I talk a lot about how cars look and sound. For me, a deep appeal of the luxury automobile lies in the way it speaks to you through your senses, and also what it communicates to the rest of the world. So lately, after having driven an impressive collection of incredible V12 engine cars, which surge with power and cutting-edge technology underneath your feet, I began to think about all the energy that went into designing everything else that makes them great. The perfectly-crafted mirrors. The thunking doors. The headlights that can either flirt, or threaten.
Could I decide which of these incredible beasts was the most beautiful? Was it Ferrari’s 789-horsepower 812 Superfast and GTC4Lusso? Roll-Royce’s 624-hp Wraith, or 563-hp Dawn? (Rolls has many 12-cylinder offerings, but I’m thinking of cars with a certain visual panache here.) Lamborghini’s 740-hp Aventador? Bentley’s 633-hp Continental GT?
These cars are as varied in their styling as they are in their on-road personality. Where the stylish, extravagant 812 flaunts itself around corners like a supermodel, the bulging body-builder Bentley punches forward like a heavyweight boxer. The Wraith is handsome, confident, and sure, an automotive Jason Statham. The Aventador, all geometric edges and screaming fury, is by far the wildest of the lot over any road configuration. They range in price from roughly US$200,000 for the Continental GT to US$320,000 and up for the Superfast and the two Rolls. (And even those prices are rough estimates; virtually every person who owns them chooses customisations and options that make the price as bespoke as the car.)
And yet none, to me, are the most perfectly proportioned and stylishly designed. That title belongs to the Aston Martin DB11.
That the DB11 is beautiful* is no news. Since it made its debut last year, the US$230,345 coupe has won critical and popular worship as a masterpiece. Somehow the folks at Aston figured out how to make the four-wheeled equivalent of Michelangelo’s David: curved across its clamshell hood, muscled along the side haunches, edged across its bladed 20-inch diamond-turned rims and casually potent, from the slender veins of his feet to the curled locks on his brow.
Er, from the new wide front grill to the rear aero blade and deployable spoiler, I mean. I’m talking about the car.
Anyway, photos don’t do (either piece of art) justice. But what I would like to offer for your consideration is the idea that this four-seater is the most capital-B “Beautiful” 12-cylinder car on the market today. Even sweeter: It’s fairly priced, when compared with the others in its class.
Beauty on Purpose
Aston Martin chief Andy Palmer has said multiple times that his goal is to make the most beautiful cars in the world. In an industry that produces such complex, expensive products, it’s not a crazy thing to say, but it’s also nonstandard. Usually it’s the power of a car, the handling, and the performance that a carmaker brags about first. But Palmer is refreshing in his single-mindedness. Over more than a decade that I’ve been writing about cars, he’s the only automotive executive I’ve heard say point-blank that looks are his top priority.
He understands that beauty commands action and form follows function. A beautiful-looking car, in theory though not always in reality, will drive beautifully, too.
The DB11 epitomizes Palmer’s goal. This car will elicit feelings in you that will go unprinted here. Here, masculine (the huge, snarling air intakes in the roof) and feminine (the svelte side body) combine in the DB11 better than in any other modern car.
Its lateral-rung grille, spread long and low across the front, is a totally new look for Aston, as is the soft clamshell style hood and those cool rims bladed like the knives of a sushi master. New also are the full LED headlights slanted seductively along the front; their beams can even corner along with the road as the car moves forward. If there is a car that could make something like the good-looking Jaguar F-Type look stubby, this is it.
What’s more, and unlike some others in its segment (Lamborghini Huracán, ahem) visibility and road clearance aren’t sacrificed for looks. In the DB11, you can both see potholes and clear them.
An Interior on a Par With the Exterior
Better yet, unlike many supercars, here the interior is as deluxe and well thought-out as the exterior.
To recreate the US$255,000 DB11 I drove will cost roughly US$20,000 in cosmetic upgrades. (That’s just on the inside.) Sitting in this cabin is like sitting inside a beautiful blond-leather Birkin bag—it smells like the inside of a Birkin, too, with a feel as soft to the touch as the calfskin in the Wraith, which costs nearly twice as much. You’ll want to spring for the warm blond interior tone called All Sahara Tan and make sure the top of the ceiling matches the seat insets as well (US$2,270). You’ll also need the brogue detailing on the doors (US$2,270)—richer than I’ve seen on a new car, swirled in hue like Turkish coffee and milk.
The contrast stitching (US$570) and intricate quilted design splayed like fans across the top of the seats and the ceiling (US$2,270) are great. They are a welcome change from the diamond-stitched designs that have become ubiquitous in cars of this calibre over the past few years. A “Satin Tan Lace Wood” trim inlay (US$500) and gloss black speakers (US$920) help complete the look. Consider it your own personal blonde calfskin cocoon.
Plenty of New Charms
Those familiar with this brand will be delighted with other interior upgrades from past Aston Martin models as well. Instead of starting the car by inserting a sleek key fob into the dashboard, the DB11’s fob simply must be in proximity to the car to activate the push-button start. The interior lights illuminate by touch, and a large storage compartment in the centre console slides open and closed at the flick of a tiny lever in the centre console.
On the dash, a single round LCD dial in the middle of a 12-inch screen tells speeds and engine status. You can see which of the three drive modes you’ve engaged there as well.
And the back, well, it’s smaller than what you’ll find in the four-seat, four-door Aston Martin Rapide. It’s far more beautiful, though, with the same fanned-out stitching and lush leather wrapping you at every turn. It’ll just require a pronounced hunch and knee swivel to the side for any adult to sit among its charms.
The Beauty of the Drive
As for performance, well, this column is about beauty. But it’s worth saying that in the DB11, precision and personality cohabitate flawlessly, as in a driver’s dream.
Where something like the McLaren 570S masters precision, and the Lamborghini Huracán gives personality, each are rather weighted to one end of that spectrum or the other. Meanwhile, DB11 is smooth and balanced, and fast, and powerful.
The proof is in the sales, which have far exceeded expectations: Aston Martin says demand for the DB11 will push company revenue up by 37 per cent this year. In the fourth quarter alone last year, orders for the coupe rose 48 per cent, according to a company statement in February. It’s a strong step forward for the company that says it wants to introduce a new car into the market every nine months until 2020.
Here’s the Rundown
The DB11 makes 600 horsepower and hits 62 mph in 3.9 seconds. Top speed is 200 mph. Driving it feels as balanced as a metronome: You can get the back end to swivel a bit when you punch the gas (I like that), but the car quickly rights itself and grabs the road for more. You know how your favorite crazy uncle hugs you after a long time apart? Like that. It won’t let up.
Stability, traction, and torque control make the DB11 truly nimble to drive. One note: The brakes can feel extremely aggressive. Abrupt, even, if you haven’t yet warmed up and worked in the car.
Will you care? No. You’ll have already been seduced.
*This article assumes the existence of the concept philosophers call Objective Beauty, which argues that Beauty is an absolute and rational concept just like any other. Plato and Aristotle are in my camp. If you believe beauty is always relative, we can agree to disagree. Talk to me after you’ve driven this car.