The DB11 sits in a lay-by at the bottom of a mountain while Autocar staffers sponge away the last of the road grime from its flanks. I know some have their reservations, but to me this is how a 21st century Aston should look: modern, dynamic, respectful to its past but not manacled to it. It looks small next to the Bentley, but it’s not, really. It’s just over 70mm shorter and less than 5mm narrower and sits on a longer wheelbase. The almost 12cm height differential is the only truly telling statistical difference between them on the outside.
Each is powered by a largedisplacement, quad-cam, twinturbocharged 12-cylinder engine and sends drive to the road via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. But whereas the Bentley motor retains its curious W formation – more easily thought of as two narrow-angle V6s sharing a common crankshaft – and directs its power to all four corners of the car, the Aston has a traditional V12, rear-wheel drive layout. Both engines can trace their lineage back years – to 2001 for the Bentley and 1999 for the Aston – but both have been so extensively re-engineered as to be regarded as new.
The Continental GT Speed appears to hold the balance of size and power, prising 626bhp from 6.0 litres and an astonishing 619lb ft of torque, compared with the 600bhp and 516lb ft offered by the 5.2-litre DB11. But once you’ve offset that against the Bentley’s immense 2320kg kerb weight, it is the comparatively dainty 1910kg Aston – if that word can be used in the context of a car that still weighs close to two tonnes – that looks far and away the most potent.
Entering the Aston directly from the Bentley fuels the narrative suggesting that for all they have in common in terms of power, price and apparent positioning, these two represent very different takes on the classic British grand touring theme. You fall so far from Continental to DB11 that you might think it was actually a Bentayga from which you’d recently arrived.
The Bentley cabin architecture, so effortlessly cool in 2003, now looks fusty in its traditionalism. Its shapes are as attractive as ever, but in its analogue dials and Neolithic multimedia system lie the most telling evidence of the car’s age.
Bentley Continental GT Speed cabin
Aston Martin DB11 cabin
It’s tempting to praise the DB11 cabin to the skies simply because an adult of above-average height can now find a comfortable driving position, the instruments are actually legible and the nav no longer makes you want to commit an act of physical violence on the car. In fact, it would have been scandalous had the DB11 not improved on these, the DB9’s very worst characteristics. But even by the standards of today, this is a good Aston Martin cabin. Its look is modern without attempting the self-consciously avant-garde, and although the ancillary control switches and main infotainment display betray their Mercedes-Benz roots too readily, they all work intuitively and effectively. Compared with the competition from Bentley and, more broadly, Maserati and Ferrari, it’s an effective solution, albeit one that’s unlikely to trouble the new Porsche Panamera, whose state-of-the-art interior architecture is likely to play a prominent role in next year’s all-new Continental GT.