitate a going dry. This new-for-Aston V8 also sits on different mounts to the 5.2-litre V12 of its bigger brother, while the DB11’s chassis gets improved weight distribution.
What’s it like?
If you’re wondering why anyone would buy the V12 on the basis of all that, well, so are we. Aston’s trimming of the fat means the junior car trades almost 100bhp for a 0-62mph that’s just 0.1sec slower, at 4.0sec. It’s also £13,000 less dear, at a touch under £145,000. In fact, Becker says the V8 car’s 187mph top speed had to be held back a little to create some breathing space for the V12. It’s comforting to think the double-tonne still matters on the showroom floor.
Extensive use within the vast AMG range means this ‘M178’ engine is now a well-known quantity, and because Aston has been limited largely to making only exhaust-tract modifications, it’s origins are unmistakable. That means a dominance of low-frequency tones, but instead of a relentless Harley-style thump, the note has been tuned to additionally deliver a more buoyant, refined quality, and that’s noticeable.
Basically, this car can still bellow profanities but it does so in received pronunciation, as you’d expect of an Aston. That’s especially true in Sport+ mode, which now gives you an even more distinct snap, crackle and pop with every lift of the throttle.
Peak torque of 513lb ft still arrives at just 2000rpm, though, so there’s rarely a moment when this car isn’t ready to hurl itself at the next closest object with an enthusiasm only just short of frightening. An abbreviated path for exhaust gases – brought about by AMG’s placing of parallel turbochargers within the vee of the engine – also means that from 4000rpm or so there’s no turbo lag of which to speak. This is an engine with extraordinary mid-range response, although the V12 still hits harder higher up and is undoubtedly the sweeter instrument when you’re stoking things. In the V8, you’re encouraged to pull the aluminium paddles – whose travel has been usefully halved – well in advance of the 7000rpm limiter. Not so in the V12.
Aston’s stated aim with the V8 has been to retain the DB11’s GT spirit but engineer in a little more athleticism and, frankly, you’d expect all the development work to stand it in good stead on the kind of British roads we all love to hate. It has, as it happens. At 1760kg, this is still a heavy car, but it’s also a deeply intuitive steer, exhibiting a natural rate of response in all the major controls and tight body movements – the nature of which you simply wouldn’t credit as belonging to a full-size Aston.
Indeed, two steering wheel-mounted buttons – one for damping, another for throttle, exhaust and transmission mapping – give the driver a degree of personalisation, but your enjoyment certainly isn’t dependent on getting the settings just so, as it is with, say, the Audi R8. Even on wet, uneven roads, you’re given the confidence to chase the throttle, and that’s not just to do with the recalibrated, firmer steering, which is nicely damped yet communicates conditions beneath you so eloquently. It’s also because the V8 DB11 melds GT-car pliancy with the precise, agile exuberance of a smaller beast. That’s otherwise known as having your cake and eating it – owners of the V12 just get a very, very lovely cake.
Should I buy one?
Surely a five-star car? Well, not quite. Blame refinement at speed, which suffers from tyre roar and the curiously loud rustle of air passing over the base of A-pillar. Interior fit isn’t good enough, either, even if the abundance of leather is supremely soft to the touch. The Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupé surpasses the Aston on both counts, though you’ll forfeit driver involvement.
If you’re set on a DB11, the AMG-engined car is the one to have, and a hugely desirable – and yes, improved – product. That’s until Aston Martin applies all these changes to the V12 car next year, at least. When that happens, we shall have a real conundrum on our hands.
Aston Martin DB11 V8
Where Cotswolds On sale Now Price £144,900 Engine 3982cc, V8, twin-turbocharged, petrol Power 503bhp at 6000rpm Torque 513lb ft at 2000-5000rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerbweight 1760kg Top speed 187mph 0-62mph 4.0sec Fuel economy 28.5mpg CO2 230g/km Rivals Bentley Continental GT, Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupé