Earlier on Wednesday, we reported on the new BMW 5 Series – the first all-electric 5 Series. That means it’s very exciting, but how we’re telling you about another new car. And because there’s no hint of electrification involved and it’s got 'twelve' in its name (though sadly not that number of cylinders), it’s exciting for different reasons. This is the very exciting Aston Martin DB12.
Now, you might be thinking that’s just a facelifted DB11. After all, that’s kinda what we’ve said about it before. And that’s true in some ways – it is based on the DB11 – but they’ve done more than we thought. So whether it’s technically a facelift or not, it’s definitely worth making a fuss about. Aston certainly thinks so, and it's true the firm is on a bit of an upwards swing, and unlike its previous upward swings, CEO Lawrence Stroll appears to have made sure someone tightens the hinges so that a) it doesn’t fly off into a hedge and b) will stay up. For good, hopefully.
Stroll has invested many billions into the company, and if the Aston Martin F1 team’s results are anything to go by, the company’s road cars are about to get a lot better, too. This DB12 is the first of a revised range that Stroll himself said, back in January, will be "what those cars should have always felt like". And to begin assessing the DB12’s credibility on that score, I am not going to begin by talking about its engine, but its interior.
The reason for this is that the DB11’s interior was crap. Crap for a £150,000 car, and crap for a £50,000 one, too. That means this area is crucial if the DB12's going to justify Stroll's bullish rhetoric. So drink it in. It's the first inkling that this is more than just a facelift and does warrant the new name. It’s completely new, lock, stock and infotainment panel. And while we’re nowhere near able to start finger-banging it to check the substance, it does at least look the part – and is seemingly reflective of the car’s price tag. Even if that’s going to creep nearer to £200,000 (which has been mooted but not yet confirmed) DB12 owners shouldn’t feel the same tinge of embarrassment when giving friends a lift as they might've in its predecessor.
There’s a Germanic, Porsche-like appearance to the height and angle of the button-festooned centre console; it's all a bit 992, including the gear selector. But the new design is also much cleaner than before, with more of a Scandi flavour, yet still imbued with the opulence of traditional British tailoring. Those who wish to enhance this even further can employ the services of the designers and craftspeople at Q by Aston Martin, to create something fully bespoke.
I mentioned the buttons just now, and that’s important. In the press release it states, ‘Understanding the need for balance between touchscreen commands and the positive tactility of physical switches, DB12 retains buttons for the key mechanical operations of gear selection, drive selection, heating and ventilation offering the perfect blend of digital and analogue controls. There are also override switches for chassis, ESP and exhaust, Lane Assist and Park Distance Control, ensuring the most used controls are always conveniently to hand.’ Finally, there’s a manufacturer out there listening and applying some common sense.
Of course, there is a touchscreen, but it's no longer been begged or borrowed from a third party like Mercedes or Volvo. This one bears a striking resemblance in style to the latest JLR system, but Aston says its next-generation infotainment is ‘entirely bespoke, designed and developed by Aston Martin,’ and is ‘the marque’s first in-house system.’
Its 10.25-inch screen offers 1970x720 high-resolution, reacts to inputs within 30ms, and features wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The sat nav can be programmed remotely via an app on your smartphone, which also does other tricks like locking and unlocking the car. The DB12 comes with a 4G ‘all-new connected car ecosystem’, which supports, among other things, over-the-air updates. Admittedly, none of this is ground-breaking, but it’s ground-breaking for Aston. If it works, this will be a revelation in something that’s sprung from its factory gates.
On the high-fidelity front, the DB12 has a 390-watt, 11-speaker, surround-sound stereo as standard. But for proper audio buffs there’s a Bowers & Wilkins-engineered system with 15 speakers and 1,170 watts. And if that’s as good as the Bowers & Wilkins stereo in the last Volvo V90 I tested, it will be brilliant.
The exterior has also been improved, but unlike the interior, it's an evolutionary step in the right direction. The DB12’s front end sports a wider, taller grille than the DB11, and because it's lower to the ground it gives the impression the DB12's about to Hoover up the road. Crucially, the looks aren't ‘out there’ like the Vantage, but work harmoniously to improve what remains of its predecessor. The wider stance gives the car more of the visual aggression we’ve seen in the DBS770 Ultimate, too. It looks good, including from the rear, with its new, micro-thin, C-shaped taillights. Most importantly, it looks like an Aston Martin – a very pretty one you'll want to be seen in.
But will it be good to drive? Well, the DB11 started off poorly in that respect. Despite rapturous applause from journalists at its launch, hailing it as the Best Aston Ever, the original DB11 had very little traction, iffy body control, on-off brakes and a spikey throttle response. Thankfully, Aston knew its car needed more work, and so they’ve been gradually improving it ever since. Successive iterations - particularly the V8 - and then the DBS (as well as the DBX707) have shown they know what to do, too. If the DB12 carries on up this evolutionary path, then there’s every reason to be optimistic.
Notably, it comes with a new ESP system with four pre-set modes for Wet and Track, and, refreshingly simple, the other two are described as On and Off. The ESP’s brain is being fed information by ‘a new six-axis inertia measurement unit’ that builds a real-time picture of what the car is up to. ‘Cutting edge algorithms,’ then work out the grip level and react – as seamlessly and inconspicuously as possible, we're told – to any ‘momentary instabilities'. The same predictive algorithms assist the DB12’s next-generation intelligent adaptive dampers. As before with the DB11, these alter their base map according to the drive modes – GT, Sport, Sport+. The DB12 also includes Wet and Individual driving modes, but the key difference is the dampers’ increased bandwidth, which is said to be 500 per cent wider. That sounds like a lot, although it suggests the DB11’s dampers had the bandwidth of a gnat’s cock, perhaps.
To go with its shiny new dampers, Aston has fitted bigger anti-roll bars, and claims also that the DB12’s bonded aluminium structure is stiffer (by up to seven per cent) laterally and torsionally. That's after changes to the engine cross brace, front and rear undertrays, front crossmember and rear bulkhead. Flexing of the front and rear strut towers is said to be notably improved, which ‘provides a stronger and more stable attachment point for the dampers and rear axle’. That, apparently, means better suspension performance, isolation and refinement, along with improvements in on- and off-centre steering feel – something that’s also been enhanced by the DB12’s non-isolated steering column. The steering sticks with a fixed ratio for consistency, but as usual offers speed-sensitive assistance.
The steering’s not the only element to have been retuned for better feel. The brake servo has as well, for a firmer pedal, and you can order the DB12 with carbon ceramic discs that save 27kg of unsprung mass (in total) over iron discs. Aston Martin claims to be the first ‘OEM application’ for Michelin’s new Pilot Sport 5s tyres, which for the DB12 are pretty enormous: 275/35 R21 front and 315/30 R21 rear. They feature noise-cancelling polyurethane foam in the tyre carcass that reduces cabin noise from the rubber by 20 per cent – this aspect of the DB11 was another of its issues.
Another first – this time for a DB model – is the DB12’s e-diff, which can go from fully locked to fully unlocked in ‘a matter of milliseconds’. This is yet another part of the DB12’s new arsenal that, according to Aston, makes ‘the car [shrink] around the driver and making it truly come alive on challenging roads as never before’. It also uses a shorter final drive ratio than the DB11 (3.083:1) to make the DB12 punch out of corners harder. The the low-mass carbon fibre propshaft will have some affect on that, too, while the revised calibration for its rear-mounted eight-speed automatic gearbox also makes that snappier.
Finally, to the engine. No, there’s no V12 – at least not from launch – but the charm of the Mercedes twin-turbo V8 is a decent substitute. As Aston says, with the 4.0-litre AMG V8 the ‘DB12 makes an emphatic statement’. We’re assuming they meant the noise, but performance is pretty statementy, too. 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds, a top speed of 202mph, and something about ‘best-in-class potency’ – although I have absolutely no idea what that means. I do know that with 680hp at 6,000rpm, and 590lb ft of torque thundering away between 2,750-6.000rpm, it’s quite a lot more potent than the outgoing DB11 V8. Still not as potent as the DBX707, mind, so there’s more to come, and, as with the 770, the power and torque increases come from fine-tuning elements such as cam profiles and the compression ratio. Oh yes, nearly forgot - fitting two much larger-diameter turbochargers helped a tad, too.
Amedeo Felisa, Chief Executive Officer of Aston Martin, said of the new DB12: “When a brand has as much history as Aston Martin it is important to honour the past. Not by looking back, but by pushing on with the same energy and passion that propelled our founders 110 years ago. With the new DB12 we are reinvigorating the DB model line and reasserting Aston Martin as a maker of truly exceptional performance sport cars. By combining class-leading performance and exceptional chassis dynamics with cutting edge technology, impeccable craftsmanship and immaculate design, DB12 leads Aston Martin into a new era of excellence.”
Best Aston ever? This time, it just might be, you know. We’ll find out soon enough, because first deliveries begin during quarter three of 2023. I for one, cannot wait.
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