AM reveals its DBX hand that promises substantial grand touring potential
With first UK deliveries expected in late-spring 2020, the £158,000 Aston Martin five-seater should provide a vital rescue line for the prestigious British sporting car manufacturer and Iain Robertson believes that (fingers crossed) it will succeed.
Aston Martin states that the new DBX model also denotes ‘phase 2’ of the Midlands-based, specialist carmaker’s forward plan. Ever since its partial ‘rescue’ by Ford Motor Company, during the 1990s, following a decidedly chequered history of peaks and troughs, prior to being sold off to a consortium managed by ex-rally navigator and owner of Prodrive Ltd, Dave Richards, Aston Martin has seemed to be in a good place.
It certainly employs a number of highly regarded key post-holders and some of the more forward-thinking brains of the motor industry. Yet, its recent round of investments (underwritten by another, Luxembourg-based financial consortium) has been stymied by a profusion of near identical new models that only served to confuse the prestige sports car market. The company has not been enjoying the ride as it should.
Observers need to be cautious when contemplating Aston Martin. Naturally, its flamboyant appearances in a succession of ‘007’ movies have ensured that the brand’s worldwide appeal is on a constant high. However, showing-off does not equate to product excellence and it is too easy to become wrapped up in the glamour.
Yet, the company has also been through a number of developmental hoops, not least with its major investment on a former RAF base in South Wales. Designed primarily for the all-new DBX sports-utility, it is also to be the future location for the firm’s EV developments, which will be vital to its mid-term survival. In the meantime, the first fruits of its endeavours are now set to be delivered.
When we presaged earlier this year the new Aston Martin DBX undertaking gruelling off-road trials in a Welsh forestry complex, its final design details were unclear, clad as they were with a camouflage wrap. However, now displayed in all its high-gloss glory, manufactured in that purpose-built factory, in a hangar, in South Wales, the DBX looks every inch a sleek, lean and muscular machine that is stridently Aston Martin and more than capable of taking the market supremacy fight to its high-end rivals.
Undeniably handsome, it retains the vital AM styling cues, such as the ducktail rear spoiler, the grille outline and the voluptuous panel detailing. The company does not have the resources of VW Group, which also released the full details of its Lamborghini Urus SUV earlier this year that is a direct competitor. Inside, it is awash with the finely stitched leather we would expect from its artisans and the luxurious accoutrements befitting of a bespoke branded motorcar.
Powered by a new version of the customary 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged petrol V8 engine found in both DB11 and Vantage models, DBX features an impressive output of 546bhp and 516lbs ft of torque. It has been carefully tuned to meet the specific capabilities of this model. With a characteristic AM exhaust sound, the engine’s versatility is not restricted to its vocals. Cylinder deactivation enhances fuel economy, while normal operation propels DBX from 0-60mph in just 4.2s, before coursing on to a maximum speed of 181mph.
Transmitting the punch to the road is a nine-speed fully automatic gearbox, driving all four wheels through three active differentials. Torque can be apportioned precisely both fore and aft and also across the rear axle, for maximum traction and stability. Combined with AM’s bespoke steering system that has been tuned to deliver sports car-like feel and responses, DBX imbues the driver with an overriding sense of control, regardless of environmental conditions.
Having criticised other carmakers for turning their top-end SUVs into supercar-rivalling high-performers, I still harbour big concerns about Aston Martin joining a throng in the upper echelons of this class. At the end of the day, they are significantly more compromised than saloons, estates and coupes. They are expected to tackle a wide variety of surfaces, while delivering pre-ordained standards of stability and traction. Big power outputs are all very well but a heavy reliance on ‘electrickery’ can possess negative implications.
Adaptive triple volume air suspension has been combined with the latest 48v electric anti-roll control system (eARC) and electronic adaptive dampers to provide the new SUV with a huge breadth of capabilities. With its capacity to raise the ride height by 45mm, or lower it by 50mm, the air suspension provides a level of driver confidence to tackle a wide range of terrains, while also helping to improve accessibility to the cabin and boot areas. It needs to be remembered that the DBX is also Aston’s first four-seater.
Utilising bonded aluminium, a construction method Aston Martin has refined through the development of its sports cars, the body structure is both potentially light and torsionally rigid, although its overall kerbweight of 2,245kg can hardly be described as featherweight. Right from the start, DBX was designed to allow the maximum amount of interior space, while ensuring premium levels of refinement and class leading spaciousness for both front and rear occupants.
It is one of the most spacious Aston Martin vehicles that I have ever experienced. The boot alone has a 632-litres capacity and the 40:20:40-split rear seats enhance practicality, expanding the load platform accordingly. Meanwhile, the exceptional stiffness inherent in the design of the new platform has also enabled DBX to achieve exceptional dynamics both on and off-road.
The company is asking a lot of money for its newcomer. As ‘automotive art’, featuring the finest efforts of its skilled leather, wood and alloy workers, it is clear that it knows its place. Yet, it is one balanced against an urgent need for enhanced profitability. Its go-anywhere stance, with a flowing coupe body placed on top of a 4×4 platform manages to look different enough to warrant intrigue.
Conclusion: Aston Martin has a major task to impress potential buyers with its new SUV model but, with an all-pervading reputation for hand-built excellence and the firm’s unique approach to bespoke manufacturing, it has a good chance of success, especially in export markets demanding the 4×4 potential.