Gaydon’s latest DB11 started out as a luxury GT but now there is a new 335kph version, with more power and a split personality
The polarising thing about Jebel Hafeet, is that it’s a beautiful piece of mountain road, that tends to expose the ugly in a car. There’s a reason most auto manufacturers bring prototypes to our region for assessments in harsh environments, because a climb like Jebel Hafeet is basically a torture test.
There’s a similar contradiction in the new Aston Martin DB11 AMR. On one level this new GT is the product of a manufacturer that’s committed to sharper distinctions between its models, but at the same time it comes across as an exercise in blurring the lines. ‘New Aston’ could hardly have been clearer when the DB11 arrived in 2016. This was a thoroughbred GT, and the subsequent DB11 V8 with a biturbo Mercedes engine instead of the ancient, Ford-based V12, arguably made an even finer fist of the GT remit, trading a little straight-line pace for greater powertrain refinement, chassis balance and comfort. And there’s the rub.
If we conclude that the purest Aston on offer is the DB11 V8, that leaves the V12 flagship at a bit of a loose end. Unless you hand it over to Aston Martin Racing.
The company’s performance division nestled just alongside the Nürburgring Nordschleife is treating the GT to supercar levels of attention, but if like our test car today you spec the car stealthily not only will you have the best looking DB11 (the new forged alloy wheels hit the spot aesthetically as well as reducing unsprung weight), but also one that disguises a set of stats astutely calculated to put Bentley’s new Continental GT back in its box: 630bhp, 335km/h, 0-100km/h in 3.7sec. Harder to hide, should you wish to keep the AMR’s extra 30bhp under wraps, is the more bombastic exhaust note, which chimes with the overarching initiative to give the DB11 a racier mien, or as Aston puts it, ‘a more vivid driving experience that preserves the maturity and effortless continent-crushing GT performance for which the original DB11 is rightly renowned’.
Like Mercedes’ AMG and BMW’s M, AMR gives Aston the space to sportify any model it fancies via an evolving suite of performance metrics, many chosen and expertly calibrated by dynamics chief Matt Becker – next up, the four-door Rapide.
As for this $222,955 DB11 flagship, it’s now much closer to the V12-engined car we would have liked to have seen from the start. The development of the V8 DB11 had to happen first so that elements of its sharper, sweeter-handling chassis could be carried over to the AMR. The headline power hike isn’t as dramatic as it could have been – apparently the twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12 still has a good few gee-gees in reserve – but 630bhp at 6500rpm still shades the 626bhp of the W12 Conti GT and the 621bhp of the V12 Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupe, as well as opening up a 127bhp gap back to the entry-level DB11. For the AMR, the eight-speed ZF auto ’box remains in situ, but with faster-shifting, more aggressive Sport and Sport+ settings.
Visual signifiers of the AMR are subtle and include exposed carbon fibre, glossy black detailing, dark surrounds for the headlights and smoked skins for the tail lights. The monochrome theme continues with a dark front grille and tailpipes, and a gloss black roof and roof strakes, while the exposed carbon weave of the side sills and splitter lend the exterior aesthetic some subtle contrasts. Inside, dark chrome is matched by an extra helping of Alcantara, including on the important sides of the curiously square steering wheel.
After previous encounters with the V12-engined DB11, I recall a car purposefully broad in its capabilities, so on the face of it merely turning the wick up seems like AMR’s job was simple this time around. To begin, heading out on the highway from Dubai towards Al Ain I settle for the softest driving modes and let the automatic do its thing. It all gels rather well. The ride is impressively supple, the transmission’s activities silky and well-timed, the big motor’s so-far muted exertions a mixture of effortless thrust from a handful of revs and a sophisticated, multi-cylinder soundtrack more fascinating than feral.
All much as before, then? No, better. The extra power, lighter wheels and chassis tweaks are easy to appreciate in this ostensibly ‘default’ mode. So much so that the nearer I get to Jebel Hafeet the further I venture through the options. Sport or Sport+ lets you take control of the steering-wheel paddles, which I’ll need for when the road gets interesting. There is such a thing as ‘ample’ for the road and the way the DB11 AMR delivers ‘more than’ without breaking sweat or calling on the exhaust-pipe histrionics of its enhanced modes is deeply satisfying. Like this – and later, on a stretch of straight desert highway – the DB11 AMR truly feels like a car of immense performance and ability that’s completely comfortable in its own skin; a car able to travel at an eye-watering lick anywhere that can accommodate its rather portly width without looking or sounding as if it’s trying that hard.
Thing is, if I owned one, I seriously question how much I’d use Sport on the road, never mind Sport+, because much as I’d enjoy it my daily commute doesn’t take in a mountain pass or two. It was different with the original V12. That could feel a little sleepy and unre-solved in its standard settings, gaining a palpable sense of purpose, focus and sonic presence (a little louder, just right) in Sport and Sport+. The same template fits with the AMR, but this time the results seem a little more contrived and, if anything, detract from the uprated DB11’s now more gracefully potent core character. The multi-layered yowl of the V12 in full flight is still a joy, but I’m not sure the increased volume of pops and bangs on the overrun adds a great deal to the canon of great exhaust notes past and present. Not to mention that it blurs the line a bit too close to its more serious older brother, the spectacular DBS.
Don’t get me wrong. Few senior GTs can hustle up Jebel Hafeet like this one. It’s a seri-ously quick and extremely secure bit of kit that doesn’t require hero-level chops behind the wheel to go stunningly fast. If you really want to exploit the motive potential of every last bhp and wring the final scintilla of grip from the vast stash supplied by AMR’s handiwork and the broad swathe of Bridgestone rubber, Sport or Sport+ seems the place to be. You’ll be amazed what the big car can do: the meaty precision of its steering, the perfect body control, the tireless braking, the relentlessly barking exhaust and, not least, the speed of the gearshifts. That last one will give you a bit of a neck wrench. And that lovely effortless fluency and dynamic coherence present in GT mode will be but a distant memory.
The DB11 AMR is a great GT at heart, with an alternate, bolt-on hardcore persona. It de-livers in raw terms, but the segue doesn’t feel quite right.