Aston Martin DBX: Time Machine

Grand tourer? Offroader? Sports car? How about do all of the above? The new Aston Martin DBX represents the best of… well, every world.

In terms of indelibly linking its parent brand’s storied past to a tangible future, the DBX is the most important car Aston Martin has ever built. It has to be good. And it has to be popular.

If the former begets the latter, then Aston Martin’s future looks very tangible indeed. 

Aston Martin’s chassis development team has taken up semi-permanent residency of the southern part of the Silverstone circuit, known as Stowe.  

Though dwarfed by its famous brother, it contains a handful of corners that keep things very interesting if you’re in the right sort of vehicle. And here I am at Stowe, doing things in a high-riding SUV that just shouldn’t be feasible.  

Sure, Aston Martin’s chassis guru Matt Becker is one of the best in the world and has an uncanny ability to deliver cars that ebb and flow down a road in a way that’s as natural as breathing. And yes, this is the company’s playground, so you’d expect a car developed here to know its way round.  

But even so, it’s a vanishingly rare SUV that commands you to keep pushing, in defiance of its supposedly unpromising centre of gravity and sturdy mass. Becker is all about linearity and purity of response, and that’s what you get. Through Stowe’s slower, tighter corners, the DBX turns in convincingly, steers sweetly, and refuses to dissolve into understeer. In the faster-flowing sweepers, its body control and balance are peerless. If you select Sport+ it will even drift. Silly but fun.  

Will any of its target customers indulge in these sorts of antics? Probably as likely as them heading into a muddy forest or wading through deep gullies of water. But I did both of those, too, all on the same set of tyres, with a robustness that initially beggars belief. It can also tow up to 2.7-tonnes.  

The Aston Martin DBX is clearly a highly versatile animal, over-engineered in the 21st idiom, but these huge reserves of capability provide a sturdy foundation to its allure.  

The DBX represents an unprecedented creative, financial and engineering investment on Aston Martin’s part. This is a company with a long history in sports cars. But competing at the highest level in today’s market means that an SUV has to be a core part of the mix. Lamborghini’s Urus is the company’s best-seller, while Rolls-Royce’s not universally adored Cullinan accounted for 40% of the company’s sales in 2019 (the majority of its owners new to R-R, a useful by-product).  

A luxury 4x4 was one of the first things former CEO Andy Palmer decreed back in 2015, and as well as wading into challenging new territory for the brand, this also meant creating an entire facility from scratch in order to manufacture it. That’s happened at a former RAF base in St Athan, South Wales. 

As to the DBX itself, it’s an equally thorough proposition. Aston Martin has developed an all-new aluminium platform, which manages to be rigid, lighter than the other contenders in this elite class, and maintains a potent aesthetic through-line to the rest of the company’s products.  

Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman says that because Aston Martin had no need to share a platform or adapt an existing architecture, the company had the freedom to determine the DBX’s footprint, wheelbase length and overhangs. 

Freedom. The end result is obviously subjective, and you’ll make up your own mind about the DBX’s appearance. The Aston grille is more imposing than ever, the body side upper swage line lovely, the slimline rear lights and upswept boot spoiler more aesthetically disruptive. But what’s unarguable is that this is a big car that manages its proportions very cleverly, that looks striking without overdoing the showbiz, and which also modifies its personality according to colour (check the Q by Aston Martin online configurator – the possibilities are limitless).  

From London to L.A, Shanghai to Auckland: the DBX will be whatever you want it to be. Even its 22-inch alloys look appropriate rather than outlandish.  

The chassis is classy, with a double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear, while particular attention was paid to noise, vibration and harshness through the use of hydro-bush technology. The DBX rides on sophisticated triple-chamber air suspension that’s adjustable for both spring rates and ride height, and also employs 48-volt active anti-roll bars and adaptive dampers. The upshot is that the DBX rolls less than the smaller, sportier Vantage coupe.  

The four-wheel drive system is clever, too: 100% of drive can be sent to the rear wheels, up to 47% to the front via a centrally mounted active centre transfer case (hooked up to a carbon fibre propshaft). There’s another e-diff in the rear axle, while torque vectoring via braking also helps finesse your cornering line. Five drive modes govern what happens beneath you, the software algorithms seamlessly adjusting the active differentials, the air suspension, the anti-roll system and traction control. Choose between GT, Sport, Sport+, Terrain and Terrain+.  

There’s a lot going on here, but crucially the DBX feels right the moment you set off. Sports cars are meant to cosset and envelop the driver: in this Aston Martin, the touchpoints look familiar, and the cabin is as lavishly trimmed as ever and uses some new materials, but there’s an added sense of space and well-being.  

The rear passenger compartment is huge, with 632-litres of luggage space in the boot (and 62-litres under the floor). The DBX relies on the previous generation Mercedes-Benz user-interface, which, for my money, is actually easier to use than the latest system (with its hyperactive touchpads). The main instruments live in a 12.3-inch TFT screen, the infotainment in a central 10.25-inch one. Some of the switchgear is a little fiddly, but overall, it’s a truly lovely, highly characterful place to be.  

Despite its 5m length and 2m width, it’s also a naturally easy car to position on the road. The A-pillars are slender and there’s excellent visibility all-round. On the motorway the DBX’s rolling comfort is fabulous. Those big wheels should amplify every bump and imperfection, but all the gnarly stuff is successfully smothered. This is a hugely refined car, with an almost limo-like ability to repel the outside world.  

The route home from Silverstone encompasses some of my favourite roads, though not the sort you’d customarily enjoy in a two-tonne-plus SUV. Aston Martin’s relationship with Mercedes extends to the use of that 4.0-litre ‘hot V’ twin-turbo V8, as seen in the AMG E63 S sedan and wagon, harnessed to ZF’s silky nine-speed automatic. It’s a great combo, but it has found an equally impressive home in the DBX, whose plush motorway manners give way at a flick of the wheel-mounted chassis control button to dynamic smarts that are simply exceptional for a vehicle of this kind.  

Aston Martin benchmarked Porsche’s excellent Cayenne turbo, but actually it handles more like the smaller Macan. 

Car people and diehard Aston Martin adherents might have a problem with the very idea of the company making an SUV. But the world is a challenging place right now, and Aston needed to do this in order to survive. Yet while the DBX is undoubtedly guided by pragmatism, it’s also the most complete car in the company’s long history. It does everything. And it does it spectacularly well.  

Words Jason Barlow  

Photos Dominic Fraser 

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