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Definitely Shaken, But Not Entirely Stirred By The Aston Martin DB11

V12 supercars are a raunchy bit of business and I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with a few of them, with the last, sick experience being with Lamborghini’s Aventador S in Valencia, Spain, a year and a half ago. My first V12 experience however, came in the form of Ferrari’s manic F12 Berlinetta. It’s one of those supercars that can alter your definition of ‘fast’ and ‘brutal’ and it played a big part in me falling in love with the whole ‘two banks of six’ engine layout. Even though flat/boxer engines will always be the holy grail of pure driving thrill to me, there’s still something animalistic about a naturally aspirated V12.

Still, with other short drives and rides in more V12s sporadically in between those two Italian supercars, I came to form this opinion: V12 supercars are astoundingly magnificent, full of flair and pizzazz but, they’re the most uncomfortable kind of cars to get behind of in Malaysia. Actually, probably anywhere in the world. The only way to get around the discomfort, is to gun it whenever the roads allow it, just to take your mind off the stiffness. So, when Aston Martin Kuala Lumpur came calling with an invitation to drive the new DB11, you can imagine my excitement and also the slight cringe.

Rendezvousing with Katie from Aston Martin Kuala Lumpur at the foot of Bukit Tinggi that Thursday morning was an easy chore. I was so raring to go with this British V12 because I had already done my homework a few days before; a 5.2-litre, twin turbocharged V12 (no naturally aspirated goodness here guys!), carrying 600 British thoroughbreds that unleashes 700Nm of torque. Topspeed? Holy ****, but it goes from standstill to 100 km/h in three quick blinks (about 3.5 seconds). There’s a mili-second that disappears because your heart stops when you stamp on the pedal. Yup, the torque delivery in this V12 DB11 is brutal, borderline intrusive actually, a trait of tubrocharging which is not necessarily a bad thing. So yes, this car is a big deal, but not just for the performance it tries to achieve, but for a few other reasons as well.

This is the first model from Aston’s DB series to come out from the marque’s ‘Second Century Plan’. Sounds great, but stripped of its marketing fluff, it’s basically a collaboration with Daimler AG ie Mercedes-Benz, or to be more accurate, Mercedes-AMG. This partnership took off sometime in the early 2010’s, which resulted in the German multinational company owning 5% of Aston Martin, in exchange for a range of engines apparently. It’s a move to simply bring Aston Martin back to its former glory, because the brand has been suffering from back-to-back losses yearly in the last decade. Still, this collaboration takes shape in a small, but very prominent way, only ever reaching the engine bay in the form of the V8 variant of the DB11 (recently launched in Malaysia). This V12 mill we got to test out however, is purely Aston made and at 5.2-litres, it’s got to be THE smallest V12 I’ve driven. In fact, I didn’t even know such things were “allowed” in the supercar competition. 

Beyond that, the Daimler/Mercedes presence in the V12 is only rife within the DB11’s cabin, with its entire infotainment system a close sibling of Mercedes’ COMAND module. I also noticed the partnership on the digital instrument cluster and also on the eight-inch centre screen. It was a warm feeling at first, simply because it’s a system I’m very familiar at using. The warmth dissipated quite quickly though, because I realised that, hey, wait a minute,… this is a RM2 million sports car. Is that all that came out from the design houses of Gaydon, UK?

It might be a move to keep the belts tight and I appreciated the thriftiness in plonking in a tried and tested system. But, for a sportscar that is supposed to drive Aston Martin out of the doldrums, this was one area in which the brand should’ve capitalised on and sadly, they didnt. I mean, what’s the point of making a luxury sportscar in a cheap way? It’s not a big issue, but I’d imagine many of the people who can purchase this DB11 might be frowning a little at this move. Anyway, I got over it as soon as I tapped on its silver-cast paddle shifters.

It was however, a day for surprises all around. For starters, Mama Nature decided to open her oven and let the heat out. So, that meant that we weren’t getting any of those gothic fog-themed shots of this beautiful grand tourer up in Bukit Tinggi. It didn’t matter though because the DB11 is in fact a classy place to be in. Again, while there may be frowns about its cheap approach to the in-car tech, no expense has been spared in making this a sublime drive. By ‘sublime’, I do not mean it’s athletic, agile and quick. What else can sublime mean? Bare with me.

It was expected though, for a grand tourer of its size and weight (1,875kg). Each up/downshift is like an operatic ensemble taking its time to shuffle through the various episodes of an opera. Likewise, when you open up the V12 engine with its eight-speed gearbox, the symphonic drama that unfolds is quite addictive, mainly because of the bellowing exhaust note, one of the highlights of the DB11 to me. Ah yes, I was going to explain what I meant by, ‘sublime’.

The DB11 is simply sublime, because this is the first V12 sportscar I’ve gotten behind, that didn’t behave like the prima-donna Italians I’m used to when it comes to V12s. Where a Ferrari or Lamborghini are full of epicness and the spectacular, this DB11, was the total opposite. For one, it’s the MOST comfortable V12 grand tourer I’ve driven to date. Seated high and upright, it really did feel like I was saunting about Bukit Tinggi in a big sedan, just with a lot more hooliganism under its hood. This could be down to how the car has been packaged overall, with the way the V12 has been properly tuned. The turbochargers have domesticated this V12 experience, but in a tasteful way.

The sportscar drives on a set of Bridgestones, codenamed… (*cue The James Bond Theme!*) Bridgestone S007. What else could they have named it as, right? Anyhow, they provide some girppy road traction in synergy with the reworked chassis, suspensions and, the most pivotal difference, a new steering system. They way things have been managed by Aston Martin’s engineers in regards to steering this big DB11, is bang on. Despite the coupe’s big dimensions, the steering feel is amazingly sharp and direct, giving it a very aggressive demeanor when you handle her right. Put the DB11 through your favourite set of b-roads and you’ll start having fun in no time. The rear of the DB11 lives up to its David Brown legacy; almost always wanting to stick out when you nail the power delivery. Its chunky amount of torque is the main reason why I’d be totally stoked to have a go at this V12 on an empty Sepang circuit!

When you dial down the drive, it’s when you discover that this new DB11, has been designed for a much older demographic. Where the Ferraris and Lambos would appeal to a younger audience at times, there is no doubt that the DB11 is a sportscar to ride into the sunset. It looks gorgeous, drives so comfortably and makes a lot of noise when you let her pipes fly. It would’ve been my favourite V12 expereince, however, the huge miss-step in Aston Martin’s push with this DB11, is the untapped interior potential. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are portions of the coupe’s interior that is masterfully made and there’s a lot of fanciful things that can be done on option. There is not a section of its stitching that is clumsy or out of place, and the wood work is spot on. Everything has been fitted to suit the price tag… except that infotainment package. I’m sorry, but I always blow a gasket over untapped potential like this because it usually makes or breaks the product. One other good example that got to me recently, is how Bentley Motors didn’t try harder with their Bentayga SUV, given the Volkswagen treasure chest at Bentley’s disposal. They were conservative and un-imaginative in forming their first-ever SUV. It’s a good one, yes, but more should have been explored. Or, it could just very well be the British approach to design. In the DB11’s case, I cant help but wonder the what-ifs had the British marque explored their very own, unique infotainment with Daimler’s help. It’s a chance gone begging and hopefully they do something more in time with the DB11 in this respect because it’s literally the only part of the DB11 experience that misses the mark.

Even so, bar the fact that Aston Martin have done quite poorly in capitalising on Daimler’s resources for the in-car tech, this DB11 is well and truly something. What that ‘something’ is, is definitely up for discussion and I prefer to refer to it for now, as ‘domesticated’. It all feels a little withheld with the DB11 and it could very well be done on purpose. At an asking price of RM2 million, it’s got to be more than just the drive and believe me, it’s a lustful experience behind its wheel. 

But, as raunchy as its exhaust note is and as impressive as its handling abilities are, it still feels like a beast shackled by bad decision-making and lacksture design skills. Is it really capable of hauling the British marque out of the gutter? I think it will have a good run for a short while but it will take two very important things to put a serious dent on its competition, two things that are currently non-existent at Gaydon, UK to fulfil the DB11’s potential: Imagination and Tenacity. Sadly, those two things don’t come with domestication. It comes with being a little wild and spectacular, something I always thought Aston Martin were all about. I guess the times are a-changing. Is it good or bad, go figure. 

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