Road Tests

First Drive: 2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8

This one doesn’t go to 11, and it’s better for it

TORRENT, Spain—My friend Bob owns a fleet of cars that includes a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, and several Porsches. He always purchases the top-spec version, because like Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, he likes the ones that go to 11. (For example, Bob would never buy a 911 GT3 RS because the GT2 RS has more power.) For Bob, buying the 2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8, Gaydon’s first Grand Tourer with fewer than 12 cylinders in nearly 20 years, would be an act of blasphemy. Normally, we’d agree. But in this case, we’d argue that Bob should think about dialing it back to 8.

The new eight-cylinder Aston is a product of the brand’s partnership with Mercedes-Benz, which started to bear fruit when elements of the German company’s electronic architecture made its way into the DB11. Now, the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 that powers the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, among others, becomes the first Benz engine to find its way under the hood of an Aston. Mind you, Aston didn’t simply drop a stock AMG engine under the DB11’s aluminum clamshell hood. The Brits fettled with the mill to inject a character more befitting of tea and cucumber sandwiches than sausage and sauerkraut.

“When the team dialed in the sound for the DB11 V8, they really looked at the sound waves,” said an Aston Martin representative. “The types of frequencies that come through AMG product’s exhaust are very low. We wanted to remove quite a bit of that and concentrate on the mid to high frequencies. We sound-mapped both systems to make sure the Aston had a unique sound alongside the AMG version.”

Bespoke parts added by Aston to the V-8 include the air intake, exhaust, and wet sump oil pan. The ECU is also reprogrammed. “The actual [ECU] hardware is the same, but the tune and software are different,” added Ben Husband, Aston’s senior manager of powertrains. “It’s about how we can get the character out [of the V-8] to fit our car, from throttle progression to sound. It’s also integrating all into the vehicle, especially the gearbox,” which is the same eight-speed ZF automatic found in the V-12 powered version of the DB11.

The more compact V-8, along with its smaller cooling system, helps shave an impressive 253 pounds off of the DB11’s curb weight. Additionally, mass is shifted rearward, flip-flopping weight distribution from 51/49 front to rear to 49/51. Chief engineer Matt Becker used this as an opportunity to tweak the DB11’s chassis.

“In addition to spring, damper, and sway bar changes, the rear subframe carries stiffer bushings and the engine mounts were changed to match,” Becker said. “We also changed the front brake pistons for shorter pedal travel, so it works as a cohesive package.”

The idea of the DB11 V8 is to inject an added degree of sportiness to Aston’s 2+2 GT. It’s clear Gaydon nailed that goal within the first mile behind the wheel in northeast Spain. The steering carries more weight and the sprightlier DB11 V8 changes directions far quicker than its V-12-powered sibling, while “eager” is the perfect descriptor for the Aston-tweaked V-8. It offers gobs of power everywhere and requires fewer revs than the V-12 to extract maximum grunt—its 503-hp peak comes at 6,000 rpm versus 6,500 rpm for the 600-hp V-12. Despite the 97-hp deficit, the DB11 V8 is only a tenth of second behind the V-12 in the sprint from 0 to 62 mph (4.0 versus 3.9). One key is that the V-8 is down a mere 18 lb-ft of torque, offering 498 lb-ft between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm versus the 516 lb-ft of the V-12, while having just 3,880 pounds of car to move instead of nearly 4,200 pounds. Add in the nimbler chassis, and it’s only acceleration at triple digit speeds where the 12 outshines the eight.

Some buyers will undoubtedly have concerns about the engine note that comes along with dropping four cylinders despite Aston’s hard work, as V-12s usually sound glorious. One advantage for the DB11 V8 is that when Aston fitted a pair of turbochargers to the V-12 for the DB11, it lost a bit of the raw sonic brilliance of its naturally aspirated predecessor. You really need to rev the V-12 in the DB11 for your ears to tingle. Not so with the V-8; aurally, it’s a classy but extroverted beast from the first stab of the throttle, especially in the most aggressive Sport+ mode.

The Mercedes-AMG engine works great with the freshly-honed chassis. The DB11 V8 feels much smaller and tidier on the road compared to its more powerful—and $13,000 more expensive—big brother. The transmission is also happier hitched to the V-8, though it’s still not the fastest or smoothest cog-swapper on the market. There’s no doubt the DB11 V8 is still a proper GT car and not a hardcore sports car—a new Vantage arrives in 2018 to carry that torch for Aston.

Flying down the smooth, Spanish autopistas through gentle curves, picturesque hills, and exhaust-echoing tunnels at 130-plus mph revealed that the DB11 V8 gives up none of the V-12 DB11’s mile-munching, grand touring ability. Body control is spot on, especially in the middle Sport setting of the three-way adjustable suspension.

However, the energetic V-8 can’t fix certain quirks inherent to the DB11. Its bulky A-pillars and side view mirrors compromise outward visibility by blocking the front three-quarter view. The styling of the DB11 may not be quite as easy to fall in love with compared to the near-timeless DB9, but the new car’s extroverted, stunning design was bound to bring along some visionary concessions. Inside, the seat controls, door handles, power center armrest, and slider audio volume control all seem like cheeky details that nobody asked for. They come off as a case of Aston designers simply showing off. Sure, the features give the DB11 a unique feel, but at what ergonomic expense?

There are also shortcomings when it comes to functionality and attention to detail. Cabin storage is extremely sparse; the lack of a glovebox is particularly frustrating. The DB11 V8’s shift paddles carry a welcomed shorter throw compared to the V-12 version, but they still don’t engage with a tactile feel befitting of the segment. Additionally, the ventilated seats are weak and there are cheap-feeling details in certain areas like the folding cupholders and storage compartments in the trunk.

Minor detail grievances aside, Aston Martin has done an excellent job overall with the DB11 V8. The coupe has been fine-tuned into a more cohesive, focused package with little to no dilution to the model’s impressive GT nature. Sure, the DB11 is technically quicker, but the DB11 V8 is the better car 90 percent of the time. While a buyer like Bob will always go for the “best” (read: most expensive) version, he doesn’t know what he’s missing by always turning the knob to 11.

2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8 Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $201,820 (base)
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/503 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 498 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 187.0 x 76.7 x 50.7 in
WHEELBASE 110.4 in
WEIGHT 3,880 lb
0-60 MPH 4.0 sec
TOP SPEED 187 mph

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