The Angeles Crest offers breathtaking views and wonderful roads, but when test driving a Frosted Glass Blue, $225,000 exclusive British GT, the Aston Martin DB11, nothing beats the canyons of Malibu.
Nowhere else in the continental U.S. hosts the exact combination of lushness, wealth, vistas, terror, rain-soaked floral super-blooms, and overpriced seaside restaurants serving mediocre kale Caesars. This is Aston Martin territory.
LOOK AT THAT
The Aston Martin DB11 has a flattened, creasy, futuristic appearance--as if it were a Lamborghini that worked out on an English Wheel. This at first seems at odds with the delightfully anachronistic, vintage style for which the brand is generally known. Then I remember and I smile. The car looks most cohesive from a bit of a distance, which is the locus from which most people will see it because KEEP YOUR EYES OFF OF MY $225,000 EXCLUSIVE BRITISH GT [Downshift. Vroom..!] I appreciate the clean integration of aero, sans spoilers and strakes. And I cannot argue with a glass-flake azure paint job, even if its sparkle is sourced from the clipped wings and crystallized tears of captive, endangered Blue Morpho butterflies like this one is. (Just kidding. No Lepidoptera were harmed in painting this car.)
DON’T LOOK AT THIS
A memorandum should be sent to all car designers, reading, The Floating Roof Is Hereby Over. This blacked-out C-Pillar may have once had some debatable charms, and it still works nicely on big Land Rovers, but when a detail has contagiously drifted down-market to Nissans and Kias, its short shelf life has officially expired and it certainly has no place on a $225,000 exclusive British GT. Also, I wish the air intake inside this blacked out C-Pillar weren’t so visibly…plastic.
COCKPIT AND CABIN
Have you ever huffed leather? After a few days in the DB11, I've become addicted to this inhalant, and have to say that it might be my new drug of choice. No matter that there was an annoying rattle somewhere inside the dash at midlevel city speeds, or that the adhesive on the alcantara headliner had lost its stick and a section of it flapped above the sun visor when the windows were open, or that there’s no glove-box, or that the carbon fiber door trim looks a wee bit like the faux-marble laminate in an 80s basement bathroom. A few deep breaths of the royal blue and ivory leather interior—peek-a-boo brogued in Cherokee red on the seats, doors and headliner, like a fine wing-tip shoe—and all was forgiven in an ecstatic hide-tanned haze. Also, the trunk, which despite appearances is not a hatchback, is only slightly larger than the Aston-branded umbrella it holds, but it will swallow a backpack and a weekend bag, and all the motorcycle and camera gear your passenger may schlep in. Also, whatever inanimate cargo doesn’t fit can get belted in the back seat, but please don’t put a human back there unless it is infant-size or in pieces.
Twin-turbocharged and producing 600 horsepower, Aston Martin’s new V12 makes power and delicious sound everywhere in the rev band. The engine is a sensorial delight, and its pairing with the 8-speed ZF transmission tells you everything you need to know about just why this transmission is implemented ubiquitously in sport/luxury vehicles. At low revs, it’s seamless like a GT should be; at high revs, it provides just enough slam to let you know you’re working. The DB11's handling is similar. It feels broad and luxurious on the boulevard, but much smaller and more nimble in the narrow mountain passes, yet I never felt at risk of losing control. (My passengers may have held different opinions; on a particularly tight Malibu canyon bend, one did squawk, “I think we’re going to die.”) This may be the best driving Aston yet. Supple, yet precise.
A Bentley designer recently told me that part of the deep luxury of a handmade object is derived from showcasing its slight human-crafted imperfections—the way the Greeks would always purposely add a knick to a pristine sculpture so as not to hubristically challenge the gods’ claim on flawlessness. If this is true, then the DB11 is extremely luxurious. The materials and design are compelling, if not always to my personal taste in this particular incarnation (I’d prefer a less busy interior, less carbon, and more gorgeous wood marquetry, as on other DB11s I’ve driven.) And the quality is highly improved from even a decade ago. But at this price, I shouldn’t have to forgive Aston Martin basic errors because I love their cars so much. (Though I do.)
THE FUTURE IS NOW
The DB11 marks Aston Martin’s true entry into the 21st century in terms of interior appointments, and its passport for this voyage is stamped in Germany. Daimler bought a five percent stake in the company some years back, and this collaboration has yielded the use of Mercedes-Benz’s electronic architecture, mainly the infotainment, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and other accessory controls. This is not a bad parts bin from which to pillage, and it suits the Aston character quite well, mainly because the venerable British brand has, in its inimitable way, layered haptic switchgear atop Mercedes’ perhaps less-than-ideal COMAND system. It all works, and you get used to it, but it pays to read the manual so you know what all the knurled and touch-sensitive glass sliders, knobs, and buttons do, and where they’re located. Also, the faux-analog digital speedometer is fine, but I wish it were a bit more detailed and chronographic in appearance. I feel confident that Aston’s Q customization outfit could bespoke me up some real needled gauges if I want.
Cargo Capacity: B+ (But, really?)
Lust Factor: A-
At this price point, the Aston Martin DB11’s main competitors are the Ferrari California T, the Bentley Continental GT, or an average house in Nevada. The first is “entry level” the second is “Beverly Hills pervasive” and the third is crushingly depressing. Exotic Italian car ownership is debatable—are you a Ferrari person or a Lamborghini person, or neither—but everyone respects an Aston Martin. You want respect, right?
Price (As Tested): $211,995 (as tested $223,215)
Powertrain: 5.2-liter V12, 600 hp/516 lb-ft, 8-speed paddle-shifted automatic
Fuel Economy: 13 city/22 highway