It always amuses me when car reviewers write the phrase in isolation when referring to a car they’ve driven. Anything can be good in isolation. If I’d driven a Ford Model T today, I could very well conclude that, in isolation, its performance was strong, its cabin refinement exemplary and the choice of body colours wide-ranging. After all, in isolation, you are using one reference point: the flipping car you are sitting in. So the only car it has to beat, then, is itself. It's an utterly meaningless phrase if you want to know how good a car is.
I’ve driven both the Aston Martin DBX707 and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT in isolation – the 707 on its launch in Italy, and the Turbo GT when I had it for a week last year. I should confess at this point that I did use the word isolation in the 707 review, but not in a meaningless context. I was talking about its level of refinement and suggested its ‘overall air of isolation,’ was very good, which it was. And to make that assessment, I was referencing other cars I’ve driven. That’s the good thing about my job: I’m in the fortunate position of driving lots of cars, so I have a kind of mental map of the strengths and weaknesses of many of them. Even so, you cannot beat driving two rival cars back-to-back to really understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
Now, I thought that in isolation, the Aston was very good. Even so, I imagined that if it were entered into direct comparison against the formidable Cayenne Turbo GT, the latter would probably do what Porsches usually do: win. At least on the handling front, because the flagship Cayenne has clearly been set up to shine around the Nürburging, as it’s SUV production record run of 7:38.925 shows. Aston Martin is yet to show the 707’s hand on that score, so perhaps it’s running scared? Who knows. We have some comparable data, though, such as this: the Cayenne Turbo GT is around £40,000 cheaper than the DBX707.
Now that’s a heck of a lot, but like that ‘Ring time is it a real-world issue for those looking to buy either of these cars? Probably not. It seems reasonable to assume that if you can afford £150k for the Porsche, you can also afford the £190k Aston is asking for its range-topping SUV. Arguably, what buyers at this price point want is the best mega SUV rather than the best value for money. In fact, some buyers may even find the ‘cheapness’ of the Turbo GT a negative. At this level, sadly, more than a few people do seem to choose cars based on price, if only to show that they have the most expensive option and therefore are “considerably richer than yao.” If that’s you, no need to read on. Now you know the DBX707 is obscenely expensive. For everyone else, however, there’s a bit more to it than that.
For a start, there’s practicality to consider. From cheap sports cars to estate cars, SUVs have taken over. We all know that of course, but in this particular case, the role that these two mega SUVs have nabbed is that of the continent-crossing GT car. This was once the preserve of cars like the Panamera or Rapide and, to be fair, these SUVs are a lot better if you want to cross a continent carrying lots of people and luggage. It’s nip and tuck which has the most front seat space but both were fine for me and I am over six foot. It’s the same story when it comes to rear-seat legroom. I had a couple of centimetres spare, sat behind my driving position in both.
For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to get in the back of a Rapide – not officially, at least, with all the doors closed and someone sat in front of me. Anyway, to go with its generous rear legroom, the DBX707 has an excess of rear headroom as well. The Turbo GT’s sloping roof line isn’t as accommodating, but it has enough headroom for me to sit up or lean back against the headrest, although it does have two seats only in the back. The Aston has three. So if you regularly need to get five on board that makes the job of picking a winner easier. Their luggage compartments are about the same size – around 500 litres from parcel shelf to boot floor, which is good although not exceptional for cars of this size.
Okay, onto their driving positions. This one’s also very important if you’ll be spending hours at the wheel. Again, no real complaints here, apart from their pedals are offset to the right – more so in the Aston, which makes left-foot braking more of a contortion. Otherwise, they are well laid out, with seats and steering wheels that adjust consummately and allow for all shapes and sizes. If you are lanky, like me, and prefer the steering wheel really close to your chest, then maybe the fact that the 707’s comes out an inch or so farther is better, but you might not like the 707’s firmer seat cushions. Harry, our snapper, didn’t when I gave him a lift, but I did make the point that I’d driven the DBX707 for a full day on the launch event, and not once did I complain about a numb bum. There weren’t any twinges this time, either, which also goes for the Turbo GT’s slightly softer seats, and both cars offer good side support. As you’ll read about later that is essential.
I love the Cayenne’s traditional, oversized analogue rev counter (with a digital speedo at the bottom). It’s the main instrument, front and centre and flanked by several digital screens that tell you everything you can possibly wish to know. It’s a very clear way of providing lots of information and looks good, too. It’s all a matter of taste, mind. The full array of digital dials in the Aston is just as easy to read and while they don’t appeal to me visually quite as much, they’re fine.
Whether you prefer the Porsche’s gearbox paddles, which are mounted behind the steering wheel, to the larger, fixed paddles on the Aston’s column is, I’d say, another highly subjective one. Either setup works well, and both cars have tactile metal paddles instead of cheap, naff, plastic flippers. It’s a little easier to operate the Aston’s basic functions, though, because it relies less on touch-sensitive buttons for the main ones than the Porsche. I counted just seven proper buttons on the Cayenne’s centre console, and a few more would help make things less distracting on the move.
To counter that, the Cayenne has an infotainment system from the present day, rather than some archaic unit from a Mercedes of yesteryear. And I am not being mean here, Lawrence Stroll admitted as much in a recent interview. What he said was, “How can you have an Aston Martin that sells for £150,000 (or more in the 707’s case) with three-year-old technology?” The only thing I’d take issue with there is the bit about three-year-old technology. I remember using this system in Mercedes that were way older than that.
Before we get to the most important part – the on-road stuff – I’ll just mention quality and finish. This DBX707 was a lot nicer inside than some of the other Astons I’ve driven recently. It didn’t have that bloody awful brogue-effect leather for a start – why anyone would want to sit in a £190k shoe is beyond me – and the stitching and trimming were largely up to snuff. Better than the launch cars, I’d say, and as I was sitting in it making some notes, I wrote down, ‘It’s as well made as the Porsche’. But then I noticed the wobbly bit of gloss plastic trim on the centre console and the other slightly iffy bits and scrubbed that line out. It isn’t made as well as the Porsche, then - the Cayenne feels more solid, if not quite as special to be in at first glance.
Right, the driving experience. And if it’s all been fairly equal between the two up to this point, this is where they begin to diverge. Well, apart from straight-line performance, because they are both brutally fast. Talking about 0-62mph seems a bit pointless here, because by the time you’ve counted off three-and-a-bit seconds in your head, you’ve sailed past that milestone in either car and you’re well into the kind of numbers that will have you incarcerated. Seriously, Aston quotes a 0-100mph time of 7.4 seconds for the DBX707, which is just unfathomable when you think we’re talking about over five metres and two-and-a-quarter tonnes of SUV.
Then again, it does have a 4.0-litre V8 with 707hp and 663lb ft moving it along. Those figures make even the Porsche’s tally of 640hp and 627lb ft from its 4.0-litre V8 seem a bit limp - but they’re not. Hell no. Porsche doesn’t quote an equivalent zero-to-a-tonne time (instead, it provides a standing-quarter time of 11.6 seconds), yet it feels every bit as manic from behind the wheel. In fact, when either car lights its two turbos fully, has its V8 set at full-steam ahead and the auto ‘box riffling through gears like a money counter, you’re in this kind of maelstrom with rorty thunder echoing off the very blurry scenery swooshing past. They’re that kind of extreme fast.
The timbre of the thunder is very different, mind. The Porsche's is aggressive, highly tuned and typically serious, especially in its racier modes. Meanwhile, at idle Aston’s AMG-derived V8 resembles absolute filth from outside (I mean that in a good way) and is even more raucous at full chat from within. But it’s different to any of the actual AMG cars: less cartoonish; more NASCAR - and just delightful. Those outside will hear either car coming from a fair way off, I suspect.
The Porsche has a more progressive throttle response, while the Aston’s is more binary to begin with – more switch-like at the start of its travel. From then on, it’s easy to meter out the force easily. The Porsche’s gearbox is more finessed as well. It’s not a PDK but an eight-speed slusher, yet you'd be hard-pressed to tell from its response and snappy shift speeds. It is a very good auto indeed, whether it’s left to its own devices, or with you taking control. This DBX707’s nine-speed MCT gearbox is better than I remember from the launch cars, but it’s still not as good. Okay, it’s mostly quick and does what you want when you want it to, but it occasionally gets confused and shunts.
I’d have to say the Turbo GT’s steering gets my vote, too, but only on a count back. I prefer the DBX707’s slower gearing and calmer reactions to the Turbo GT’s more aggressive turn-in. That’s partly because the Porsche comes with rear-wheel steering, which also delivers a much better turning circle. I realised that while repeatedly having to turn both cars around on narrow mountain roads – so Harry could have yet another shot. By the end, the Aston’s sizeable 12.4-meter arc was starting to become a pain while the Porsche’s 11.6-meters seemed abnormally nimble. That wasn’t what tipped the balance in favour Cayenne’s steering, though. I generally like a bit more steering heft, which the German car offers along with a little more graininess coming up the column and connecting you to the road.
But that narrow win was the last facet of the Turbo GT that betters the 707. In every other respect, the Aston is the better-resolved car. Take body control, for instance. If anyone thought the folk in Aston’s handling department would be left scratching their heads and walking into doors without Matt Becker to guide them, they were wrong. Very wrong. Andy Tokley, who’s the chief engineer responsible for the 707’s chassis tuning, is, I reckon, a bloody genius. There are three different modes for the 707’s air suspension, but you only need one: the default, softest setting. In that mode, the body control is sublime. On the Black Mountain roads, you’ll find all sorts of corners, cambers and surfaces, and none of those seemed to phase the 707 and put it off kilter. It simply absorbs the bumps effectively, controls the rebound nicely and keeps itself resolutely planted.
The Turbo GT, meanwhile, doesn’t feel that well tied down. In the softest of its air suspension settings, the body has all sorts of lateral movements – even in a straight line down a motorway it’s jiggling left and right pretty much constantly. Throw in a few bumps midway through a tight turn when you’re asking a lot of the tyres and it can, on occasion, buck quite nervously. That’s not what you want if you’re throwing around a two-plus-tonne SUV, or, for that matter, trying to relax on a three-hour jaunt from Wales back to London. You have three options for the stiffness of the damping, and Sport+ (the stiffest) does dial out the unwanted lateral movement, but then you feel every vertical input punching up through the seat. And that's just as wearing.
What they both deliver is immense grip from their huge tyres. That’s why I said you really need the side support from their seats, to stop you face planting the side window through every left-hander. I still find it crazy that vehicles this tall, this unwieldy looking, can deliver the cornering speeds they do. Not to mention the alacrity. Both have an immensely strong front ends that root the nose with a metaphorical stake in the ground. Around this you can pivot the back end on the throttle thanks to their ability to shove so much of their prodigious engine torque rearwards. Dare I say it, these are two supremely entertaining beasts and there’s no sting in their tail to be frightened of, either. When the rear goes in either car it all happens relatively gently. At least when you’re just testing the water on public roads – requiring no more than a few degrees of opposite lock – rather attempting any stupid, daredevil angles. And when it comes to stopping – another area you might imagine these two weighty behemoths would struggle at – their ceramic brakes wipe off speed with even greater force than their engines can build it. The Cayenne has the more solid, more reassuring pedal feel, though.
I mentioned motorway comfort earlier, and that’s the other great strength of the 707. Because it controls its body so much more ably, its high-speed ride proves far more impressive. And where you might imagine the stiffer Turbo GT would do better – for example, with wheel control over scrappy pockmarked surfaces – it’s also less well resolved than the 707. This is what I mean by the genius of Tokley. Strike something sharp in Turbo GT and there’s a tendency for the wheel to reverberate with, I presume, a lack of damping force. The 707 doesn’t suffer from that, but it’s not perfect. The imperfection isn’t a set-up issue, though, it's something more fundamental to its design: the shell isn’t as stiff. You can sometimes sense the shimmy in the body, but I’d still suffer that for the better, more relaxing overall package, including better isolation from road roar at speed. To be fair, the Turbo GT lags behind only slightly on that score, and both deal with wind noise very well.
Overall, then, it’s quite clear that the DBX707 is the easier car to live with. I thought that might be the case after I’d driven them both in isolation. But what I didn’t expect was that after comparing them back-to-back it’s the 707 that’s better resolved and, if anything, more fun around corners. Even though I thought it was good when I drove it in Italy, I assumed it would semi-fall apart next to the mighty, Nürburgring-conquering Porsche. But no, it didn’t. Which just goes to show, one should never, ever, judge a car in isolation. So, Aston beats Porsche. Who would’ve thought that? Not me, that’s for sure. The twits buying it just because it’s the most expensive option probably won’t appreciate how good it is, but don't let that put you off. Because if you're after the most accomplished fast SUV, regardless of price, it's the DBX707 all the way.
Specification | 2023 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 @ 2,750-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.3 seconds
Top speed: 193mph
Weight: 2,245kg (DIN)
Price as tested: TBC
Specification | 2023 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT
Engine: 3,996cc, V8, twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 640 @ 6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 627 @ 2,300-4,500rpm
Top speed: 186
Weight: 2,220kg (DIN)
Price as tested: £156,002
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