2021 Aston Martin DBX second drive review: Larger for life

Yes, the DBX is bigger, but it still delivers that Aston Martin experience.

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
4 min read
2021 Aston Martin DBX

An Aston for adventure.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Hopefully by now you're over the whole "sports car company making SUVs" thing because, let's be honest, that angsty ship left port long ago. They're here and they're not going away. However, I confess it's still a rare day that I get properly excited about driving a lifted rig with sporty pretentions. SUVs are, by definition, utilitarian, and utilitarian machines aren't necessarily the most charming. 

But the day the Aston Martin DBX first appeared in my driveway was one of those rare days. I was quite eager to get a go in this sleek SUV, especially in its Buckinghamshire Green over the perfectly matched tan interior. It looked damn good sitting there -- fussy rear-end aside.

Of course, it has to look good. Of all the assets Aston Martin machines have had over the years, aesthetics have always been at the forefront. Some models have been comelier than others, sure, but the look and feel and sound of an Aston Martin are perhaps even more important than the speed and the handling.

Bringing that experience to an SUV? Not an easy task -- especially one this large. With a 120-inch wheelbase and a 198-inch length, the Aston Martin DBX actually slots in between a BMW X5 and X7, though its overall height of 66 inches matches that of the X3. That's properly big, if not particularly tall.

2021 Aston Martin DBX brings the sports car experience to four seasons

See all photos

Amazingly, despite that extreme footprint, Aston's engineers pulled it off. As my colleague Steven Ewing found in his review earlier this year, the DBX is legitimately fun to drive. That Mercedes-sourced 4.0-liter V8 works as well and sounds as good here as it does in any of Aston Martin's other cars, and 542 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque are more than ample for this SUV. A 4.3-second 0-to-60-mph sprint won't break records but will it impress your eldest kid's know-it-all friend.

Indeed, this DB is designed more for sprinting to school or to the shops or perhaps a winter weekend getaway, and that's where I spent most of my time and attention. Basically, I wanted to see what it was really like to live with the thing through the more inclement of the seasons. A real test, this, because while an Aston sports car can get away with looking good and driving well, an Aston SUV has do that and also be comfortable and practical and safe on the daily.

My loan came toward the end of winter and beginning of spring, a miserable time where the roads are as filthy and bumpy as they're ever going to be. The DBX you see here came clad in Pirelli snow tires, meaty ones at 285/40R22 at the front and 325/35R22 at the rear. There was a little less sidewall there than I might normally have liked for coping with the remnants of a long winter's frost heaves, but honestly the DBX made for a comfortable drive. I wouldn't exactly call the suspension plush, but neither was it punishing.

2021 Aston Martin DBX

See those shift paddles? You'll be needing them.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The DBX's range of damping settings covered the gamut that I was hoping for, while the torque-vectoring all-wheel drive always kept me moving in the right direction, even when the sipes on those snow tires gave up their grip. The DBX can be a fun and engaging drive, but the transmission is a major fly in the ointment. Just like Mr. Ewing found in his review, when left to its own devices the nine-speed slushbox in my car never seemed to know what it wanted. Yeah, you can engage the oversized paddles and pick the gear you want, but even that was too sluggish for my liking.

That said, cruising from town to town, engaging in a weekend getaway, you aren't too likely to be flustered by wayward shifts. In this role the DBX excels. While its cargo capacity is a little limited by that sculpted tail, the storage area is nicely laid out, a series of handy tie-downs making it easy to ensure your matching luggage doesn't slide the wrong way.

The rear seats are surprisingly roomy and comfortable, more so than you might think given the aggressive profile of the car. Front seats, meanwhile, strike a great blend of support and comfort. Yes, they skew more toward the latter end of that spectrum, but that's just about perfect here.

However, it's from the front seats that you will experience the biggest downfall of the DBX: technology. For a car that's meant for daily driving, for long-haul touring, for schlepping kids and cargo, you want the best active safety and infotainment you can get. In that regard the DBX falls well short.

2021 Aston Martin DBX

It's certainly a shapely thing, maybe too much so.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The infotainment system is still the same old flavor of Comand borrowed from Mercedes-Benz years ago. The latest Mercedes offerings are multiple generations beyond the sluggish, ugly interface the DBX puts front and center. Happily, you can hide most of it behind Apple CarPlay now, but those us on the Android side of the fence are left out cold.

Likewise, the active safety systems leave a bit to be desired. This is actually the first Aston Martin with any sort of proper driver-assistance tech like adaptive cruise or automatic emergency braking. You do get that, with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot detection. However, while the adaptive cruise is functional, the lane-keep assist is rudimentary at best, simply buzzing the steering wheel should you lean too far one way or another. It's a far cry from the advanced, lane-centering and speed-adjusting systems found in nearly any other premium SUV these days.

So, yes, buyers of the DBX will have to make a few compromises on the daily comfort and convenience front. Still, Aston Martin has done a remarkably good job of maintaining the experience of the brand while also scaling it up to fill those parts of your life where a sports car just won't do.