Aston Martin DBX Design Analysis: Is AM's First SUV a Visual Winner?
Who needs it? Few. Who’ll want it? Many.
I got into "a heap of trouble" a few years ago when I parodied the bandits in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" by saying of the Kubang concept, "We don't need no stinkin' Maserati SUVs" in place of the film's "stinkin' badges." Declared an enemy of Fiat-Chrysler, fired from the judge's team at Villa d'Este, I was officially a bad guy because of my strongly negative personal opinion of all fancy SUVs.
My thoughts were at odds with the desires of automobile industry leaders to join the lemming-like rush to make heavy, inefficient, and unlovely vehicles they could sell at enormous profit. It now seems firmly established that every nameplate must be attached to a sublimated delivery truck, be it a Chevrolet Suburban or even holy-of-holies Rolls-Royce and Ferrari. And now that one of the marques closest to my heart, Aston Martin, has succumbed at last to the herd mentality, I am seemingly obliged to accept the unacceptable.
At least the DBX is closer to a tall fastback sedan than it is to a truck. And as it was shaped by one of my favorite practicing designers, Marek Reichman, I have no difficulty in acknowledging that it's a good-looking, if unimaginative and unoriginal, vehicle. But I hope I'm not alone in thinking that a nicely proportioned four-door sedan taller than the claustrophobic, hard-to-enter Rapide and lower than this DBX would be a better car than either of them: more habitable than the former, better proportioned than the latter. It is the awkward neither-fish-nor-fowl proportions of SUVs that turn me against larding them with "luxury" touches and calling them top-of-the-line products. It's just annoying.
Fortunately, the Aston Martin grille shape, carefully evolved over more than 70 years by a succession of excellent designers, is as distinctive as the Rolls's Parthenon or Mercedes' three-pointed star despite it having been cribbed along the way for some cheap Fords, so there's no question of this car's identity. You see it, you know who made it. Even if, as in my case, you wish the company hadn't.
It's not that the DBX isn't a nice-looking SUV. It is, and is probably best of all extant SUVs, but it's still taller and heavier than any vehicle offering such a paucity of passenger and cargo room inside should be. At the same time, in its favor, this is probably the most aerodynamic of all SUVs, with its tapering roofline, the long fairing above the backlight, and its relatively clean sides, with a nicely shaped outlet in the front fender. There is also a chrome flash at the top ending about a quarter of the length of the front doors—tasteful understatement that suits the DBX's restrained character. The roof rails, apart from providing attachment points for skis, look like flow fences to keep the air streaming past from spilling down the side glasses.
Finally, put it this way: I don't like the luxury SUV concept, but despite that, I do like this excellent execution of a bad idea.
1. This window shade above the backlight usefully extends the roofline for reduced aerodynamic drag.
2. There is a strong negative radius below the backlight that gives rise to the prominent spoiler across the tail.
3. This black blade appears to be the first part of the DBX to touch something if the car is backed up to a vertical wall, but the flattened plane across the rear would be just behind, and even more vulnerable to damage.
4. Having bright trim only above the side glass and nothing on the sill is at once clever and tasteful.
5. You hardly notice the roof rails in side view, an attractive detail touch.
6. Notice how the blade at the back of the front-fender outlet sits firmly on the surface provided by the major indent along the body side.
7. The bright metal flash coming out of the side vent on the fender is restrained, but it adds a bit of visual thrust to the profile.
8. These longitudinal peak lines, one on the swelling painted door skins, the other on the peak of the upper black sill section, help reduce the visual height of what is, after all, a short, tall vehicle, made shorter by oversized wheels.
9. A more subtle linear accent is provided by a soft radius in the door skins derived from the fender outlet, your eye led by the bright flash.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. The huge indent on the body side helps in the effort to reduce the visual impression of height.
2. Even more important in that effort is the use of a color break to make the painted part of the body resemble a low-slung sports coupe, though one with a tall upper body with tall side glass.
3. Carrying a horizontal line across the front end helps with the effort to disguise the DBX's true proportions.
4. The faired-in, covered headlamps evoke myriad Italian race and GT cars of the 1960s, most particularly the Zagato Aston Martins.
5. This subtle haunch also evokes sports cars more than station wagons.
6. Outside mirrors are substantial and should provide an excellent field of view.
7. This equally substantial interior mirror is likely severely limited by the rather small backlight.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
1. The front fender profile definitely evokes a sports car and is the better for it.
2. The hot-air outlet on the fender is seriously big.
3. You easily see, with the air of the door cut, how barrel-like the upper door sections are.
4. The D-pillar is handsomely swept, making the profile more dynamic.
5. The thin taillight helps add visual width to the car.
6. Color separation helps the apparent proportions, but this abrupt, pointed break point is totally without grace.
7. The huge indent above it gives this surface a long reflection of the sky.
8. Notice the tidy little triangle forward of the bottom of the side outlet: It catches reflected sky light and adds visual length to the rib in the painted part of the body.
1. This crisp line rises from the nominal base surface outboard of the grille, encompassing a negative surface below.
2. Equally sharp, this line defines the convex hood surface and a concave area inboard of the front fender, a nice play of contrasting surfaces.
3. Roof rails provide a subtle glint of bright metal trim.
4. Yet another sharp edge rises from the hood plane, with a concave surface on both sides.
5. The deflector blade inside the outlet on the hood is another subtle trim piece in bright metal.
6. Another surface play. Inboard the fender top swells upward; outboard there's a negative radius that undercuts the hard line flowing back to the taillight.
7. The grille perimeter is cut relatively simple, without any trim at all.
8. Intakes for brake-cooling air are the boldest trim pieces on the car, apart from the unobtrusive roof rails.
9. There is a sharp demarcation between the plane into which the grille is incised and the top plane of the protruding corner buttresses.
10. Below the body-colored corners there appears to be an air inlet that continues across the front end's entire width.
11. Six really thin grille bars are artfully modest and quite convincing, adding a bit of visual lightness to what is, after all, a rather thick form.
1. The perimeter of the indented portion of the black area is vaguely dumbbell-shaped.
2. Rear reflectors are discreetly tucked into the upper corners of the diffuser area below the painted part of the rear liftgate.
3. Mirrors are substantial, necessary because direct rear visibility through the reduced glass area can't be great.
4. This little hollow, sculpted into the body surface behind the backlight, leads into a sharp line defining the spoiler lip.
5. Presumably this central portion of the light band across the tail is the center-high-mounted stop light required by regulations.
6. The restrained and well-proportioned lettering of the company name is admirable for its discreet elegance…
7. …Which is in sharp contrast to the grossly oversized and overdesigned model name on the placeholder plate at the foot of the tailgate.
8. These two horizontal lines, the upper a softened radius in the skin, the lower a hard line in the gate, define a clear band across the rear, reducing somewhat the tall body's visual height.
9. Exhaust outlets are clearly visible, coming through sculpted surrounds protruding from the dumbbell concave section in the blacked-out area.
1. To say the DBX's cabin is elegantly sumptuous would be an understatement worthy of the most extreme Anglophile.
2. The leather seat coverings' textures and surfacing are nicely subdued, showing great care in detailing.
3. Keeping the inner door panels simple, even rather plain, is to revert to the elegance of another time. It's quite appealing.
4. I don't recall any steering wheel rim bound in two contrasting colors, but I find it both attractive and intelligent.
5. These twin sharp ribs are intriguing and show fine craftsmanship. They eliminate "bagging and sagging" in the leather.
6. Slick sculpting probably won't hold your sunglasses, but it's agreeable.
7. The required "Airbag" label is so discreet, it's almost invisible. Good. Who needs it?
8. The digital information screen is not huge, but it's surely big enough.
9. This control is huge, but it probably feels nice to use.
10. The trim ring around the door latch handle looks much like what Mercedes did 30 years ago. Still attractive, though.
11. Long flows of ancillary buttons seem to be a meme these days.