With its new DB12, Aston Martin is aiming for the mantle of “super tourer.” Think of it as an adult supercar—a vehicle that provides long-distance comfort to go with track-shredding performance.
The DB12 will reach US shores in October, and while pricing hasn’t been set yet, Aston says that those waiting with open wallets can expect that pricing will be similar to that of the outgoing DB11 and its competitors, which is around $250,000.
Consider the DB12’s sporting credentials: a 671-horsepower twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, 202-mph top speed, and 3.5-second 0-60 mph time. On the touring side, an aluminum chassis that is stiffer than that of the outgoing DB11 lets the active damping system work more effectively as it adjusts on the fly to provide a smooth ride or taut handling, depending on the driver’s mode selection.
Aston Martin may be best known for the vehicles that have appeared in James Bond films, from the DB5 in Goldfinger to the more recent DBS in No Time to Die, which was Daniel Craig’s last turn at the role. Today, the company is reinforced with financial backing from recent purchaser Lawrence Stroll, as seen on the Netflix series Drive to Survive as the father of F1 driver Lance Stroll.
The DB12’s engine is in the front and it sends power to the rear wheels, and only the rear wheels, exactly as the gods of combustion decreed. My test drive on the Route Napoléon in the South of France provided ample opportunity to sample the various settings: Wet, GT, Sport, Sports Plus, and Individual.
Special accolades go to the calibration of the Wet setting, which reined in the DB12’s horses and softened its responses enough to make driving a rear-drive, 671-hp 2+2 (it has two regular seats in the front, and two tiny ones in the back) coupe through torrents of rain on twisting roads relaxing. Only the windshield wipers seemed to break a sweat in the conditions.
While I appreciated the DB12’s crisp turn-in response at corner entry (the “turn-in” refers to the point when the car approaches a curve and the driver begins turning) and quick responses while shredding switchbacks in Sports Plus mode, when jet lag overtook my copilot, I am sure she appreciated the cushier ride in the car’s GT mode that I selected in a bid to minimize disturbances to her sleep.
Adding Wet mode not only provided confidence while driving through the rain showers, but it also lets the other modes perform with less computer intervention, because those modes don’t have to account for wet road surfaces and can be tuned with the expectation of dry grip levels.
Director of vehicle performance Simon Newton explains in a chat with Popular Science that while the DB12 carries over about 20 percent of its parts from the DB11 and retains much of that car’s architecture, clever engineering has produced a livelier and more responsive machine for sportier driving.
Turn-in and steering response benefit from the vehicle’s 4.0-liter V8, instead of the DB11’s heavier 5.2-liter V12, which produced 41 fewer horsepower than the DB12’s engine.
Global chassis stiffness (more is better) is only increased by 7 percent compared to the DB11, but the local stiffness at the suspension attachment points is improved so that the car turns instead of twisting those parts of the frame. Making the chassis stiffer means that the suspension system responds to input rather than the frame being twisted.
“We have a 140 percent increase in the stiffness between the front damper attachment point and the opposite direction,” he says. Improvements are similar at the rear of the car, he added.
Foam in the tires
The lateral loads going into the suspension and chassis are increased by the DB12’s use of a brand-new tire from Michelin, the Pilot Sport 5S. These tires will appear on other cars in the future, but Aston worked with Michelin to develop this specific version to suit the DB12.
That means providing the expected stupendous grip, but doing so with grace. Aston went through five iterations of development with Michelin for the DB12’s tires, when three or four such loops of development, feedback, and adjustment are the norm, says Newton.
Because the Aston is a super tourer, not a supercar, it needs to have a serene ride in addition to having a lot of grip for cornering, accelerating, and braking. The tire’s performance needed to be balanced, just as the suspension is able to slice up switchbacks or cruise without waking my passenger. “That means not only in terms of lateral capacity but also finesse,” Newton explains. “We needed it to steer well and to ride well.”
They also need to be quiet, so as with the tires that Rolls-Royce uses, the DB12’s tires include noise-canceling foam inserts that hush tire hum by 20 percent inside the car.
The tires work in coordination with rigorously tuned electric power steering to provide good on-center steering feel and appropriate response to corner turn-in. Here is an area where the engineering team focused on dynamics more than isolation, removing the rubber bushing that isolated the steering column to enhance steering feel. Calibration engineers took care to deliver “an intuitive, confidence-inspiring feel,” as said Aston Martin in the car’s press release, and a day behind the wheel on mountain roads confirms the claim.
Hitting the brakes
The brakes, which are supplied by Brembo, are another area where Aston engineers toiled to deliver a combination of performance and refinement. The company boasts that the DB12’s carbon ceramic brakes shave nearly 60 pounds of unsprung mass from the car. That’s weight not carried by the suspension that has to move with the surface of the road, so minimizing that mass is crucial.
However, carbon ceramic brakes often come with compromises. On Ferraris, the carbon ceramics are annoyingly grabby, providing huge brake force with the slightest pressure on the pedal. Porsche’s carbon ceramics often squeal embarrassingly, which isn’t ideal in a gracious “super tourer.” Lamborghini avoids these issues at the cost of brake feel that goes spongy at track speeds.
But Aston, like McLaren, has found a way to avoid these problems. Unlike McLaren, Aston was willing to share how they did it, working in partnership with Brembo, which is the brake supplier.
“It was a lot of work and it still goes on,” says Newton. That’s because while the engineering team toiled to ensure that the brakes are as good as possible when they are new, there are opportunities remaining to learn about their performance as they wear and make additional improvements, he said. Toward that goal, the company put in 100,000 miles of testing in hot weather, at various elevations, and at different points in brake pads’ wear life. “This is a point of continuing improvement,” says Newton.
To achieve the ideal starting point, the Aston team sought to ensure that “everything about DB12 is linear and predictable,” he explains. The challenge with carbon ceramic brakes is that their friction increases as they heat up, so it is important to offset that to maintain consistent brake response, hot or cold.
The team compensated with additional response from the brake booster when the brakes are cold and less when they are hot, with the aim of balancing the response in various conditions.
“Then we start to work on the refinement,” Newton says. The company had a head start on this effort from its work on the DBS, which came out a few years ago. The DB12’s brakes are similar to those on the DBS, according to Newton.
For all this work, the carbon ceramic brakes on my test car are optional, and customers can stick with the easier-to-design cast-iron brakes. Those brakes get their own attention, with specific booster profiles and brake pads too, so it isn’t just a matter of having a different set of rotors.
Electronic stability control
All of these technical changes to the car are backed by electronics that augment the DB12’s ability to respond to driver input. The electronic stability control system boasts a six-axis inertial measurement unit that provides a detailed picture of what the car is doing to the algorithm that decides what to do next.
It controls the DB12’s adaptive dampers and electronic differential to let the car carve its way through switchbacks like a lightweight sports car while delivering the comfort that drivers (and snoozing passengers) expect from a car of this caliber.
Adding to the DB12’s posh atmosphere is an upgraded interior, which is specifically designed to address the sometimes “cottage industry” grade of Aston Martin cockpits in the past. In addition to upgrading the interior materials, the company has also developed its own modern infotainment system in place of the archaic system employed in the DB11 that was a source of frustration for drivers.
Aston promises a 30-millisecond response time through the 10.25-inch capacitive touch display and the system adds support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The company eliminated its cool-looking but obtrusive-to-use push button shifter on the dashboard for a compact shift lever on the center console that is easier to use without forcing the driver’s eyes off the road.
A shift with the shifters
Alas, they’ve also relocated the shift paddles from a fixed place on the steering column in the manner of Ferrari and Lamborghini to steering-wheel-mounted paddles. Nelson insists that this is better, though I strongly prefer having the paddles stay where I can find them while turning the steering wheel.
Nelson says that it is unusual to need to shift while making the large steering inputs that make the driver shuffle their hands on the wheel and away from the shift paddles. But the French switchbacks showed exactly how unwinding the steering wheel while accelerating out of a slow corner often demands an upshift before the driver’s hands have returned to their straight-ahead position where they can find the shift paddles again.
In the end, the programming of the eight-speed ZF planetary automatic is smart enough that after a few paddle shifts for novelty’s sake, most drivers will leave the shifting to the computer, which does a faultless job, making the issue of paddle location irrelevant.
As with Daniel Craig’s conclusion of his run as James Bond, it is similarly appropriate that the DB12 looks forward with its new technology rather than sticking to the familiar hardware of the past, whether that be the V12 engine or the shift mechanisms used previously.