Aston Martin is building an SUV. That statement would likely confuse and upset past owners of the 108-year-old British company. Utility is anathema to an Aston Martin, they’d scoff. They’d wax poetic about beauty, grace, passion, and performance, then casually slip in that the company has a Royal Warrant of Appointment from His Royal Highness Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, Knight of the Garter . . . Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, Order of Merit . . . Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.
Far less impressive than that title is the storied brand’s seven bankruptcies. Keeping the HMS Aston away from an eighth iceberg is why the new DBX SUV exists: A sports-car company, particularly one as tiny as Aston Martin, is slopping the trough for SUV-hungry customers. It’s a proven gambit that has secured the fortunes of Bentley, Porsche, and Lamborghini. Last year Aston actually came perilously close to another bankruptcy. Just before the DBX entered production, the company nearly ran out of money, sending the stock price to an ominous low of $6.66. A massive cash infusion from investors kept the brand afloat until the DBX could roll into showrooms.
HIGHS: Aston-grade materials and beauty inside, an optimal balance of luxury and sportiness, may undo a financial crisis.
A lot more is riding on the DBX’s wide Pirelli P Zero PZ4 tires than just Aston’s future. And we mean that literally, as this SUV weighs more than two and a half tons despite its aluminum spaceframe and body panels. It’s about the size of a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but even with all that alloy, it’s only 20 pounds lighter than the German.
“DRIVE THE DBX LIKE ONE OF THE SPORTS CARS THAT SHARES ITS FRONT-END STYLING AND IT RESPONDS BY GOADING YOU INTO USING MORE AND MORE OF THE AVAILABLE GRIP.” —TONY QUIROGA
Creating a new platform is expensive, so it’s no surprise that Aston didn’t develop its own engine. Under the DBX’s hood is a Mercedes-AMG-sourced twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8. Before you say it’s not cricket to fit a German engine in a British car, remember that the AMG V-8 is also available in the Vantage and DB11, that Aston hasn’t designed its own engine since the late ’60s, and that the company’s V-12 can trace its lineage back to a pair of Ford Duratec V-6s.
With its Mercedes-Benz nine-speed automatic transmission, the 542-hp DBX moves to 60 in 3.9 seconds and through the quarter in 12.4 at 114 mph. A sub-four-second time to 60 would have been ridiculously quick for an SUV a decade ago, but the competition has since gone nuclear. Lamborghini’s Urus hits 60 in 3.1 seconds, the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid and Tesla Model X P90D take 3.2, the Bentley Bentayga V8 can do it in 3.3, and the Maserati Levante Trofeo, 3.5. AMG selfishly keeps for itself the 603-hp version of the twin-turbo V-8, which allows the GLE63 S to run to 60 in 3.2 seconds. While the DBX’s shove isn’t as hard as others’, hideously illegal numbers just seem to appear in the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in a way no traffic-court judge will ever comprehend.
LOWS: Not as quick as rivals, unresponsive brake pedal, near $200,000 price, may trigger an existential crisis.
Aston pairs height-adjustable air springs with 48-volt active anti-roll bars that keep this 5128-pound brute flat in corners. And even though the beast rolls on 22-inch wheels, the ride is comfortable and free of crash and loud smacks. Drive the DBX like a luxury SUV and it exudes calmness and comfort; only 67 decibels enter the cabin at 70 mph. A double-walled front bulkhead keeps the engine’s efforts subdued. The V-8 raises its voice to a rich-sounding 83 decibels at full throttle, but its exhaust won’t trigger any neighborhood-association sanctions, provided you don’t select Sport or Sport Plus mode and the $2300 sport exhaust. In those more aggressive settings, the DBX’s pipe section plays fortissimo, but it’s still quieter than AMG-issimo.
Drive the DBX like one of the sports cars that shares its front-end styling and it responds by goading you into using more and more of the available grip. Quick steering (2.5 turns lock-to-lock) imparts a perceived nimbleness that belies the DBX’s size and weight. Press hard into corners and you’ll hear the stability-control system cycling individual brakes as it attempts to solve the many physics problems created by SUVs. The DBX’s cornering limits are remarkably easy to explore on road, and there’s likely a little more grip to be had than the 0.92 g we measured on the skidpad. In that test, the stability control inhibited the performance, even when we set it to its off position.
VERDICT: The lookout in the crow’s nest that should keep Aston afloat.
In most situations, the DBX’s all-wheel-drive system sends 47 percent of the vehicle’s torque forward, with the remainder heading rearward to the electronically controlled limited-slip differential. Almost 100 percent can flow into the rear axle, but the ministrations happening in the all-wheel-drive coupling are invisible to the driver. Kick the gas as much as you want—the system will figure it out and turn all 22.5 gallons of fuel into forward progress. Our need for speed resulted in 13 mpg, short of the 14-mpg city and 18-mpg highway EPA ratings.
The only part of this dancing-bear act that needs more practice involves the soft brake pedal. Aston fits the right hardware: Six-piston calipers clamp 16.1-inch rotors up front, and single-piston sliding calipers pinch 15.4-inchers out back. In our testing, the DBX’s stops were fade-free, and it scrubbed 70 mph in a short 157 feet, but a vehicle this fast demands a firm brake pedal with reassuring initial bite. As you toe into the brakes, not enough happens, giving the impression that the DBX is too fast and heavy for them. The solution is to push down harder, which reveals the true power of the brakes—shoulder, meet seatbelt.
Your 180 grand buys a leather-lined interior screwed together with the care the British seem to expend only when they produce things in small quantities. The push-and-pull exterior door handles are shared with other Astons, as is the leather aroma inside. If you’ve never been in an Aston sports car—a strong possibility if you’re buying a DBX, as most customers are expected to be new to the brand—hold a Gucci belt up to your nose and you’ll get the idea. Thick leather is stretched tight over the firm, bolstered front saddles, which look similar to what Aston fits in the DB11. Automakers don’t usually put sports-car seats in SUVs because they aren’t easy to get into and out of, but the DBX’s are as effortless to slip into as broken-in moccasins. Plus, they work with the rest of the interior to cement the notion that you are in an Aston Martin—well, an Aston Martin with a horse-high view and a giant windshield.
Another Aston touchpoint that carries over to the DBX is the set of push-button transmission controls on the center console. Where you’d expect a shifter, there’s a rotary knob that controls the 10.3-inch infotainment-system display. The easy-to-use system is borrowed from Mercedes-Benz, but the design is unique to the DBX. A standard 800-watt Harman/Samsung audio setup with 14 speakers provides sound so clear, you won’t miss a shallow breath or lip smack from your favorite podcaster or Howard Stern Wack Packer.
The long 120.5-inch wheelbase gives rear-seat riders plenty of legroom. Considering this is an Aston Martin, discussing the 40/20/40 split-folding second-row seats, the 22 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up, and the 54 cubes with them folded seems as strange as mentioning its 5940-pound towing capacity. Why does it feel like we’re measuring the closet space and earthquake resistance of Fallingwater?
If only the DBX’s styling had the impact of a Frank Lloyd Wright house. The DBX is attractive, but an SUV will never have the proportions or presence of an Aston sports car. Even a light squint will transform this vehicle into a Mazda or a Buick. Brand-identifying design cues in the nose and tail give it enough of a familial resemblance that it makes sense parked next to a Vantage in a showroom, but there’s a certain amount of ignominy and desperation in playing to the rabble’s thirst for these things. But that’s the sort of hubris that nearly closed down Aston Martin seven times. Existential conundrums aside, the DBX pulls off being an authentic Aston Martin. Actually, it’s perhaps better than most because this one will likely keep the lights on.
2021 Aston Martin DBX
front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon
PRICE AS TESTED
$195,586 (base price: $179,986)
twin-turbocharged and intercooled V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
243 in3, 3982 cm3
542 hp @ 6000 rpm
516 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
Suspension (F/R): multilink/multilink
Brakes (F/R): 16.1-in vented, grooved disc/15.4-in vented, grooved disc
Tires: Pirelli P Zero PZ4 PNCS, F: 285/40ZR22 (101Y) A8A R: 325/35ZR22 (114Y) A8A
Wheelbase: 120.5 in
Length: 198.4 in
Width: 78.7 in
Height: 66.1 in
Passenger volume: 109 ft3
Cargo volume: 22 ft3
Curb weight: 5128 lb
Per: Car and Driver
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