Aston Martin DB11 V8: Build better on top of best
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Aston Martin's all-new twin-turbocharged V8 version of the DB11 doesn't just represent another option for buyers of the Brit brand's flagship GT. It represents a completely different performance experience altogether.
The marketing bods will tell you it's all about customer choice. But when you get down to it, it isn't. Well okay, it is. But there's more to it than that, namely legislation.
Without wishing to introduce something as tedious as politics into an otherwise straightforward look at a thoroughly good performance car, the reason the Aston Martin DB11 V8 exists at all is because it will help the British carmaker flog shedloads of them in places such as China, where car taxation policy is tagged to engine capacity.
Manufacture yourself a 4.0-litre engine (versus a 5.2-litre engine, for example) and you've got yourself a much more appealing sports car purchase price. Then open the showroom doors and wait.
But - cynicism aside - here's the good news in all of this: in order to get cars in front of buyers in a handful of countries that exercise this sort of rule, the rest of us benefit immeasurably. Because the DB11 V8 is an utterly fantastic car. I dare say, it's better in almost every respect than the DB11 V12.
The arrival of the V8 model represents a big departure for Aston Martin in more ways than one. For a start, this is the first time ever that the iconic DB series has had two engines available.
It's also not an Aston Martin engine at all. It's a Mercedes-AMG unit that has been re-engineered at Gaydon. But hold your horses, because whatever you do or don't like about AMG engines needs to be parked for now.
Aston's boffins have done some incredibly clever stuff to the V8 in order to - ever so politely - rinse as much AMG-ness out of it as possible, and replace that with traits akin to Aston Martin.
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To that end, Aston Martin developed the engine management system with Bosch outside of anything Daimler has done. The induction system is all Aston, as is the exhaust system.
The throttle pedal progression mapping is the work of Aston, too. As a result, you'd never guess the 375kW 4.0-litre V8 was anything other than an Aston-built affair. Gone is the basso growl most would associate with an AMG engine; replaced instead with a mid-tone snarl.
It's worth mentioning the eight-speed ZF auto box is a carry-over unit from the V12. Leave the bonnet shut, and there isn't much to tell the two DBs apart. The V8's grille is subtly different and gone from the bonnet are the V12's centre air strakes (the duct that cools the turbo is internalised for the V8 set-up).
That's about it for visual differences though. Inside, the cabin is much the same too, right down to the fancy stitch-work through the headliner if you want it. The driver position remains excellent and you nestle down into a sports car that feels much lower than it really is.
On the road, however, the character of the DB11 V8 is much different to the V12. Fewer cylinders means less weight - 115kg less to be exact - and with the smaller block nestled in behind the front axle, the change in mass distribution means the DB11 V8 feels sprightlier, with acceleration that is absolutely phenomenal (4.0 seconds from zero to 100km/h).
The V12 by contrast still dazzles with its sledgehammer speed, but it affords a more relaxed drive; it remains a true GT in that it will cover kilometres exceedingly quickly if you require it to, but feels somehow bigger in tight corners.
The V8 has more than enough torque (675Nm) to slingshot you out of corners; match that with the weight-saving and near-perfect 49/51 front-to-rear weight distribution and you have a proper racer at your disposal.
It's amazing how an engine can change the demeanour of a car; the DB11 V8 instantly feels much more like a point-and-shoot machine. Helping with that is the larger separation between drive modes in the V8.
The gulf between Sport and Sport+ feels much wider here than in the V12; the steering has been tuned differently in Sport+ from its equivalent in the original model.
So, with the introduction of the second power plant, the Aston DB11 is now available as two distinct cars; a GT and a racer. In reality - and even though it's joining the party late - Aston Martin believes the racer will eventually take up 65 per cent of DB11 sales over the trad GT.
Oh, and if you think all this sounds pretty darn good, bear in mind that the as-yet-unannounced V8 Vantage is just over the horizon. It will be shorter and lighter and will have this very same V8 engine.
That will be one Aston Martin well worth waiting for.
Aston Martin DB11 V8
4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 (375kW/675Nm)
Pro: An enthusiast driver's take on the classic DB, enhanced handling ability, engine noise
Con: Are you setting yourself up for V8 Vantage envy in a year's time?
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