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Aston
Martin
DB 11

A modernized icon

It was 13 years ago that Aston Martin bestowed the DB9 upon the world. It 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. It isn't ready for production just yet, but we were given the rare opportunity to drive a near-final prototype, still wrapped in camouflage, and we're taking you along for the ride.

I

t was 13 years ago that Aston Martin bestowed the DB9 upon the world. It 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. It isn't ready for production just yet, but we were given the rare opportunity to drive a near-final prototype, still wrapped in camouflage, and we're taking you along for the ride.

The history
Since 1948

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.

Sean Connery's iconic Goldfinger ride

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.

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The Car
our overview

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 for those who 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 more than 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.

The car sprints from 0-to-60 in 3.9 seconds, nearly a second faster than the DB9.

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 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 will be 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. Analogue needles and dials? So last century.

on the track
our impressions

While the DB11 won't formally go into production for another few months, 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 is "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."

That still leaves a lot to tweak. Throttle behavior, steering weight, suspension response and hundreds of other dynamic aspects can be all adjusted through code. Getting just one of these wrong could mean an unpredictable, ill-handling machine. Becker tells me of a bit of an unwanted trait they've uncovered in the car: a slight but unfortunate lurch when the rear end hooks up again after a slide.

The traditional approach might be to stiffen the rear anti-roll 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 has spent much of the past 18 months of his life testing such iterations to get the DB11 into its current state. Now it’s my turn to get behind the wheel on the track, a tight, twisty circuit designed to push the car's handling to its limit.

On-track in the DB11

Join us for a rare, early spin behind the wheel of a pre-production Aston Martin on the racetrack.

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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 plans 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.

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 more purpose. There's no digital trickery going on here, nor any extra pipes to duct noise into the cabin. In fact, Aston will offer a "Quiet Start" mode, muting the exhaust 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, but the power delivery is a bit uneven at times, with an occasional dip in oomph felt in the middle of the rev range. Hopefully this gets ironed out as the car goes through its final testing.

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.

final thought
welcome back DB

It's been too long in coming, but from what I can tell so far, the latest Aston will be well worth the wait. The DB11 still needs a bit more work, and so it'd be premature for me to draw any formal conclusions, but what I've felt I've enjoyed, what I've seen I've loved, and what I've heard...well, I like the sound very much indeed.

If this is the shape of Astons to come, we should be in for a good ride

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