Aston Martin’s DBX must not only bring new customers to the venerable British brand but also ensure its long-term survival – the super-SUV might just manage to do both.
Do you know anyone who doesn’t love Aston Martin? Me neither. The brand embraces so many touchstones of appeal – history, tradition, beauty, elegance, speed, luxury and exclusivity – that there’s no wonder it’s held in such affection. Now that Rolls-Royce and Bentley are effectively ruled from Germany, it’s possibly even the quintessentially British luxury car – and, of course, it’s been the choice of a certain cinematic secret agent for more than half a century.
You might reasonably imagine that, with such a well of positives and goodwill to draw from, the story of Aston Martin would have been an uninterrupted timeline of success and achievement. Not so. Because instead of speeding smoothly across the automotive landscape for almost 110 years, Aston has lurched perpetually from one crisis to another, enrapturing investor after investor and then, just as reliably, exasperating them until another saviour could be found (which there’ve been in surprising numbers).
Perhaps most notable among the latter were the British industrialist David Brown – his name lives on in the brand’s DB model nomenclature – who soldiered on for 25 years before throwing in the towel, and a petroleum tycoon with the unfeasibly comic-book name of Victor Gauntlet. Even the giant Ford Motor Company gave up after 20 years, leaving as its legacy a high-tech production site in the British Midlands, and a V12 engine whose basic architecture combines a pair of more humble V6s and is still in use today.
There’s a famous joke in the wine industry that goes thus: Question: How do you make a small fortune? Answer: Start off with a big one and buy a winery. Substitute “Aston Martin” for “winery” and you have the automobile equivalent.
The latest incumbent in the role of rescuer, however, is the Canadian entrepreneur Lawrence Stroll – a man who, along with his Hong Kong partner Silas Chau, is already famous in this part of the world for making gazillions through his investments in the rag trade. Although passionate about motor cars, Stroll is clearly neither blind nor a fool – and perhaps, just perhaps, he’s arrived at precisely the right time for his input to make a difference.
That’s not necessarily due to what the Canadian has brought to the table, but because last year saw the long-awaited launch of an entirely new model. Called the DBX, it’s the first SUV to wear the Aston Martin wings on its nose and, with its combination of cachet, rarity and luxury, it could well turn out to be exactly what the moneyed elites in the States, the Middle East and China – whose appetite for posh wheels that are both high and mighty remains undiminished – are looking for. And if it’s good enough and sells as it’s supposed to, the DBX could be the key not only to profitability but also the company’s long-term survival.
Now as a sports car buff, you may loathe the notion of an Aston SUV, but when you look at it as a business proposition it could hardly make more perfect sense – just think of the runaway success of such luxo-trucks as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Bentley’s Bentayga, the Lamborghini Urus and Porsche’s Cayenne, all of which are coining it in for their respective manufacturers. Even long-time SUV hold-out Ferrari now finds the idea irresistible: next year it unveils its own “FUV”, the Purosangue.
And if the presence of a super-SUV is what the punters want, the DBX delivers it in shovelfuls. Although in photographs it appears compact and almost toylike, as if an Aston sportscar had been compressed lengthwise, forcing the bonnet and rooflines upwards, in the metal it’s positively enormous, towering over the road on its massive 22-inch rims with all the heft and bearing of an armoured personnel carrier, albeit one that’s unusually curvaceous and sleek. It may not be the most handsome AM ever built but as an SUV it’s not bad looking at all, its best aspect being frontal, from which viewpoint it’s also most evidently a proper Aston.
Aluminium is widely used in the car’s construction, meaning relative lightness – it weighs around 2.3 tonnes – and rigidity. For the powertrain, Aston Martin turned to its partner Mercedes-AMG, whose exemplary 4-litre turbo V8 has been further tweaked at the British factory to produce upwards of 540bhp and a peak 700Nm of torque from 2,200rpm, which it does with characteristically woofling tunefulness. The nine-speed gearbox is also Mercedes- sourced, as are the comprehensive suite of drive modes, the infotainment system and cockpit furniture, much of which will be familiar if you’re used to recent Benzes. And, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with any of that (both the Bentley and the Lambo are based on the Porsche, which in turn is essentially a heavily re-worked Audi).
Although neither as lavishly appointed nor quite as spacious as, say, the Cullinan’s, the DBX’s interior is nonetheless properly luxurious, stylish and modern in conception, superbly finished and extremely comfortable, both in the front or the back. The bench seat in the rear theoretically offers space for three passengers, though on longer journeys you’d be better off with two. My car’s cabin is swathed in pungent leather that’s held together with precise double rows of stitching, and it’s all set off with swooping brushed aluminium accents and polished carbon fibre around the console. The view from up here, whether you’re looking out or in, and in whichever direction, is marvellous.
“Standard” drive mode in the DBX is labelled “GT”, which in normal circumstances is the one you want, extracting sufficient revs from the V8 for involvement but not so much that the engine noise intrudes. In any case, performance in this more leisurely setting is surprisingly sparkling, and as the steering is accurate and precise, and the dynamics exceptional for a vehicle of this size, maintaining a rapid clip is an effortless affair. Aston Martin’s claim of a 0-100km/h sprint in 4.6 seconds seems spot on, as does the 290-plus top speed – which, for a car that nudges 1.7 metres in height, is a little hard to get one’s head around.
Even when not going for absolutes this wonderfully responsive drivetrain offers oodles of fun, with point-and-shoot abilities that verge on the breathtaking, while selective use of the shift paddles serves up the right ratio for every occasion, from lazy, eco-friendly cruising to sustained in-gear acceleration. Big cars simply shouldn’t move this fast. And then there’s the car’s agility, body control and composure at speed, the major inhibition to throwing the DBX around on narrow winding roads being its sheer size.
Possibly because the Aston’s chassis offers greater road awareness than other SUVs’, its ride quality doesn’t seem quite so detached or cushioned. On the other hand, thanks to air springs and adaptive damping, nor can it be considered in any way harsh or jarring. To me, the set-up seems an agreeably driver-centric compromise, though as with most modern luxury cars the DBX gives you an almost infinite choice of engine, transmission, suspension and steering settings, so you should be able to settle on a combination that suits your driving style and preferences.
I won’t claim that, were I in the market for an Aston, I’d plump for the DBX. For me, the name will always mean the most beautiful sports cars in the world. But what I will say after an all-too-short acquaintance with this most impressive motor car is that when it comes to taking the brand to new territories, clienteles and market niches, while remaining unmistakeably an Aston Martin, it’s likely to be an unqualified success. That the DBX will fly out of the factory as fast as Aston can build them is a foregone conclusion. I’d even take a bet that it’s going to save the company.
ASTON MARTIN DBX
ENGINE Twin-turbo 4-litre V8
TRANSMISSION Nine-speed automatic
MAX POWER 542bhp
MAX TORQUE 700Nm @ 2,200-5,000rpm
MAX SPEED 291 km/h
KERB WEIGHT 2,245kg
PRICE HK$3.48 million