Is it just me or is Aston Martin emulating the Microsoft school of development? By which I mean releasing products that haven’t quite been finished, then improving them along the way. We saw this with the first iteration of the DB11 V12, which was rough around the edges before being smoothed off when the hugely improved V8 was launched. Then the Vantage F1 came along, which showed us what the Vantage might’ve been had its creases been ironed out from the start. Now, while the Aston Martin DBX wasn’t as dynamically unresolved as those two models, it wasn't perfect either. And there’s another worry here: is the DBX707 simply pandering to rich people who need bragging rights when it comes to their next high-performance SUV?
I say that because just look at the numbers. In bold stats it does appear to be a sticking plaster for insecure, uber-rich megalomaniacs who say ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ a lot when it comes to net worth, yachts, watches, homes and cars. The DBX707 has 707hp and 663lb ft of torque. It does 0-60mph in 3.1 seconds and maxes out at 193mph. Almost all of these are rival-blitzing numbers even when compared to the likes of the Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT.
It's not just the numbers it conjures, there’s the way it looks, too. The standard DBX is a very elegant SUV, but the DBX707 has burst that bubble with all sorts of sticky-outie protuberances. Talk about shouty – it’s an automotive wolf whistle with an “Oi, luv, get a load of this” tacked on. There are shouty (optional) 23-inch wheels, which you sense are only available because that’s what you can have the on the Lamborghini Urus. There’s the shouty DBS-style front grille, the little aero flicks, the enhanced side skirts and, the shoutiest thing of all: the faintly ridiculously rear diffuser. Of course, this is claimed to be working with the little tailgate spoiler adding stability at 193mph, but it juts out so far someone’s going to use it as a step to climb up to the boot. And then it’ll snap off, because I doubt it’s got much weight bearing ability.
So, is the DBX707 just a dressed-up Top Trump or a serious car? Well, that all hinges on whether or not it’s brilliant to drive, and, after I chatted extensively to Andy Tokley - Aston’s senior vehicle engineering manager and the man in charge of engineering the 707 - my faith began to grow. Now, it’s worth pointing out that Tokley has been working hand in glove with Matt Becker for over 15 years. He was with him at Lotus and, prior to Becker’s defection to replace Mike Cross at JLR, at Aston, too. This gives Tokley credibility. And he is not only credible but very likeable – one of those engineers who calls a spade a spade. So I ask him to run me through the engineering developments on the car, which, it turns out, are extensive.
The Bilstein dampers and active chassis calibration have been changed to give a sportier primary ride - basically, better body control in terms of heave, pitch and roll. This also helps the car rotate from the rear more easily into corners. To deal with the higher damping forces, the top mount has been stiffened and the longitudinal suspension bushes are now hydro bushes. These help to improve secondary impacts, shake and rolling refinement.
The turn-in response has also been improved with more bracing to increase the body stiffness by 9 per cent, and now with standard-fit carbon ceramic brakes (420mm discs at the front and 390mm rear) 40.5kg has been sliced from the 707's unsprung mass. This reduces the rotational inertia and, in turn, the effort need to shift the steering wheel off centre. Another tweak to aid agility is giving the e-diff more locking potential than the standard car's. The 707 pushes more drive to the front wheels during pull aways, to get you off the line smartly - but once you're up and running it's more rear-driven, especially in its most dynamic Sport+ setting.
This is all proper stuff, and then we get to the engine. Of course, this is still Mercedes-AMG’s fabulous 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. Not the most powerful iteration of it – that’s the flat-plane crank version in the AMG GT Track Edition, which peaks at 734hp – but it is the most powerful example of this hot-vee lump with a cross-plane crank. And the upgrades aren’t the work of some random tuner. They’re the hand of Ralph Illenberger, who’s now head of powertrain engineering at Aston Martin but, formerly, head of engine development at Mercedes-AMG. In other words, the man who developed this unit; so he knows his, and its, onions.
Did Illenberger decide that the engine needed an internal rework and some ethereal materials added to cope with the forecasted power? No. It was beefy enough, apparently, so he bolted on the bigger, quicker-responding ball-raced turbos form the AMG GT Black Series. These are made of MAR-M alloy, so they’re strong enough to cope with building the boost - even for a launch-mode start. The main issue was improving the cooling to drain all that extra heat away, which has been managed without adding any additional drag.
The standard DBX torque-converter gearbox wasn’t up to the job, though. This has been swapped for the nine-speed Mercedes MCT with a planetary gear set and a wet-plate clutch pack. It can supply as many full-bore launches as you wish without lunching, along with quicker gearshifts. And because the final drive is shorter – 3.27 compared with 3.07 in the regular model – the 707’s is claimed to be an altogether more responsive thing on the road.
What’s the reality, though? Well, despite the sporting pretentions, the first surprise is that the regular DBX’s frenetic low-speed ride has been tamed. And while the standard line for a car review carried out abroad is ‘we’re yet to see how it copes on UK roads,’ I can tell you that Italy’s roads – or more precisely, Sardinia’s, where we’re pacing about in the 707 – are more broken than ours. So if it works here it should work anywhere. And it does. The 707’s ride is, well, perfectly judged, treading the fine line between luxury and sporty so well I cannot think how you’d improve it. Really - it’s that good. It’s soft enough to pander to you over big, longwave impositions around town and on quicker roads, but – and this is the neat trick that few manage to pull off – it has the wheel control to stop the bouncing after a vicious pothole.
In softest GT mode there is some sideways sway. I guess this is to be expected when you're trying to encourage some compliance with a total weight of 2,245kg, most of which is perched high above the road surface. Yet even this can be neutered, mostly, by flicking the suspension to its stiffest Sport+ mode. And even this isn’t too hard. In fact, if this were the only mode I’d be quite happy. It’s still not spine-crushingly rigid despite making the three-chamber air springs shrug off mid-corner disturbances with distain.
Certain moments stick in your mind, good and bad, and in the 707 one that did just that was striking a diagonal ridge in the road. It was mid-corner and hit at pace. Now, if anything’s going to destabilise a car and cause you to flinch, it’s something that trips up each wheel separately when the car’s heavily loaded laterally. Yet this wasn’t a problem for the 707. It teetered, slightly, but not enough to tease any fluids out of me, or even an expletive. It etched into my mind the thought that this is an impressively unrufflable car.
And when your trust in something becomes implicit, it encourages you to keep pushing and exploring. So I did, and what I discovered was it’s quite rear driven if you prod the accelerator on a wet road. Not alarmingly so, but more than I expected for a big SUV. By the time the Sardinian sun had dried the roads and grip was less of a premium it needed a lot more commitment unstick the rear – more than I was willing to give, bearing in mind the colossal drops off the side of the mountain roads we were barrelling along. Even so, you can still feel 707 digging in gamely at the front, turning crisply and slithering enthusiastically at the rear under power. I believe that’s what they call an enjoyable balance.
The enjoyment isn’t spoilt by the steering, either. There’s sensation in it. Perhaps not as much as I’d like when it comes to feeling the nuances of what you’re driving over, but probably that is expecting too much from a car of this magnitude. At least that magnitude seems to diminish thanks to the steering’s accuracy, because the 707 shrinks around you on great roads - and to my mind that’s the sign of a great car. You tip it into turns and the accuracy and weighting make guiding it innate. At least in the GT drive setting. For me it’s a bit too heavy in the other modes, although this reveals another positive change for the 707: it’s easily configurable. The centre console has been redesigned with a rotary control for flicking between the default modes. There’s an individual mode to let you set things up the way you want and simple buttons on the console to tweak certain elements as you’re driving along. This is a big plus.
Refinement seems to have been improved, too. It’s been a while since I drove the standard car, but I seem to remember it having more wind and road noise. Yet despite the enormous rubber the 707 was quiet and tranquil at any speed, and on pretty much any surface. Except for fleeting moments of body shake. This probably isn’t surprising given the length of the car (5,039mm) and the fact it has a huge glass panel in the roof. Still, it’s not enough to detract from the overall air of isolation.
What might do is the whine I heard from the engine. I did speak to Tokley about this and, a couple of days after the launch he sent me a message. It said this had been traced to a detached oil hose that was touching the chassis leg, transmitting the hum from the oil pump into the cabin. To be fair, we had been warned these were pre-prod cars, and such issues should be sorted before the car is fully signed off. I also mentioned the long travel at the top of the brake pedal. Tokley said he had experimented with reducing this but it caused too much grab in traffic. Once you’re dialled into it it’s fine, not least because the rest of the pedal action is progressive and the stopping power ferocious.
As is the engine, obviously. Because with 707hp and 663lb ft of torque it would be, wouldn’t it. And all delivered with a V8 thunder track that’s hard to grow tired of. God knows I tried to tire of it. Time and again I wound down the windows, exposing myself to its effect through the multitude of mountain tunnels en route. It didn’t wane, though. It made me smile through the last underpass just as much as it had done through the first, and all those in between.
In maximum attack mode the gearbox adds to the drama as it thumps hard through the upshifts. Maybe it’s a little over the top for an SUV, and truth be told the MCT is not the smoothest or the most responsive unit around. A Cayenne’s PDK ‘box rather shows it up on both counts. When you’re ambling around it’s fine. In auto mode the gearbox is slick enough, although what’s really impressive is how tractable and easy-going the V8 is. For all its huge swell of low-end torque you can potter along easily and, as a grand tourer, the 707 is ideal.
So much so that, as I was driving around the Sardinian countryside, I remember wishing that someone from Aston would offer me the chance to drive it back to the UK. I’d have been delighted if they had; it’s perfect for continental travel. It’ll ease you along the high-speed Autobahns as much as it’ll entertain you along the Stelvio Pass, and that’s pretty impressive bearing in mind it’s a huge SUV. Of course, being a massive SUV brings advantages: it’s roomy for four, has a big boot, and, compared with the earlier DBX I tried, a much better standard of interior finish, too. It’s really nicely finished, actually. It’s a really great car.
So is the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT, of course, while the Lamborghini Urus is, well, striking to say the least. But even with their much better infotainment systems – this is one area where the 707 is still pitifully weak – I’d still choose the 707. Why? Because behind the shouty numbers and its shouty looks, it’s a properly engineered car with a huge breadth of ability. Will most buyers in this league even notice this? Probably not, but for Aston’s sake hopefully they’ll be rich enough not to notice the price, either. Because the £190,000 it's asking is, perhaps, the most shouty number of all.
Specification | Aston Martin DBX707
Engine: 3,982cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: 9-speed, wet-clutch MCT automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 707 @ 6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 663lb ft @ 4,500rpm
0-60mph: 3.1 seconds
Top speed: 193mph
Weight: 2,245kg (DIN)
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