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SA EXCLUSIVE FIRST DRIVE: Aston Martin DB12 - An all-round astute performer

Aston's most technologically advanced model yet with a V8 that froths at the mouth

Lerato Matebese
October 6, 2023
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Aston Martin’s DB lineage is arguably one of the most evocative among grand tourers, with every iteration looking ever so elegant, oozing prestige and panache in equal measure. 

From the DB2 of the 1950s to the most recent model, the DB12, this remains Aston’s mainstay GT, and its DNA is neatly woven into the British brand’s illustrious fabric.

Have you ever wondered where the DB nameplate comes from? Well, back in 1947, astute English entrepreneur, David Brown — hence DB — bought what was then a niche, small-volume (170 cars sold in 1937)  sports car maker, Aston Martin. And, a year later, its now-dormant Lagonda subsidiary. 

In essence, Brown was responsible for imbuing Aston Martin with the  sports car-building credibility that saw the DB5 starring in James Bond movies, earning it global recognition. 

Brown relinquished the business in 1972, the same year that the DBS — the last of the David Brown era — ceased production and it was not until the 1990s that the brand made a comeback under the auspices of its new owners at the time, the Ford Motor Company.

The launch of the DB7 also saw the revival of the DB initials. While the model itself was a hodgepodge of Ford’s subsidiary brands, including a heavily modified, ageing Jaguar XJS platform, and powered by a supercharged Tom Walkinshaw Racing-built, straight-six engine and cloaked in an Ian Callum-designed coach, the DB7 was instrumental in ensuring Aston’s survival. 

This was replaced in 1999 by the DB7 Vantage, which debuted the 6.0-litre V12 engine. The DB7 managed critical success and 6 677 units of the model were sold in Coupe, Volante and Zagato bodyforms.

The year 2003 saw the launch of the DB9, which replaced the DB7. This was an aluminium-intensive construction, unlike the DB7 steel-dominant design. It was powered by an updated version of the 6.0-litre V12 engine. 

The model brought Aston closer to the front row of  sports car buyers and resounding success. Sadly, just three years later, Ford sold the brand, which meant new developments became a challenge and Callum and his team had to spin the same platform and engine to expand the company’s model lineup. 

The 2007 DBS was the first of these and it wasn’t until 2016 that we saw an all-new Aston in the form of the DB11 and its 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12. This was joined by the V8 variant, while the DBS Superleggera resolutely replaced the DB11 V12 as the flagship grand tourer.

To that end, Aston has made significant strides in its Formula One crusades in the 2023 season, with Fernando Alonso showing great pace and potential. 

Beyond its track escapades, Aston makes no bones about aiming to be the most desirable British performance brand. According to Alex Long, head of product and market strategy, brand positioning lies at the intersection of design, ultra-luxury and high-performance. 

In layman’s terms, this means overlapping Rolls-Royce and Bentley on the luxury front and Ferrari, McLaren and Lamborghini on the performance side.

As part of its product offensive, Aston has launched its first SUV in the form of the DBX, with the Valkyrie as its mid-engine supercar offering, yet another seminal segment for the marque. 

Then there’s the Super Tourer, the label attached to the latest DB model, the DB12, which will find its way to South Africa towards the end of the year. 

Super Tourer? What does that even entail? Well, we travelled to Monaco to experience the model first-hand. Although loosely based on the outgoing DB11, the DB12 is stylish and easily one of Aston’s best modern GTs. 

One needs to see it in the metal to drink up each exquisite detail. 

Before getting into the oily bits, it is worth mentioning that the DB12 is the first production car to be shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 5 S performance tyres, which were designed in conjunction with Aston specifically for the DB12. 

These measure 275/35/R21 and 315/30/R21, front and rear, and offer exceptional front-end grip and overall prodigious grip levels. Then there are the home to dinner-plate-sized carbon ceramic brakes.

Proportionately, the car is slightly shorter than its predecessor, for better usability in urban areas, while both the front and rear tracks have been widened to enhance handling and stability — 6mm and 22mm front and rear.

The standout features are to be found in the cabin. For the DB12, the marque’s dated architecture has been up-paced to arrive at something quite impressive. 

Let’s start with the seats, which are offered in touring-style Sport Plus or the thinner Performance (read bucket seats). 

The entire cabin is wreathed in high-quality leather and other materials befitting a premium vehicle. 

What buyers can look forward to the most is the latest infotainment screen, which offers not only a better UX (user experience) but also capacitive touch control and display quality similar to an Apple mobile device. 

It is a grand departure from the dated Mercedes-Benz Command Online architecture that has appeared in most Aston models up to now.

I particularly like the new digital instrument cluster that not only looks the part and elevates the cabin ambiance, but also offers a suite of vital driver information that is highly legible and easy to cycle through, even while on the move. 

The centre tunnel still houses physical buttons for the drive modes (Wet, Individual, GT, Sport and Sport+); volume adjustment and even the various vehicle perimeters for the suspension, gearbox and traction control, among others. 

Audiophiles are well catered for by the bespoke 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system with 1 170watts and twin amplifiers. 

Powering the DB12 is an AMG-sourced 4.0-litre twin-turbo engine that’s been deep-tissue massaged with larger turbos, modified cam profiles, optimised compression ratios and increased cooling. The result is 500kW and 800Nm driving the rear wheels through an 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox. 

This is aided by an e-differential and ESP with nine stages of traction control with the ESP unshackled. 

V12 fans might feel short-changed by the new V8 motor but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While the smaller displacement engine offers better efficiency, it has ample power and not once did I feel I required more while at the wheel. 

Snaking through the streets of the Principality of Monaco, which stages Formula One race and Monte Carlo Rally, the DB12 looks and feels at home, blending in with the high-end performance cars that dot the cafes with their backdrop of yachts. 

However, our task is to find out whether the DB12 lives up to the supercar and touring duties bestowed upon it.

Leaving Monte Carlo behind, and snaking up mountain passes and switchbacks, I opened up the taps for the first time. Momentum remained progressive at first, but as the revs rose, the brutality of the engine came to the fore, bellowing and belching like pregnant Johannesburg thunderstorm clouds in summer. 

The transmission did a sterling rendition of smooth and brutal in equal measure, depending on mode and giddiness on the throttle. 

Dialling through the various modes, each has incremental changes, with Sport+ managing to tighten body control for better steering feel. 

Lateral G-forces have been markedly improved over the DB11, with longitudinal acceleration seeing a 28% increase, while the 0 to 100km/h and 0 to 200km/h times have been reduced by 12 and 20%, respectively, compared to the D11. 

As was the case with the DBS, in the interests of cleaner aesthetics, there’s no physical spoiler in sight, with rear downforce being taken care of by the air venturi slit just below the rear windscreen. Discreet, yet excellent, engineering!

Pare back the performance envelope and the DB12 does urban tooling and highway cruising better than any DB before it while, on the other end of the spectrum, it offers rapid performance and dynamics to keep the keen driver engaged. 

Does the “Super Tourer” label hold any water, then? It’s not an easy term to define but what the DB12 manages to do amiably is offer a more elevated breadth of talents than its predecessors. The fact that it is the most advanced and technically astute Aston to date earns it the nod from this corner of the motoring office.

Pricing: R5 950 000

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