Aston Martin DBX prototype | Driven

Aston Martin DBX prototype | Driven

Wednesday 15th January

Aston Martin DBX prototype | Driven

Finally we get behind the wheel of Aston's first SUV - has it been worth the wait?



It's not often that the harsh reality of geopolitics clashes with the softer art of automotive PR. But Oman's proximity to Iran makes me profoundly glad that I travelled there last month to drive a prototype DBX, well before things started to kick off in the region.

Beyond the risk created by a presidential finger hanging over a big, red button it's a wonderful place. Indeed, for a location that conveys both glamour and adventure, little comes close to this Arab Sultanate. Within an hour of Muscat is spectacular coastline, stunning desert and the sort of rugged mountain vistas that got me humming the Indiana Jones theme. Aston couldn't have picked a better place to make the DBX look heroic, even in the form of an early build prototype wearing another in the company's series of shouty wrap designs.

Of course, the "pre-drive" of a hotly anticipated new car is more of a snack than a filling meal, often short on driving time and with plenty of provisos about non-finished specification to head off any perceived criticism. But this was far more than the sort of frozen lake jolly often used to make a car seem more fun than it will turn out to be; I got 100km on a mixture of gravel, sand and - most importantly - tarmac. Beyond a polite request not to crash, reinforced by the presence of Aston engineering boss Matt Becker in the passenger seat, I was pretty much free to do what I wanted.


Despite having swapped sides with Becker, much was similar to the ride in a similar prototype I scored back in November, although the cabin had lost the disguise panels it was wearing in the UK. Aside from the raised eyeline it does feel genuinely Aston-y, with plenty of familiar switchgear and componentry. The natural seating position is more reclined than in a more traditional SUV, if more upright than in a Vantage or DB11.

We'll have to wait to experience a final production car to pass meaningful comment on quality. It would be unfair to criticise the prototype for the dashboard's Christmas tree impression - flicking between warning messages from various uncalibrated sensors. Becker also stressed that mules are never given the high-grade leather of full production cars. One criticism can be made, though: that big screen in the centre of the dash isn't touch-sensitive, running an older version of Merc's infotainment system, meaning all inputs are made through the click-wheel and touch panel between the seats. Something which is going to cause a degree of confusion to any buyers coming from cars with more modern UI systems.

As with our ride in the UK, the DBX feels Aston-fast. The AMG-sourced 4.0-litre V8 is in a relatively gentle state of tune, with 542hp - 21hp less than the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 makes in standard form, and 61hp less than the 63 S. On paper, the DBX is well off the segment's bragging rights - the fastest GLE dispatches the 0-62mph benchmark in just 3.8-seconds, seven-tenths inside the Aston. If it matters the Urus, W12 Bentayga and Porsche Cayenne Turbo are all quicker, too.


But the engine's combination of brawn and zing feels entirely adequate, even when making proper progress. The V8 is effortlessly muscular low-down, with peak torque arriving at just 2,200rpm - and delivered uninhibited in every gear. Driven gently it burbles like an Aston should. But it's also more than happy to sing, pulling with unfading enthusiasm all the way to the 7,000rpm redline - 500rpm beyond where peak power arrives - with the soundtrack turning angry and snarly when stick is applied. There are some pops and bangs on a lifted throttle in both the Sport and Sport Plus dynamic modes, but not too many; Becker admits these can be programmed within the Bosch engine management software.

While AMG models combine this engine with the MCT speedshift transmission - which uses a wet clutch - the DBX has the more normal torque converter version of Daimler's nine-speed autobox. Responses aren't quite as snappy as they doubtless would be with the MCT - although Becker says the gearbox calibration isn't finalised yet. Even so, the DBX's changes under harder progress are still impressively quick for a pure auto. Gearbox refinement is also excellent at the sort of low-tenths progress Astons are also expected to deliver.

More noteworthy is the DBX's ability to find traction while also allowing a driver to explore the grey area between grip and slip. There was never any chance that a chassis signed off by Matt Becker would be lacking a playful side, but the Aston's compromise between dynamic security and the ability to throttle-tweak the cornering line is still pretty special for an SUV. Despite wearing Pirelli Scorpion all-season tyres the prototype found plentiful adhesion on tarmac surfaces, but even in the gentlest GT dynamic mode it feels rear-driven at everyday speeds. Switching to the punchier modes, or pressing harder, makes the back axle bias more obvious, the DBX feeling impressively keen to turn for something this size and shape (with the active rear differential biasing effort across the wheels.)


On the loose it becomes more fun still. While few DBX owners are likely to be found fanging their cars sideways on dirt roads, the big Aston can be persuaded into impressive slip angles on slidy surfaces without effort, even the half-on Sport stability control mode allowing impressive slides. The powertrain's tendency to shunt torque forwards when rear slip is detected makes it hard to hold drift angles for long, but on an empty and well-sighted bit of higher-speed track Becker takes over and pretty much turns the DBX into an oversized, V8-powered WRC car, raising clouds of billowing dust. Relevant? No. Fun? Yes.

Once back in the driver's seat, the DBX's clever suspension is the next starring feature. Standard air springs allow for a fundamentally pliant ride, even when asked to digest the sort of set-frequency washboard ruts that turn the most capable off-roaders into tumble driers. But the combination of quick-acting active dampers and a 48 Volt anti-roll system means the soft settings don't come at the expense of chassis discipline, with the motors applying up to 1,400Nm of torque to the roll bars to counteract body lean. It's not a new idea, but it does seem to work particularly well on the DBX, which stays near flat under even sizeable lateral loads. A measure of how hard the system is working comes when it briefly fails with a different journalist driving; I'm following as passenger in a Land Cruiser support vehicle and the DBX suddenly starts to lean like a hard-driven 2CV.

Beyond confirming the air suspension will indeed increase ride height I didn't do any serious off-roading. Fully raised in Terrain Plus mode there is up to 9.25-inches of ground clearance, which should cut down on expensive crunching noises. Other stuff? The brakes didn't fade under hard use, pedal feel is good and there's no e-booster to muck up sensation. Steering is similarly weighty, and although there isn't the level of sensation that comes with one of Aston's sportscars, the electric assistance still feels chatty by SUV standards.


Interior space is surprisingly good, the DBX being one of the few toff-roaders that looks smaller than it actually is; even with the front seats dialled to accommodate a sizeable bloke there's room for another to sit behind, not something you can say about any other recent Aston, including the four-door Rapide. The standard panoramic glass roof is also a great feature, one that transforms the cabin when the blind is motored back.

Although Aston started work on the DBX before any of its rivals appeared, it is set to enter what is already a well-stocked segment when sales start later this year. From the company's point of view, that's a good thing - it's not only proven that there is considerable demand for cars like this, but it also means that most of the discussion about whether this is a direction luxury car makers should be going in has already been had. And, at risk of a flaming, it's a debate that is pretty much over in terms of the hard-to-fault logic of going where the money is. Given what's at stake for Aston's future, you don't need to like the idea of posh SUVs to hope this one succeeds.


SPECIFICATION - ASTON MARTIN DBX

Engine: 3,982cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
Power (hp): 542 @ 6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516 @ 2,200 - 5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.5-sec
Top speed: 181mph
Weight: 2,245kg (EU DIN)
MPG: TBC
CO2: TBC
Price: Β£158,000














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Author
Discussion

sidesauce

Original Poster:

1,122 posts

167 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
Looks promising. Were l in the market for a high end SUV, based on looks alone I'd pick this over a Bentayga.

GTEYE

1,478 posts

159 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
Hmm I note use of the word adequate for the performance, and not perfect elsewhere. Yes, not the finished article, but it doesn’t sound class leading. Will buyers make allowances for these potential shortcomings- I have some doubts.

NFC 85 Vette

2,575 posts

185 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
GTEYE said:
Hmm I note use of the word adequate for the performance, and not perfect elsewhere. Yes, not the finished article, but it doesn’t sound class leading. Will buyers make allowances for these potential shortcomings- I have some doubts.
We've had a good 20 years of being told Astons aren't as good as their rivals, another few years wont do any harm... laugh
It's worth noting that it is class leading in some areas (cabin space, use of materials and such). Admittedly, nothing that someone looking for supercar performance would be interested in, but the modus operandi on these things has always been to point out how slow an Aston is in acceleration tests, as if drag racing is the key measure, even when we're talking about the >2 tonne luxury SUV segment, where drag racing isn't of critical importance.

The infotainment is an interesting one. Just recently there were complaints about Audi's new touch screen only system. The fact you had to look at what you were pressing because it's just a load of plastic / glass slabs, and the wish for a jog dial to still be present. Alas, DBX has just that, but apparently it's behind the times and should be a swathe of touch screens... they just cant win.

The DBX will be a fantastic bit of kit, I'm glad they've made use of the talent pool and created a genuine alternative to the Benteyga and Urus.

Andy20vt

1,074 posts

135 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
I don't understand - why not road test this somewhere where it will actually be used, e.g. Chelsea high street? Surely much more relevant?

Ratten

212 posts

172 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
Hope they change the front and rear (and side?) cameras to be hidden when not in use. 10 minutes in the muck (or winter slush) and they're useless. flip up / flip down when at parking speeds and problem solved.

ok, i'm being picky, but since they've got the engine from Merc and the bodyshell styling from Porsche they might as well concentrate on something of their own.

Civpilot

6,018 posts

189 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
Andy20vt said:
I don't understand - why not road test this somewhere where it will actually be used, e.g. Chelsea high street? Surely much more relevant?
It's pretty obvious from the article this is a pre-production drive at Aston's invitation pretty much to show off the cars off road capabilities

It's not a 'road test'

Miserablegit

1,113 posts

58 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
If it is well built and reliable it deserves to do well.
Nobody buying an SUV can be claiming to be after a pure driving experience so a few tenths here and there and lack of pub bragging rights shouldn’t be an issue.
If it is a good drive and seats passengers in comfort then they’ve met the brief. I agree that in this segment the infotainment is hugely important as well so it’s good to see they have physical buttons. I hate touch screens for volume/track changes. Leave them for sat nav and choosing the hue of the mood lighting.

LarJammer

1,799 posts

159 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
No hybrid option? Big mistake, surely in the current 'climate' the hybrid should've been the only option.

belleair302

6,198 posts

156 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
Alas in a very crowded market segment this may sadly be too little too late. Will buyers globally buy one of these over a Porsche, M-B, BMW, Bentley, Audi, Lambo, RR or Rolls Royce? Too much of a bitza car than a pure Aston. Will drives really do more than drive across the school playing fields or the polo paddock? To me it is a lifestyle statement four years too late and they just wont sell enough.

What about the Ferrari SUV on the horizon too?

A generation too late for the crowded marketplace.

Blackpuddin

9,593 posts

154 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
The trouble with the homogenous styling of SUVs is that they really dilute a brand's image. From even not that far away this could be a Qashqai.

NFC 85 Vette

2,575 posts

185 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
belleair302 said:
Alas in a very crowded market segment this may sadly be too little too late. Will buyers globally buy one of these over a Porsche, M-B, BMW, Bentley, Audi, Lambo, RR or Rolls Royce? Too much of a bitza car than a pure Aston. Will drives really do more than drive across the school playing fields or the polo paddock? To me it is a lifestyle statement four years too late and they just wont sell enough.

What about the Ferrari SUV on the horizon too?

A generation too late for the crowded marketplace.
So is the Ferrari SUV late to the party? It's nowhere to be seen, and yet Aston are being criticised for only just getting the DBX launched now. The Purosangue isn't due for at least another year, but as has always been the way, Ferrari don't face the same criticism that Aston does. It'll probably charge around £300k, which wont be deemed too much, but the DBX, which sits directly between the Benteyga and Urus, is deemed overpriced.

I mentioned on the last GG DBX thread that the trump card the DBX can play is the fact that it's not a cookie cutter car. In that luxury SUV sector (and I mean a sector above a full fat Range Rover but beneath the Cullinan), you have the Urus and Benteyga, and that's pretty much it. Now both the Benteyga and Urus sit on a chassis derived from the Audi A6. When you spec up an Urus, it can become a £220k car.

DBX sits on a bespoke chassis, not found at any other manufacturer, let alone another Aston. The interior is a cut above its rivals IMO, and the performance, in particular the handling look to be top notch. Of course looks are a subjective, but I think it's the best looking of the bunch. Granted, SUV's have never been invited to any beauty contests, but the flexibility afforded by a unique chassis architecture allowed the designers to sculpt the body they wanted, rather than throw a body on top of a chassis they couldn't manipulate.

As you rightly point out, these cars are unlikely to be bought by those wanting to go serious mud plugging - at a push I know a few country set folk who (perhaps close to stereotype) would buy one to tow their polo pony trailer, and for them, the car meets the brief, and as a demonstration of wealth and style, does the trick. But for those who'd use it on road, and have been crying out for a one car garage SUV that has the luxury and provides driving dynamics that make it fun, rather than just a 'point and shoot' sledgehammer like some rivals, it's right on target. That was the purpose of those test mule press drives, to actually push the car dynamically, rather than just pose on Belgrave Square.

Good job Aston Martin, and a good day to lift the embargo (107th Birthday and all that).

clarki

971 posts

168 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
Why do all these high-end SUVs have to look so crap??

I'm sure they're lovely to be in and great to drive, but they're not good looking vehicles.

NickCQ

2,204 posts

45 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
Andy20vt said:
I don't understand - why not road test this somewhere where it will actually be used, e.g. Chelsea high street? Surely much more relevant?
This ‘joke’ must be at least 25 years old now. Perhaps it’s time to move on? Also, as any fule kno there’s no such place as Chelsea high street...

Krikkit

17,094 posts

130 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
LarJammer said:
No hybrid option? Big mistake, surely in the current 'climate' the hybrid should've been the only option.
They'll be building one at some point, assuming they don't go bust, but for now they need to get this out and selling. They've bet the farm on it.

wab172uk

1,511 posts

176 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
All sounds promising.

With 542 BHP, it'll be plenty quick for most buyers. Too quick for most of them. Yet, in every road test to come, it'll be lambasted for being the slowest. It'll be the loser in every drag race it's put into.

Yet for me, I wouldn't car less. I was unsure about this car, but after seeing a few reviews on the static car (Carwow & carfection), I think it's the SUV I'd buy if I had that sort of money to buy one.

I'm still not 100% sure on the rear. Did they really need to add the Vantage duck tail? I personally think it would look cleaner without it. But that's just personal choice.

I think the interior is excellent, and looks a lovely place to be.

I really hope this car saves Aston Martin.

cirks

2,154 posts

232 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
NFC 85 Vette said:
The infotainment is an interesting one. Just recently there were complaints about Audi's new touch screen only system. The fact you had to look at what you were pressing because it's just a load of plastic / glass slabs, and the wish for a jog dial to still be present. Alas, DBX has just that, but apparently it's behind the times and should be a swathe of touch screens... they just cant win.
Exactly - I don't understand the fascination/need for touchscreen controls in cars. They require far more taking of eyes off road than mechanical controls ever have done. We've got an XC60 and the Trackhawk - I'd much rather have mechanical stuff in both as I know I have to look at their screens more than I have in any other car we've owned

NJJ

204 posts

29 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
For an SUV it is the best looker of a miserable bunch (full size RR aside) and has a neater interior than the current sports car range, I hate the fact that the central screen are not integrated in those cars. Cheapens the cabin IMO.

Incidentally does anyone know how many AM would like to sell of these annually vs. Urus/Bentayga etc? This would give context to how realistic this car is going to be the company's saviour. If they only need 10% of the world sales of the likes of those rivals then it could just work. I will be hoping that it does.

NFC 85 Vette

2,575 posts

185 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
NJJ said:
For an SUV it is the best looker of a miserable bunch (full size RR aside) and has a neater interior than the current sports car range, I hate the fact that the central screen are not integrated in those cars. Cheapens the cabin IMO.

Incidentally does anyone know how many AM would like to sell of these annually vs. Urus/Bentayga etc? This would give context to how realistic this car is going to be the company's saviour. If they only need 10% of the world sales of the likes of those rivals then it could just work. I will be hoping that it does.
Production is capped at 5000 units per year, and priority is being given to overseas markets initially, as they're expected to be more popular than the UK (China, USA, India etc). Benteyga unit production comes in between 5000-6000 per year AFAIK.

From the 1800 orders thus far since the unveiling late last year, most dealers would have 1 static and 1 dynamic demonstrator, the rest are customer orders - most dealers in the UK seem happy with the business it's doing already, and that's before anyone's driven a production version.

Alex_6n2

204 posts

148 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
Best looking luxury SUV in my opinion.

Market is saturated with high end SUVs (Merc, BMW, RR, Alfa etc) but I feel this sits above in the Benteyga, Urus, Cullinan group for people who want to set that kind of image.

It's cheaper than all of these without sacrificing much in the way of badge image. Being more attractive I can see it filling the Polo car parks.

No doubt will be criticised for being "least powerful", "least fast", "lacking touchscreen" when none of these really matter and cars with pure touchscreen are criticised for being hard to use.

Aston Martin can't win vs the critics. Fingers crossed it will win over people with cheque books ready for the next style/image icon in their social groups.

Macboy

464 posts

154 months

Wednesday 15th January
quotequote all
I can't be the only one that thinks this far along in the development of the "saviour" of the company that they have a major system failure on a press drive even if it is in a supposed "Prototype". If any of the cars they have aren't ready, don't let the media drive them. We all know they're desperate for positive news but come on. Surely by now the car is finished and you can prep a car with production parts, even a pre-prod bodyshell.