You only live twice: around Monaco in the new Aston Martin DB12
The underwhelming DB11 has been given a new lease of life... can the new ‘super tourer’ DB12 right all of its wrongs?
It's 4am and Monaco, the vampire principality that comes out to play at night, is deathly quiet. Maybe they all overdid it at the weekend. That was the Grand Prix. This is the aftermath. I weave past lorries, forklifts and workmen, all out here stripping the F1-woz-ere evidence from the scene. Monaco clearly doesn’t want this unsightly spectacle happening during the day, so the teams operate like grave robbers, creeping around in the dark.
The DB12 weaves through. I can already tell it has fundamentally moved the game on from the DB11. Amazing what you can learn about damping from a speed bump. The composed compression and slick rebound, the tight control of the body, it bodes well for what comes later. But cars like this spend their lives in cities, so that’s where I’m starting. With a twist.
Fernando Alonso sent his AMR23 round here in just 71.449secs during qualifying. Aston needs its road cars to build on its current sporting success, so let’s see how the DB12 fares on a Monaco GP city/track test then.
Photography: Olgun Kordal
This feature was originally published in the August 2023 issue of Top Gear magazine
The twin-turbo V8 burbles peacefully up the hill from Sainte Devote to Massenet. Enough to make its presence felt, but not raucous. I waft past the first of four police cars before sweeping cautiously into Casino Square. Someone shoots me an appraising glance, then turns away – presumably having worked out she’d have more chance of a customer if this was a Lamborghini. The DB12 feels taut and athletic from Mirabeau down to Portier, there’s little sag in the suspension, it’s behaving confidently. More importantly, Aston has cleared out the area between door mirror and A-pillar, so you’ve actually got better visibility in tight turns and at junctions. I see the scooter at the Grand Hotel Hairpin when he clearly doesn’t see me.
More police in the tunnel ensure my speed stays a tenth off Fernando’s, while crane activity means no Nouvelle Chicane for me. Instead I cut through a gap in the barriers just before Tabac. From here to La Rascasse the turns are more GT-ish – just guiding the Aston through with my wrists. And then back up the start/finish straight before pulling a hard left at Sainte Devote and sneaking away just as the first traces of indigo break the darkness. Four minutes, 25 seconds.
I’ve already got the sense the DB12 is the most accomplished Aston I’ve ever driven. There’s something in the way it responds to throttle and steering, does what I ask calmly, easily. Is this what Aston wants though? The world’s first super tourer is the claim, but that’s a tag that we’ve bandied around before to describe cars such as the Ferrari Roma and Porsche 911 Turbo. Cars with more intensity about them than the DB12 currently suggests.
The DB11 wasn’t a bad car, but it dated quite quickly. The dash was fiddly and congested, the Merc-sourced infotainment was clunky and although its relaxed gait made it a great car up to seven-tenths, when pushed out of corners it would squat, twist and recoil, losing traction and drive. The main mission here is to tackle those areas.
The styling suggests not much has changed. Visually it’s more assertive, but steers just wide of the DBS’s brutishness. It has less muscle, more tone, but it could be a good facelift rather than a whole new car. The money must have been spent underneath. The platform is the same, but with extra bracing to boost rigidity, and the double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension layout is carried over too. The headline is what’s not there: this has neither V12 nor hybrid. Emissions caught up with the former, the latter would have been prohibitively costly to develop. So it uses the twin-turbo V8 first introduced in 2018, but with a plethora of mods boosting it to 671bhp and 590lb ft. Yes, that is plenty. All of that gallops out of the back wheels via an eight speed automatic gearbox that now boasts a shorter final drive for better sprinting. Zero to 62mph in 3.6secs since you’re asking.
I’m now on the A8, easily one of the twistiest autoroutes anywhere, plunging in and out of tunnels across the back of the Côte d’Azur. The DB11 did well on this sort of stuff bar one chief niggle – it actually suffered from quite a bit of tyre noise. Not so the DB12, which features Michelin’s latest Pilot Sport S 5 tyres with foam inserts to reduce noise. It’s masterly along here. The gearbox instinctively selects the right gear, even when there’s so much torque any will do. The improved visibility means there’s less head ducking and diving when changing lanes and it feels crisper in my hands, yet more settled too. Not quite as imperious and isolating as a Conti GT, it retains a sense of sporting behaviour, but if, instead of exiting in 20 miles, I was aiming for Calais, I’d think nothing of it. I’d be happy to sit back and listen to the engine woofle away, maybe investigate the new Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi when the roads flattened out.
The cabin arguably makes more difference here than the dynamics. This is a car inwardly transformed. The view forward is clean because the big centre screen doesn’t sit high and upright on the dash, but reclines below the vents. It’s less intrusive and vulgar, helps reorient the cabin away from a tech focus into materials and quality.
But it’s also Aston’s first touchscreen, quick to react and not overcrowded with menus. And it’s all Aston’s own work, not nabbed from a two generations old Mercedes. The design of the centre console, however, does seem to owe something to someone else: Porsche. It’s the toggle gearlever and sloping deck lined with buttons. More tactile here with rotary barrels for the temperature adjustment and volume, but definitely a nod in Stuttgart’s direction. The ergonomics are vastly improved, there’s more storage, it’s less claustrophobic and the driving position, tucked down behind a pleasingly rounded steering wheel on a seat that’s so beautifully shaped that I can’t see why you’d want the optional carbon bucket, is perfect. You get in and marvel at how far Aston has moved the game on.
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OK, it’s no more spacious for those unfortunates confined to the back seats, and the boot remains compact and awkward to access because the lid doesn’t open far enough and it’s easy to bang your head when leaning down. But two of you will really enjoy this space, this atmosphere.
Funny how people only think about the coast down here, when inland you’ll easily find some of the best driving roads known to humanity. The Col de Vence wriggles and writhes its way north from the autoroute, heading northwest and linking up with the D2 that takes us over towards the Route Napoleon. These are roads to test the DB12’s mettle.
WELCOME TO SUPERCAR SPEED, DELIVERED WITH GT DIGNITY
It’s unflappable. The engine and chassis work far more harmoniously than before, so you climb with each complimenting the other because the handover between the two is so clean you can’t tell where chassis ends and engine begins. It doesn’t matter how tight or open the corner is, from the moment you turn in you feel the rear axle compressing and supporting as well as the front, so both outer wheels hold a neat line. And when you get back on the power there’s no slack that needs to be taken up, the power feeds through and out crisply and easily. It’s fuss free handling with proper control and conviction.
And it’s engaging. Not as tense and determined as a Porsche 911 Turbo, nor as hyperactive and excitable as the distinctly overcaffeinated Ferrari Roma, but it’s richly satisfying. The thrills maybe aren’t as visceral and immediate, but you’ll look back on whole drives fondly. It propels itself over the Col de Vence eagerly, then the road opens up and it gets into a real rhythm, sweeping back and forth. Criticisms? The steering doesn’t have that much natural feel – although I’m not sure it needs it, because it engenders confidence – and the optional carbon ceramic brakes suffered a bit of fade and a soft pedal when they got very hot. Spec them for the 27kg unsprung weight saving, not their added dynamism.
The engine isn’t explosive or strident, it just digs deep everywhere and pushes you forward with oodles of oomph. After a second or two you realise there’s still another couple of inches of throttle travel there for the taking. Welcome to supercar speed, delivered with GT dignity.
It’s wonderfully forceful this upgraded V8, singing throatily, but even when given everything, there’s no sense of the DB12 waving goodbye to its comfort zone. It’s very together. Even when I unshackle the traction and let it cut loose around a too-tempting hairpin.
We end up in Gréolières les Neiges, an out of season ski resort of the type that will surely be bidding adieu to all snow within the next decade. We stop, take pictures. The DB12’s styling may not be a revolution and the grille is very, very big now, but Aston knows how to design a handsome machine. And pick a colour. Iridescent Emerald looks tremendous as the sun softens, the shadows lengthen.
As the crow flies it’s only 25 miles from Gréolières to Monaco. They could be different worlds, but then everywhere outside of Monaco is. It’s quiet up here, though the Aston seems just as content as it had growling around Monaco 15 hours earlier. In this green and gold combo it would still strut its stuff proudly if Monaco had its fangs out.
The drive back that evening reveals more about the Aston’s sheer competence. It’s not the most dramatic machine to drive, but I just can’t catch it out. Whatever I do, it’s there, ready for my next move. It’s obedient, steady, has real poise and composure. This may sound like I’m not enthralled and, yeah it’s not as vivid and tenacious as the Porsche and Ferrari. They lean heavily towards the super, while a Bentley Conti GT tilts towards tourer. Which leaves the DB12 sitting centrally. It’s got ability in all areas, the kind of car that’s always well behaved.
In a final bid to knock it off balance, the following morning I drive it up some of the Monte Carlo rally stage roads. Width and a long nose, that’s all that undoes it. I don’t miss the V12, because it wasn’t as responsive as this and would, I suspect, feel lazy in this crisp new chassis. Nor do I want hybrid. That would likely mean losing the V8, and gaining a whole heap of weight.
I end up in an ancient square in a little village. I munch a croissant, consume coffee, and consider. This is Aston Martin on song. The Valkyrie, somehow, wasn’t – too many teething issues and compromises. But this... well it would simply be a wonderful car to live with and drive. It’s admired wherever it goes, a car that wouldn’t ask much of you, but would reward greatly. A car I’d love to roam about in. Probably give Monaco a swerve though.