2018 Aston Martin DB11 V-8: 7 First Impressions of the First AMG-Engined Aston 

The newest heir to Aston's DB tradition slices four cylinders and $18,000...all while keeping up the performance. 

Lawrence Ulrich

Aston Martin calls itself a “V-12 company.” But with Mercedes-Benz now owning a 5-percent stake in the company, the British brand is sampling some German V-8 for the first time: The latest DB11 is powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 that Benz fans will recognize as the handiwork of AMG. 

We took our own quaffs of the 2018 Aston Martin DB11 V-8 in Costa Brava, Spain, in this lighter version of Aston’s newly redesigned flagship. Like Bentley before it, Aston is performing a bit of posh GT juggling, with both eight and 12 balls: Affirming the enduring appeal and spinning complexity of its V-12s, while simultaneously defining the V-8 version as the “driver’s car” of the duo. Andy Palmer, Aston’s chief executive, said the 12-cylinder DB11 is “the intercontinental missile” you’d aim toward the horizon on an all-day jaunt, while the V-8 is the car for curves and canyon detours.

With driving impressions under media embargo until Septemper 27, we can’t describe the way the Aston tamed the curves in the Pyrenees in this Mediterranean coastal region. (The mountains themselves were pretty spectacular, for what it's worth.) But we can offer seven opening impressions of the DB11 V-8.

1. The Aston looks heavenly from any angle

Lawrence Ulrich

The Aston DB11 V8 in the divine, wine-like shade called...Divine Red.

Aston won’t mind us (we hope) describing what a pleasure it is to stare at a DB11 motoring up ahead, or to see one storming into our rear-view mirror: From its classic, slatted DB grille to its tightly-nipped waist and exploding hips, the Aston is as gorgeous and perfectly proportioned as any modern car. The V-8 model gets a blacked-out grille, loses two of the V-12’s heat-extracting hood “nostrils,” and adds fashionable dark-smoked headlamp and taillamp lenses, but otherwise, the cars look identical—and identically beautiful.

2. The V-8’s price, however, is more alluring…

Starting from $198,995 (before a $2,825 destination charge), the DB11 V-8 costs $17,500 less than the V-12 model. Matthew Clarke, Aston’s U.S. communications chief, says the V-8 may attract a slightly younger, sportier-minded buyer, including people familiar with AMG's engine magic. Buyers in China, Aston’s second-largest market, may focus on a different number, that being 4.0 versus 5.2; The smaller V-8 will avoid a crushing displacement tax on the 5.2-liter V-12. 

“For us, that formula is a bit of a game-changer in China,” Clarke says.

Lawrence Ulrich

3. …and the performance difference is largely a wash

The twin-turbo V-8’s 503 horsepower may be down a bit against the 600 of the bi-turbo V-12, but its 513 pound-feet of torque nearly matches the 516 of the 12-cylinder. Now, consider that the V-8 and its cooling system weigh 253 fewer pounds than the V-12’s setup. Plus that V-8 is shoved almost entirely behind the front axle, which shifts the front-to-rear weight balance to 49 percent / 51 percent, versus 51/49 for the V-12 model. Stiffened engine mounts, firmed-up steering, and rear suspension changes take further advantage of that optimized weight balance. 

The upshot is a 3,880-pound DB11 V-8 that scoots to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, versus 3.9 seconds for the V-12. The V-12 revs a bit higher—to 7,200 rpm, versus 7,000 for the V-8—and may press its horsepower advantage when you accelerate from triple-digit speeds. But in nearly every real-world situation, the V-8 should easily hold its own against the bigger engine, with superior agility and fuel economy to boot.

Lawrence Ulrich

Sweet cutaway of Aston's aluminum chassis reveals front-mid mounted V-8

4. Beauty can’t cover every flaw

To its credit, Aston has already addressed some griping over the original DB11 interior: Compared with the V-12 model, the long, languid throws of the metal paddle shifters have been shortened by 50 percent. Chief designer Marek Reichman pointed to improved harmonization of interior materials, including ditching the odd (and cheap-looking) brightwork on vent controllers that we ourselves called out on the V-12 model. Palmer said the changes underline Aston’s agility, its freedom and status as the last fully-independent ultra-luxury brand—unlike Ferrari, Bentley, and other rivals.  But we’re still not in love with the DB11’s generic digital driver’s displays, or the still-awkward integration of Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system.

5. This Brit doesn’t bellow like a Mercedes AMG

It took Mercedes a few years to coax a Rottweiler bark from its once-demure-sounding bi-turbo V8s. But that bloody racket wouldn’t do for a gentlemanly GT: The engine was “Astonized” with a unique air intake and wet-sump lubrication. Aston also teased out more midrange and tenor frequencies from the typically basso profundo V-8, with generous fuel overrun through its adaptive exhaust for a just-right amount of backfire and burble.

Lawrence Ulrich

6. A healthy Aston is a happy Aston…

 As Palmer frankly reminded us, Aston Martin has produced just 80,000 cars in 104 years, “and never made any money” doing it. The former Nissan executive has made Aston’s success and solvency his life’s mission, and the results are beginning to show: The opening run of 2,500 DB11 V-12s are sold out for 2017. Palmer says that assembly line defects have been halved, showroom transaction prices have soared by 25 percent, and the company’s net profits per vehicle have doubled. 

7. …and that means many more Astons to come

Where the purported comeback of Britain’s Lotus beginning in 2009 was smoke and mirrors—a cynical fantasy pushed by the now-disgraced and deposed executive Dany Behar—Aston Martin is poised to deliver on its promise of a greatly expanded lineup. The rollout goes like this: This year brings an all-new Vantage sports car, including an available manual gearbox that defies current transmission trends. Next comes a new Vanquish in 2018, the DBX crossover in 2019, a mid-engine Ferrari 488 rival—also with a stick shift on offer—in 2020, and finally, two over-the-top Lagondas in 2021 and 2022, including an SUV fit for Middle East royals. Low-volume “specials” like the track-spec Valkyrie hypercar are part of the mix, too.

The year 2019 also brings a Rapide E electric sedan, the first full EV from Aston—albeit one that will be limited to just 155 units. Aston is determined to develop in-house EV and hybrid systems, but it won't do a plug-in hybrid; the dual gas and electric propulsion would add too much mass for the sporty brand. 

Is that enough Astons for you?