GRR

Aston Martin DB12 2023 Review | First Drive

An exciting new dawn...
04th July 2023
Ben Miles

Overview

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The Aston Martin DB12 is an important car. Which Aston Martin isn’t? I hear you ask. That’s a legitimate question when talking about a firm that has lurched from bust to bust, cranking out stunning cars that at times show the flaws of a company that has been the opposite of stable.

But now there’s money. There’s no overarching OEM, there’s no small-time ownership group that’s probably going to melt into the distance. Lawrence Stroll is a serious man. A man who doesn’t do anything by halves. The others in his ownership group will share the same ideas. There’s no point buying Aston Martin just to make an F1 team make sense, it needs to be a going concern of its own.

So, behind the development of the latest car to carry the DB nameplate is a small revolution. Staff numbers have been increased, sensible recruitment seems to have happened, things have been brought back in house, rather than just buying off the shelf. There’s now 16 people in the interior design department for example, not four.

The DB12 is the first product of that new approach. The pressure on this car is not just external, but internal. It needs to not only be a thing people love, but a thing people actually want. It has to represent a new Aston Martin.

We like

  • Bold chassis
  • Quality interior
  • Stunning handling

We don't like

  • Placid automatic
  • Lacks a V12
  • Not particularly pretty

Design

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This history of Aston Martin design veers between pretty and imposing. Its DB cars are a showcase of this switchable design ethos. DB4 for example was a rather dainty looking little GT car, but by the time we were at DB6 its proportions had swollen and it struck a more imposing tone. DB9 will go down in legend as one of the current era’s most beautiful designs.

The DB12, for me at least, swings the needle heavily back into imposing. I can’t find this latest Aston Martin pretty, but seeing it for the first time in the metal high up overlooking Monaco, it definitely strikes a post. It might even be handsome.

Gone is the small front grille, now inflated for a mixture of design and genuine engineering reasons. It’s bigger than the catfish Vantage, even bigger than the DBS Superleggera. It’s a shock to the system at first, but softens as you look over the car. The DBS had an inverted version of Aston’s traditional winged grille, which I preferred, but the DB12 goes back to history. The bonnet is long, retaining many features of the DBS – which, to my eye, fixed issues with the DB11 anyway.

The rear is very DB11. In two-tone paint scheme, I don’t think it works. The canopy bubble is too thin and upright into the wider rear. But if you opt for a single hue, it’s slim lights fit the profile much better. I don’t think anyone, certainly not I, will look at the DB12 with the same heart flutter as the DB9, but in real life its design suits a big, powerful GT.

Performance and Handling

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First off. Yes, it’s called DB12. No it does not have 12 cylinders. The V12 engine is no more. Is that a sad thing? In a way yes, the sonorous howl of a dozen combustion chambers was a marvellous thing, but there’s been a V8 version for a while now, and that’s now just becoming the norm.

That V8, sourced from AMG as per, has been rejigged. It has a revised turbocharger for better response, new cooling – part of the reason for the giant mouth – and has been completely overhauled inside the bits that go bang. That means 680PS (500kW) and 800Nm (590lb ft) – coincidentally the same power output as a Le Mans Hypercar is limited to, but we don’t mention that series in these parts.

That engine is potent, peak power comes at 6,000rpm, but the torque arrives from 2,750. The red line sits a little higher than those two, so it never truly encourages you to dance it at the very top, but the torque delivery in its band is striking. The race to 62mph finishes in 3.5 seconds and if you have the space top speed nudged just over 200mph, to 202.

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To reign it all in, the ZF gearbox has been given a shorter final drive to try and heighten the sense of performance. It’s a perfectly good eight-speed ‘box, switching cogs with no real fuss in auto or manual, but never delivering drama. In auto the kickdown can also be glacial, making some impromptu overtakes slightly more heart raising than needed.

But neither engine or gearbox are the keys to this newest Aston Martin. Part of the recruitment that’s happened included bringing in vehicle dynamicists from places including Lotus. The body – beginning with many similarities to the DB11 – has been stiffened significantly. The damping is now more powerful, but with a slightly softer approach to the rest of the suspension. The DB12 is also the first production car in the world to come with Michelin’s latest Pilot Sport 5S tyres.

Together, Aston Martin hoped those changes would reduce heave on acceleration and result in a greater than ten per cent drop in understeer. Added to a much sharper throttle response in all modes and a brand-new electronic overseer that now uses six different inputs to help your driving, the DB12 is meant to be a car for all seasons.

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Success? Yes. Cruise the motorway and the DB12 is comfortable while rapid. It can feel like a car as big as it is – the DB12 has a wider track than the DB11 but due to slimmed wing mirrors, manages to be thinner overall – but only in close quarters with other cars.

But what you need is a French road through the mountains somewhere near the Alps. And that is what we have today. Suddenly the big Aston Martin hides its weight very well. The new stiffness in the chassis is noticeable, but the softer suspension allows it to roll through corner entry just enough to ignite the tyres. The damping, even when switched to higher settings, never becomes harsh, restricting the overall chassis from eliciting too much movement from each corner.

Understeer is minimal, with the DB12 owning a nose that can be placed with accuracy as you enter the corner. Those electronic overlords are always there, but with such subtlety that it’s not until you spot the flashing TC light that you realise they’re doing anything. With them on the rear isn’t prone to slip, instead the e-diff just helps it step back into line. If you wish there is now a switchable traction control – similar to BMW’s system – so you can slacken those helpful electrons off if you wish.

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Sport mode stiffens things and sharpens the throttle, Sport + the same but a little more. It ends up being much of a muchness between the two. Both feel sharp and enjoyable to use. Sport is perhaps just more suited to an open, flowing road, while Sport + drops in a slight extra sharpness for when it gets twisty. If you don’t like either, set it up to your liking.

The steering is light but provides good feedback, reassured by that confident front axle. The wheel speed, not lightning fast, but never verging on slow, suits the bigger car. A quicker response would feel odd in a big GT car. Altogether it manages to completely overcome the odd setback in the drivetrain. Those – the slow kickdown for example – are only issues in the odd moment or too, never ones to ruin a day in Provence.

Interior

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Here’s perhaps the biggest design change that the Aston Martin DB12 has gone through. Gone is the extremely out of date interiors of the last generation of cars from Gaydon. They were a mixture of old-fashioned design and bits stolen from Mercedes.

The DB12 has a waterfall dash, it has buttons made and designed bespoke to fit the car itself rather than picked out of a bin (Aston’s people make much of how they now make their own buttons). The screen is touch operated and uses Aston Martin’s own design and sits into the centre console rather than the dash. The wheel is slimmer, with a smaller central section and that has allowed a single line to run across the dash.

Design-wise it is perhaps an even bigger step forward than the chassis. This is a genuinely nice place to spend time, that looks like it deserves to be in a car nudging £190,000. Most materials feel premium, although there are sections that will still not quite challenge its rivals.

Technology and Features

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It’s hard to judge the tech on the Aston Martin DB12 from our drive. The Aston team were keen to point out that four updates are planned for the infotainment system before the car is delivered to customers, so this is still very much a work in progress.

As a result, it currently doesn’t get close to the smooth running that Aston is firm that it can generate. The Sat Nav is slow to follow a finger when you try to move it around, the menus are easy to get to but don’t feel fully optimised. That said, the DB12 now has over-the-air updates, so this kind of thing can be fixed not only before delivery, but over the coming years.

The dash is simple and nicely laid out, and it’s littered with tech. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is wireless charging for your phone. Speaking of your phone, the DB12 is a connected car, talking to an app on your phone to let you know its status, allowing you to check remotely if you remembered to lock it, or even unlock it for someone. You can set up an Aston Martin profile customised to you as well… if that’s your thing.

Verdict

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Hello Aston Martin. After years of false dawns, disasters, highs and lows, the DB12 might be the car that makes things serious again. The V8 isn’t as nice as the V12, and inside doesn’t offer an exciting aural accompaniment to your drive, but it’s powerful and in manual mode becomes a good part of the experience.

The chassis is something to really get excited about. It feels bold and enjoyable, comfortable when it needs to be and capable of extracting lunch from your passenger when that’s what’s really called for.

If the DB11 felt a teeny bit half cooked when it arrived, the DB12 feels like the perfect starter at a high-end restaurant. It’s extremely good, you love tucking into it, but the real excitement is what follows afterward - where this new Aston Martin can go now. We know the same people who made this handle like it does, are working on the next Vantage already.

Specifications

Engine 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8, petrol
Power 680PS (500kW) @ 6,000rpm
Torque 800N (590lb ft) @ 2,750rpm
Transmission Eight-speed dual clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Kerb weight Not given
0-62mph 3.5 seconds
Top speed 202mph
Fuel economy Not given
CO2 emissions Not given
Price From £185,000