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Friday, August 18, 2017 31° Thunderstorm

License to thrill

Aston Martin DB11

Published

Text and photos Iñigo S. Roces

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It was autumn in Karuiza, in Nagano, Japan. Roads were snaking along mountain sides, surrounded by trees in every shade between pine green and auburn. Somewhere in the distance was the roar of a twin turbo V12 echoing against the hills of a canyon road just out of sight. It was the sound of the new Aston Martin DB11, the vehicle that Aston Martin Manila had flown the small group of Philippine journalists to Japan for.

While many know Aston Martin as James Bond’s vehicle of choice, fewer still know about the company’s long struggle to break away from the chains of its former owner, Ford, and be profitable —a herculean task for an independent sports car maker in an era where its competitors are owned by wealthy and influential popular brands like VW, BMW, and Fiat.

The DB11 is the first product of Aston Martin’s independent era. All the previous vehicles, counting the Vanquish, Vantage and Rapide, bore components dating back to the company’s time under Ford, simply refined over the years.

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It is a car of many firsts, bearing the new design language under new lead designer, Marek Reichman, propelled by a new 5.2 liter twin turbo V12 (the first turbo engine produced by Aston Martin ever), and one bearing the new electronic architecture (provided by Mercedes-Benz), evident in the all-digital instrument cluster and infotainment system. Engineered from the ground up, with a new engine and platform, it gives a glimpse of the new generation of Aston Martins to come.

Nonetheless, it’s still very Aston, with the distinct grille, this time flanked by upswept headlamps with full LED illumination. It maintains its golden ratio (1/3:2/3) of body to glass, this time with a new floating roof. Toward the side are more muscular haunches similar to the Vanquish. On the cliff-face rear are taillights, seemingly hiding under cutouts on the body to form their recognizable outline. The spoiler hides in the body, only rising at speeds above 120 km/h.

Inside, the interior only bears subtle nods to the old style. The new cluster is now all digital with a tachometer squarely in the center with configurable side displays. The sculpted flat-bottomed wheel integrates drive mode and infotainment controls into the spokes. Over in the center console, the gear selector buttons have been retained while all others have been replaced with soft touch surfaces. Infotainment is now controlled by a dial at the base of the console, partially covered by a plush leather hand rest.

Resting under this bonnet, which now opens via a cantilever (like a Jaguar XKE or Ford GT) is the new 5.2-liter twin turbo V12. It too is seemingly held in place by a lattice work of struts. Being developed entirely in-house it also bears a badge with the name of the final inspector.

With a new wireless fob, starting just requires the press of a button. It brings that familiar V12 burble to vibrant life. The paddle shifters return a satisfying metallic click as a gear is engaged. And in spite of the power, it rolls from a standstill quite gently. The new adaptive suspension damps a great deal of the little bumps of the road, feeling more supple, dare I say, than the Vanquish. Driven leisurely, the power delivery, light steering, and balmy ride can rival more luxury-biased grand tourers.

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Some more purposeful throttle input had the tachometer winding up quicker. Only then do the turbos make their presence felt with their surprising surge, but hardly any whine. It leaves no doubt this vehicle can accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h in under 3 seconds.

As a corner approaches, I switch to sportier suspension damping. Little circles on the dash confirm the command and each input from the steering wheel is followed accurately. It takes just a little input as pressing harder on the throttle rotates the nose more eagerly, seemingly hinting it can turn sharper.

The succession of curbs brings out the hooligan in me, eagerly diving into one after the other with the throttle rolling on the way out. What’s surprising is the DB11 has gladly obliged, transforming so adeptly from the floaty cruiser it used to be just a few minutes ago, to the fire-breathing beast devouring curves hungrily.

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With just a tap of the drive mode button and release of the throttle, it’s back to the gentleman again as we near a more populated town. It returns to urban cruiser in just a click, with proximity sensors beeping as we come to a stoplight. It’s equipped with collision warning and mitigation too, as well as adaptive cruise control and all the trappings of a daily drive. There’s even a park assist system that backs it into a parallel space.

It’s quite a surreal mix of features, being equal parts luxury cruiser and track monster, all hiding under supercar looks that still keep it toned down enough for a drive to a matinee or formal dinner.

While in the past, it may have been hard to picture the pressed yet precise Agent 007 effortlessly alighting from his car after outrunning and outgunning henchmen only to stare down the villain after at his own party. With the new Aston Martin DB11, that is now very possible, and quite enjoyable. All it takes is a quick visit to Aston Martin Manila.

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