The car you see here, the Aston Martin DB11 V12, is no longer available. Aston Martin isn't taking any orders for this, the car that kicked off its current renaissance. It was replaced by the hotter DB11 AMR less than two years after it debuted, which is unusual.
That odd decision came from a brief conversation between Aston CEO Andy Palmer and chief engineer Matt Becker. The two conferred during the launch of the DB11 V8 last year, where Aston's new entry-level GT began to overshadow its flagship, especially in terms of handling. Becker recounted the conversation to me at Goodwood earlier this summer.
"Look, we kind of need to now take the learning from the V8 and apply it to the V12," Becker told Palmer. The boss's reply? "Yeah, get on with it."
I haven't driven the AMR, but my colleague Máté Petrány has, and he said it's "what the DB11 always should have been." It's got more power than the old model—630 vs 600 hp—but more important are a number of chassis tweaks adding up to sweeter handling.
All of this makes me think of another expensive British performance car, the McLaren MP4-12C. Launched in 2011, the 12C was replaced by the 650S in 2014 and subsequently cast aside. Look at values for proof—the 12C listed for $230,000 when it launched, and now many can be found for under $120,000. Then, look at its main rival—Ferrari 458s of the same vintage regularly sell for over $150,000.
But, the 12C is not a bad car: Its inherent goodness shines through its perceived shortcomings, and it gave McLaren a fantastic platform to build upon. It's almost the same story with the DB11 V12, and enthusiasts shouldn't dismiss it.
The basic platform of the DB11 is a bonded extruded aluminum structure. This is the same sort of platform Lotus pioneered with the original Elise, offering lots of rigidity without the weight of steel, or the expense of carbon fiber. While talking about an ultra-lightweight sports car in the context of a 4000--pound GT seems silly, there's a line to be drawn from the stuff Lotus makes, to the DB11.
I've never driven an Elise, but earlier this year, I spent a lot of time in an Evora 400, a car Becker helped develop in his previous job at Lotus. What surprises is its ride quality. The Evora is one of the most focused sports cars on the road, setting the handling benchmark, and yet, it's supple. That's thanks to its rigid aluminum structure, which allows Lotus to fit relatively soft suspension with no real compromise to body control.
"That was always the philosophy there," Becker said of his old employer. "You don't need to make a car stiff to handle."
Aston Martin is able to offer something similar by adopting this Lotus-esque strategy. Except, where an Evora 400 rides incredibly well for a sports car, the DB11 V12 rides incredibly well by any standard. There's gobs of suspension travel to soak up the worst roads, but body control remains excellent. Firm up the adaptive dampers on a back road, however, and the DB11 impresses there, too. It feels like it's been designed to be comfortable on the motorway from Paris to the south of France, while still able to tear it up on the mountain passes just above Monte Carlo.
And then there's the engine. It might be heavier than 4.0-liter AMG-sourced V8 you can get in this car. You'll probably stop caring about weight as soon as you hear it. Breathing through a turbocharger for each cylinder bank, this 5.2-liter V12 is more nasal than its naturally aspirated predecessor, but it still sounds lovely. All of its torque, 516 lb-ft, is available from 1500 rpm, and it has no trouble pulling to its 7000-rpm redline—its peak 600 hp arrives just 500 rpm earlier. Not that you'll get to redline very often, realistically, since this is an incredibly fast car.
The DB11 V12, for what Becker must have perceived as its faults, is still a supremely enjoyable car. It has a certain effortlessness about it, and it's utterly charming. What struck me the most about this car, however, is how clearly it paints a picture of Aston Martin's future. It's a bright one.
While many found the McLaren 12C a disappointment, the same can't be said about the 675LT, which was made up of basically the same components. Aston doesn't need new hardware to create more good stuff, either. The DB11 AMR is essentially this car, tweaked for better handling, while the DBS Superleggera cranks things up a few notches further.
Aston doesn't need to change much to create something seemingly new. "That's down to spring tuning, anti-roll bar tuning, bush tuning, damper tuning, and all the software we have that we can manipulate to give you a different feel," Becker said.
And Becker and his team are constantly learning, tweaking what started with the DB11 V12 to their heart's content. So there's more good stuff to come.
"Platforms are like human beings. You have to know what makes them tick," Becker told me. "Then once you work it out, when you're engineering the car, when you do the next one, if you want to scale the handling performance up or down relative to the ride quality or whatever, you know exactly what tools to use to do that."
None of this would be possible if Aston hadn't gotten so much right with this car. Like the 12C, the DB11 V12 should be remembered as the start of something great, and a hell of a car in its own right.