Our first drive review of the all-new Aston Martin DBX ahead of its Australian arrival.
And so to the most important Aston Martin since the DB11, which was the most important Aston Martin since the DB9, which was the most important since the DB7, which was… well, you understand. The ‘most important’ tag accompanied Aston Martins perennially as the company went through the latter half of its first century, making some outstanding cars but seldom more than skimming the surface of making any money.
The ‘Second Century Plan’ was conceived to change all that. It was tentatively being followed under the stewardship of chairman and CEO Andy Palmer, who in 2015 introduced a business plan that would include seven core models (one replaced each year – “not rocket science”), cash-flow-generating special editions and a stock market flotation. That last part, which Palmer called a “key milestone”, turned out to be a key millstone.
Aston couldn’t have foreseen all of it. Who could? Falling car sales in China and a global pandemic later, money from the second-century DBS Superleggera, Vantage and DB11, cars perhaps too similar to each other, still wasn’t coming in fast enough and Aston needed new investors. Once they were found, they rapidly invited Palmer to leave through the door they had just entered. On 1 August, Tobias Moers, formerly boss of Mercedes’ AMG division but already no stranger to Aston’s headquarters in Gaydon, Warwickshire, took Palmer’s place.
The DBX, then – the most important Aston since… well, you understand – officially arrives under the German’s leadership. But be in no doubt: this is Palmer’s car.
It’s the result of bold ambition for a manufacturer of Aston’s size: new car, new market segment, new platform, new factory, first SUV, first full five-seater. The only way the DBX could be newer were if the hybridised V6 petrol engine that Aston is also working on were ready. As it is, Mercedes-AMG has provided both the new boss and familiar old power, in the form of a 404kW twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre petrol V8.
This engine sits at the front of a new aluminium architecture, sited as far back under the bonnet as possible, giving the DBX a weight distribution of 54:46 front to rear. It drives the rear wheels most of the time but all four when it’s slippery, through a nine-speed automatic gearbox and a variety of differentials.
The DBX is bigger than it looks: at 5039m long, it’s actually 4cm longer than the Range Rover and of similar width (2220mm across the mirrors), but it’s a lot lower, at 1680mm to 1869mm. The Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga are both 9cm longer than the DBX and the latter is some 5cm taller, but the Bentley’s differences look greater in my mind. Perhaps that’s due to the DBX’s soft edges; the chamfer-cornered Porsche 928 always strikes me as smaller than it is as well.
At 3060mm, the DBX has the biggest wheelbase of them all. It runs on 22-inch wheels only, with a few different design choices and three tyre options: regular, all-season or winter, measuring 285/40 at the front and 325/35 at the back. Pretty racy.
Aston has thrown a lot of technology at its first SUV, which, priced at $357,000 in Australia, is more than the base Bentayga and closer to the Urus. There’s air suspension, which can both raise or lower the body height, adaptive damping to accompany it and the 48V active anti-roll bar system that’s starting to feel obligatory on cars like this. Try to prevent body roll the old-fashioned mechanical way and you will end up with a car that’s either too loose or too stiff, and an Aston should be neither.
Also throw in the electronically controlled four-wheel drive system, then, and you have an SUV that’s incredibly complex for Aston, a company that typically specialises in honest-feeling front-engined coupes with driven rear wheels, as it tries to do everything for everyone everywhere. Largely, it nails it.
Big, heavy, frameless doors open on a cabin featuring a surprising acreage of leather. This is surely the easiest Aston ever to climb into. In fact, it might be the easiest car on the market to enter – with wide-opening doors, a low-access entry mode and, uniquely for an Aston of recent decades, completely flat sills. Aluminium-platformed sports cars typically have a lot of stiffness in big sills that ease occupants towards the centre of the car. Not here. With the doors closed and you surrounded on all sides by cow, this interior is plush.
It also gets some highlights that the DB11 and Vantage should have had from the start. The digital instrument display looks of higher resolution and is certainly better-coloured, the air vents are no longer plasticky and the switchgear feels good. There are a couple of odd leather pleats atop the dashboard, like the excess skin of a facelift, and elsewhere some grainlines like on your gran’s neck are present, but I don’t know if they’re deliberate so that it looks hand-finished or because our car was early-production. The brogueing and stitching looks great.
The seats are big and very widely adjustable, the steering wheel easily comes to where it’s best and I suspect that no occupant, whether driver or passenger, will feel short-changed.
Boot volume below the cover is similar to that of the Bentayga, at 480 litres, but less than you’ll find in the Range Rover. Of more relevance is that the floor is quite high (although there’s room beneath it too) and the DBX’s rakish looks are likely to have a small impact on to-the-roof, taking-the-kids-to-university loading. But, like with all these SUVs, it will be big enough. And the DBX’s towing limit is 2700kg: good for boats or horses.
There’s reasonable oddment space around the cabin, too. It’s weird to be talking about an Aston primarily in these terms, but here we are. What stay from sportier cars are the gear selector buttons on the dash. That’s great: I like those, and they free up space on the transmission tunnel for the controller for the Mercedes-based, Aston-faced and pretty straightforward infotainment system.
Familiarities and differences, then. The DBX’s speciality. Would you know this is an Aston to drive, if it were possible to test it blindfolded (don’t laugh, we had to do a risk assessment for that once)?
Yes and no. No car of this height and weight (2320kg) is going to act like a coupe half a tonne lighter, but there are hints of Astonness.
It feels like you sit relatively low for an SUV, with a high window line. It’s much more car-like than the Range Rover or Bentayga, more crossover than 4×4 – although I’ve also driven it a little off road, where it will do all that’s reasonably asked of it.
The DBX’s steering, at 2.6 turns between locks, is smooth, accurate, responsive and medium-weighted. And the ride is controlled. But by gum is the low-speed ride noisy.
Aluminium and air can be a high-volume combination, and while the DBX rides with suppleness over imperfections, it clonks audibly around town. That’s a shame, because it’s otherwise very refined and, away from poorer surfaces, quiet. Stability is so good that it makes a quite brilliant motorway car, with an 85-litre fuel tank.
Aston’s aural tuning for the V8 loses some of AMG’s rowdiness and replaces it with an expensive, if less characterful, smoothness, while the gearbox is mostly fine but doesn’t always shift with the responsiveness of Aston’s usual eight-speeder.
Is the DBX a driver’s car? Not in quite the same way that makes the Aston Rapide one of the world’s nicest four-doors to steer. But body control is good (it actually rolls less than a Vantage), with just a little looseness over crests and dips, and there’s a natural, easygoing flow to it. There’s enough torque to surf and power in reserve for overtakes; this is an SUV that can do 0-100km/h in 4.3sec.
At this point, I need to stop asking myself which Aston I would rather be driving and wonder which of the DBX’s competitors I would rather be driving instead. The Urus? More dynamic but brittler. The Porsche Cayenne? Bombastic but firm. The Bentayga? Plusher but blunter. The Range Rover? Well, there’s always pleasure to be had driving one, but its character is more 4×4 than SUV.
No, on most given roads, in most given circumstances, the DBX would be the SUV that’s the most pleasing to drive; the one that feels, if anything, most like a taller, rear-wheel-drive, pseudo-sporting luxury saloon but with better visibility. It isn’t perfect – no car is – but what it gets right, it really does get right.
Does it feel like an Aston? Let’s put it this way: it doesn’t not feel like an Aston. Alongside some long-bonnet coupés and short-bonnet supercars, it feels like the right third leg to the brand’s line-up, something that will become an invaluable part of what looks to be shaping into a usefully diverse range. When officials leave office, sometimes they leave a kind note on the desk for their successor. Palmer has been rather more generous than that.
Aston Martin DBX specification
Price $357,000 Engine V8, 3982cc, twin-turbocharged, petrol Power 202kW at 6500rpm Torque 700Nm at 2200-5000rpm Gearbox 9-spd automatic Kerb weight 2320kg Top speed 291km/h0-100km/h 4.5sec Rivals Lamborghini Urus, Range Rover, Bentley Bentayga