A near-perfect reboot

It was 13 years ago that Aston Martin bestowed the DB9 upon the world. That was a hot car back in 2003, an aggressive nose and a sultry shape hewn from aluminum that would go on to to define the look of Astons for a decade to come -- and then some, as it turned out.

But 13 years is a very, very long time for any given car to linger on the market. Too long for most. A replacement is overdue.

And this is it, the new Aston Martin DB11. After spending hours behind the wheel of Aston's latest and greatest grand tourer, both on the road and on the track, I'm here to say this is a damned fine car. But of course there's a lot more to the story than that.

The history

The iconic DB5 -- in James Bond trim.

RM Auctions

The "DB" in DB11 stands for David Brown, the man who bought the Aston Martin brand in the 1940s for a pittance and steered it through its most storied era.

The first of the new David Brown cars was the DB2, introduced in 1950. This two-seat, two-door sports car was available as either a hard-top coupe or drop-top roadster, its 2.6-liter, inline-six engine producing just a tick over 100 horsepower. Healthy enough back then, but pretty modest by today's standards.

The DB3 would come just a year later, in 1951, and the much bigger, much faster DB4 in 1958. This car and its many variants set the template for lots of Astons to come, including the iconic DB5, which arrived in 1963 -- just in time for Sean Connery to drive one across the screen as James Bond in "Goldfinger." (Incidentally, that was one of many inaccuracies between the film and Ian Fleming's book, in which Bond drove a DB3.)

The DB6 turned up in 1965, and the DB7... well, the DB7 didn't come until 1994. Yes, a nearly 30-year gap that saw Aston Martin's minority and majority ownership change countless times, often floating dangerously near insolvency. A big investment from Ford came in the early '90s, and out of that came the DB7. The DB9 arrived in 2004 (skipping "8" altogether to avoid the suggestion of anything other than a V-12), while the DB10 was a one-off concept to shuttle Daniel Craig around in "Spectre."

And that, dear reader, takes us to 11.

The car


The sculpting of the DB11's nose is quite exquisite.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The DB11 is all new, from front to back, but we'll start at the leading edge since that's the most interesting part. Beneath that long, expansive clamshell hood is a 5.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-12 that delivers a healthy 600 horsepower. That's about 90 more than the outgoing model, but even more impressive is the torque: 516 foot-pounds of the stuff, available from just 1,500rpm.

All that power is routed to the rear wheels through an eight-speed transmission, mounted in the back of the car for better weight distribution. It's still an automatic, which I must admit is a bit of a disappointment for those of us who enjoy the crisper shifts of a dual-clutch unit -- or indeed, a proper manual. The car rolls on bespoke, appropriately numbered Bridgestone SM007 tires. (Custom LM001 snow tires are also on offer should you want to cruise four seasons.)

That combination of power, drivetrain and grip will get the car through the 0-to-60 sprint in 3.9 seconds, nearly a second faster than the DB9 and quick enough to impress the most jaded of passengers. However, the DB series is more about covering big miles at speed rather than hustling down the quarter-mile. This car must be the quintessential grand tourer.

To that end, the suspension is completely revised. Bilstein adaptive dampers at every corner can be dynamically tweaked to provide either a cushy, comfortable ride or a more agile, responsive driving experience.

The biggest change, though, might actually be found in the interior. Thanks to a partnership with Mercedes-Benz, the DB11 offers a completely refreshed infotainment and navigation system. I know, in-cabin electronics may not be high on your list of touchpoints when cross-shopping a car starting at $211,995, but the current system in outgoing Astons is so woefully outdated that it's a genuine handicap. This is a quantum leap forward -- even if it is just a skinned version of Benz's Comand system.

A rotary knob between the seats controls an 8-inch central touchscreen, while a new 12-inch LCD sits behind the steering wheel. Analog needles and dials? So last century.

On the track


Earlier this year I was invited to Italy, to Bridgestone's private test facility, for some time behind the wheel of a near-final prototype. Called a VP, this Verification Prototype was "85 percent of the way there" according to Aston Martin Vehicle Attribute Chief Engineer Matt Becker. "The hardware is the same [as the production car], we're just tuning the software," he told me while hustling me around the handling circuit.

There was still a lot to tweak back then, including throttle behavior, steering weight, suspension response and hundreds of other dynamic aspects all adjusted through code. Getting just one of these wrong would mean unpredictable, ill-handling machine. Becker told of a bit of an unwanted trait uncovered in the car: a slight but unfortunate lurch when the rear end hooked up again after a slide.

The traditional approach might be to stiffen the rear antiroll bar, possibly compromising ride quality elsewhere. However, thanks to the DB11's new suspension, engineers can briefly adjust the compression and rebound damping at the rear of the car when a slide is detected, absorbing that unwanted shift with no other compromises.

Becker spent much of the past two years of his life testing such iterations to get the DB11 into its current state. Then, it was my turn to get behind the wheel on the track, a tight, twisty circuit designed to push the car's handling to its limit.

The most immediately noticeable aspect of the car is how quickly it reacts. The new electric steering is light and yes, perhaps a bit vague in the feedback department, but it is very sharp. The fat, sculpted wheel is an extension of your forearms, the front tires just beyond your fingertips as the car follows a clean, precise line through the turns. There's none of the imprecision one felt when pushing the outgoing car to the limit, though there is a bit of understeer, something Becker planned to address by tweaking the car's new torque-vectoring differential, which will vary brake pressure left-to-right, adding an extra bit of agility.

The overall impression is doubtlessly a thrilling one, especially for such a big car designed to cover big miles in all seasons. The turn-in is eager and the grip fierce, though the rear is more than willing to step out with little prompting. Even with the traction control on and set to track mode, giggle-inducing slides are all too easy -- something best attempted only on the track.

On the road

Aston Martin

It would be a few weeks later that I would finally get a chance to take a production-ready DB11 out for a spin on some real roads. This time, in a car stripped of the mind-altering, black-and-white graphics of the prototype I drove earlier.

And sitting there in the Tuscan sunshine, the new DB11 is a remarkable-looking car. It's clearly a descendant of the DB9, but in a lot of ways to me it actually looks more like the DB5. It's certainly more taut than its immediate predecessor, far more svelte in appearance even if its overall dimensions are quite close.

The aerodynamics, though, are something unseen on any previous generation of DB. The attention to detail here is complete, the most striking feature being the so-called "Aeroblade" rear spoiler. Or, I should say, lack of a rear spoiler. Air is pulled in ahead of the C pillar on the car into subtle vents, then ducted through the trunk and upward out of the trailing edge of the car. It's a device that creates downforce at speed without the need for chunky, external aerodynamic appendages.

Most of the time I wasn't going fast enough on those Tuscan roads to appreciate any sort of aerodynamic advantage, but I was able to enjoy the cocoon-like silence afforded by the wind-sensitive sculpting and laminated glass throughout. The ride, too, is cossetting and comfortable in the default suspension and throttle modes.

And what about the engine? First of all, it sounds very good indeed. It isn't quite as operatic as the DB9's 6.0-liter V-12, but if anything it's more fierce, and the ever-so-slight whistle of the turbos just adds purpose. There's no digital trickery going on here, nor any extra pipes to duct noise into the cabin. In fact, there's "Quiet Start" mode that allows you to fire up that lump quietly for more stealthy getaways. This is something of a necessity considering the DB11 is the first Aston Martin with automatic stop/start, cutting down on fuel wasted while idling. It'd be no good blowing out the windows of the cars around you every time you pull away from a light.

Power is indeed strong and there's no proper turbo lag as such, just a rich, creamy surge of torque. Though it does get a little less creamy as you toggle through the various drive modes, from GT to Sport to Sport+. It gets louder, too, harsher, and while that automatic never really feels properly aggressive, it does a tolerably good job of keeping up with the instructions you give on the paddle shifters.

And what about that new infotainment system? Well, if you've driven a recent Mercedes-Benz, you'll be familiar with what's on offer here. Using a rotating controller between the seats, you can quickly access navigation, media options or change settings in the car. The Comand system isn't my favorite when it comes to aesthetics, but it's certainly functional and easy to use. This is a major, major improvement over what Aston Martin offered previously.

So all good, then? Not quite. It's the brakes, surprisingly, that disappoint. Though visually they inspire a lot of confidence, massive calipers and discs filling the wheels, the feeling from behind the wheel is rather less inspiring. Step on the left pedal and you're greeted by a surprisingly long throw. Despite that, the engagement point is actually quite sharp when you finally find it. This was something I unfortunately noticed on multiple DB11s, so it wasn't a one-off.

That is the only small fly in the otherwise sweet-smelling ointment. The car is plush and accommodating yet, with the taps of a few buttons, surprisingly engaging, far more so than the outgoing DB9. It's a beautiful blend.

Welcome back, DB

Aston Martin

It's been too long in coming, but the latest Aston has been well worth the wait. The engine, suspension and that new infotainment system mark out a car that is drastically improved over what came before. It is properly modern, lovely to look at and lovely to drive. If this is the shape of Astons to come, we should be in for a very good ride.


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