All show and attitude but left me with FOMO

All show and attitude but left me with FOMO

THERE’S something immediately pleasing about steering an Aston Martin DB11 out of the showroom. It’s a show-stopper, immediately recognisable as an Aston Martin with its shark-mouth grille, substantial bonnet and heavily haunched rear. It’s also a car-spotter’s dream as evidenced by the sprightly lads who leapt in front of the sleek black-on-white two-toned beast as it rumbled on to Swan St, Richmond. This is a car which, when you first take it out, makes you feel like a world-beater, a champion-of-the-universe, even. Not a God, though. That’s more the attitude of a Lamborghini driver. 

'It’s an expensive car, and with that thumping V12 under the bonnet it has stand-out presence. It’s just not that fun to drive.'

The DB bloodline turned 70 this month, and the British marque celebrated by rolling out the latest DB models for the first time at the Beijing Motor Show (April 25 to May 4). The V12 variant of the DB11 is an imposing set of wheels with some unique features on board due largely to the technology upgrades it’s received as part of a new sharing arrangement with Mercedes-Benz, a company which is very good at that stuff. It’s an expensive car - priced from $A395,000 - and with that thumping V12 under the bonnet it has serious stand-out presence. It’s just not that fun to drive.

Nevertheless, it’s an important car for Aston Martin, being the first off the production line in the company’s Second Century Plan. It’s sold well, too and has been credited with driving Aston Martin’s impressive financial performance last year. Technologically, this car is a big improvement for an Aston Martin. It’s the most advanced car from the company to date, including in the body work which has had an almost ground-up design overhaul. It’s dropped some weight, too. The result is a beautiful car, though more grand tourer than sports car, so Madam Wheels took it for a drive in the country.

In fact, I’d borrowed this car to shoot promo footage for the launch of the new Madam Wheels website and service as a private-client car-buyer adviser. With photographers, videographers and creative design crews in tow, we blasted down to the Mornington Peninsula’s rarified Western Port Bay to capture footage befitting a 100-plus-year-old marque with some serious street cred - only to discover it wasn’t there. Not in the way I expected it to be, at any rate. But more about that later. There was much more fun to be had before the truth finally dawned. 

From the outset, this car had many things to be pleased about. Most immediately and prominently was that imposing nose, topped with the widest single sheet of aluminium ever to grace an Aston Martin bonnet. The automaker had to scour Europe to find a company with machines capable of producing sheets of aluminium this wide. Norway came through for them, I believe. At the tip of that nose is the Aston Martin winged badge -  in metal or sterling silver, if you so choose - handmade by a London jeweller. Things turned to gold under the bonnet in the variant Madam Wheels was driving thanks to an optional Under-bonnet Jewellery Pack (see images).

It is an Aston Martin, after all, which means it’s hand-built so there’s beautiful craftsmanship all over it. The artisans responsible for the hand-stitch detailing in the headlining and matching leather seats could surely find employment at luxury French fashion house Hermes, so luxurious is the finish. They were comfortable to sit in, too, even with the slightly disconcerting air blowing up out of them. (They come heated, too.)

The look and technology of the body work draws from the company’s race experience and is designed to stop the car from literally lifting off and flying away. Under the bonnet is an all-new Mercedes-AMG 5.2-litre V12 which Aston Martin engineers have tweaked to ensure it produces an engine note that’s distinctly Aston rather than AMG. Not that that would be too obvious from inside given the layers of sound-deadening insulation on board. The engine features twin turbos but it's been designed so half of it can shut down on long runs for better fuel efficiency. Having 600 horsepower fed into the rear wheels is probably more than you’ll need, but the advanced traction management and stability systems help keep things under control. It’s still easy to get the wheels spinning in first and second gears in Sports Plus mode.

'I thought I’d do well in Melbourne’s local sport of blowing off the neighbouring driver at traffic lights, but I was shot down.'

The cockpit really shifts the car into the new Century with modern dials in the dash, a great steering wheel and all of that clever technology from Mercedes. The COMMAND-powered infotainment system could still use some work, though. So much of the detail is buried in menus and can be tricky to find, and the finger-gesture controls are just annoying. Visibility front and back is terrific, which is one of the benefits of having the engine up front rather than mid-mounted. Storage might be a problem, though, and even though this is a four-seat car, you probably want to save the back seats for luggage and coats.

A favourite feature for me, and one not often found these days, is the way the doors, once opened, stay wherever they’re left - no sudden back swinging into shins or shoes or over-swinging into parked cars or cement walls. 

As for the all-important drive, I thought I’d do well in Melbourne’s local sport of blowing off the neighbouring driver at traffic lights. Instead, I was shot down thanks to the massive turbo lag in the DB11 which took a moment to pass after I’d stomped on the accelerator. It was deflating. And on country roads at speed, the car’s weight became apparent in linked turns. I was always working at the steering and the fact that it wasn’t as responsive as I’d have liked didn’t inspire confidence. I had to think a lot more about when to use the brakes. The car came with a speed limiter but lacked adaptive cruise control, which to my mind, is a mega-fail. Being so heavy, when it’s travelling quickly, any feature which helps keep it well back from vehicles ahead would be a good thing.

I’m yet to drive the V8 version of the DB11 - other motoring writers have said they prefer the ride and drive of the lighter, less-powerful, more-nimble vehicle over this V12. But both cars are rather masculine, anyway. For us gals, I’d consider instead the truly beautiful new drop-top DB11 Volante. 

Meanwhile, driving back to Melbourne from the Peninsula shoot that day, I experienced a great wave of FOMO as I glimpsed my Audi RS6 in the rear-vision mirror, following behind with the photographic team on board. To my mind, it looked better, sounded better and was more fun to drive than the DB11 by a long shot. Now THAT’s a car I need to tell you about. Stand by for that one. 

Madam Wheels Verdict

Madam Wheels Worthy? The DB11 V12 is a beautiful car - “the Saville Row suit, the beautiful black dress” of the Aston Martin range, according to the man responsible for designing it, Marek Reichman. I don’t think it’s fit for a lady.

Buy: If you enjoy luxury and prefer a fixed roof over your head. Otherwise I’d consider the Volante. 

Avoid: If you don’t need the power - though who, does, really. This car has a dangerous amount of it and could be a weapon in the wrong hands.

Likes: The hand-crafted nature of it, the traditionally massive Aston Martin noise; its outstanding road presence.

Dislikes: The awful turbo lag was shocking; it was quite unwieldy in fast linked turns. 

Bottom line: $A395,000 plus on-road costs. Madam Wheels’ version $453,000 plus on-roads.