Aston Martin DBX on test: Sports Utility Very desirable
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2020 ASTON MARTIN DBX
- Powerhouse V8 engine
- Best-handling super-SUV we’ve driven
- Luxurious cabin materials
- Ride more sports than luxury
- Dated infotainment system
- Interior space only adequate
For Aston Martin, there is a huge amount riding on this new DBX. The old British marque’s first foray into the extraordinarily lucrative super-SUV segment arrives not a moment too soon – the company’s trials and tribulations over recent years are very well documented, book-ended on one side by a much too ambitious floatation on the London Stock Exchange and on the other by former CEO Andy Palmer’s outing from the position he’d held for five years.
Under a new executive chairman in billionaire Lawrence Stroll and a new CEO in former Mercedes-AMG boss Tobias Moers, the DBX goes into full scale production with the weight of Aston Martin’s woes on its very broad shoulders. But along with that new management comes fresh investment in the form of a sizeable cash injection, while order books for the DBX are filling up nicely.
The significance of the DBX in the company’s recovery strategy is matched only by the scale of Aston Martin’s ambitions for it. Rather than badge engineer an existing Mercedes-AMG SUV and reskin it with custom bodywork, the Gaydon firm has developed an entirely bespoke platform for it. Moreover, Aston Martin has built a brand new factory in South Wales in the UK to build the DBX.
Those two things have enabled Aston Martin to build precisely the car it wanted to build. Aston Martin has given the DBX a very long wheelbase but a relatively short overall length. Its twin-turbocharged V8 engine – borrowed like so much of the interior technology from Mercedes-Benz, which to this day owns a small stake in the company – sits a long way back in the chassis, helping to improve weight distribution.
While the engineers have had it their way, the designers have been able to realise a particularly sculptural and elegant form as well.
For all the leather-bound surfaces and the organic forms that are also recognisable from Aston’s sports and GT cars, the DBX’s interior is only adequate. There is space aplenty both in the front and the rear, while the 632-litre boot is generous without being the most cavernous in this class. But the slightly dated infotainment system is too obviously a previous-generation Mercedes-Benz unit with custom graphics. The quality of the materials used elsewhere and the overall fit and finish are at least worthy of the Aston Martin wings.
The V8 engine really is a powerhouse. Rated at 405kW/700Nm, it makes light work of flinging the 2245kg DBX at the horizon, sounding like distant thunder as it does so. The nine-speed automatic gearbox – yup, that also comes from Mercedes-Benz – does a very good job of being smooth and unflustered when left to its own devices, but also quick and responsive when you take control of the cogs yourself using the lovely aluminium gearshift paddles attached to the steering column.
The DBX comes fitted as standard with bundles of ultra-clever powertrain and chassis hardware. There are four-chamber air springs that offer various ride height and spring rates, for instance. The four-wheel drive system has an active centre differential that can split drive between the two axles, plus an electronic differential at the rear that can further divide it left and right. There are also active anti-roll bars, which can decouple themselves to smooth out the ride, or reengage to keep the body under very taut control in corners.
All of these super-SUVs are agile and grippy in a way that seems completely at odds with how much they weigh and how far above the ground they sit, but very few are actually engaging to drive. With a very neutral chassis balance, particularly keen steering and all that trick chassis hardware, the DBX is rewarding to drive spiritedly. More so than any other comparable SUV.
Others are more luxurious in the way they smother lumps and bumps in the road surface. The DBX always feels connected to the road, jiggling and fidgeting lightly where, for instance, a Bentley Bentayga is always serene. That’s just the Aston Martin way – by no means, however, is the DBX uncomfortable or unsettled.
It almost seems absurd to discuss an Aston Martin’s capability away from a sealed road surface. In thick mud, on rocky tracks and across sandy ground, though, the DBX is every bit as competent as it needs to be.
These cars won’t be used for serious off-roading, but over wet grass or in snowy ski resorts, the DBX will remain well within its comfort zone. That’s true at least as long as it’s wearing all-season tyres. On performance-oriented summer rubber, the DBX will have the ground clearance to leave the asphalt behind (in its Terrain+ mode the ride height increases by 45mm) but not the traction to cope well with ice or very wet mud.
The DBX will arrive in New Zealand in Q4 2020, costing $330,000. If Aston isn’t able to add a hybrid model to the range in relatively short order, it may well lose out on a good number of sales. With its very first super-SUV, though, Aston Martin has produced one of the most desirable vehicles of its type. The future, at long last, is beginning to look much brighter.
ASTON MARTIN DBX
ENGINE: 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8
POWER: 405kW/700Nm, 0-100km/h 4.5sec
GEARBOX: 9-speed automatic, AWD