2023 Aston Martin DBX
With the DBX now a firmly established product accounting for half of all Aston Martin’s global sales, we get behind the wheel to discover the reasons behind its success.
ROAD TEST: DBX
ALL-PURPOSE EXCELLENCE ON TEST: DBX
WORDS: RICHARD AUCOCK
PHOTOGRAPHY: MOTORING RESEARCH
Silverstone… where else to drive a pivotal Aston Martin?.. The company has a test centre here after all, along with its own circuit – perfect for the high-speed honing of its famously sporting cars. With the Aston Martin Racing F1 team based just over the road, the sporting science couldn’t be more perfectly set. Levels of excitement through the roof, I stepped up into Aston Martin’s largest creation.
Yes, stepped up, not down. Because, of course, the pivotal Aston Martin in question is an SUV, not a sports car. Meet the DBX, the boldest step into a new area the company has made since the angular Lagonda of the 1970s. Only this time, rather than being a niche range-topping curio, Aston Martin plans for the DBX to double its sales, matching the entire sports car range for volume, plus even more on top.
Years ahead of its Italian rival, Ferrari, Aston Martin has given us a large and luxurious sporting SUV. And, after even more years of anticipation, I was finally getting behind its wheel.
The car had already stopped me in my tracks. Walking up to Aston Martin’s swish Stowe building, I saw that the PR team had placed a sparkling clean, factory-fresh model right outside, beautifully finished in Hyper Red – a name as brilliant as the colour itself. I was meant to walk straight in and sign-on. Instead, I walked over to the DBX and soaked it up.
It’s a big car, alright. This may not come across in the images, but it’s Range Rover-sized: more than five metres long, nearly two metres wide. You tower over the sports cars, whereas this towered over me.
However, unlike a Lamborghini Urus, it’s not brutal or brusque. Aston Martin chief creative officer Marek Reichman’s sports cars are a great calling card, and his team has expertly transferred these lines across to the DBX. In describing the shape, he right away points out how it subscribes to the ‘golden ratio’: the science of perfect proportions whereby (to paraphrase) the body takes up two thirds of the mass, with the windows on top taking up another third.
As you’ll see from the images, the team also aimed to position the visual mass over the rear wheels, just like in an Aston Martin sports car. This fastback look is combined with an ultra-long wheelbase, both boosting interior space but also giving the chance to design a long, sleek and elegant roofline. It even has frameless doors, just like a sports car.
The detailing is divine, the paint is incredibly rich and deep, the metalwork is crisp and the curves are sculptural and flowing. There’s nothing awkward about it and the DBX has incredible presence, even when sitting quietly within a deserted Silverstone race circuit. It’s going to look stunning in Mayfair, Monaco and St. Moritz.
Time for my briefing. Which, in typical Aston Martin style, is quick, efficient and sensible. Because we now can, my first-task is to go off-roading, on part of the Silverstone rally stage where many future stars were first trained. A quick hose-down later, we’re to then venture out on the circuit – in the very same vehicle, with the same wheels and tyres – before I depart in the DBX for 24 hours with the family, trying out Aston’s new SUV in the real world. And that’s why my first drive of the DBX – that very same Hyper Red model I’d been ogling – lasted 0.9 miles. It was around Silverstone’s perimeter road, from Aston Martin’s test facility to an off-road section. It passed this brief test with flying colours: in my notes, I scribbled words including ‘plush… well-weighted… tight… integrity… luxurious’.
It was already clear this is not simply an identikit big SUV. Then, without even a breather, I set the air suspension into full off-road mode (raising it 45mm – it looks great) and went off-roading for 25 minutes. The DBX does things no Aston has ever done before. Gripping with assurance up muddy slopes, descending steep drops with control, fording through deep water, it was imperious. Okay, it’s not a patch on what Land Rover gets us doing, and no owner would ever do this – yet it can if they want.
Or maybe they might. Aston Martin later told me about research that showed most of its sports car owners also owned a luxury SUV. Now, instead of going to a rival brand, they can complement their two-seater stable with an ‘everyday’ Aston Martin. You know how, in the countryside, you often see filthy nearly-new Range Rovers ferrying families to the local school or store? Maybe we’ll now start to see DBX dailies joining the ranks…
Off-road prowess confirmed, it was then time for the exciting bit: the circuit. Although it weighs 2.25 tonnes, the big DBX has ample power (550bhp) courtesy of the same 4.0-litre V8 found in the Vantage. It does 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds, delivered consistently thanks to permanent all-wheel drive complete with an electronic rear limited-slip differential. There’s also a nine-speed automatic gearbox, with big, beefy (fixed) paddle-shifters for circuit work. Oh, and just like the Vantage, a one-piece carbon fibre propshaft connects the rear wheels to the transmission.
Aston Martin’s test track is located within the main Silverstone circuit. I vaguely remembered it – and it all came flooding back during the sighting laps because I was sat up higher than I ever have been on-track at Silverstone before. Confident I knew where I was going, I could instead focus on the DBX’s pure and linear steering (none of the fake over-heaviness of some rivals), its roll-free agility (48-volt electronic anti-roll is standard) and, of course, that wonderful engine.
It’s unashamedly a V8, with a characterful rort and growl. In full Sport+ mode, the exhausts pop and crackle brilliantly. They’re not just loud and anti-social for the sake of it, but naturally effervescent and naughty. The engine rewards you for revving it, with a noticeable extra high-rev punch: a proper sports car engine in an SUV.
Owners who take their DBX on-track won’t be disappointed, and probably will be surprised. You can hustle it and it doesn’t cry for mercy. It feels agile and responsive, biting into corners and, once you get the hang of it, power-oversteering out of them. A heavy SUV shouldn’t be this pointily confident; it’s only the wilting brakes that will remind you what an enormous machine this is. Do as I did, have a cool-down lap, then press on again for another ten minutes of enjoyment. There was now just one thing left to do: depart Silverstone for my 24 hours of driving the DBX in, once again, the same Hyper Red car I’d just been skidding around the circuit. How about that for a track-to-town-centre crossover? But first, after such an intense morning so far, I had to pause and take stock of what I had the (glass) key for.
The DBX is an ‘event’ car. It has presence because of its size, and its lines, and its incredible paint quality; but flipping out the same door handle as Aston’s sports cars immediately ties it to the rest of the family (as do frameless windows front and rear). Door sills are cut away and flat, so it’s easier to get in and out (and keep your trousers clean) and the immediate impression is one of pure luxury.
It smells delicious, because of all the leather, which extends far beyond the seats to virtually the entire dashboard. I love the pinched, stitched lines and it all has a hand-crafted feel that’s very hands-on. The centrepiece is the oval centre console with Aston’s smartest media system yet, complete with bright widescreen display – although, infuriatingly, it isn’t a touchscreen. Blame the Mercedes-Benz-derived tech for that (and curse the fiddly trackpad and rotary wheel).
It’s such a stylish and intricately-designed interior, you can’t help but admire the craftsmanship. Everywhere you look, there’s an interesting detail to enjoy. This is all-bespoke and the driving position feels sporty too, with the pedals stretched ahead and a feeling you’re sitting within it, not perched atop. The steering wheel is beautiful to hold. Being an Aston, though, it also has a multitude of fiddly touch-sensitive buttons on the centre console, because nothing’s perfect.
In the rear, it’s airy and accommodating, helped by a huge panoramic glass roof. It’s easily the most spacious Aston ever, with a wheelbase of more than three metres serving up loads of legroom. The 632-litre boot is accommodating, if a bit shallow (and also so richly trimmed, you won’t really want to put a muddy dog in there). And so, into the real world, for the day-to- day DBX experience. The wonderful engine continues its V8 hum in the background, ever-present, but in the right way. Steering continues to be natural as well – responsive but not grabby, with a very natural, sog-free response and careful accuracy. This is a good thing, as the DBX feels wide on the road, a large car that needs precise placement.
Ride quality has fi rm undertones at lower speeds, and it can crack audibly into potholes. This grumbly knobble is due to the 22-inch wheels, and it does have a more flowing air-suspended feel as speeds rise. There can still be an audible thud at times, though, perhaps just to remind you this is a sporting SUV rather than a wafting Range Rover.
Even so, it has waft-along effortlessness to make long journeys a breeze. Refinement on the motorway is excellent, and the high seating position feels very elegant – the view down the creased, curvaceous bonnet is regal. Body control is excellent and you can fling it around curving A-roads without unsettling your passengers thanks to the uncanny lack of body-roll. The general poise is excellent.
Back home, we loaded up for a day-trip.
The kids loved it: they had acres of space, a great view out and the high-end luxuries were unlike anything they’d ever seen. It was the first time we’d ever been able to go out in an Aston Martin as a family and I lost count of how many times they exclaimed ‘whoa’. Not to mention the squeals when I squirted it.
The drive was brilliantly soothing, and I just wanted to carry on. The DBX is a car you won’t tire of in a hurry (particularly if you can swallow the 16mpg average that I recorded).
The family who stopped me in a multi-storey car park said it all: “What a magnificent car.” You wouldn’t get that reaction from a Bentayga. Some posh SUVs feel a bit like mongrels. The AstonMartin DBX is a thoroughbred, as purely focused on being a super-SUV as a Range Rover is on being a luxury SUV. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered. He can consider it a job well done.
Five years in development, and you can tell. The Aston Martin DBX feels a cut above other posh SUVs – and convincingly feels like a genuine sporting super-SUV.
It looks striking (wait until you see it in the metal), and the interior is magnificent, while practicality is like nothing the company’s ever made. Yes, the ride can be a bit too ‘sporting’, and Aston still hasn’t fully resolved its fiddly infotainment and scattered buttons. It feels very big on British roads at times, too. But the highs outweigh this: a magnificent V8, surprisingly entertaining handling, impeccable refinement and an overall feel of in-built, high-end luxury. The car that had to be right, is right.
HOW ASTON MARTINMAKES THE DBX HANDLE
The hi-tech all-wheel drive chassis is cleverly designed to ensure superb on tarmac cornering and minimal body roll
Forget rear-wheel drive cars with a clever limited-slip diff and the magic sauce of an expert dynamics team. With all-wheel drive SUVs, there’s a huge amount of extra hardware to sort, which makes that expert dynamics team work all the more intensively.
The DBX’s four-wheel drive system has electronically-controlled centre and rear differentials. It uses adaptive triple-volume air suspension, which can vary in both ride height and spring rate. And there’s also a 48-volt electronic anti-roll system, plus an endlessly-tweakable electronic stability control system and custom ‘quick-ratio’ electronic power steering. It’s all hung off cast-aluminium suspension mountings with double-wishbone split-link front and multi-link rear suspension.
These are uncorrupted by anti-roll bars, thanks to the 48-volt system – which is so powerful, it can reduce body-roll levels to those comparable with a DB11. But there’s finesse within it too, and it can allow individual wheels to use almost the entire range of suspension travel. Aston Martin says this is good for on-road ride comfort, but also for off -roading, where full wheel articulation is required. Even Aston Martin freely admits the engineering team has had to work on things it’s never needed to before – such as hill descent control, which lets the DBX negotiate slippery slopes in a controlled manner. The Bosch-supplied ESC system also has roll-over stability control, while Aston Martin quotes a 500mm wading depth. A clever addition here is a breather pipe on the electronic rear differential. Why? So owners can reverse a trailer into water while launching a boat, without damage.
The air suspension allows ride height to be raised by 45mm, or lowered by 50mm to make it easier to access when parked. Lifting the suspension increases the approach angle from 22.2 to 25.7 degrees, and the departure angle from 24.3 to 27.1 degrees. As the company says, it gives the DBX the ability ‘to tackle terrain that no Aston Martin has contemplated before’.
They had to go testing in a different way too, heading into muddy forests and gravel roads for the first time. For a bit of fun – and for honing off-road dynamics – one test location was the Walters Arena rally stage, previously known for forming part of the WRC Wales Rally GB. Fittingly, it’s located just north of the St Athan factory where the DBX is built.
But the DBX has, like the firm’s sports cars, also been honed for the track – probably just one of a handful of SUVs to be given a circuit-based focus as well. This is thanks in part to the off -road all-wheel drive system; the electronic active centre diff can freely vary torque between front and wheels, from a nominal 47:53 rearwards split, to nearly 100 per cent of torque being sent rearwards. Once there, it can also be distributed left-to-right through the electronic LSD, optimising both traction and dynamic response (think: drifting).
There is a total of six driving modes to adjust all of the gadgetry and hardware, including Sport and Sport+ for on-road driving, Terrain and Terrain+ for off -roading. Drivers can also customise multiple settings, or turn it all off entirely (again, think: drifting).
Aston Martin worked with Pirelli (the Italian company was the official technical partner for DBX tyre development) to create three bespoke tyres for the car. The summer P Zero is the default rubber, with Pirelli Scorpion Zero all-season and Scorpion Winter tyres also available. As for stopping this 2.3-tonne super-SUV, six-piston aluminium calipers and ventilated, grooved steel brakes measuring a massive 410mm (that’s over 16 inches!) at the front and 390mm at the rear are fitted. This, according to Aston Martin, gives the DBX braking performance ‘on a par with the mighty DBS Superleggera’. Expect carbon ceramic discs to arrive in due course, too.
TECH SPECS2023 Aston Martin DBX
- Price: £158,000
- Engine: 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo
- Max Power: 550bhp
- Max Torque: 516lb.ft.
- Gearbox: 9-speed auto
- 0-62mph: 4.5 secs
- Top speed: 181mph
- Fuel economy: 19.7mpg
- CO2: 269g/km
- Weight: 2245kg
- Length: 5039mm
- Width: 1998mm
- Height: 1680mm
Traditionalists might disapprove, but the DBX accounted for around half of all new Aston Martins sold worldwide in 2021. The DBX represents Aston Martin’s first foray into the SUV market, a decision that’s already bringing its rewards.