Inside, things have moved on from the DB9 to a similar extent. Where carpets and surfaces follow the bodywork there are more contours, more scuplting, and so a more natural, organic feel to the interior. Material choices help, mostly. Brogue-finish on the leather looks brilliant, and Aston assures us that where you see a material that looks like a material, that’s because it is that material, not a poorer substitute. A couple of bits of metal, like around the air vents, are of the sort that need reassurance to believe that’s true, but mostly the DB11’s finish is excellent.
It’s in here, too, that the Daimler connection finally comes to light. There’s only one column stalk and it comes from a Mercedes – bit of a shame in a £150,000 Aston, I think – and there’s a large, central screen that adds the odd Aston flourish to the regular Mercedes theme, which is no bad thing. Behind the steering wheel – honestly, what’s wrong with round? – is a fully digital dial array; not notably Merc, and disappointingly low of resolution and odd of colour in a couple of places, but a darned sight easier to read than in any Aston of the past decade.
Gone too is another slight frustration: the old key – emotional control unit, no less – that you’d put into the dash, but would have to remove again, before reinserting, to start the engine, if you hadn’t kept it pushed in in the first place. It stirred one emotion or another, I’ll grant you. However, it has given way to a more conventional keyless go, with a proper start button atop the dash. Phew.
Still, this can do two things, depending on how long you push it for: it can start in full woofle, or a quiet start, should you want to make a soft getaway.
Full woofle’s pretty nice, by the way. I love how downsizing means ‘only’ 5.2-litres and the addition of two turbochargers. This is still a gold-top V12, making 600bhp at 6500rpm and 516lb ft between 1500 and 5000rpm. It drives, as per, through an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, mounted at the rear, to the rear wheels only. That the engine is mounted a long way back – the extended wheelbase means all of the block is behind the axle line – and that it’s a transaxle means weight distribution is, Aston says, 51:49. Aston quotes only a dry weight so far, of 1770kg, but assume a full weight will mean around 950kg sitting over each axle.
Not an insignificant amount, then, but Aston is getting quite serious about not only making its cars look different, but feel different. This is, it says, its softest car – it’s a GT, not a sports car – so there is more alertness and keenness to come. It says it almost by apology, but really there’s no need, because the things a DB11 can do dynamically are faintly extraordinary.
Engage woofle and pootle off – the ZF auto is still the best auto in the business – and you’ll note that the ride quality is excellent. There are drive modes – of course there are drive modes – changing both the powertrain and the chassis, independently. You get GT, Sport, and Sport Plus, and such is the cleverness of the damping – adaptive in any mode too – that all three modes are quite viable on the road. As with most systems like this there’s a temporary ‘overshoot’ on the damping when you flick between them, so that you obviously feel a difference between one mode and another, then it settles down. There’s so much ride quality to spare in Comfort that the other two don’t ruin the suppleness, though there are roads on which you wouldn’t choose to use them.
Then, body control is so good in Comfort that there aren’t that many times you’d think it needs to be hugely tighter. For a 1900kg car, the DB11’s bump absorption, yet ability to remain composed over lumps, bumps and crests is really outstanding. Sure, sometimes in its softest mode you start to think ‘A-ha, finally, it’s starting to run out of ideas’, but then you look at the speedo and realise that at that speed little this side of a McLaren 650S would have any ideas left. A Bentley Continental GT would still be wondering what the last crest had done to it by the time a DB11 had long forgotten about it and be dealing with the next set of inputs.
The agility, for a 2+2, 1900kg, V12-engined car is truly outstanding. Aston has wound up the steering’s speed, not quite to Ferrari levels, thankfully, but it’s still quite quick, which makes the Aston turn with enthusiasm. There’s less need to get the nose planted like there is in today’s other V12-engined Aston Martins, before the front is happy to turn. You just flick the lightish, accurate steering towards a corner and the DB11 follows. Is there less road feel than in, say, a V12 Vantage S? I don’t doubt it, but you do get subtle messages, and far less kickback – only the odd nibble here and there that’s barely worth mentioning. This is the GT, remember – it’s not supposed to be brimming with feedback, but amiable and, on a motorway, stable for hours on end. And it is.
Do make no mistake, though; it is still chuffing fast. If it’s wet, as it was for a few miles of our test, the DB11 will trouble the traction control in just about any gear at all. Oh, sure, there’s a bit of turbo lag at low revs – there are two turbos, after all. But this donkey makes 516lb ft from 1500rpm. If for a nanosecond it’s only making 300lb ft, well, that’s no big deal. And it’ll rev out cleanly and purposefully, should you ask, which you probably will, because it’s quite addictive, and yet it still sounds like a large capacity V12, and at this point you’re going quite fast but the chassis allows it because it’s got the capability in hand. It’s so trustworthy, and so docile near the limit, and it rides, and it’s so agile, and it just does so many things that it’s all rather overwhelming. Here is a car with 90% of the agility of a McLaren 650S or Ferrari 488 GTB and 90% of the ride quality of an S-Class and both of those things should be incompatible with its kerb weight. How, exactly, have they done this?