It’s not been a very good week for flag waving. No matter which side of the barbed-wire Brexit fence you sit on, there can be no question that it has brought the nation’s political elite so low that it better resembles a headless chicken than a functioning government. What answers does PH have? Well, none. But we do have the second in a brace of AMR-branded Aston Martins, and if nothing else it confirms that the venerable manufacturer is still prodigiously able to produce fist-pumping moments when all around is as black as night.
The DB11 AMR plays second fiddle to the likeminded Rapide in homepage running order on the basis of newness - the saloon being hot from the press office’s hands - although in every other respect the 639hp Grand Tourer is leagues ahead of its larger stablemate. In fact, whisper it, but the replacement for the original V12-engined DB11 is probably the best car Aston currently makes.
Why? Well, granted, you could argue that the DBS Superleggera is better looking and the smaller Vantage more nimble - but the former is gallingly expensive (even for an Aston) and the latter isn’t quite as good as the car is was specifically built to rival (the outgoing Porsche 911). The AMR has serious competition, too - the wonderfully full-fat Bentley GT among them - yet it doffs its cap to none. It is, by turns, blisteringly fast, thuggishly pretty, rakishly comfortable and, in retrospect, a statement of intent no less telling than the Vulcan, Valkyrie, Vanquish or any other V-based mega-concept waiting in the wings.
Certainly it has become fashionable now to cite the updated AMR model as the DB11 Aston probably wished it had built from day one. There is a good reason why the car ended up replacing the ‘standard’ version rather than merely complimenting it in the lineup; the original V12 car was an upstanding attempt at a do-it-all GT car, but its compromises were occasionally of the unsubtle sort. I distinctly recall a number of corners atop Exmoor which made it felt about as limber as a water-logged pillbox.
The AMR buyer can have no such qualms. Everything that made the V8-engined DB11 superior has been adroitly brought to bear. Thus you get revised bushes at the back, a thicker anti-roll bar to the front, a revised damper tune all-round and a fruitier 639hp from the same twin-turbocharged 5.2-litre lump. You also get a reduction in unsprung mass courtesy of forged alloy wheels and the addition of some energetic livery if that’s your bag.
Best you don’t though, because, unsullied and in a blue as deep as space, the AMR is near stellar. Dropping it into central London on a weekday evening borders on cheating from an objectivity standpoint - but in a city where the pedestrians don’t typically turn their heads for anything less serious than an oncoming cyclist, the seemingly magnetic presence of a stationary DB11 serves to illustrate how well the job of building a six-figure GT was done from the outside.
No-one we encountered mistook it for anything other than an Aston Martin either. From balloon-suckling teenagers in Greenwich to a lighter-selling chap of no fixed address - who cheerily decreed it on his wanted list for when his luck eventually turned - not a single person called the DB11’s maker wrong. Try that with an AM-RB 003. Not for nothing either the amount of goodwill generated. Hotel doorman in the city will typically suffer the sight of a stray car for about a nanosecond; the AMR, with photographer attached, was white-gloved into a picturesque corner without a second thought.
Some of this benevolence must be attributed to the badge and a nationwide awareness of (and affection for) the brand. But ‘cool’ still sticks to the DB11 like day-old chewing gum. And you’d have to be made of stone not to feel it reverberating through the driver’s seat. The Embankment at chucking out time might not be the ideal place to test a 208mph GT car - but if it doesn’t do the million-dollar feeling here, in a million-dollar setting, what use is it to half the clientele?
Nailing this aspect has often been Aston’s calling card, and the supplementary pops and bangs engineered into the V12’s more full-bodied drive settings leave you in no doubt as to whether or not the soundtrack now fits the car’s heavyweight billing. Nor does the interior. Alright, perhaps it’s not quite at eye-level with the Continental GT - and no, there certainly isn’t anywhere to put anything larger than a credit card - but the seats and driving position and finish are excellent and it all comes cloaked in that imperceptible feeling that everything is being pulled back and around you like a drawn catapult.
Fitting that, for what’s to come. The AMR, equipped with the same omnipresent eight-speed ZF automatic, is perfectly good at indulging an aimless saunter through busy streets; there’s 516lb ft of torque from 1500rpm after all, so it ought to be. But it’s also good at lunging forward like a rabid dog when you want it to (one with 516lb ft of torque to call on). This is useful, because, predictably, it makes 1870kg of Aston Martin feel about as burdensome as tumbleweed in town - which is important when you’re peddling what ought to be an imperturbable GT car.
Ultimately though, the AMR’s distinctiveness is less about outright speed than it is the improved marshalling of it. The first DB11 was fast, of course, though not always in a way that seemed entirely beguiling or unflappable. Its replacement nails both virtues by not only being in obviously better control of its body, but by managing to be more communicative and polished while doing it. The car’s lean, pliable ride quality is something to behold - although inevitably the real pay off is delivered beyond the M25, with a distant bed beckoning.
It is here where the AMR really opens up a gap to the competition, and between it and every other current Aston. A Continental GT covers ground consummately well - and a Vantage thrillingly - but neither combines the two into the kind of free-flowing, incisive, and, yes, emotive way that the breathed-on DB11 gets from pillar to post. Endowed with more power than it will ever really need (although not, crucially, more than it can handle) the car is grin-inducingly good. In the dead of a bone dry night, it rather makes you happy to be alive. And also living on the island that designed, engineered and built it.
ASTON MARTIN DB11 AMR - SPECIFICATION
Engine: 5,204cc V12, turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 639@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@1,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.9 seconds
Top speed: 208mph
Weight: 1,765kg (dry), 1,870kg EU kerbweight