2019 Aston Martin DB11 AMR First Drive: Aston Keeps Fussing Over Its Grand Tourer
From Aston's performance headquarters at Germany's Nürburgring, we sample the $245,000, 208-mph flagship of the DB11 range.
As teases go, it’s hard to top being in the town of Nürburg, Germany, revving the majestic V12 of an Aston Martin—yet being denied the long, sensuous pleasure of laps at the Nürburgring Nordschleife itself. (I believe the German word for such a feeling is “Kockenblocken.”) From my hotel balcony overlooking the track, I can watch and hear automakers, pro racers, and civilian drivers subjecting their cars to the rigors—and for less-skilled pilots, outright terrors—of the 12.9-mile “Green Hell.” So much for copping an afternoon nap.
But the fabled British automaker has brought us here for another reason, to drive home an abbreviated point. The three letters appended to the 2019 Aston Martin DB11 AMR stand for “Aston Martin Racing.” The company develops both race cars and street-going models from AMR headquarters located right here at the ‘Ring. Those showroom cars are also tested through the forested roads and quaint villages surrounding the track, including the autobahn, where I instantly dial the new DB11 AMR to a perfectly-legal 165 miles per hour. (Some fabled Deutschland driving pleasures won’t be denied). Since my personal high on the speed-limit-free highway is 189 mph (in a first-gen Porsche Panamera Turbo), I’m tempted to top it in this Aston, whose claimed 208-mph ceiling betters the 2018 DB11 by 5 mph. Alas, I almost overshoot my exit—easy enough when you’re going 165 mph—and I’m not entirely sure that my driving partner is down with an impromptu excursion to triple-digit velocities.
No matter. The DB11 AMR makes its point, one that the company has been underlining since 1905: If you’re looking to cover vast distances with thoroughbred pace and grace, it’s hard to beat an Aston Martin. The other point is that Aston’s race-bred engineering suffuses the DB11 AMR. As with Mercedes's AMG, Aston’s “AMR” will designate top-performing models in its lineup, including. But to the surprise of journalists present, this DB11 AMR isn’t the high-performance variant many had assumed. Instead, the AMR becomes the only DB11 V12 coupe you can buy for the 2019 model year, directly replacing the standard DB11 that was offered only in 2017 and 2018.
During a coffee stop in the town of Bad Bertrich, Matt Becker, Aston’s vehicle dynamics chief, says that the soon-to-arrive 2019 DBS coupe and DBS Volante will each spawn an AMR variant. The DB11 Volante convertible will soldier on without the AMR name or upgrades. Another surprise: in spite of those three new letters, the DB11 AMR isn’t some junior-grade Vulcan, a winged dragon designed to set road courses afire.
“It’s still a GT, not a track car,” says Paul Barritt, vehicle line director for the DB11 and Vanquish. “We’re using AMR as the pinnacle of performance. This is a better, improved DB11.”
Got that, current owners? Yours is the not-better, un-improved DB11. Still, credit a resurgent Aston Martin with not standing still with its signature GT, as it often did when previous DB models ran for a decade or more with only cosmetic changes. And as Barritt and Becker promise, this DB11 AMR is subtly-yet-appreciably better than the 2017-2018 model, the one that represented a quantum leap over an aging and increasingly uncompetitive DB9.
Aston has squeezed 30 more horses from its twin-turbo 5.2-liter V12, trimming the AMR’s 0-60 mph sprint to 3.5 seconds. (Torque stays the same, at 516 pound-feet, but its peak is maintained a bit longer at the top of the rev range). That 0-60 mph run is 0.2 seconds quicker than last year’s model, and directly matches the smaller, two-seat Vantage. A retuned, two-stage exhaust makes the V12 sound even more glorious, including rich, guttural backfires when you lift throttle or summon gear changes via black-metal steering wheel paddles.
Yet the AMR’s improved performance has as much to do with the engine that doesn’t rest below that lengthy hood: The Mercedes-based, twin-turbo 4.0-liter in the DB11 V8. Between its lighter engine and chassis revisions, the 2018 DB11 V8 felt notably more buttoned-down than the standard V12 when we tested in in Spain’s Costa Brava. Now Becker and Co. have looked to transplant as much of the V8’s handling to the AMR as possible. And it wasn’t easy.
“It’s physics, at the end of the day,” Becker says. “The V12 engine weighs 100 kilos more.”
The AMR’s revised physics textbook, then, largely involved disguising that front-forward mass as much as possible, and making the car's rear wheels feel more planted.
“There was too much diagonal roll before, “Becker says. “The front would dive into a corner, and there was excessive roll onto the opposite rear corner.”
Instead of muscling up the spring rates—which ming have spoiled the Aston’s clotted-cream ride—Aston sought more “damping support.” Engineers stiffened the rear subframe bushings, along with the engine and transmission mounts—the latter reducing the rotation of the powertrain under torque loads. The changes create a chain of gains: The rear end better controls the tires’ contact patches, which boosts steering response, which in turn “gives the driver more confidence,” Becker says. When the rear wheels do slip, the traction control system steps in more gently. There’s less torque reduction than before, and that torque is also restored more quickly. In the battle against unsprung weight, the AMR gets forged, 20-inch aluminum wheels instead of the old cast alloy ones, which saves 7.7 pounds at each corner. Finally, the AMR’s front anti-roll bar is 0.5-mm wider.
“Before, I’d have taken the V8 over the V12” in performance terms, Becker says. “Now I’d take this one.”
To judge for myself, I would have welcomed a back-to-back drive of the AMR and DB11 V8 models (or the AMR vs. the outgoing regular DB11). But there was no doubting the AMR’s combination of magisterial power and control, including the emotional punch evoked by a 7,200-rpm-redling V12. This uprated DB11 is born to glide through long sweepers at supra-legal velocities. But it also acquits itself surprisingly well in tighter corners, especially for a car that weighs 4,125 pounds at the curb. That still leaves the Aston a relative bantamweight versus the 5,000-pound Bentley Continental GT, though its engine does push around about 500 more pounds than a Ferrari 812 Superfast.
No surprise, the DB11’s interior smacks of the charmed life. Aston’s interior leather, carpeting, and trims are second to none, including the AMR’s standard carbon-fiber twill trim. My tester’s hand-tooled brogue detailing on seats and leather headliner recall the finest men’s shoes. But the things we didn't like about the DB11 cabin still nag: Aston has largely done away with the chintzy-looking, faux-chrome bits that so pained us on the original DB11, but its standard “dark chrome” replacement still looks and feels like the coated plastic it is. Aston’s current digital driver’s display—with its utterly blah presentations—seems better suited to a $50,000 Lexus sedan than a $250,000 British grand tourer. And while Mercedes-Benz's Comand infotainment is a major gain in usability over Aston's old systems, its small screen and dowdy black-plastic frame makes it look like the hand-me-down design element it is. On the plus side, the AMR’s new standard sport steering wheel is as lovely as it is tactile.
On the outside, the Aston AMR signals its prime DB status in shadowy, subtle fashion. Exterior brightwork is replaced by exposed carbon fiber and darkened details, including carbon-fiber hood blades, side strakes and tailpipe trim, dark headlight surrounds and smoked taillamps, and a gloss-black roof. Throwing subtlety out the window, the Signature Edition adds a big 'ol center racing stripe in the "Lime Essence" color first seen on the Vantage. The shrieking-yellow stripe is repeated on interior seats in standard DB11 AMR models, though naturally you can deselect it if you choose—and we would definitely choose. The color actually works fine as a contrasting exterior detail on the Vantage, but it looks godawful as that car's main color, and arguably has no place at all on the elegant DB11.
As ever, penny-pinchers need not apply when it comes to Aston Martin, but buyers will surely notice that the AMR—starting from $244,086—costs about $28,000 more than last year’s V12 model. (That Signature Edition with the Stirling Green/Lime livery is limited to 100 units for global consumption, and priced closer to $275,000).
Viewed as an objet d’art or price-no-object GT, this DB11 AMR will find its loyal subjects. Personally, in the realm of British speed machines, my heart has been utterly stolen by the new Vantage, from its more future-forward design to its lighter weight, friskier handling, and (relative) bargain price of $150,000. Of course, I’m not in Aston’s target market, which surely includes actual princes and princesses. Even ones who go slumming in a Jaguar.
Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence@thedrive.com.