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The new eight-cylinder Aston Martin DB11 puts us in something of a philosophical bind, as it poses the question: How much is the right amount of too much? Does a sports car need a completely ridiculous amount of power, or will merely excessive do? With due deference to Mark Donohue’s oft-quoted assertion that superfluity would arrive only with the ability to spin all wheels in every gear, this smaller-engine version of Aston’s coupe makes an excellent case that downsizing can have an upside.
The DB11 V-8 is the first implementation of Aston Martin’s agreement with Daimler to use the Germans’ twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8, the same engine that powers high-performance models in the Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes-Benz families. While the engine also will go into the upcoming replacement for the British brand’s smaller Vantage, it makes its Aston debut in the DB11. With 503 horsepower, its output is the same as in Mercedes-AMG’s C63 S, against 600 ponies for the DB11’s V-12. Both DB11 engines have near identical torque outputs, however, with the 4.0-liter’s 498 lb-ft representing a reduction of just 18 lb-ft compared with the V-12. The factory-stated zero-to-62-mph time for the V-8 of 4.0 seconds is just 0.1 second behind that of the V-12; the DB11 hit 60 mph in 3.6 seconds in our recent test of the V-12 model. Claimed top speed suffers more, falling by 13 mph to 187 mph, although we didn’t have a chance to confirm this deficit during our drive in Spain.
A key benefit of the new engine is that it’s both more compact and lighter than the twelve. The V-8 car weighs 254 pounds less than its brawnier sibling, says Aston, with most of that weight coming off the front axle.
The good news is that, until you start the V-8, nobody need know that you have stinted on the cylinder count. Only the sharpest eyes will be able to spot the differences that distinguish the V-8: dark headlamp bezels, new wheel finishes, and two air vents on the long hood instead of the V-12’s four. In every other regard it looks identical, with the same muscular design, stunning profile, and immaculately tailored cabin—the last benefiting from a Mercedes-based infotainment system.
As with the V-12 DB11, we must mourn the passing of Aston’s traditional hand brake, a fly-off lever positioned between the driver’s seat and door; now there’s just a boringly conventional, switch-controlled electric parking brake.
Any doubts about which powerplant your Aston has shipped with are dispelled the moment the V-8 fires to life. It sounds magnificent, louder and rortier than the V-12 at startup, awakening with a brrrrap rather than the bigger engine’s creamier tone. From then onward it just gets angrier, snarling under gentle use and, when pushed further, emitting a hard-edged tone that sounds as good from the driver’s seat as it does from outside the cabin.
Performance gives away little to the V-12; indeed, the V-8 feels keener at real-world speeds. The AMG engine delivers its peak torque fractionally higher up the rev range than the V-12 does, but it makes a more dramatic entrance, arriving with a forceful shove where the bigger engine takes longer to build boost. The V-8 DB11 seems quicker to react, and throttle response is outstanding.
In AMG models, the V-8 works with either a seven- or nine-speed version of Mercedes’s G-Tronic gearbox, which use a multiplate clutch in lieu of a torque converter. But Aston has paired it with the same ZF eight-speed automatic as the V-12, with a more conventional design including a torque converter. Fears that this transmission would fail to play nice with the highly strung engine soon proved to be misplaced; the single most impressive aspect of the powertrain is how integrated the two feel. We noticed some slight throttle surging at very low speeds—the DB11 needs to be maneuvered carefully when parking—but from walking pace and beyond, the transmission delivers impressive smoothness when left in drive, and responses to manual inputs are quick enough to rival a dual-clutch gearbox.
The engine’s punchy torque delivery also kept the stability control busy on the twisting and wet roads in the Spanish Pyrenees (on the day of our drive, the rain in Spain fell mainly on the mountains). But the conditions also showed the fundamental balance of the chassis to be near perfect, with front and rear grip levels that allow the big coupe to feel agile without becoming scary. The stability control can be fully defeated—albeit via a convoluted process through a submenu selected with the steering-wheel control switches—but it feels plenty exciting even with the guardians on duty, particularly in its most aggressive Sport Plus mode. The reduction in mass over the front axle can be felt—it’s not as if the V-12 DB11 feels like a late-1970s Cadillac Fleetwood, but the V-8 car is markedly fleeter of foot.
While steering inputs yield strong and positive responses and there are just 2.4 turns lock-to-lock, the steering wheel itself feels a little too big for hustling. The V-8 DB11 might be primarily designed to go touring grandly, but it can pass muster as a sports car. There is some heave on rougher roads with the variable dampers in their soft GT setting, but switching them to Sport delivers discipline without any significant increase in harshness.
There are complaints, but they are few. Although refinement is generally impressive, we experienced the same wind noise from the top of its doors at cruising speed that we’ve previously noticed in the V-12 DB11, something that should have been fixed in a car heading into its second year of production. While the cabin is a huge improvement over older Astons, some of the switchgear still feels a little plasticky, the prime example being the toggle switches on the steering wheel that select the powertrain and chassis modes.