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2021 Aston Martin DBX prototype first drive review: Exceptional yet unremarkable

Aston Martin's new DBX will soon join an ever-growing segment of luxury-performance SUVs. Does it have what it takes to stand out?

The DBX joins a crowded segment of performance SUVs.

Aston Martin

In 1946, British industrialist David Brown bought Aston Martin for the princely sum of £20,500 (just over $1 billion in today's money, adjusted for inflation). He saved the troubled manufacturer and secured its future for years to come. The first new car under Brown's management bore his initials, the DB1, and that moniker has stuck with the company all the way up to the current DB11.

The latest car born from that lineage is the DBX, a car that -- in no uncertain terms -- has the daunting task of saving Aston Martin once again.

Recent financial troubles have put question marks over the future of the British sports car manufacturer, and the DBX might well be the last card it has to play. Thankfully it's the most reliable play in the industry right now, because the DBX is a luxury-performance SUV.

Now playing: Watch this: The Aston Martin DBX is unremarkably excellent
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Although it is fashionably late to the party, the DBX comes as zero surprise to anyone anywhere, following in the footsteps of Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Maserati, Porsche, Rolls-Royce -- and I'm sure I'm missing a few -- to extend their lineups to include SUVs. Pretty much every similar company that has gone down this path has seen huge success, exposing a seemingly insatiable desire from buyers for a bigger car with a desirable badge.

Aston Martin isn't just hoping that the DBX follows suit, helping to prop up the rest of the company while it gets its house in order -- it's relying on it. And on a stunning December day I had the opportunity to briefly sample the fruits of Aston's labor, driving a DBX prototype in Oman, where some of the last rounds of testing and tweaking are being carried out.

The car you see here is covered in development livery, but don't forget, we've already seen the DBX in its final form. Design-wise, the exterior is instantly recognizable as an Aston, the front sporting the signature grille, albeit the largest ever fitted to an Aston Martin, with oversize hood badge to match. The rear has a slightly more questionable double spoiler look that won't be to everyone's taste, but again, even in this lifted and bloated form, still screams Aston.

The interior is one of Aston's most carefully assembled to date, taking the leather craft from the DB11 to new heights. Clearly cabin experience is high up on the priority list for the DBX, and it absolutely raises the bar for the manufacturer. My colleague Henry Catchpole has already spent quite a bit of time waxing lyrical about the interior; I'll refer you there for more detail.

My time in Oman, however, was focused on the driving experience. After all, if an Aston Martin is no fun behind the wheel, all the sumptuous leather and rear legroom will be for naught.

The DBX has the same turbocharged, 4.0-liter V8 as the Vantage, but with some new features including cylinder shut-off technology to suit more sedate driving situations. The engine still makes 542 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, though, so don't for a moment think this car is anything less than quick. Despite its nearly 5,000-pound curb weight, the DBX can get to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and will take you all the way up to 181 mph.

The suspension, which has double wishbones at the front and a multilink setup at the rear, as well as active dampers combined with a 48-volt antiroll system, gives Aston Martin an astonishing breadth of possibilities when it comes to the DBX's ride and handling characteristics. Although the exact final production settings of this SUV are still being tuned, the possibilities range from ultrastiff to sea-faring vessel.

Splish splash.

Aston Martin

My prototype is pretty much set in the sweet spot for both comfort and speed, yet communicative and lively handling when being thrown around. In the firmest Sport Plus mode, the body rolls no more than you'd expect from an Aston Martin sports car. That is to say, there's a modicum of roll, which is actually both welcome and beneficial in order to help feel the car's weight transfer while driving. In its standard driving mode, the DBX handles open roads and gravel tracks perfectly, soaking up bumps while remaining composed in corners.

Unlike most other modern Astons, the DBX's driving modes are fixed. Rather than dialing in the engine and transmission with one button and the suspension with another, across-the-board modes are now selectable alongside an individual setting, which allows for some, but not complete customization.

The acceleration on offer belies the weight of the DBX, and the large, steel brakes are more than up to the task of scrubbing off all that speed. The all-weather tires on this prototype have no problem tackling loose gravel, and even with the traction control fully on, there's more than enough opportunity to play around with the limits of grip.

Can the DBX help broaden Aston Martin's appeal?

Aston Martin

Though my time with the car only gives a cursory glance at what the final DBX will be like, I feel confident saying this: The DBX is unremarkable. That's not to say that it isn't good; far from it, in fact. The DBX is excellent, succeeding on pretty much every front -- interior space, comfort, luxury, performance and capability. What's unremarkable about it is that we've seen it all before. The DBX does not reinvent the performance SUV. Instead, Aston has carefully selected a slot in the marketplace -- right between the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus -- and made a car to fill that gap.

The DBX has levels of luxury and performance comparable to both of those competitors, and stacks up nicely on practicalities such as space and efficiency. It's not as soft and plush as the Bentayga nor as track-focused and unhinged as the Urus. Instead, the DBX seems to sample a little from both.

The DBX will undoubtedly be an excellent addition to the ever-growing collection of luxury-performance SUVs, but it's not the fastest or the most luxurious. It might turn out to be the best handling, but until I drive the final version on familiar roads, it's hard to say.

Still, the DBX will certainly be able to hold its head up amongst the usual suspects, all offering their version of the same product. And if history repeats itself -- which it is inclined to do -- the DBX could be a runaway success.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.