TESTED 13.8.18, WALES ON SALE NOW PRICE £174,995
Accomplished GT combines chassis improvements wrought on the DB11 V8 with a glorious V12 engine now pumped to 630bhp
To the new management of Aston Martin, the DB11 when launched in 2016 was the equivalent of you moving into a beautiful new house, sumptuously decked out in high-quality furnishings and fittings by the previous owners and all, in their own way, entirely lovely and blameless. And yet not all of it is entirely to your taste. It’s better than acceptable, genuinely good, just not quite in certain small but significant ways exactly, well, you. So you end up ripping out a perfectly good kitchen, re-tiling the roof and installing a home cinema, just because you can.
This DB11 AMR is that house, the DB11 you suspect Messrs Palmer & Co would have delivered from the outset, had they been around when the project had begun, rather than arriving when a large amount of its development had already been done. And the fact that the original DB11 is no longer on sale and that the DB11 V8 is far more than a DB11 with a Mercedes-AMG engine rather proves the point. The AMR takes many of the developmental changes included in the V8 package and adds to them its own, yowling V12 twist.
So there’s not just another 30bhp for the V12, bringing its total to 630bhp for no more than a few additional lines of software, but it also has the V8’s revised suspension bushes for the rear axle, as well as its own damper tune, a thicker front roll bar, a fruitier exhaust note in Sport mode and, probably least appreciated but most important, forged alloy wheels that drop unsprung mass by 3.5kg per corner and explain why the AMR is actually a fraction lighter than the V12 it replaces.
It doesn’t feel quicker. It just feels a hell of a lot sharper. Everywhere.
If you’re to find out what the AMR is really like, what you need before you do anything else is a loud and reliable alarm clock. Trying to exercise a car of this performance potential on normal roads at normal times of day is an exercise in futility at best, considerable frustration at worse. You need good roads and you need them to yourself. So is it worth getting up at the kind of time you used to go to bed, just to make sure you’re where you need to be, when you need to be there? For the AMR, the answer is 100% yes.
One of many interesting aspects that has been a constant of the enigmatic Aston Martin way of doing things since David Brown bought the company 71 years ago is that with the sole exceptions of the One-77 in the past and Valkyrie from the future, it has never tried to produce the fastest cars on earth, nor the grippiest or the most luxurious. Every Aston has tried to provide an entire palette of talent, and although some have met with greater success than others, this one is exceptionally rich and colourful.
So often in this job, you are impressed by the way a car drives in mainland Europe only to discover its composure crumbles at the first sight of the somewhat sterner challenge provided by the British public road. Not the DB11 AMR. The figures say it’s a couple of tenths quicker to 62mph than the DB11 and I don’t doubt them, but that’s not what you notice, partly because the engine’s torque has not been allowed to increase by a commensurate amount since the eight-speed ZF gearbox was already right on the limit of what it could handle with the old car. It doesn’t feel quicker. It just feels a hell of a lot sharper. Everywhere.
The DB11 exhaust note was always profoundly impressive for an engine forced to breathe through turbos, but now in Sport mode, it crackles, pops and whizzes in a way that must be manufactured but never seems so.
But the bigger, better changes have come to the chassis, which is now quite superb. I liked the way the DB11 went down the road more than most, but even I must concede the AMR is playing a different game. What it has gained is a little traction, a lot of precision and far more stability over brows and in dips. And what very little it has lost in terms of secondary ride comfort is more than offset by this upgrade in primary body control.
The result is a car that allows you to commit to a difficult road with complete confidence. Indeed, the only elements holding you back – the car’s physical size and slightly limited visibility – have nothing to do with the way it has been set up. There are times, usually in quick, constant-radius curves where the car is cranked over yet absolutely nailed to your chosen line, when it seems barely believable that this is also a superbly effective long-distance touring car weighing the thick end of two tonnes with me on board, sitting on standard Bridgestone Potenza rubber. And for a car of such heft steered with electrical assistance, the feel of the chassis and steering is of a level that neither the Bentley Continental GT nor even Ferrari’s GTC4 Lusso can approach.
On tighter roads, this astonishing fluency is somewhat degraded. Outstanding though its chassis engineers are, they’ve not yet found a way to excuse Aston Martin from the laws of physics. The standard iron brakes offer terrific feel and seem pretty tireless on the road, but you still need to be on them well in advance of any tight corner, especially when preceded by a long straight, because the car’s ability to accrue speed is, relatively, at least as good as its capacity to then get rid of it in a hurry. And in slow-speed corners, there is some push and you are aware of the car’s weight and wheelbase in a way that simply does not cross your mind when the road commands, say, fourth gear rather than second. If you really up the ante and throw it at some very punishing roads, you’ll notice that while Sport and Sport Plus damper modes vary the rate and limit the scope of the body’s movements, you can sometimes feel the stability systems rolling up their sleeves, too, to stop you from taxing it any harder.
But these are very testing conditions and I’ve known cars far lighter, more sporting in set-up and abbreviated in wheelbase not cope so well as the AMR.
All of which would be highly commendable if the car were still a plausible touring machine but it’s not: it’s fantastic. Yes, both a Conti GT and GTC4 have far bigger boots; yes, both are more spacious in the back; and, no, I still have not come to like the presence of quite so much Mercedes-Benz switchgear in the cabin; but in fundamental terms, such as the ride comfort and refinement levels at a steady cruise, this is fine long-distance tourer. And if you’re the kind of person who likes to hoover up the appreciative stares when you get there, it’s pretty good at that too.
To me, this is best DB11 yet. The V8 would doubtless be more engaging around a track, but that is not what DB11s are for. Just as I found when driving the V8 version of the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso, there is no substitute for a classic V12 in this kind of car. The more interesting comparison is with the new DBS Superleggera and whether enough of its additional 85bhp and 147lb ft of torque could be regularly used when combined with its other attributes to justify the £50,000 price gap between the two. I don’t know, but the fact that the thought even occurred to me shows how highly I regard this new AMR.
All grand tourers are compromises. And while some compromises result in nothing more than a jack of all trades, just a few manage to capture enough from all the diverse disciplines they are trying to exploit for something really rather special to result. And the DB11 AMR is one of those cars, and as much so as any mainstream production Aston Martin I’ve driven.
Why does the oil temperature gauge appear in only Sport Plus mode? Need to go some distance before there is no longer cold oil lubricating the V12. AF
Engine V12, 5204cc, twin-turbo, petrol
Power 630bhp at 6500rpm
Torque 516lb ft at 1500rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight 1870kg
Top speed 208mph
CO2, tax band 265g/km, 37%
Rivals Bentley Continental GT, Ferrari GTC4 Lusso