Carmakers are fond of ambitious targets. They have rigorous internal ones, of course, played out on spreadsheets and pored over by shareholders. Then they have the more subjective ones that make for good soundbites, the ones they like to tell journalists about. When Aston Martin talks about repositioning itself in the market, it is deadly serious, and doubtless the journey to a healthier profit margin is mapped out in black and white somewhere - but for public consumption the firm has also distilled it into the sort of easy-to-remember maxims that even lowly car hacks remember to write down.
“As luxurious as Rolls-Royce, as high performing as Ferrari” was one of the silver bullets fired from the hip during a detailed introduction to the new DB12. Oh, so no pressure then - just the paragon of (BMW-bankrolled) indulgence on the one hand, and the world’s foremost supercar maker on the other. For a car which, while impressively new in some respects, is fundamentally very similar to the Grand Tourer Aston launched back in 2016. And the DB11, for all its likeable qualities, probably didn’t give anyone at Rolls-Royce or Ferrari many sleepless nights.
To some extent, Aston is describing the journey as much as it is the destination. For all its laudable talk of ‘ultra-luxury’ and a notably ‘fiercer’ level of performance, the new objectives are also about acknowledging that the firm has not always stepped up to the plate in recent times, certainly not in a way that could be said to rival the best in the business. In that regard, the DB12 - considered the first new model to truly reflect the level of investment now available to the firm - is important precisely because it is first. For a bigger, bolder Aston to distinguish itself from the ultra-expensive competition, it needs a marker: for better or worse, ‘The World’s First Super Tourer’ is it in a nutshell.
For what it’s worth, the mood music that accompanied this basic truth was illuminating. To hear Aston tell it, it has been turning larger financial resources into more people and prototypes and brainwaves at a ferocious rate. The DB12 is said to have enjoyed a more comprehensive development process than any of its stablemates, and its maker made no bones about the pivotal importance of a 2+2 GT to both its lineup and its existing fanbase. This is core Aston Martin, we were told. Eat your heart out DBX.
It continued pushing all the right buttons when discussing what, exactly, it meant by ‘Super Tourer’. The DB11, lest we forget, originally launched in 2016 with 608hp and 516lb ft of torque from its 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12. The AMG-sourced V8 followed a year later with 510hp (later uprated to 535hp) before the AMR version improved the V12’s output to 639hp. The DB12, powered by a version of the 4.0-litre V8 which is said to be much more bespoke to Aston, gets 680hp and 590lb ft of torque. That is statement of intent number one.
Statement of intent number two is the idea that Aston targeted a ‘transformational’ improvement in terms of driver engagement. This is the first DB to get an Electronic Rear Differential. It is the first to be offered with carbon ceramic brakes. The bonded aluminium platform is now seven per cent more torsionally rigid, with improved lateral stiffness between the front and rear strut towers specifically sought for dynamic payoff. The new ESP system is state-of-the-art. Aston reckons it is the first OEM application of the new Michelin Pilot Sport 5s, which arrive with ‘AML’ codes to signify a bespoke compound for the DB12. The list goes on.
Then there’s the interior, which is less a statement of intent and more a flag planted in undiscovered country. Given the modest amount of work done on the outside - the DB12 is subtly wider and visually closer to the ground thanks to larger 21-inch wheels, and perhaps marginally sleeker with its frameless wing mirrors - it is inside where Aston focused the bulk of its redesign efforts. The new dashboard, it seems, can be chiefly attributed to two factors: a) the team’s (welcome) assertion that its new 10.25-inch touchscreen most co-exist with physical switchgear, and b) the resources to actually ensure that a) came to fruition without it seeming like a job half done. The result, as we expected it might be, isn’t far short of a triumph.
Perhaps Aston cannot claim to have scaled the same trim material mountain as Bentley (it isn’t quite the monolith of glossy tactility that the current GT is) but it looks great all the same and the ambience - a nail-on-head cocktail of classy lines and short-cut functionality - is likely to have repeat buyers swooning. The turgid, cluttered look and questionable layout of the DB11 has been replaced with the satisfying click of real buttons and (in the place of buttons) a proper gear selector.
That the iterative jump between here and Aston’s recent past seems multi-generational probably says more about the poxy nature of its previous HMI than anything revelatory about the new infotainment system. Nevertheless, its speed-of-thought and sleek usability is no less than the surrounding architecture deserves. Sure, there are some fresh peccadilloes - the chunkier steering wheel has far too many buttons mounted on it; the seat switchgear needn’t be so prominent; and we’d still prefer a proper instrument cluster to another information-heavy screen - but these are mere blemishes compared with the warts that went before.
Whether or not it quite hits the heights of ‘ultra-luxury’ is debatable (or subjective, at any rate). What is beyond question, however, is the change in mindset it evokes. Previously - all too often conspicuously - Aston failed to set the tone for its driving experience. By moving away from the dregs of the Mercedes’ parts bin, and making virtually everything either nicer to look at or more satisfying to interact with, the manufacturer has finally achieved aim number one on the new Grand Tourer wish list: the DB12 feels special to sit in before you go anywhere.
Had Aston simply stopped there it would’ve likely been sufficient to make a more limited DB11 facelift a success. But it’s clear from very early on that many of the other changes introduced to the new model are about maintaining a vice-like grip on its feel-good aura. Take the V8. The ubiquitous 4.0-litre unit already ranked high among the DB11’s assets, but with modified cam profiles and larger turbochargers, Aston’s tinkering has resulted in a custom-made version for its replacement. The beefier-still 707hp derivative found in the DBX was considered, but ultimately deemed inappropriate for the job at hand - probably because it would’ve required deployment of the Mercedes-supplied nine-speed MCT transmission.
If that makes it sound like Aston shied away from foregrounding the additional power, then think again. The DB12 is not only furnished with 590lb ft of torque from 2,750rpm - the same amount found in the definitely-not-slow Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series - it also earns a 13 per cent shorter final drive in the rear-mounted eight-speed ZF automatic. The result, according to Aston, is a 28 per cent increase in longitudinal acceleration. Presumably it means at flat chat, although (based on admittedly distant memory of its earlier antecedent) the DB12 feels at least this much quicker in virtually every scenario. When Aston uses the label ‘super’, rest assured it means it in the most elemental way.
The reasoning is simple. To be truly successful, the DB12 must convince buyers that it can rival the performance of the Bentley GT Speed and Ferrari Roma, models furnished with 659hp and 620hp, respectively. And not just on paper. Evidently, many of the more detailed revisions - a revised throttle calibration, the pursuit of a quicker flow through the gears - were about making its 2+2 flagship seem assertively responsive under even partial load. Well, mission accomplished. This 680hp iteration of V8 might be 27hp shy of its DBX zenith, yet it is performing much the same job: virtually everything the DB12 does is underwritten by its zeal for turning accelerator input into back sweat.
Of course, it’s not like its predecessor was ever slow. The DB11 hung its hat on the exceptionally torquey 4.0-litre unit since adopting it (favouring it, really) - but the DB12 is all about definitively seeing the car into a new echelon of performance, meaning that, should you wish, it’ll now exchange its pumped-up midrange for the sort of results-heavy top-end that would make Raffaele de Simone sit up straight. Moreover, thanks in part to the preparedness of the torque converter to select a lower cog whenever a half chance presents itself, the transition from affable to something truly eye-popping often seems to occur seamlessly and without undue strain on the car’s wider GT remit.
That it doesn’t speaks volumes about the handling temperament Aston has striven for in its stiffer, faster, wider DB. The manufacturer has endeavoured to make its Grand Tourer more appealing to drive before - virtually every descendent of the first DB11 has promised to make up for its initial shortfall in dynamism - however, much like the improvements realised elsewhere, the DB12 appears to have benefitted from what the team describes as a far more holistic approach to chassis development than was ever possible before.
Certainly, the difference between this car and the one launched back in 2016 could be measured in leagues. On the wrong road (i.e. one with corners) the original DB11 seemed genuinely exasperated that you might want to indulge the V12 fully; seven years later, its even more powerful offspring takes a staggering amount of punishment in its stride, almost always siphoning out the bad and leaving behind an enduring sense of why it might be all the car you ever need. Clearly, in its much keener change of direction, it has been fettled to take on the cut and thrust of the Ferrari Roma - yet Aston has kept a confident grasp on how its own take should differ.
For a start, it remains blissfully comfortable. The standard wheel size may have increased, but then so has the damping range of a new generation of adaptive Bilsteins. Aston reckons these have dramatically increased the scope of the drive mode tuning, which, along with revised bushing, accounts for the sublime ride control and superior refinement you get while in the default GT setting. On smooth French roads, extreme suppleness should always be treated with scepticism, yet the bump absorption is so convincing here - and so free from languidness at cruising speeds - that it’s hard to imagine it not working on the mottled face of an asteroid, let alone on the British asphalt that helped determine its configuration.
Then there’s the steering. Once upon a time, overly light feel and chronic lack of feedback rated high on the DB11 bugbear list because it seemed incongruous with such a large, powerful car - especially one from Aston. The firm has worked hard to remedy this previously, but with a stiffer platform to work with and a new column fitted, it seems to have finally found the precision and linearity from the EPAS system it was seeking. Despite persisting with speed-sensitive assistance, this has resulted in neither too much weight nor an exaggerated rate of response. Instead, it is as crisp and clear as Christmas morning. It is so intuitive and devoid of slack in fact, that for much of the time you simply don’t think about it. You end up steering the DB12 one-handed - not out of nonchalance or disinterest, but because that’s the kind of serene confidence its accuracy and ease-of-use instils.
This is all by design, of course. Aston was candid about why it chose not to mimic the Roma’s more aggressive, ramped-up agility, preferring a more meticulous approach to keeping the driver connected with the road - one that it likely hoped would blur the line between where ‘tourer’ ends and ‘super’ begins. As you approach the latter it’s possible that the DB12 becomes incrementally less exceptional (or slightly less rewarding, at least) as its size and weight finally come into play, but its innate composure and cohesiveness up to that point - particularly at the kind eight-tenths effort that one suspects Aston would really like it to excel at - is something to behold.
The spring rates are said to be around five per cent stiffer than before, and the team has toughened up the anti-roll bars a smidge, too - yet when Aston talks about a 12 per cent reduction in understeer, you get the distinct impression the lightning-fast-to-lock diff and pre-emptive ESP system are also playing a leading role - not least because the traction being generated by a single driven axle marshalling 680hp is often startling. While the chassis allows just enough roll to cue you into corners, the DB12 is quick to settle in its firmer Sport mode (even more so in Sport+) and will let you chase the throttle with something approaching vengeance on the way out. Grip, enhanced by those new tyres (275-section at the front; 315 at the back) and overseen by the six-axis accelerometer at the heart of the ESP’s integrated controller, is phenomenal, too. Quite how this plays out away from the Côte d'Azur end of the Route Napoleon remains to be seen - but it makes for staggeringly good company over six hours of varied and often very fast driving.
By that measure alone, it graduates France as a consummately superior car to the one it replaces. While fundamentally decent, the DB11 was too often the sort of Grand Tourer that could be enjoyed only if one consciously disregarded a number of glaring faults, like a man admiring his roof but for the leaks. With the DB12, Aston has comprehensively seen to the main issue (the interior) and, because it has been handed the money and time and impetus to do so, has improved, replaced or thoroughly polished what’s left. Is that sufficient to overhaul Ferrari or Bentley? Well, ahead of confirmation on UK pricing, I suspect one remains slightly fizzier to drive, and the other is definitely more practical. But a course judiciously plotted between the two has never seemed so persuasive - or so wholly befitting what a modern Aston Martin should be. Not bad for a first go.
SPECIFICATION | 2023 ASTON MARTIN DB12
Engine: 3,982cc, twin-turbo, V8
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 680@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590@2,750-6,000rpm
Top speed: 202mph
Weight: 1,685kg (dry)
CO2: 276 g/km
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