- Published: Wednesday, 14 June 2017 04:27
The Aston Martin DB11 exemplifies everything we adore about coupes, but it’s also a case study in one inescapable truth about the flashy two-door market.
SINGAPORE — For the first time since 2010, Aston Martin has just seen a quarterly profit. In the first three months of the year the small sportscar maker was £5.9 million (S$10m) in the black, and it’s largely down to this car, the DB11.
The new grand tourer has sold strongly enough to double Aston’s revenue, and it might even power the company to a full-year profit, a year ahead of schedule in its current business plan.
Commerce and Aston Martin haven’t always gotten along. This is a company that has gone bankrupt seven times, after all.
But the DB11 isn’t just a new sports coupe. Its approach to design and engineering make it much more like a reboot for its maker, and it exemplifies not just all that’s desirable in a coupe, but a new way to do business for small manufacturers like Aston.
That new business model involves teaming up with a much bigger player, and borrowing technologies that are commonplace in mainstream cars but prohibitively expensive for independent carmakers to develop on their own.
The infotainment system is a re-skinned Mercedes item. There are more
This might sound like a paradox, but sometimes it seems like the more you spend on an exotic coupe, the less you get.
You could only have keyless entry and engine starting in a Ferrari for the first time last year, for instance, with the 488 GTB. That’s something Kias and Hyundais have had for ages.
Likewise, practical features such as a 360-degree above-view parking camera or, for that matter, park assist, are things you’ll find in a VW before you see them in a McLaren.
It’s almost as if, once a car’s price tag has two commas in it, buyers only ask that it look like Beauty and go like the Beast, nothing more. Fair enough, though. People will forgive a pretty face anything.
And the DB11 is as pretty as they come. Giving a car a long, low roof and subtracting a pair of doors does tend to do wonders for its appearance, but when you give it proportions like the DB11’s, the result can be magical.
It’s so visually arresting, it’s doubtful you could make a bigger impact at a party by arriving in a carriage drawn by Zoe Tay. And if there’s a bad angle on the car I’ve yet to find it.
What’s under that bonnet, with its impossibly precise creases, is a thing of beauty in itself, a creamy 5.2-litre V12 with a turbocharger for each cylinder bank. Turbos usually muffle an engine, but the cultured snarl of the DB11’s engine is still something to make the small hairs tingle. You’d rouse it far more often if it didn’t mean putting your licence at peril. By which we mean nearly instant peril, since this is a car that hits 100km/h in just 3.9 seconds.
There is a smidgen of turbo lag when you launch the Aston, giving you a split second to change your mind about unleashing its 608 horses, but if you do let the V12 do its thing, it’s just as game to show you just how hard it can wallop.
A SOFTER APPROACH
Surprisingly, the Aston Martin is a bit of a softy around corners. Even on the suspension’s hardest setting, there’s a noticeable amount of body roll when you aim it into bends, and at a brisk pace there’s none of the painted-to-the-tarmac sensation that eggs you into seeing if you can brake a fraction later for the next corner, get back on the gas a bit earlier, and so on.
It’s all very different from a Ferrari. Flick a manettino in a 488 or F12berlinetta, and you’ve got a car primed for action and drama instantly. With the Aston you have to select the drivetrain mode you want with your right hand, choose the suspension setting with your left hand, and — this is the bit that probably tells you everything you need to know about the car — if you want a more liberal traction control setting, you’ll have to call it up in the instrument cluster’s menu system somewhere. The car has an iron fist, to be sure, but you’re supposed to buy it more for the velvet glove.
Put another way, the DB11 is more grand tourer than sportscar, and that brings us back to the creature comforts it comes with. The cabin is a sea of leather and Alcantara, and it’s nicely put together enough, but there’s a high degree of Mercedes DNA in here, so much so that it nearly feels like the DB9 made love with a C-Class to produce this car. Daimler (Merc’s parent company) owns a twentieth of Aston Martin, which explains how all the Mercedes hardware (and software) made it into the DB11.
Plenty of Mercedes bits in here, but the DB11 is better off for it
Still, that relationship is necessary if Aston Martin is to survive, given the technical help it needs to put its next generation of cars on the road. Buying engines from Mercedes-AMG for the next V8 Vantage is infinitely easier than developing one in-house, especially for a tiny player like Aston.
Nevertheless, Aston Martin has had help from a bigger player before. Once owned by Ford, many of its cars have parts and switches sourced from Volvo, another of the Blue Oval brand’s former subsidiaries.
Poor quality control likely didn’t help sales back then, but the new car is much better put together than Astons of old.
In any case, the profits delivered by the DB11 suggest that the current partnership is working, and if the creature comforts that make it stand out in the market comfort come from Mercedes, so be it. At least it means the chances that there will someday be a DB12 are that much higher.