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Aston Martin DBX officially unveiled

Its first ever SUV, yes - but also the most important car Aston Martin has launched since the DB7

By Sam Sheehan / Wednesday, November 20, 2019

When PH was invited to an early preview of the DBX at Aston Martin's now-operational St Athan site a few weeks ago, the significance of its 550hp Cayenne rival could hardly have been made clearer. The new model not only marks the manufacturer's first foray into the world of SUVs, it also the marks the spot between what might be described as Aston Martin's past - and what is optimistically called the future. Sure, in recent years we've had the DB11 and a new Vantage, both hugely significant in their own way, yet no-one would suggest they've fallen far from the tree. The DBX is obviously different. Suggesting Aston has pushed all its chips forward would probably be an overstatement - but unquestionably it has bet big on its off-roader, and with the expectation of a massive, perhaps life-saving, pay-off.

To underline its importance and its otherness from what's gone before, Aston opted to unveil the car in China, a nation it doubtless regards as essential to its future success. The stock market, and its own shareholders, will be paying close attention to the scale of the DBX's impact there; triumph in the world's largest car market and the effect will be profound. Merely elbowing itself some proper space will probably alleviate many of its current issues - a view which has certainly informed the brand's approach to development. Aston says the DBX is the most intensively prepared and tested car it has ever launched. Failure, gentlemen, is not an option.

So what has it delivered? Well, much we already know. The SUV has 550hp and 516lb ft of torque from its AMG-supplied 4.0-litre V8, which is mated to a nine-speed torque converter and all-wheel drive. The latter is capable of sending 100 per cent of torque rearwards via a centre differential and carbon prop shaft - which combine to enable a 4.5 sec 0-62mph time and a top speed of 181mph. So it's safe to say the DBX probably goes like an Aston Martin ought to.

But the oily bits and their resulting performance only tell one side of the car's story. The model was custom-built to outshine every comparable SUV found at its £158k starting price. Aston has made no secret of its benchmarks: the Porsche Cayenne, the Bentley Bentayga and BMW X6M have all been measured under chief engineer Matt Becker's microscope, and it is a measure of their collective talent that Aston opted (at great expense) to build the DBX on a completely bespoke platform. This is no jacked-up sports or saloon car; it is, as far as its maker is concerned, the job done right.

Of course it's not much good having all that mechanical potential wrapped in an ugly skin so the packaging was considered no less equal than the bonded aluminium structure beneath. Note how the car looks far more compact and hunched from the front three quarters than the side. That's a clever design tactic employed by chief creative officer Marek Reichman and his team to give this frankly enormous machine on 22-inch wheels a more sporting appearance. You'll judge the outcome for yourself, but having seen it in the flesh, we're firmly in the fan club - even if it does wear the biggest front grille fitted to an Aston since the One-77. The teardrop glasshouse, flush door handles and thick shoulders credibly mix Aston elegance with prerequisite SUV muscle - and they're all there as part of a shape sculpted for aero efficiency using CFD.

There's no hiding the size of the 2,245kg DBX from the side, where its 3,060mm wheelbase (137mm longer than the Range Rover Sport SVR's, another benchmark) and the low-set roofline really emphasise its stretched-out, five-seater body. The aluminium structure enables Aston to claim a class-leading 632 litres of boot space and more legroom than rivals, while the sloping nose at the DBX's front shows just how far back the twin-turbo V8 is pushed back. Those are benefits of a bespoke platform.

Becker suggests the car is not far off being front-mid engined, enabling a best-in-class 54:46 weight distribution. Aston really wants to hammer home that the DBX has been engineered to be a proper driver's car from its earliest stages, so much so that Becker even instructed the winding down of active anti-roll torque to 1,400Nm from the 48v system, to give a more natural sense of roll through corners, even if it sacrificed some outright lateral performance. The rear axle has more freedom than the front to add to that. Although Mike D's recent passenger ride suggested the lean was very minimal.

It certainly won't have been harmed by the stiffness of its spine, which is said to be extremely stiff in its bare metal form. Becker's team decided to add a trio of under-bonnet braces to maximise steering response and feel from the front end, while the steering rack itself is set to 14:1, which is faster than the Urus and only just slower than the Vantage. The setup underneath is similarly promising; you get double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, with a solid front subframe and isolated rear one, supporting four-mode air suspension and Bilstein adaptive dampers. Even the bushes get a stiffness unique to the DBX for optimised performance and refinement. The DBX can, of course, raise by 45mm and lower by 30mm through its five drive modes - GT, Sport, Sport+ (the lowest), Terrain and Terrain+ (the tallest) - or raise by 50mm for access mode and lower 40mm to make loading into the boot easier. Plus, it can tow 2.7 tonnes and has a 100kg roof load, emphasising the extent of its dynamic abilities - which are supported by its accessory packs.

With the Bentayga among its rivals, the cabin is suitably posh, offering a predictable mix of high-end materials including leathers, wood veneers and brushed metal, as well as new wool-based fabrics. Reichman said there's a deliberate mix of cutting edge and tradition inside, hence the inclusion of buttons below the Mercedes Star 2.3 10.25-inch wide infotainment system, which are somewhat contrasted by the all-digital 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster. Having sat in the car, we can confirm the seating position is indeed successful in imitating an Aston sports car, which is to say the dash wraps around you with your eyeline resting just above. It certainly feels snug, with good pedal positioning and the wheel located with equal sporting intent. Although with a larger than normal window of adjustment provided to these controls, you can, should you wish, alter the settings to sit in a more conventional SUV position. This has to be a car to suit global tastes, after all.

Certainly, there is plenty to like, although if for some reason you're still left unconvinced that the brand can sell 5,000 of them a year (which is the figure CEO Andy Palmer has capped production at), know this: 72 per cent of Aston owners currently own an SUV. The customer base won the brand over, not the other way around. Like Bentley and Lamborghini before it, Gaydon has built a car it is downright convinced it can sell - and that's before it has even confirmed the more potent AMR versions which are almost certain to follow. Either way, the DBX is about to have a seismic impact on what becomes of the 106-year-old British firm that makes it. Everything we've heard and seen so far suggests Aston has left it all on the field. We'll find out if that's true when the first cars arrive on UK roads by springtime next year. Fingers crossed, eh...

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