V8 or V12, The Aston Martin DB11 Is Bespoke, Exhilarating Driving At Its Best
Images and words by Andrew Maness for Por Homme
Contrary to what you might think, Los Angeles is one of the best places in the world to get driving impressions for a sports car. Sure there is hellacious traffic most of the day and even when the streets are clear there are wheel busting potholes laying in wait all over the place. However, when it comes to ascertaining the curb appeal of a vehicle and how comfortable it’ll keep you during the daily grind, LA can’t be beat. It was with that in mind that I planned my days with the 2018 Aston Martin DB11 V12 following a first drive with the DB11 V8.
The V8 model had quickly impressed me on mountain roads full of switchbacks and out in the desert where long straightaways with nothing but sagebrush in sight provided ample opportunity to see what kind of shove the new power-plant offered. Plenty was of course the answer. Aston Martin got their hands on the 4.0 litre twin-turbo V8 built by AMG through their ongoing partnership with Mercedes-Benz and tailored it to the DB11, the most notable changes being the exhaust system and the ECU mapping.
The focus of the latter was torque, namely how to maximize it across the powerband and so far as I could tell the engineers succeeded. Power comes on down low and remains constant as the digital tach swings towards a 7,000 rpm redline. Turbo lag is damn near non-existent, you really have to be looking to catch it to notice and that’s a heck of an achievement in my eyes. The 8-speed ZF automatic is in good form here, providing smooth shifts whether the computer is doing the work or you are via two appropriately large (and incredibly satisfying to pull) paddle shifters. However I felt that it could have delivered sharper shifts in the most aggressive Sport+ mode. The snappy action of the paddles simply deserves sharper gear changes, something the DB11 V12 delivers. More on that in a minute.
As for the exhaust, it sounds fantastic, when you can hear it. It’s one thing to turn down the rowdiness in GT mode, but Sport and Sport+ should deliver a sound that can only be classified as ridiculous and ridiculous-er. I get it, this is a British GT car intended to be a refined machine that occasionally has a wild streak. The thing is I know that this motor is capable of producing spine tingling sounds thanks to the Mercedes-AMG E63 S. I found that the best way to enjoy the soundtrack was with the windows all the way down and cruising along at relatively low speeds in 2nd or 3rd gear. Not the most practical way to roll, but the tone between 2,800 and 4,200 rpm is just so damn enjoyable that I ended up getting excited when entering small towns along our route.
Refined British styling and interior appointments with German engineering under the hood sure does make for one hell of a compelling package. The weight saved by using the V8 is most welcome too, shaving 253.5 lbs off the curb weight of the V12 powered car bringing the DB11 V8 in at 3,880 lbs. It was that reduction in weight, along with the redistribution of it to a 49/51% front to rear split, that really stoked my interest in driving the DB11 V12. I wanted to know how the original DB11 (launched in 2016) would stack up against the overachieving younger brother. The conclusion I eventually arrived at was this, the DB11 V8 is excellent in virtually every way, but the DB11 V12 has the X-Factor I look for in a car, drama.
Due to its rakish styling a DB11 will turn heads no matter which motor you choose, even in Los Angeles where fancy cars are as common as the flu in 2018. That being said, driving the DB11 V12 feels like more of an occasion. Everytime I slid into that beautifully detailed driver’s seat, breathed in the air thick with the smell of premium leather and pushed the iconic translucent start button I got chills. Nothing compares to the sound of a V12 coming to life, turbocharged or not. I think it’s the link to motorsports, the fact that for the majority of the golden era of F1 and IMSA racing V12 engines called out to fans like sirens to sailors.
If the racket made by the 5.2-liter twin-turbo V12 is the attention getter, then the driving experience is what holds it. Yes, when having a spirited go I noticed the extra weight up front, but it didn’t exactly ruin things. Chasing the limits of the DB11 on a curvy road is not what this car is about. Mowing down mile after mile of pavement across long distances at triple digit speeds, that’s where it shines; well, there and at any valet stand in LA.
My point is that while the grunt of the V12 does encourage frequent increases in speed at a rapid pace, it is a GT car in the truest sense. The DB9 always fell short of that distinction, but with Aston having upped their interior quality significantly through their partnership with Mercedes-Benz, as well as making it more ergonomic they’ve got a car in their line that doesn’t have a direct competitor.
Currently no other 2+2 has the bespoke feel of an Aston Martin, they are truly in a league of their own. Some of their fellow countrymen who also borrow bits and bobs from the Germans may have something to say about that, but the new Continental GT hasn’t arrived yet. For now, you can either save a little money and gain a little extra sharpness at the helm of a DB11 V8 or you can go all in and ride the emotional rollercoaster that is the DB11 V12. Either way, you’ll be driving a modern classic that delivers boatloads of entertainment and will remain attractive in the years to come.