Tested 13.11.17, Cotswolds On sale Now Price £144,900
Twin-turbo AMG V8 is just Aston’s starting point for creating this lighter, sharper DB11
How, then, do you feel about an Aston Martin equipped with a Mercedes-AMG engine? Does it really matter? Should it matter, so long as it improves the product? After all, this ‘new’ engine is a good one, with 503bhp and rampant torque. You may also have heard that this is no case of a straight engine swap, but perhaps you haven’t, so now that we’ve got the DB11 V8 on home tarmac, let’s recap.
The 12-cylinder DB11’s ZF-sourced gearbox remains entirely unchanged, sitting a fraction ahead of the rear axle complete with eight short ratios. Elsewhere, Aston has made numerous amendments to the V8-engined car in its attempt to best exploit a 115kg saving brought about by the loss of four cylinders. For one, the brake balance has been altered, with changes to piston size at the front. Efforts have also been made to improve pedal feel and address complaints from owners who felt the system was a little grabby at low speeds. The electric power steering has been retuned for slightly more resistance off centre and a greater feeling of confidence. Spring rates, meanwhile, are reduced all round, the anti-roll bars are stiffer and so are the rear-axle bushings, to mitigate the V12’s tendency for awkward diagonal weight transitions, says chief engineer Matt Becker. There have also been detail changes to the suspension geometry.
The V8 DB11 melds GT-car pliancy with the precise, agile exuberance of a smaller beast
As for ‘Aston-ising’ the barrel-chested 4.0-litre AMG engine, the air intakes, exhaust system and ECU software are fresh, although the greatest difference is that, unlike for the Mercedes-AMG GT, it gets a wet sump. That’s not only to do with cost savings and packaging: the engineers at Gaydon also don’t expect their cars to experience the prolonged lateral loadings that would necessitate going dry. This new-for-Aston V8 also sits on different mounts from the 5.2-litre V12 DB11, and the chassis has improved weight distribution.
If you’re wondering why anyone would buy the V12 on the basis of all that, so are we. Aston’s trimming of the fat means the junior car trades almost 100bhp for a 0-62mph that’s just a tenth slower, at 4.0sec. It’s also £13,000 cheaper, at a touch under £145,000. In fact, Becker says the V8’s 187mph top speed had to be held back a little to create some breathing space to the V12. Comforting to think the double-tonne still matters on the showroom floor.
Extensive use among the vast AMG range means this M178 engine is now a well-known quantity, and because Aston has been limited largely to making only exhaust-tract modifications, its origins are unmistakable. That means a dominance of low-frequency tones, but instead of a relentless Harley-style thump, the note has been tuned to additionally deliver a more buoyant, refined quality. Basically, this car can still bellow profanities but it does so in received pronunciation. That’s especially true in Sport+ mode, which now gives you an even more distinct snap, crackle and pop with every lift of the throttle.
Peak torque of 513lb ft still arrives at just 2000rpm, though, so there’s rarely a moment when this car isn’t ready to hurl itself at the next closest object with an enthusiasm only just short of frightening. An abbreviated path for exhaust gases – brought about by AMG’s placing of parallel turbos within the vee of the engine – also means from 4000rpm or so there’s no turbo lag of which to speak. It’s an engine of extraordinary mid-range response, although the V12 still hits harder higher up and is the sweeter instrument when you’re stoking things. In the V8 car, you’re encouraged to pull the aluminium paddles well in advance of the 7000rpm limiter. Not so in the V12.
Aston’s stated aim with the V8 has been to retain the GT spirit but engineer in a little more athleticism and, frankly, you’d expect all the development work to stand it in good stead on the kind of British roads we all love to hate. It has, as it happens.
At 1760kg, this is still a heavy car, but it’s also a deeply intuitive steer, exhibiting a natural rate of response in all the major controls and tight body movements, the nature of which you wouldn’t credit as belonging to a full-sized Aston. Indeed, two wheel-mounted buttons – one for damping, another for throttle, exhaust and transmission mapping – give the driver a degree of personalisation but your enjoyment isn’t dependent on getting the settings just so, as it is with, say, an Audi R8. Even on wet, uneven roads, you’re given the confidence to chase the throttle, and that’s not just to do with the recalibrated, firmer steering, which is nicely damped yet communicates conditions beneath you so eloquently. It’s also because the V8 DB11 melds GT-car pliancy with the precise, agile exuberance of a smaller beast. That’s otherwise known as having your cake and eating it: owners of the V12 just get a very, very lovely cake.
Surely, a five-star car? Well, not quite. Blame refinement at speed, which suffers because of road roar and the curiously loud rustle of air passing over the base of the A-pillar. Interior fit isn’t good enough, either, even if the abundance of leather is supremely soft to the touch. The AMG-engined DB11 is otherwise the one to have, and a hugely desirable – and, yes, improved – product. That’s until Aston Martin applies all these changes to the V12 car next year, at least. When that happens, we shall have a real conundrum on our hands.
This car’s gait is huge. You might, quite unintentionally, find yourself straying into triple figures as the powertrain attempts to steal you into its natural rhythm. GT credentials very much intact, then. RL
Aston Martin DB11 V8
Weight loss and tighter chassis mean the V8 DB11 is a better, more intuitive driver’s car than the V12 – for now
Engine V8, 3982cc, twin-turbo, petrol
Power 503bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 513lb ft at 2000-5000rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight 1760kg
0-62mph 4 .0sec
Top speed 187mph
CO2, tax band 230g/km, 37%
Rivals Bentley Continental GT, Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupé