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2021 Aston Martin DBX First Test: It’s Great. Period.

2021 Aston Martin DBX First Test: It’s Great. Period.

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One of the biggest laughs in automotive-themed time travel would be to set the dial to the mid-1990s—the beginning of Aston Martin’s Ford era—and roll up to Aston’s old Bloxham factory in a contemporary Explorer SUV. Posing as a FoMoCo executive in an ill-fitting suit, you’d round up a cluster of Aston’s finest engineers. “I want you to make that,” you smile, pointing at the Explorer, “handle, ride, look, and sound like that,” swinging your finger over to a DB7 in the car park.

After a week spent driving the DBX on the road and at our test track, it’s obvious Aston dug deep in creating its SUV. That’s a good thing, considering this is one of the biggest leaps the boutique automaker has ever taken; Aston’s not particularly well known for its fat budgets, and the fact it developed an SUV on a proprietary platform with such attention to detail and a well-sorted chassis is nothing short of a leather-lined miracle.

Plenty of Mercedes, but Lots of Aston, Too

We’re sure technical partner Mercedes-Benz would have been tickled pink to license or supply one of its many SUV platforms to the British automaker, but as in the cases of the current Vantage and DB11 V8, Aston handled the basic architecture while helping itself to the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, nine-speed automatic transmission, 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, electronic architecture, and infotainment from Mercedes’ and AMG’s stores.

The Aston-AMG partnership has coalesced around that 4.0-liter, which slots under the hoods of every Aston model save the V-12-only DBS Superleggera. To help cope with the 5,086-pound heft of the DBX—a good 1,700 pounds over the Vantage—engineers goosed an additional 39 horsepower and 10 lb-ft from the V-8 to ensure it can fend off full-throttle salvos from competing performance SUVs. Teamed with Merc’s snappy nine-speed automatic transmission and clever all-wheel drive, the 4.0-liter hustled the big Aston through the quarter mile in 12.5 seconds, and through the 0-60-mph sprint in 4.0 ticks. “It takes a second for the engine to really wake up even when standing on the brake to spool the turbos,” associate road test editor Erick Ayapana said, “but it fires out of the hole like a rocket once that happens.”

That’s excellent performance for a five-door, five-person anything, but it notably lags the outrageously quick 3.2-second 0-60 run and 11.7-second quarter-mile charge we recorded during our test of the similarly expensive Cayenne Turbo Coupe last year, to say nothing of what the Lamborghini Urus managed to notch: 60 mph in 3.0 seconds and the quarter in 11.3.

Hotter DBXes Are Coming

This is likely by design, as Aston has already committed to faster, hotter DBXes in the future. Crucially, the regular DBX is quicker on paper than the identically priced 2021 Bentley Bentayga V8, settling in nicely between the laser-focused Porsche and the buttery-smooth Bentley. In other words, the DBX fits Aston Martin’s 108-year-old philosophy to a T, just as the character of the Vantage places it between Porsche’s 911 Carrera S and Bentley’s Continental GT and that of the DBS Superleggera puts that car between the Ferrari 812 Superfast and the Rolls-Royce Wraith.

Also pitch perfect is the DBX’s superb chassis setup. All of its bulk is masterfully managed by a set of triple-chamber air springs as well as a ZF-developed active anti-roll system that automatically applies up to 1,032 lb-ft of torque to both the front and rear anti-roll bars to keep things nice and level. This hardware, along with some intangible special sauce from chief engineer and former Lotus handling wizard Matt Becker, results in one of the most composed and engaging SUVs we’ve ever driven.

Easy to Drive Hard—or Otherwise

“This feels as good as a Porsche Cayenne Turbo on the figure eight,” road test editor Chris Walton said. In his hands, the DBX sliced around our course in 24.4 seconds at an average of 0.79 g, slotting in perfectly between the Cayenne Turbo Coupe’s 24.1-second lap and the smaller Porsche Macan GTS’ 24.8-second time. “On the skidpad, the steering is friction free and very quick—easy to make subtle corrections when needed,” Walton said. “You can keep it neutral or even oversteer with the throttle, especially on the exit. If you get throttle and countersteering just right, the DBX allows a pretty lurid drift. Get one little thing wrong, and it reels it in for you. What a beautiful setup and tuning job by Aston Martin.”

The DBX’s brakes deserve particular praise, and they heard it from the test team. The pedal may have long travel—a boon for daily drivability—but the brakes’ bite is still sporty and confidence inspiring without being overly aggressive. When driving aggressively, “The amount of pedal travel means you can really decelerate late because the brakes are so trustworthy,” Walton said. “You can also find the precise amount of bite you want, trail it into the turn, and release at a precise speed. Lovely.” Ayapana used those binders to record a best 60-0-mph distance of 106 feet, and it was a consistent performer over several such stops.

Aston’s DBX Hits the Road

As good as it was at the test track, the DBX proved revelatory on real-world tarmac, and not only for its peerless athleticism. Traversing faster, sweeping roads, the DBX is best left in its less aggressive GT or Sport driving modes, retaining some comfort and communicative body movement. (The DBX also offers a harder-core Sport Plus setting, as well as Terrain and Terrain Plus for whatever off-road excursions it might see.) The trick combo of an active center differential and an electronically controlled rear differential lets the all-wheel-drive system route between 53 and 100 percent of power to the back axle, so be careful when squeezing power mid-apex. Or don’t—the stability control system softly catches you like a well-oiled catcher’s mitt and makes you feel like you did most of the work. A proper chap, that.

The DBX’s silky, feelsome steering is not only among the best in any SUV, it also outshines the setups of a large population of performance-minded machinery. Turn-in is quick but not obnoxiously so, and its accuracy and lack of nervousness allows for precise midcorner corrections even when traveling at high speeds. This sweet steering is best enjoyed on tighter corners, where the DBX transforms in feel from a gangly Vantage into something like a V-8 Volkswagen Golf R.

In Sport Plus mode, with the suspension in its lowest setting and at its max stiffness, the DBX is a total ripper, carving through hairpins and decreasing-radius corners with the fancy-footed balance of something significantly smaller. As is the case with nearly all large and heavy vehicles, the front end will push, but just back off a bit, and the shapely DBX and its electronic rear differential slide everything back into line.

Comfort: The DBX Has It

All the while, the landscape rings with the braaaaat of the V-8. The Aston-AMG engine snarls, snorts, and screams as you rush down every bit of straight pavement you come across. Yet when it’s time to calm down and rejoin traffic, the DBX becomes totally docile. And aside from some slight drivetrain lurch when leaving a dead stop, the DBX is utterly, impossibly normal in day-to-day use. And we don’t mean normal for an Aston—we mean normal for any luxury SUV. With the powertrain relaxed and the suspension in its pillowiest mode, it’s remarkable how unremarkable the Aston DBX can be.

This is a very good sign for the DBX’s prospects moving forward, as it’s hard to imagine anyone shopping in the ultra-luxe SUV segment is looking for an occasional-use vehicle. In fact, when you consider the 2021 Aston Martin DBX’s near-perfect execution of an “all days, all situations” mission, it just might be the very best Aston ever produced.

When a vehicle is done this well, it’s hard to not be a bit breathless. Although Aston has always produced involving and characterful sports cars, for various reasons those have long played second—or even third or fourth—fiddle to cars from companies like Porsche and Ferrari. We’re not sure anyone could have predicted it would take an SUV of all things to put Aston on a level with the world’s best.

Looks good! More details?

SPECIFICATIONS 2021 Aston Martin DBX
BASE PRICE $179,986
PRICE AS TESTED $195,586
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 4.0L/542-hp/516-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 5,086 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 120.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 198.4 x 78.7 x 64.2-68.0 in
0-60 MPH 4.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 12.5 sec @ 111.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 106 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.95 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 24.4 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 14/18/15 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 241/187 kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.25 lb/mile

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