V12 engines are, after all, increasingly rare and enduringly special things. But, as it happens, Aston’s done a remarkably good job of making Affalterbach’s 4.0-litre V8 its own. It sounds subtly different than you’ll find it in a Mercedes-AMG GT or an E63, thanks to new induction and exhaust systems. It’s more than potent enough to make the Aston a first-class performer; in some ways, it even shows the V12 up a bit.
Granted, it’s a shame that this car doesn’t sound as majestic as last year’s delectable Vantage GT8 – but I reckon the voice of God, in four-part harmony with backing vocals from the Bee Gees, would probably pale by that comparison. There’s certainly a muffled tonelessness to the DB11’s V8 compared with the old atmospheric 4.7, but there’s still culture and soul here aplenty – not to mention greater subtlety and reserve than most AMGs normally bother with.
Aston’s version of Mercedes-AMG’s 503bhp, 3982cc twin-turbocharged V8 gets its own induction and exhaust systems, its own Bosch ECU programming and a wet sump (instead of the dry one that the Mercedes-AMG GT uses). The lubrication system was needed in order to package the engine between the front cross-members of the DB11’s superstructure and Gaydon reckons it ends up adding little if anything to the engine’s overall weight compared with a dry one.
The development of the engine's ‘sonic signature’, says the company, was all about tuning out a lot of the bass frequencies that AMG prefers and replacing them with greater mid-range tonality in a bid for a less transatlantic, more sophisticated European sound. The engine’s surprisingly reserved with the powertrain in GT mode and much more full-blooded in S and S+ modes – although you hear more induction and combustion noise here, and less woofling exhaust, than you do in AMG’s applications: a welcome change.
Having widened the gap between suspension modes, Aston has also created bigger and more clearly defined steps between the matching GT, S and S+ powertrain modes for the DB11 V8 – and to worthwhile effect. The car prefers to hold on to a high gear and allows that V8 to knuckle down through the lower mid-range if you use GT mode. S suits the car best on the road, in which the transaxle 'box is quick to drop one ratio in response to a dipped accelerator but not given to hunting or overreaction. S+ is one to enjoy for short bursts, but can make the car seem unhelpfully highly strung. Or there’s always manual paddleshift mode, which is improved in the V8’s case by a shorter, snappier paddle action than the V12's.
Whichever mode you’re using, the V8 feels nicely lively and more responsive than the V12 – and really torquey. The vigour with which the car hustles from 3000rpm to 5000rpm is seriously impressive, and it makes for more effective overtaking potential and probably greater real-world ground-covering pace than even the V12 car has.
The DB11 V8’s handling, however, is an even better advert for it than its engine. Aston’s proud of the improvements made to the car’s feedback levels, body control and both its directional precision and handling response - and rightly so. The V8 remains supple and compliant but also keeps check on its body movements quite a lot more closely and deftly than the V12 does.
The difference that weighty, newly communicative electric power steering system makes on your ability to gauge the grip level under the front tyres is a big one, too. Being able to take that much more confidence in the adhesiveness of the car’s front end makes the pace of its steering rack easier to assimilate and also means you can begin to explore the balance and adjustability of the DB11’s chassis in a way you simply wouldn’t risk in the 12-cylinder car.