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The most important Aston in a generation undergoes the industry’s toughest test

It was, for years, the prophecy that every lover of extravagant supercars, epic limousines, sleek GTs and exciting sport cars dreaded.

But just as the introduction of an SUV worked like a charm for Porsche, so it is currently working out very nicely indeed for Bentley, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce. Having for so long been anathema to so many, the super-luxury, conspicuously consuming 4x4 has turned saviour of a sort.

There’s a key difference between this and the Lamborghini Urus: the latter wants to show you it can do anything a supercar can. The DBX makes its own rules. I really liked how it mixed dynamic fluency with precision and feel.

Aston Martin has just become the latest of the ‘big fish’ luxury car brands to launch such an ostentatious SUV. It has done so with a view to stabilising its business, to opening up parts of the global car market that have hitherto been closed to it and to providing the revenue base on which its wider strategic ambitions can be built. Gaydon’s five-metre-long, five-seater cash cow – the all-new DBX – has landed.

And what a profitable introduction it could – indeed, should – prove to be. The Rolls-Royce Cullinan has become the fastest-selling new Rolls-Royce the company has yet known. The Bentley Bentayga outsold Bentley’s next most popular model by a factor of at least two to one for the first three years of its life, and the Lamborghini Urus is enjoying even greater domination by volume of its Lamborghini showroom siblings.

With even the mighty Ferrari gearing up to enter the super-SUV segment in 2022, Aston Martin clearly won’t be the last to this giant-sized feast. Moreover, if the appearance of its own take on high-riding motoring for the wealthy elite is anything to go by, it hasn’t been prevented by either convention or technology from taking its own unique slant on providing what this rarefied stratum of the utility car market may currently be missing.

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Stand by to find out exactly how unique and different the DBX really is, and whether such a vehicle can still feel like a proper, familiar Aston Martin to drive.

The DBX line-up at a glance

The DBX is currently a stand-alone model. The Mercedes-AMG V8 represents the sole engine offering, although there’s every chance that Aston Martin will introduce a V12, along with a more affordable plug-in hybrid, at some point down the line.

A big part of the DBX’s future sales success will no doubt hinge on whether or not the latter materialises.

Versions Power
Aston Martin DBX V8* 543bhp
Aston Martin DBX 707

697bhp

*Version tested

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Aston Martin DBX

DESIGN & STYLING

Aston Martin DBX 2020 road test review - hero side

Aston Martin’s current management admits that it has not once, in more than a century of car making, even tried to produce a car with such a broadly defined mission statement as the DBX.

Doing that while simultaneously building a new factory for the new model to be made in – and all during one of the FTSE’s most disastrous company flotations in recent years – was clearly also a very tough test. And yet Aston Martin has succeeded. There’s also a new boss and a new majority shareholder and chairman – and, more importantly, the DBX is now three months into production in St Athan, Wales.

There’s no rear wiper but Aston Martin says the car’s aerodynamics automatically keep the window clear of water and muck. We drove the car in heavy rain and found there was reasonable truth to that claim.

The DBX is in some ways like the firm’s range of sports cars and grand touring coupés. Like them, it’s built on an all-aluminium platform which is also all-new, made from a mix of extrusions and castings bonded together, which in turn makes the car both rigid and light compared with its rivals. That would clearly be the right way to start for the most dynamic-handling car in its segment but, compared with some of its competitors at least, it may be a questionable claim. Aston claims a kerb weight of 2245kg, but we weighed the car at 2328kg. That figure, although less than the 12-cylinder Bentley Bentayga we tested in 2016, was just over 130kg heavier than the Lamborghini Urus we tested last year.

Aside from being Aston Martin’s first SUV, this is also the company’s first car with air suspension (a three-chamber set-up, height adjustable by up to 95mm) and also with 48V electric system-powered active antiroll bars. Additionally, the DBX uses double-wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear axle.

The car’s powertrain consists of a modified version of the Mercedes-AMG-sourced 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 (with revised turbocharging and cooling systems and a lower compression ratio), which produces a peak 542bhp. This isn’t the kind of figure that will lure people out of quicker rivals on its own, but with engine capacity-based tax rules set as they are in important markets such as China, you can see why Gaydon might start with a V8 version of this car, then perhaps aim for a plug-in hybrid next and save any fire-breathing V12 for later down the line.

The DBX is also notable for shunning the ZF eight-speed gearbox that other Astons have in favour of Mercedes’ nine-speed torque converter. It’s this transmission’s upper torque limit that is rumoured to be the reason why the V8’s peak torque output has been pegged at 516lb ft.

The gearbox does allow for a maximum towing capacity of 2700kg, though, as well as low-speed torque multiplication – and downstream of it the car has an active centre differential capable of sending almost 100% of drive to the rear axle, and a torque-biasing, electronically locking ‘e-LSD’ rear differential.

INTERIOR

Aston Martin DBX 2020 road test review - cabin

An SUV the DBX may be, but this is a car you address and enter in a manner that’s quite atypical of the breed. The slightly fiddly pop-out door handle is a clue that you’re climbing aboard a car whose ornate form has been considered to be at least as important as its function, as are its frameless doors and low-cut A-pillar and roofline.

Look down as you swing open the door and you’ll see a cabin floor that is perfectly flat all the way to where you expect to find a raised sill but won’t; you’ll also notice that the outer surface below is completely covered by the lower lip of the door. Stepping up and in is therefore really easy, and your clothes are kept free of any muck and grime as you do it.

The DBX’s metallic paddle shifters are wonderfully tactile. They’re cool to the touch and initiate manual gearshifts with a satisfying click.

The DBX’s cabin is attractive and elaborately finished – although not all that roomy. The car has really quite lavish leather upholstery from ceiling to carpet, with brogue-style patterning on the seats and eye-catching raised and pinched details on the fascia. Even the bottoms of the door cubbies are lined with hide.

Aston boasts that the car offers rear seat passengers as much space as those up front, and that the driving position was set to allow space for a fifth percentile woman, a 95th percentile man and anything in between. But our testers mostly agreed that the car’s front seat cushions were higher-set than perhaps they ought to have been, and also that the header rail loomed a little too close to the eyeline for some. Outright head room in either row would likely be marginal for anyone taller than 6ft 4in.

The car’s second row is fitted out for three passengers, although it would be something of a squeeze if they were all adults. For four adults of average height in all, however, the DBX’s cabin would be a very comfortable and accessible place in which to travel – a target Aston Martin the old four-door Rapide certainly missed. The boot is particularly long and wide, is functionally furnished with load-retention features and can be expanded for carrying capacity through rear seats that fold 40/20/40.

Aston Martin DBX infotainment and sat-nav

There’s no missing the fact that the DBX’s infotainment system is built on old Mercedes architecture, even despite a graphical reskin that lends the software a distinctly Aston Martin theme.

The 10.25in TFT screen’s graphics are quite basic compared with the more overtly high-tech systems found in the likes of the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga. It doesn’t respond to touch but is instead controlled by a rotary dial on the centre console.

For the most part this works quite intuitively and makes the process of navigating from one menu to the next a relatively straightforward procedure, although it’s not ideal for interacting with smartphone-mirroring programmes such as Apple CarPlay – touchscreens are undoubtedly preferable here.

Such outdated infotainment software does look and feel out of place in the cabin of a high-end performance SUV – particularly one that’s as design-focused as the DBX.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The exceptional dynamic adaptability of some super-SUVs, aided as it is by state-of-the-art drivetrain, suspension and steering technologies, has proven to be more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to creating simple, lasting everyday driver appeal.

Right from the off, however, the DBX clears its throat and starts projecting some charisma, which is a promising sign. Even if you leave the car in its default GT drive mode, its V8 engine starts woofling in its enticingly soulful way – and it can be made quite a lot louder if you really want it to be.

I was impressed by the way the DBX rides at speed. There’s a benevolent assertiveness about its demeanour that feels remarkably similar to that found find in Aston Martin’s two-door GT models

The DBX ambles around agreeably at low speeds. Although the transmission can begin to grab at ratios a little brusquely when you cycle into Sport and Sport+ drive modes, it’s always smooth in GT. Here it hangs onto gears for just long enough that you can enjoy listening to the revs rise just above 3000rpm, at which point the active exhaust’s baffles open a little, and drink in the richness of the experience.

Out of town, when exploring the farther reaches of the accelerator pedal’s travel, you’ll find the gearbox can be a little slow, at times, to kick down; likewise, it isn’t as quick-shifting as you might like it to be in its manual mode – although that’s only a marginal failing.

More likely, if you’ve experienced the outright pace of a Bentley Bentayga Speed, Lamborghini Urus or perhaps a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid, is that you might just ask, the first time you marry pedal with carpet: “Is that all?” The DBX’s outright potency certainly isn’t blockbusting: it needed 4.6sec to hit 60mph from rest and just over 13 seconds for a standing quarter, while the Urus was more than a second quicker in both respects. Aston clearly hasn’t missed those markers by accident but by intention.

Perhaps reasonably so. The DBX feels more than quick enough in isolation, with good response and a surfeit of mid-range torque. It has strong brakes with progressive pedal feel, and can accrue and carry all the speed you’re likely to want in a car this size. By eschewing anything that might feel excessive beyond that level, it may actually seem all the more likeable to some – us included.

RIDE & HANDLING

Aston Martin DBX 2020 road test review - on the road front

As we’ve hinted at already, the DBX isn’t the kind of big luxury car that cossets and isolates at every opportunity. If it went straight after the likes of the Bentley Bentayga and Range Rover for outright refinement, it probably wouldn’t sound, feel or drive in a way you’d recognise nearly so easily from a big Aston Martin.

The DBX is quite unusual among large, expensive SUVs because it deliberately keeps you in fairly close contact with the road surface underneath you. The steering is weighty, connected and tactile in your palms, while the ride is a little noisier, more reactive and less filtering than the luxury SUV norm – but it remains supple and agreeable at its best. Like so many modern luxury cars, this is one you need to get to know to really enjoy. Finding the specific combination of steering, powertrain, suspension and exhaust settings to suit your particular taste is key; but once you have, the car’s natural charm and swagger lifts it above the level of so many fast luxury 4x4s for outright driver appeal.

The DBX is not only agile and composed at speed but also natural in its responses, although it feels a bit on the flighty side in its sportier drive modes on a bumpy B-road

The DBX likes a smooth surface in Sport mode. Selecting this not only firms up the adaptive dampers but also drops its ride height and stiffens its active anti-roll bars. And as long as you’re on an even, smooth surface, there’s plenty of agility, a good level of body control and good outright balance to be enjoyed. The car probably doesn’t quite grip and dive like the most aggressively tuned fast 4x4s of our current times, but it manages to feel incisive and very composed at big road speeds while communicating its limits well and retaining what you might refer to as natural and coherent-feeling, stability-centred ‘big-car’ handling.

On an average UK B-road, however, there’s a shade too much head-toss and lateral fidget admitted into the car when it’s configured for maximum dynamism. Most testers therefore preferred the DBX’s slightly softer GT mode suspension.

The DBX’s height-adjustable air suspension gives it as much off-road ability as owners of a near-£200k exotic car are likely to want. The numbers (on right, and which apply to the car at its maximum ride height) are further proof that while Gaydon clearly wanted some dual-purpose versatility for the DBX, it didn’t intend to make this a car with the last word in mud-plugging ability. These are the statistics of a semi-serious SUV rather than a proper off-roader.

Even so, the car is available with the choice of Pirelli all-season or full-on winter tyres, if you’d prefer either to the standard-fit performance P Zero road tyres. We tested it on mud and gravel with the all-season option, and it didn’t struggle to climb slippery grades or handle fairly deep ruts.

The DBX also features a special breather pipe for its actively locking rear differential, specifically so it can be reversed into standing water when launching a boat from a trailer without issue.

Comfort and Isolation

Aston Martin has certainly been clever in the development and tuning of its inaugural SUV. Even in its softest suspension setting, there’s a distinct closeness about its vertical body control that’s complemented by a silken pliancy over long-wave inputs, which lends the DBX a primary ride that’s not only eminently comfortable over distance but also distinctly Aston in its athletic, GT-car sense of feel.

Impacts from ruts and bumps are authoritatively damped out when travelling at pace, but at lower speeds you do notice them. These impacts aren’t alarmingly forceful or uncouth, but there’s a notable amount of thumping and sproinging that can occasionally be heard as you roll over rough patches of road. The DBX’s 22in wheels no doubt play a part here, but the volume of these impacts highlights just how tricky it can be to work with a material as light and potentially prone to noise resonation as aluminium. Aston certainly hasn’t done a bad job, mind, and for what it’s worth not one of our testers considered the DBX’s at times vocal ride to be a deal-breaker.

The seats look great but a few of our testers complained about a lack of lateral support and expressed a desire for a slightly longer base-cushion length. The integrated headrests add to their sporting appeal but do compromise adjustability a bit more than we’d otherwise like.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Aston Martin DBX 2020 road test review - hero front

While a list price of £158,000 will arguably be of little concern to anyone looking to add a DBX to what is quite likely a fairly extensive collection of cars, it nonetheless positions the Aston competitively.

While the updated Bentley Bentayga V8 starts at £146,700, a Lamborghini Urus – arguably its chief rival at this more pointed end of the performance SUV market – costs from £167,000.

The DBX is expected to hold 56% of its value after three years. The Lamborghini Urus stands at 57%, while the Bentley Bentayga is also on 56%

The DBX’s level of standard specification is suitably lavish. Extensive use of full-grain leather upholstery and Alcantara headlining provide the foundation of its rich material appeal, while conveniences such as a powered tailgate, heated seats and a 360deg camera system bolster its usability. Of course, there is massive scope for costly personalisation courtesy of Aston’s Q division, while a range of option packs can quickly see the DBX’s price rise by a considerable chunk.

Fuel consumption is as enthusiastic as you would expect from a 542bhp, 2.2-tonne SUV. We recorded a touring economy of 24.8mpg, which, combined with an 85-litre fuel tank, makes for a theoretical maximum range of 464 miles. Our overall test average was 17mpg.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Aston Martin DBX

VERDICT

Aston Martin DBX 2020 road test review - static

If Aston Martin has anything to teach other makers of super-luxury or exotic cars about how to make your first high-riding SUV, it’s probably that compromise is key. These are the cars that appear to promise the world, but if you get seduced by the versatility of the vehicle concept and the potential of the technology you’re using, you might lose sight of what really matters.

If, however, you keep your brand’s core attributes close – distinguishing exterior style, a lavish interior and a driving experience of sporting poise but also tactile involvement and expressive character, in Aston Martin’s case – you can make a very successful and convincing entry into the extra-rarefied SUV niche.

Does everyday driver appeal better than any other super-SUV

The DBX isn’t quite as practical, capable or refined as some rivals, but it offers so much more usability and adaptability than any other Aston to date, and yet it still drives like so many big, burbling and engaging Astons – and that is a real achievement. It doesn’t try to cover quite as much notional ground as some competitors, but for interested drivers at least, it may be all the more appealing as a result.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Aston Martin DBX

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Aston Martin DBX First drives