The 2018 Aston Martin DB11 can be had with a 503 horsepower V8 or a 600 HP V12. We’ve driven both cars back to back, and even if you’re not comparison-shopping super GT cars the tangible differences between the two were actually pretty interesting.
(Full disclosure: Aston Martin bought me a train ticket from Los Angeles to San Diego and back, and put me up in an absurdly expensive villa for a night. I also got a free beer koozie from event co-sponsor Ballast Point. Oh, and, Aston’s barista made me the mightiest latte I’ve ever seen, packing four shots of espresso into my Yeti cup. What a day that was.)
Everything you’ve heard about the DB11’s craftsmanship is true. The leather inside the vehicle soaks up your body like a billion-dollar bean bag chair and it smells as rich as the hide in a railroad tycoon’s office.
The car is an exquisite thing to behold, and sit in. Driving it is pleasant too, regardless of which engine you pick.
But I was surprised at how different the V8 and V12 cars felt on the road, considering that the delta of their 0 to 60 times is negligible (Aston Martin claims a 0.1 second difference) and nobody’s going to be brave enough to take either to its factory-stated top speed of 187 and 200 mph respectively.
The prices are barely worth haggling over, too. The DB11 V8 Coupe lists at $198,995, while the Volante convertible will be $216,495 when it comes out next year. The V12 is the exact same price as the drop-top: $216,495. A nine percent price bump for a 19 percent power increase actually seems reasonable, so I have to imagine people are picking their DB11 for how it drives and looks, not how much it costs.
Aston Martin is very proud of its in-house designed 5.2-liter twin-turbocharged V12 engine. The company claims it outputs 600 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, and I can vouch for its smoothness and fierce rage once it hits boost.
The V8 option makes for a slightly more handling-biased driving experience, though I think its real role in the lineup is to take advantage of operating costs in places where vehicles are taxed by engine size.
Regardless, it’s a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 made by Mercedes-AMG rated to 503 HP and 498 lb-ft of torque. To put a distinctly Astonian personality into it, Aston Martin’s people changed the car’s intake, exhaust and fuel map. The oil sump has also been changed to move the engine’s mass earthward.
It actually looks quite small cradled under the DB11’s gigantic clamshell hood, but don’t worry, as you can probably tell by the torque figure’s close proximity to the V12 it’s almost as thunderous. Almost.
Here’s how to spot which DB11 is a full-fat V12 and which is powered by the AMG V8s: 12s have four hood vents, 8s only have two. 12s have little “V12” lapel pins on their gunwales, 8s do not. The V8 cars get black headlight bezels and smoked-style taillights, too.
Otherwise, the two cars are a lot easier to discern by their auditory presence.
Aston Martin’s engineers spent a fair bit of time talking about the painstaking effort placed on making the engine sound “distinctly Aston Martin” rather than AMG.
It worked. The DB11 V8’s tone is far less antagonistic than the AMG’s signature sound while retaining a nice and subtle note of aggression. I prefer Mercedes’ mean spitting, but I agree with the general assessment I’ve seen elsewhere that the Aston’s sound fits the car’s character.
The V12’s sound is a lot more about its inhale than exhale. While the V8 makes a low “hoo-rah” like a Spartan warrior gut-punching a lion the V12 stands up and screams like it’s hurling a javelin.
But both cars stay fairly sedate until provoked. At least, as far as you can tell through the layers of sound deadening surrounding the cockpit.
Finally, the spec that matters. Despite the nearly 100 horsepower output disparity, the difference in weight between the two DB11s is far more practically significant. And it’s advantage: V8.
Aston’s people claim the V8 benefits from a 250 pound weight reduction against the V12, and on top of that, it’s stiffer with a lower and slightly more rear-biased center of mass.
On the road, neither car is really raring to thrash and both are planted like steam rollers but the V8 feels much more aggressive into hard turns. On the linked turns of country roads, where any Aston Martin was born to thrive, the V12 feels palpably heavier and requires a bit more bravery to push very, very quickly in small spaces. The V8 just seems a smidgen more responsive to steering input.
Before driving these two cars, I thought the V8 was going to be more responsive to the gas pedal, too. But no; both DB11s suffer from immense turbo lag when you stomp the throttle off the stop.
Despite the immense energy in either model, there’s a full beat and a half before anything interesting happens when you try to skirt off a stop light. Not that such behavior is becoming of an Aston-owning gentleman.
Hard charging from a rolling start is a very different story. The V8 and V12 both really come alive above 4,000 RPM, and if you double-downshift from a cruise into that rev range the V8 blasts off like a missile. The V12, of course, explodes like a damn doomsday device.
Interestingly, Aston has already changed one of my favorite features about the car and reduced the paddle shifter travel by 50 percent. Yeah, I wasn’t kidding when I wrote that the original throw was really long. But apparently I was the only person who liked the massive movement-action, and now that I’ve driven the shorter shifter I have to admit I think it’s an improvement after all.
Six hundred horsepower is more than enough to get yourself into a lot of trouble. So is 503 HP. But the DB11’s traction management system and heavy tires do a really good job locking it down.
The DB11’s soft GT suspension and sheer size organically discourage driving like a dick, if I’m honest, and turning off traction control requires you to dive through four menu-clicks on that hard-to-use steering wheel thumb switcher.
Once it is off though, both cars become very dangerous. The V8 will break loose and fishtail if you stick your spurs in it and saw the wheel, but the V12 needs very little provocation to try and crash itself once it’s relieved of its electronic nannies. Anything more than half-throttle from a stop will be enough to tell the rear tires to try and pass the fronts, which I don’t recommend doing.
Both the V8 and V12 engines make for pretty delightful driving. The DB11’s weak spots are less significant to how the car feels on the road and more about what it’s like to use every day.
So many things, from stereo track to traction control, are primarily operated through the car’s Mercedes COMAND-powered infotainment system. It works fine, but it loves to bury things deep in menus and the dual click-rotary/finger gesture controls can be a little frustrating.
I’ve spent a lot of time with this system at this point, and I still find myself button-mashing when I’m trying to get in and out of menus.
Further aggravating are the car’s steering wheel roller controls near your thumbs. The physical switch is solid and intuitive. The fact that it doesn’t respond to clicks very often is not. The secret is, you need to hold your thumb down on a roller for a long time to activate whatever function you’re seeing in the dash. But the button’s apt to roll and force a wrong selection, which is infuriating.
But the biggest blunder that the DB11’s designers made has to do with the dashboard itself. Beautifully sculpted and sumptuous to touch though it is, lighter colors are reflected on the windshield so harshly that it’s often downright difficult to see out of the windshield.
I personally prefer the gutteral growl and snaps the V8 makes under hard usage, and appreciated the weight savings too. But when the V12’s extra hundred horsepower makes itself known, hang the hell on.
I’d hold out for the drop top and only take the car out at dawn and dusk. The V12 may be smoother in theory, but its primary practical advantage is being able to put on a vulgar display of power from a steady-cruise to stratosphere-escaping velocity.
The thing is, the V8 is damn near as quick and feels a little more lithe in turns. To me, it’s a better driving machine. But since any Aston Martin is best suited for a well-mannered style of spirited driving anyway, you really can’t go wrong here. I mean, unless you’re trying to save gasoline.