Aston Martin is the latest manufacturer to reap the benefits of Teutonic largesse. Though Aston remains independent, with its major investor being an Italian private equity firm, Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, also owns about a 5 percent stake. While we witnessed the first tasty fruit of this union when the DB11 launched last year, it was mainly deep in the underpinnings, the Benzes having granted Aston the right to implement their electronic architecture. This resulted in surprisingly (for Aston) functional and legible dash, ventilation, safety and infotainment controls.
Now, with the release of the DB11 V8, we are meeting the true Aston/Benz offspring. And we like this kid, though he may not win the title of favorite nephew.
The heart of this baby is Mercedes-AMG's 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8, which, in this application, produces 503 hp and 513 lb-ft of torque. This is fiesty enough to rocket this DB to 62 mph in 4.0 seconds, barely discernible from the 3.9 seconds in which it's dispatched by the 600-hp V12. Continuing with the markdowns, the V8 deducts a $17,500 premium from the V12's list for a sub-$200,000 starting price. It also trims about 250 pounds from the DB's overall mass, which brings its fighting weight into the sub-two-ton category.
Also changed are a few cosmetic features. These are meant to differentiate the V8 from the V12 in alignment with the mission of the new car, which was described for us by Aston CEO Andy Palmer as an "agile fighter" in contrast with the V12's "ballistic missile."
Perhaps this is an inept metaphor in these tense 38th Parallel times, but it is clearly meant to underscore the soupcon of added sportiness in this more stiffly sprung and more effortfully steered GT. The visual alterations consist mainly of the gloss blacking-out of the grille and headlamp surrounds (and the elimination of the hood nostrils) as well as some harmonized updates on the interior's door cards and center stack, much of which is rendered in black anodized aluminum as well. The car otherwise retains its seductive, muscular and overly creasy shape, which is best viewed from five or more paces, a distance at which its superfluous detailing blurs. If you're a valet, you'll still park it in front of any Bentley Continental GT on the lot.
Changes were also made to the Benz engine to Aston-ize it. It was given a fresh intake, new mountings, its own wet-sump lubrication, a new engine control unit and some novel coding. Most important, it was given a differentiated exhaust tuning. "AMG engines sound like thumpers," says Matt Becker, Aston's head of vehicle dynamics. "That's good for them, but it's not what we want." Aston aligned the engine note by removing a bit of the bass, adding in more mid and high range and integrating top notes of coriander, fig and summer lawn. We cannot complain about the result.
Neither can we complain about the experience of driving the car. Another change that the brand made from the V12 was to shorten by half the length of the paddle-shifter stroke required to run up or down the eight cogs in the ZF automatic. We're unsure whether this reduces shift times notably, but in hundreds of miles of driving through the Spanish mountains near Barcelona, it certainly does not harm the perception of speed. The car feels and sounds delightful, especially in the crescendoing movement from GT to Sport to Sport+ engendered by depressing one of the two buttons on the steering wheel. (The other controls the suspension settings according to a similar rubric.) Loud. Louder. Loudest. Guess which we picked? The Spanish villagers found us incorrigible. Except the ones who cheered as we passed.
Dropping a quartet of cylinders has varied effects on the pricey, grand-touring vehicles in Aston's competitive set. Because of its front-wheel-drive heritage, the outgoing Bentley Continental GT pitches its anchor of an engine out mainly in front of its front axle, so the diminution in mass up there pays large dividends in balance. Because it lacks all-wheel-drive, the V12 in Benz's S-Class produces slower 0-60 mph numbers than its V8, meriting little more than a larger price tag for those willing to pay for its cashmere sledgehammer thrust. We have yet to try out the V8 in Ferrari's rear-wheel-drive-only GTC4Lusso, so we will reserve judgment there, though a Ferrari GT without a V12 seems anathema.
But as much as we were enchanted by the V8 Aston, and its allegations of increased tossability, we couldn't help but long for the V12. Sure, it's a value play to get the V8. Yes, it puts a bit less weight on the nose, though Aston's V12 already sits entirely behind the front axle. And, it may be the insider's choice, a way to access membership in the club through the secret side entrance. But while a V8 DB does not feel in any way inadequate, it also does not quite fulfill the Aston mission of feeling far more than adequate. If we were trying to save $17,500 on our six-figure GT, we certainly would consider this car. But if we were trying to save $17,500 on our six-figure GT, we probably wouldn't be shopping for an Aston Martin DB11 in the first place.
We adore this V8 wherever it appears, and we're sure we'll love it even more in the forthcoming all-new Vantage and wherever else Aston sticks it. But, really, the only way to fight back against creeping German colonialism is to go with the engine engineered by the Brits. You don't get a Jaguar XJS with the straight-6. Rolls-Royce doesn't offer its Wraith (or any of its current cars) with anything but a dozen cylinders. Lamborghini won't let Audi banish the Aventedor's 12-pot, yet. You should have had a V12.