John McIlroy is Deputy Editor of Auto Express
Car manufacturers often crank up the hyperbole when they're launching a new model. But when Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer describes the company's latest creation, the DB11, as "the most important car in the firm's 103-year existence", he may actually be understating things a little. The DB11 marks a huge step for the classic British sports car brand, with new technology, new engines and a new styling direction.
If it fails, Aston will fail; there's no margin for error.
The state of Aston Martin
Launched at this week's Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland, the DB11 is a £155,000 ($217,000) four-seat sports GT in the old-fashioned sense, with a long bonnet, a sweptback stance, a brutally powerful V12 petrol engine and, naturally, the latest evolution of Aston Martin's trademark grille at the front end.
In pure image terms, the Aston Martin brand could scarcely be in better health. And yet the DB11's predecessor, the DB9, was really an example of how badly Aston's cars needed an overhaul. It had charm, of course, and no doubt felt special to those who bought one, but the car's engine and chassis were beginning to feel a little creaky. Its underpinnings could be traced back to 2003, and its motor was (whisper it) a couple of Ford V6s bolted together and retuned.
The race for technology
The Aston Martin DB9 is the DB11's predecessor Credit: Aston Martin
There was a point, in the depths of the global financial recession, when it looked like Aston would not be able to develop the sorely needed new technology itself, and nor could it find a partner to supply it from an outside source.
But the DB11 does indeed feature the spoils of an alliance, of sorts, with AMG; in particular, it uses an all-new twin-turbocharged V12 engine developed with the German performance brand's knowhow.
The state-of-the-art motor closes down some cylinders when they're not needed to save fuel -- a trick that couldn't even be considered on the DB9's old unit -- but produces 600 HP in full song, enough for a top speed of 200 mph (320 km/h).
In the chassis, too, there's a small AMG influence but the work is mostly Aston's own engineers'. They've created a scalable platform for this car that will also underpin the next generation of the Vantage, and a new SUV due within a couple of years, called DBX.
Look, feel and performance
Whether you prefer the DB11's looks to those of, say, the DB7 or older beauties such as the DB5, is a moot point. What is beyond debate is that the new car's styling contributes to its performance like no other Aston before it.
The DB11 has some pretty innovative aerodynamic tricks, in fact -- the sort of thing that Ferrari started doing a few years ago, when it also realized that functional form could please in aesthetic terms.
The DB11's aearodynamic developments are aimed to keep it firmly planted in the corners. Credit: Aston Martin
Take that "strake" that slices into the DB11's side just after the front wheel arch (Aston's designers call it a "curlicue," "a twist in the design of an object"). It has echoes of classic racing cars but in fact, it siphons off turbulent air from around the tire that would otherwise cause drag.
Once the air has been sucked out of the wheel arch area, it gets channeled through what Aston calls an "Aeroblade" beyond the door and ends up just below the boot lid. End result? Lots of fast-moving areas being tidied up at the rear end of the car, where it can produce downforce that helps to keep the DB11 planted to the ground in corners. And no need for an ungainly rear spoiler.
Customized automobile luxury
This level of sophistication and detail is a world away from what the company was producing even five years ago. It is also the sort of engineering nugget that sells cars -- something that motorsport-influenced rivals like Ferrari and McLaren have been keen to exploit.
Inside, there's yet more Mercedes influence in elements like the new infotainment system, which replaces the archaic old Ford unit that Aston Martin had been using for years. And there are higher-quality materials than before, with even more double-stitched leather.
You'll be able to personalize it, too.
Buyers of the Aston Martin flagship, the Vanquish, which will continue in production for several years yet, have to make around 70 choices when it comes to colors, trims, fabrics and in-car options. The DB11's customers will have a wider gamut of personalization to play with, insiders suggest.
In truth, though, Aston has always known that quality of service and the ability to make your dream car your own individual creation is a license to print money. With the DB11, it has the first of a new generation of cars that should allow it to fully exploit that expertise.