Downsized, Not downgraded: Aston Martin stuffs smaller engine into the DB11

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THE first model to emerge from Aston Martin’s turnaround “Second Century” plan, in which the British automaker intends to release seven new models in the span of as much years, was the stunning DB11. Introduced in 2016, the DB11 replaced the aged DB9 — this model first came out in 2004 — and sent the message all elderly Astons are on their way out.

In June 2017, the DB11 was spun off in the form of the DB11 V8, with the derivative car immediately sent out to prime European markets and the US, before finding its way into China, Japan and other parts of Asia — a key region for Aston Martin. On March 20, the DB11 V8 marked its official arrival in the Philippines.

As of launch time, local deliveries of the first DB11 V8s have started, according to Aston Martin Manila, which will continue selling the V12-powered DB11. The company’s chairman and president, Marc Louie Y. Tagle, said in a statement: “We are looking forward to seeing more of our favorite GT on Philippine streets.”

Patrik Nilsson, president of Aston Martin Asia Pacific, bared in a speech that “the Philippines was our strongest market last year in the Southeast Asia region.”

“We expect continuing growth in demand for [the] DB11, particularly with the arrival of the V8-powered model. It is clear that the Philippines has a strong affinity with our brand,” Mr. Nilsson said.

The brand’s head of sales operations for Southeast Asia, Nancy Chen, added the recent launch of the advanced 1,200-square meter service center in Makati City will assure customers that “Aston Martin Manila remains committed to delivering a first-class ownership experience.”

As its name declares, the DB11 V8 packs an engine with four cylinders less than that powering the DB11 — not an inconsequential reduction in mechanical terms. Plus, a V12-propelled Aston Martin grand touring car is simply majestic. But the automaker insists the DB11 V8 is not to be dismissed as a downgraded model. For starters, the engine under its expansive hood is built by no less than AMG, the bespoke high-performance division of Mercedes-Benz.

This development is the latest in Aston Martin’s involvement with Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz. Prior to this, it was the DB11 itself that emerged from the tie-up.

The V8 propelling the DB11 “lite” is a 4.0-liter unit that, thanks to a pair of turbochargers, churns out 503 hp and 675 Nm of torque. True, that’s 97 hp down from that outputted by the V12, but more important is that it is merely 25 Nm less. This means the DB11 V8 is nearly as punchy in real-world driving than its big-engine sibling — in fact, its zero to 100 kph sprint time of 4.0 seconds is only one/tenth of a second off the V12-spun DB11’s pace. Top speed of the DB11 V8 is only about 21 kph slower, too.

The similarity in velocity figures can largely be attributed to one key factor — weight. Fitting a smaller and thus, lighter, engine helped shed 117 kilograms off the DB11. So both cars’ power-to-weight ratio remained comparable.

But as significant as the weight loss is the manner by which the poundage is distributed across the DB11’s platform. The V8 has been mounted farther back toward the cabin, and lower into the chassis as well. This means the DB11 V8 boasts a more ideal center of gravity, which Aston Martin swore had made the car more agile.

Exploiting this trait are revisions made to the DB11 V8’s suspension bushings, geometry, anti-roll bars, springs, dampers and ESP settings. Bespoke to the V8 too are its air intake, exhaust system, wet sump lubrication and ECU software — ensuring the “feel and sound for which Aston Martins are renowned” are retained.

The result of all this, according to the automaker, is that the DB11 V8 “appeals to customers drawn to a refined and comfortable GT, but one with a more sporting bias.”

Visually differentiating the DB11 V8 from its sibling are its wheel finish, dark head lamp bezels, and its pair of hood vents (the V12 version breathes through a quartet of these). The V8’s vents also come in either black or titanium-finish mesh, which are different from that fitted to the 12-cylinder DB11.

Inside, the cars offer the same standard equipment levels and array of color and trim options. Customers can also fit the DB11 V8 with identical option packs and designer specification packages — like a suite of Q by Aston Martin — Collection pieces — that are available to the V12 version.

“The DB11 is the most complete and sophisticated car Aston Martin has ever made. Now, with this new V8 engine option we have broadened its appeal by offering a car that will bring the DB11 to more customers around the world while still blessed with the exceptional performance and memorable character that sets Aston Martin apart from its rivals,” said Andy Palmer, Aston Martin president and CEO, in a statement.

Apparently, the DB11 did help draw more customers to Aston Martin. In a report issued on Feb. 28 the company disclosed it registered in 2017 its “highest full-year sales volume in nine years,” or 5,117 cars delivered during the 12-month period. The result is a 58% spike from its 3,229-unit tally for 2016, and has brought the brand around $121 million in pre-tax profit. In 2016, Aston Martin reported a pre-tax loss of around $227 million.

The “record full-year financial performance,” the car maker said, was “driven by continued strong demand for the DB11 and special models.”

Aston Martin also credited “rising demand” in North America, the UK and China for its 2017 performance.

As part of its Second Century plan, the company has begun construction of a new plant in Wales, UK, that’s due to open in 2019. It has also resumed building specialist models at Newport Pagnell for the first time in 10 years. Along with the expanded manufacturing capabilities, the automaker said it would also rely on the introduction of new models — including the DB11 Volante and new Vantage — to propel its growth.

Obviously, that growth can be V8- or V12-driven. — Brian M. Afuang