Aston Martin DB11 V8: German brawn meets a British beauty

For 2018, the lovely new DB11 gets the option of a smaller, more efficient, but still awfully powerful engine courtesy Mercedes-AMG. It's the smarter choice, but is it the better one?

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
5 min read

For Aston Martin, a V12 is a lot more than a pair of inline-six engines joined at the crank. That iconic "vee" configuration has delivered a huge portion of the the character of the previous few iterations of the DB cars.

For the 2017 DB11, the complete reboot of the vehicle series that sits firmly on the list of greatest cars ever (with a little help from James Bond), Aston Martin was forced to concede to modern demands slightly. How? By adding a pair of turbochargers and dropping the engine displacement, but that just meant even more power from an even more efficient package.

Now, it's time to down-size further. This is the new, V8-powered DB11, a British icon with an unapologetically German heart beating beneath that long, low, lovely clamshell hood. Does the AMG-sourced powertrain stunt the character, or does the 250-pound weight savings mean less is more? Let's find out.

DB11 V8 has fewer cylinders, but all the great looks

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Affalterbach comes to Gaydon

Look under the hood of a V12-powered DB11 and you'll wonder how the car's engineers managed to stuff so much motor in such a tiny package. By comparison, the space beneath the V8 edition looks almost comically under-utilized, a pair of oversized air intakes taking up space that would seemingly be large enough to carry a second of the Mercedes-AMG-sourced, twin-turbo lumps.

This is basically the same 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine that's found in many, many Mercedes-AMG creations, a fact that Aston Martin isn't trying to hide. Yes, you'll find a badge on top stating that the engine was installed by some English bloke or another, rather than the typical signature from someone named Klaus or Tobias, but you needn't dig far into the engine bay to find a lingering AMG logo. Or three.   

The engine has not come over wholesale, however. The dry-sump lubrication system, which enables high-G cornering on the AMG GT without fear of losing oil pressure, has been binned in favor of a more traditional oil pan, simplifying packaging and reducing cost.

Here, the motor delivers 503 horsepower and 498 pound-feet of torque. That's roughly 100 fewer horsepower than the V12, but astonishingly very nearly the same amount of torque; this from a package that weighs 250 pounds less. And, since almost all that mass has been saved from a position on or ahead of the front axle, there are some significant handling improvements to be made.

Aston Martin DB11 V8

The lighter, more nimble DB11 can really hustle. 

Aston Martin

Less weight, more raw

That lighter, shorter engine under the hood kicked off a cascade of changes that make for a subtle but distinctly different feel for the V8-powered DB-11. Less weight in the nose of course meant suspension changes would be needed, giving Aston Chief Engineer and handling guru Matt Becker the opportunity to retool the overall feel of the car. Minor tweaks like revised damping and stiffer bushings at the rear sharpen up the nose.

Similarly, less weight means the ability to run smaller brake pistons, delivering far better brake feel -- addressing probably my biggest complaint in the V12 car. The transmission, too, has been adjusted. Though it's the same eight-speed ZF unit as the earlier car, ratios intact, its programming has been revised to make it livelier and more responsive. Even the steering weight and feel has been adjusted based on feedback on the V12. 

This, then, isn't just a lighter, sharper car, it's a subtle but comprehensive revision over the V12, and the results are immediately apparent. Hop in the car, toggle through to S+ mode, find a straight stretch of road and only the basso profundo note from the exhaust gives any hint that there's anything missing under the hood. With nearly the same torque as the V12 but so much less weight, the V8 DB11 jumps off the line with every bit of enthusiasm as the heavier, more expensive car. It's officially rated at four seconds for the 0-to-60 sprint, one-tenth slower than the V12 but methinks you'll have a hard time finding that delta in the real world.

More importantly, though, the rest of the driving experience is just that bit more finely honed. The car turns into corners with enthusiasm and its 20-inch tires, the same as the V12, offer solid grip and great feedback through the steering. They're easily overpowered by that V8, though, so don't go turning off the traction control unless you're wide awake. And yes, unlike many other cars in this class, the TC can be turned all the way off.

Aston Martin DB11 V8

A digital dashboard is just one of the highlights provided by the Mercedes-Benz brain in here.

Aston Martin

Smarts to enhance the experience

The motor may be smaller, but the V8-powered DB11 is still a big car, though and still a very comfortable one. The active Bilstein dampers on all four corners still provide a remarkably compliant ride, even in their sportier settings, and the roomy cockpit is plenty comfortable. Materials have been simplified a bit, the cabin slightly decluttered over the earlier DB11, making for a very nice place to cover big miles.

That's augmented by Aston's new dashboard experience: the infotainment system previously known as Comand. It's not as fast or as comprehensive as what you'll find in the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class or S-Class, but it's so far ahead of what was found in older Aston Martins that it's really hard to complain.

Aston engineers even took the time to refine the shift paddles on the back of the wheel, shortening the throw and improving feel. That, plus the more responsive programming on that eight-speed auto, means those who want to pick their own gear have just that much more reason to do so.

The logical choice?

At a starting price of $198,995, the V8-powered Aston Martin DB11 is just about $20,000 cheaper than its V12 predecessor. In this category, that's just a few ticked option boxes away from equal, and so it's genuinely hard to make a financial case for the V8 -- unless you happen to live in China, where cars with greater than 4.0 liter engines are subject to an eye-watering 20 percent consumption tax. 

Those in the rest of the world will really need to look at this car for its practical benefits. Namely, the sharper handling and the myriad other little tweaks and fixes that debut here, like the improved shift paddles. All those tweaks will surely come to the V12 powered car in another model year or two, but for now, the extra refinement in the V8 car gives it a slight edge.

The V8, then, is the logical car. It's the one that makes the most sense. But, when making a purchase, like this it's rarely the head that makes the final call. If after reading all this your heart still says V12... well, I don't suppose I can blame you one bit.