Aston Martin DB11 (16-) preview

  • Powerful, charismatic, responsive V12
  • Agile handling, supple chassis
  • Striking design

This is the new Aston Martin DB11 Coupe, the luxury grand tourer that finally replaces the 2004 DB9. But this is not the finished car: we’re driving a verification prototype on a test track, and it’s said to be 85 percent representative of the final production model.

Brand new from the ground up

When first deliveries begin in late 2016, Aston’s new V12 will cost £154,900 and its closest rival – on specification, image and price – will be the Bentley Continental GT Coupe.

The BMW M6 and Maserati GranTurismo offer a similar concept with a V8 engine and lower overheads, while the Ferrari F12berlinetta is significantly more expensive but offers two seats only, not the Aston’s 2+2 (the +2 indicating the small rear seats are best thought of as offering part-time accommodation).

Compared with its predecessor, the DB11 is 50mm longer, 28mm wider and offers 65mm extra space between the front and rear wheels. So when you slip into the low-slung sports seats, it feels like there’s plenty of room to get comfortable.

We can’t judge fit and finish on this rough-hewn, hard-worked prototype, but the basics feel right. Big changes include a new 12-inch TFT digital dash display with a large central rev counter and two toggles on the steering wheel to switch between GT, Sport and Sport Plus modes for the suspension (left-hand side) and drivetrain (on the right). You may also spot some Mercedes switchgear and a few buttons carried over from earlier Astons.

The long bonnet leaves you under no illusions that this is a large car, but the +2 rear seats are still very cramped for adults despite enjoying 87mm more legroom than the DB9. They will, however, be tolerable for younger children, and ISOFIX seat-mounting points are offered for the first time.

All-new V12 engine

The DB11 is built on an all-new aluminium chassis, and boasts a powerful new V12 engine manufactured to Aston Martin’s design by ex-owners Ford.

At 5.2 litres it’s around 700cc smaller than the DB9’s V12, but twin-turbochargers help to actually increase power; it ramps up from 540bhp to 600bhp.

Torque – the pulling power that helps a car accelerate from low speed in a high gear – increases from 457lb ft to 516lb ft. It’s a relatively small increase given the performance potential of an engine such as this, but instead of the maximum being produced at the DB9’s 5500rpm, it’s now delivered from 1500-5000rpm, or from barely above idle speed.

It sounds deep, rich and characterful, responds with none of the lag that afflicts some turbocharged cars and feels significantly faster than its predecessor; this is an exciting engine. Not only that, the low-down torque delivery makes it even more effortless, which is a fine match for a luxurious GT.

An eight-speed automatic gearbox is the only transmission. It is smooth and responsive, and shifts gears very quickly in Sport Plus mode, but Ferrari’s dual-clutch gearboxes are faster, as is the Jaguar F-Type’s automatic.

Large but agile grand tourer

The DB11’s handling impresses on the test track. Nimble and sure-footed, the rear-wheel drive Aston belies its significant 1,770kg weight (and that’s without oil, fuel or water) by feeling smaller and lighter than it is.

New electrically assisted steering helps here, with its rapid responses, light weighting and tactile feedback. Our only criticism is there’s a touch too much understeer (where the front end loses grip) at higher speeds on track, but Aston promises additional torque vectoring (subtly using individual brakes to encourage the nose into a corner) will reduce this tendency.

On tighter, twistier public roads, the DB11 should feel light on its feet, supple and incredibly eager to change direction. It certainly did on the narrow test road we also drove on.

All things considered, the Aston Martin DB11 Coupe is an incredibly satisfying machine to drive, offering outstanding agility, performance and comfort, too. The small drawbacks we’ve identified are likely to be ironed out as this verification prototype is polished into the final production car. We’ll find out soon if they have.