Massively powerful modern engine. 1970s American muscle car. Blend. Enjoy
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What’s an Aston Martin DB11 AMR? The new flagship of the DB11 range, the car that sits above the DB11 V8 and DB11 V8 Volante convertible. It is also now the only V12-powered DB11 available. But the DB11 V12 has only been on sale a couple of years. What’s happened to it? This one supersedes it. Chiefly because the first DB11 wasn’t quite as good to drive as it ought to have been. As long as you were cruising or mooching there was little to complain about – it felt supple and relaxed. But when you lent on it, the DB11 kept on leaning. The rear axle was chiefly to blame – too much squidge and roll meant not enough precision on turn in, and heavy rearward weight transfer on exit, which didn’t provide much confidence and would upset the over-sensitive traction control. It wasn’t the smoothest or most reassuring car to make progress in. What has Aston done to improve it? Given it more power. Was that really necessary when it had 600bhp already? Don’t jump in. It’s got an extra 30bhp – I suspect because it was easy to deliver and it talks to another point I want to make further on. But that’s not all of course. The whole rear subframe that carries the rear suspension and axle is attached to the extruded, bonded aluminium chassis with firmer bushes to give the back end more support. The dampers have been revalved so they’re around ten per cent stiffer all round and the new forged wheels save 3.5kg per corner. And that’s unsprung mass. The exhaust system has been modified, gearshifts made snappier and the engine mounts have also been changed to work in harmony with the rear, and the front anti-roll bar is now 0.5mm thicker. Small change, but in the words of Matt Becker, “if you’re going to make the rear more powerful, you have to make the front more powerful to match it so you end up with a central yaw feel”. He’s an engineer, so speaks a different language to the rest of us. Yes. How about something I understand: cosmetics. It’s been darkened inside and out. Exterior brightwork is now monochrome or carbon, inside it’s been toned down and sportified. No fundamental design changes to any bodywork panels or cabin features, so there’s still a tray at the bottom of the centre console that’s not quite the right size or shape for the massive key, plus flimsy cupholders and no glovebox. The other point I wanted to make: it’s not been done simply to enhance the DB11, but to separate it from the earlier car. Replace it directly and they’re as good as admitting the first one wasn’t good enough. Give it a more sporting twist with extra power and the AMR badge and they make it something different and help prop up used values of the earlier car. This is now a more sporting car, is the message. Just not so sporting as to no longer be a GT. But more sporting than a Bentley Continental GT. Ah, wondered when the ‘B’ word was going to come up… It is no coincidence that the DB11 has 4bhp more than the new Conti GT, and a top speed 1mph faster. Willy-waving, pure and simple. You’d imagine buyers would be big enough to not care. But then again… Anyway, the changes do distance DB11 from Conti. Is Aston running scared? Maybe, but mainly I reckon it’s keen to clarify the DB11’s positioning in the market. Aston says it’s still a GT, but compared to the Conti it’s a much crisper drive: Lighter, more nimble and dexterous. The Bentley is hugely capable, but doesn’t give a great amount of tactility and feedback. In the Aston you sit lower in a tighter cockpit and are more involved in the whole process of driving.
And how is it? Very impressive actually. We ran a Aston DB11 on our long term fleet last year and it couldn’t quite cope with the 600bhp acting on it, the rear end would squat and squirm uncomfortably. Now, despite 630bhp, it doesn’t. It drives keenly, with a sense of athleticism and more connection between front and back ends. No sway on turn in, and much better mid-corner precision, plus a new found ability to use the power on the way out. It’s a big car, but gets itself down the road very effectively. Probably no faster than the alarmingly capable (and 400kg heavier) Conti GT, but more engagingly. There’s more precision to the steering and more faithful response from the front wheels. Transmission upshifts pop home nicely, but downshifts are occasionally slower and more delayed, and if you leave it in auto it’s not brilliant at second guessing where you want to be, so you’ll brake into a corner and it won’t downshift until you start accelerating out the other side. Which makes you feel like an amateur. Best to get involved and pull the paddles. It’s still a GT, not a sports car, though? Mostly. It now has a more overt personality than before. You’re more aware of the exhaust more of the time, more aware of how the car is riding the road, actually want to be more involved with it. This has knocked the edge off its relaxation because it occupies you more. The ride is a little busier. And there’s still tyre noise from the standard-fit Bridgestones. It might be more enjoyable to drive, but as a long range cruiser the DB11 has to give best to the likes of the Conti GT and Merc’s S-Class Coupe. Are all Astons becoming more sporting? This is an interesting point. Aston under Andy Palmer is currently in the middle of a massive overhaul. There’s everything from the new DBX SUV, to the Valkyrie, plus rumours of a mid-engined supercar to rival the Ferrari 488 and McLaren 720S. So what the firm is doing with its core models, the DB11 and new Vantage, is interesting. Between AMR and entry-level V8 (which shares some of the AMR’s upgrades) it feels like the DB11 is getting a bit more focused. And don’t forget there’s a new DBS coming, rumoured to have something approaching 700bhp from the twin turbo V12. Anyone else reckon it feels like Aston is homing in on Ferrari, McLaren et al? Does the DB11 AMR cost the same as the old one? Of course not. Price is another way of differentiating old DB11 from new AMR, so Aston’s now charging £17,000 more for it. Prices start at £174,995, which is a hefty chunk of money, an amount which the (undoubtedly improved) quality and interior layout of the car have to work hard to justify. It’s undoubtedly very exclusive, but once you’ve done a bit of work on the options list, you’re looking at a £200k bill. For what it’s worth, the new Conti GT (less bespoke, but better built) starts at £159,100. Of course you could save yourself the bother of speccing and opt for a Signature Edition car. That’s it in these pictures. Only 100 are being built, each costing £201,995. Sum the DB11 AMR up for me. The car the DB11 V12 should have been from the start. More sporting, but not necessarily a better GT. Score: 8/10 Specs: 5204cc V12 twin-turbo, 630bhp, 516lb ft @ 1500rpm, 0-62mph in 3.7sec, 208mph max, 24.8mpg, 265g/km CO2, 1870kg