It was a scene right out of the intro of a James Bond movie, with roads snaking round mountain sides, surrounded by trees in every shade between pine green and auburn. Somewhere in the distance was the roar of a twin turbo V12 echoing against the hills of a canyon road just out of sight.
We were in Karuiza, in Nagano, Japan upon the invitation of Aston Martin Manila to test drive the new DB11 together with Japanese Aston Martin owners. Though not owners ourselves, we were invited to the activity by Aston Martin Manila. Aston Martin Japan had been kind enough to lend us the keys to the brand new DB11 upon our arrival in Tokyo, to drive to Karuizawa (two hours away) for the customer ride and drive event.
In a city where “kei” cars and compact vehicles are the norm, a pearl white DB11 stands out in all the right ways. In spite of the cold autumn weather and occassional rain, experiencing the grand tourer both in the city and rural setting was a rare experience we wouldn't pass up. Our final destination was Mount Asama, and from its imposing slopes to the lava rocks that surround it, could very well serve as a super villain's secret lair.
The DB11, after all, is the first product of Aston Martin’s independent era. All the previous vehicles, counting the Vanquish, Vantage and Rapide, bore components dating back to the company's time under Ford, simply refined over the years. The DB11 is one of many firsts, bearing the new design language under lead designer, Marek Reichman, propelled by a new 5.2 liter twin turbo V12 (the first turbo engine produced by Aston Martin ever), and one bearing the new electronic architecture from Mercedes-Benz — evident in the all-digital instrument cluster and infotainment system. Engineered from the ground up, with a new engine and platform, it gives a glimpse of the new generation of Aston Martins to come.
There’s the familiar trademark grille, this time flanked by upswept headlamps with full LED illumination. The hood slats are more subtle, which allows the eyes to wander to the new floating roof. It’s part of a conscious effort to highlight the golden ratio (1/3:2/3) that has guided its design. Toward the side, the vent cleverly ducts air away from the wheel, leading to more muscular haunches that nod to the Vanquish. On the concave rear are taillights, seemingly hiding under cutouts on the body to form their recognizable outline. An automatic spoiler is nestled in the boot and deploys at speeds above 120 km/h. Lower on the rear is a rear diffuser, painted a gloss black to hide the fins and mufflers, and create a cleaner, less complex look.
Inside, the interior only bears subtle nods to the old style. The new cluster is now all digital with a tachometer squarely in the center with configurable side displays. The sculpted flat-bottomed wheel integrates drive mode and infotainment controls into the spokes. Over in the center console, the gear selector buttons have been retained while all others have been replaced with soft touch surfaces. Infotainment is now controlled by a dial at the base of the console, partially covered by a plush hand rest.
Resting under this bonnet, which now opens via a cantilever (like a Jaguar XKE or Ford GT) is the new 5.2-liter twin turbo V12. It too is seemingly held in place by a lattice work of struts. Being developed entirely in-house it also bears a badge with the name of the final inspector.
With a new wireless fob, starting just requires the press of a button. It brings that familiar V12 burble to life with hardly any hint of forced induction. The paddle shifters return a satisfying metallic click as a gear is engaged. And inspite of the power, it rolls from a standstill quite gently. The new adaptive suspension damps a great deal of the little bumps of the road, feeling more supple, dare I say, than the Vanquish. Driven leisurely, the power delivery, light steering, and balmy ride can rival more luxury-biased grand tourers.
It's easy to imagine swooping through buildings, as Tokyo's elevated highways snake through the little space there is above ground. Yet our progress was a little slower than usual, owing to the higher than normal long weekend traffic. I imagine peering from such a low slung car might be a nightmare in Manila, but hardly feels like a handicap against the courteous and considerate drivers of Japan.
Thankfully, the highway was much lighter, allowing us to activate the adaptive cruise control and simply sit back. With everything set to comfort mode, only the low stance of the vehicle reminds you you're in a grand tourer and not a luxury saloon.
Yet after a few hours in, offramps took us from long and straight highways to the winding inclined curves of Karuizawa. With drive and suspension mode buttons on the wheel, it's easy to indulge and activate them as the mood strikes.
Some more purposeful throttle input had the tachometer winding up quicker. Only then do the turbos make their presence felt with their surprising surge, but hardly any whine. It leaves no doubt this vehicle can accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h in under 3 seconds.
As a corner approaches, I switch to sportier suspension damping. Little circles on the dash confirm the command and each input from the steering wheel is followed accurately. It takes just a little input as pressing harder on the throttle rotates the nose more eagerly, seemingly hinting it can turn sharper.
The succession of curbs brings out the hooligan in me, eagerly diving into one after the another with the throttle rolling on the way out. What’s surprising is the DB11 has gladly obliged, transforming so adeptly from the floaty cruiser it used to be just a few minutes ago, to the fire-breathing beast devouring curves like M&M’s.
With just a tap of the drive mode button and release of the throttle, it’s back to the gentleman again as we near a more populated town. It returns to urban cruiser in just a click, with proximity sensors beeping as we come to a stoplight. It’s equipped with collision warning and mitigation too, as well as adaptive cruise control and all the trappings of a daily drive. There’s even a park assist system that backs it into a parallel space.
It’s quite a surreal mix of features, being equal parts luxo cruiser and track monster, all hiding under supercar looks that still keep it toned down enough for a drive to a matinee. The executives at Aston Martin want their cars to be driven every day and there’s no better evidence of that commitment than the abilities of the DB11.
In spite of the inviting mountain roads, and the unfortunate lack of a supervillain to vanquish, perhaps the most memorable leg was in the DB11, travelling well below the speed limit and simply enjoying each new vista of Japan in Autumn the tight winding roads revealed, corner by corner.