Old World British craftsmanship meets New World engineering in the 2017 Aston Martin DB11

Aston Martin's DB11Drew Gibson

There’s no real American automotive equivalent for what Aston Martin means to the British. There’s pride, craftsmanship, luxury and performance — but Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Jaguar have that, too. What is it about an Aston Martin that sets Brits’ stiff upper lips quivering?

Perhaps it’s a peculiar mélange of factors that unfreezes their blue blood. There’s solid racing prestige in the face of historically shaky financials — they bellied-up twice — seasoned with a frisson of undeniable glamour (that whole Bond thing). Maybe it’s pride about being one of the last purely British-owned car companies (other than Morgan). Or maybe it’s the tradition of respect given to well-aged wines and ear-trumpeted Parliament members — the company is, after all, 103 years old.

Whatever it is, the all-new DB11 will certainly elicit an approving “Huzzah!” from the peerage and a lusty cheer from everybody else with a pulse.

The DB11 is the first product launched under the company’s “Second Century” plan, a six-year strategy designed to more than quadruple the company output to 14,000 vehicles per year. It’s built on a new lighter, stronger and more space-efficient bonded aluminum structure, which will form the platform for the new entry-level Vantage and top-end Vanquish and a crossover at some point soon … as well as an all-electric — wait for it — sedan (gasp).

So, it’s a big deal when the company, with atypical brashness, calls the DB11 “the most powerful, most efficient and most dynamically gifted DB model in Aston Martin’s history.”

Going with the flow of all automakers as they work to reduce emissions, the DB11 features an Aston Martin first — turbocharging. The 4,100-pound DB11 packs a new, potent 5.2-liter twin-turbo V12 engine (designed in-house) with 600 hp and 516 pound foot of torque. It’s situated behind the front wheel hubs, making the DB11 a true front-mid-engine car. The exhaust is all snarling, basso profundo magic; no turbo whine here. Power goes to the ground through an eight-speed ZF transmission, and acceleration is impressive for such a heavy vehicle, zooming from 0-62 mph in 3.9 seconds.

The DB11 also boasts a freshened, distinctive design. The famous Aston Martin grille looks bigger and somehow meaner. (Take that, all you Ford Focus and Fusion grille-usurping wannabes.) A flashy roofline strake comes in aluminum, black or your chosen body color. And the dramatically sculpted tail, while integrating the “boomerang” design of previous DB models, seems poised to be as instantly iconic as the classic grille.

Impeccably clean body contours convey speed and power even standing still. The company claims that the giant sloping front-hinging hood — “bonnet” in Brit-speak — is the largest single-piece aluminum clamshell in production today.

There are pioneering aerodynamics at work here, too. Front-end lift is minimized by gill-like slits on the front fenders that release high-pressure air from inside the wheel arch via a concealed vent. Rear-end lift is reduced by the Aston Martin AeroBlade, a virtual spoiler fed by air intakes at the base of each C-pillar. Air is ducted through the bodywork before venting as a jet of air from an aperture in the rear deck lid. North of 90 mph, a small rear spoiler helps keep everything planted firmly on the road. Brake-based torque vectoring helps in the corners, as does the new multi-link rear suspension. Drivers can choose from three settings — GT, Sport and Sport Plus — that electronically rejigger suspension damping and rpm shifts to deliver whatever mood strikes.

But all of this newness doesn’t get in the way of Aston Martin’s vaunted tradition of, well, tradition. For one, the DB11 is still rear-wheel drive, an increasingly anomalous situation in a world where all-wheel drive on supercars is acceptable etiquette.

For another, the innovative thought and attention lavished on the mechanicals carries through into the interior. Acres of buttery leather, finely milled woods, polished stainless steel and crystal are all front and center, lovingly handmade by Aston Martin’s craftsmen. Each interior is a one-off: One seamstress is responsible for the leather, quilting or brogueing in each vehicle. Wood choices are limitless, including an open-grain that eschews polish for a more natural and authentic aesthetic. The infotainment system and controls come straight from technical partner Mercedes-Benz and look right at home amid all the cushiness. All around, the DB11’s cabin is quite a nice place to be.

The exterior paint palette is similarly individualized. Any color you want can be whipped up in a trice, sprayed seven times, with each piece hung to dry at the same angle so that the paint grain is consistent. Who’d notice that? Probably nobody. But that’s how Aston Martin does things. It sweats the details that most observers and probably even owners wouldn’t even notice. But they’re there.

Put it all together and the Aston Martin DB11 is refreshingly fresh yet reassuringly traditional, a springboard for the company’s next century. In a world of instant gratification and app-driven immediacy, the DB11 represents New World technology wedded to Old World craftsmen tradition. At a base price of $214,820, it’s not cheap. But there’s such a thing as value.

Perhaps that’s why the marque is so important to the British — and should be important to everyone else.

Brian Melton is predisposed to cool cars. His mother drove a classic porthole T-Bird in the carpool line.

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