The 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard celebrated 70 years of Aston Martin at Goodwood this year, but 2019 itself is something of a landmark year in the company’s history.
Towards the end of this year, Aston Martin will unveil its first production SUV. According to Matt Becker, Chief Engineer in Vehicle Attribute Engineering, this is nothing less than “the most important car in Aston Martin’s history”.
If that seems like hyperbole, it’s not. Other sporting brands who’ve started to make SUVs have experienced a huge increase in sales numbers and profit, giving them the financial freedom to continue making their enthusiast cars. It took Porsche 54 years to sell a million 911s, but at current rates it’ll hit that mark with the Cayenne in under 20.
For Aston Martin this car is the DBX. “This is a big project for the company,” says Becker. “Doing an SUV is a big challenge because of the range of capabilities that an SUV has to have. Cars like this – where a DB11 is a GT car, a DBS is a super GT car – have to be everything. It has to be able to drive up and down the autobahn at 300km/h, it has to drive across a field, tow a boat or horsebox, go around a track, go shopping and go off-road as well. The range of capabilities of these cars is huge - it’s a massive project!”
One primary requirement for the DBX is to still drive like an Aston Martin. Becker, who spent 26 years at Lotus before moving to Aston Martin in 2014, concedes that it’s a fight with physics but doesn’t expect the DBX to disappoint.
“When you’ve got something tall with a high centre of gravity, you have to control the inertia and that motion. The DBX is a completely new platform, with a completely new suspension system, and in the suspension system we’ve got tools that allow us to give the character of the car. You have to think of this as effectively a DB11 on stilts, so we’re trying to create that engagement feel that a DB11 has but in an SUV.”
The DBX is launching into what’s quite a packed market now – it’s easier to list premium brands that don’t have an SUV rather than those that do. “When we started the project we did tons of benchmarking of competitors,” says Becker. “From that, because this is the first SUV that we’ve done, we set all the targets for the car based on what we did and didn’t like from the competitors.
“We’re not targeting something like Discovery off road because we don’t need that. When we first started the project we wanted a soft roader, but the way we’ve designed the car it’s got really good off-road capability. The front and rear ramp angles are such that we can climb up some pretty big hills. I drove one of these at the off-road facility at Silverstone and it was really capable. I don’t think that there are many people that will take them off road, but there’ll be some!”
As significant as the car is its home. Aston Martin has built an entirely new factory at St. Athan, near Barry, Wales. You’ll likely spot the Welsh dragon – Y Ddraig Goch – on the DBX’s doors.
“This exact car was built at St. Athan, on the production line there,” says Becker. “The line for prototypes is up and running, so we can trial the facility and get all the processes right. Doing a new factory and a new car is a big job – some people might think we’re crazy!”
Will the DBX feel like a slightly taller DB11? We’ll just have to wait and see…