Aston Martin DB11 V8 first drive review: with a little help from friends

Aston Martins are known for two signature traits: drop-dead gorgeous looks and bad-ass soundtracks. But how do you maintain the band’s identity when you have to play a cover tune? If he were still alive, I’d tell you to ask Joe Cocker. Sometimes you get by with a little help from your friends and make someone else’s song your own.

In the case of the 2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8, those friends are the good folks at Mercedes-AMG. Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes, owns 5 percent of Aston Martin, and the company’s performance arm provided its twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 for the DB11. Truth be told, the AMG engine makes the DB11 a better car than Aston’s own V-12.

2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8

2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8

2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8

2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8

2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8

2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8

Mercedes-AMG technology Anglicized

The 4.0-liter V-8 does duty in everything from the S-Class to the C63 and E63 to the GT sports car, but Aston Martin wasn’t content to let it sound like a Mercedes engine. To give it an Aston Martin voice, company engineers replaced the intake and exhaust. The goal was to limit the typical AMG bass tones and improve the more Aston Martin-like midrange and high tones.

Other engine changes included new ECU programming, tweaks to the throttle and engine mapping, and a switch from a dry sump to a wet sump since this would be a grand tourer instead of a track car.

2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8

2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8

As a result of the changes, the engine produces the same 503 horsepower as you’ll get in many AMG applications, but torque is a unique 498 pound-feet.

The performance figures are practically a wash with the V-12. The DB11 V-8 launches from 0-62 mph in 4 seconds flat, while the V-12 does it in 3.9 seconds. The V-12 has the advantage at higher speeds. It can reach 200 mph, while the V-8 tops out at 187 mph. Both are illegal in your neighborhood.

But then the V-8’s advantages start to tip the scales in its favor. It almost certainly goes easier on gas than the V-12’s 15 mpg city/21 highway/17 combined ratings, though EPA figures aren’t in yet. The big change, however, is in weight, and that effects the whole character of the car. The V-8 weighs 243 pounds less than the V-12, and all that weight comes off the nose. That reverses the balance of mass from 51 percent front/49 percent rear to 49/51. It also let Aston engineers tune the car to make it the sportier choice for DB11 buyers.

Suspension changes include stiffer rear bushings to give the rear axle 5 percent more lateral stiffness, which helps the car rotate. The adjustable dampers are also stiffer to limit up-and-down motions. The anti-roll bars and springs have also been tweaked to deal with the change in weight and to make the car more agile. With less weight up front, the pistons of the Brembo 6-piston front brakes are smaller, though the rotors retain their 15.7-inch diameter up front and 14.2-inch diameter out back.

Aston Martin also changed its code and hardware to open up more of a delta between the dampers’ Sport and Sport+ settings, as well as the sound and the transmission character between GT, Sport and Sport+. In other words, put the V-8 DB11 in its two Sport+ modes and it will ride stiffer than the V-12, hold gears longer, and switch from a bass to a baritone voice.

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