Could the Aston Martin DB11 V8 set fire to my soul when it’s 4 cylinders short?
Eric Adams is an automotive, aerospace, and technology journalist/photographer for titles including Wired, Gear Patrol, Popular Science, Men's Health and DriveTribe.
It’s easy to dismiss variations in cars as easy drawing-board switcheroos. Just chop the top and boom – a convertible! Or stretch the front doors and your sedan becomes a coupe. No big deal.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Those changes often require some heavy-duty re-engineering to accommodate, as everything from balance to crashworthiness can be impacted by the most subtle alterations.
Even something as benign as offering a manual transmission over an automatic is – as we’ve seen in recent weeks with the Aston Martin Vantage AMR launch – a very big deal indeed.
So when I took another Aston out recently in my run-up to driving that same Vantage AMR, the road trip became as much a reintroduction to the overall Aston vibe (it had been a few years for me) as a lesson in how small changes can make a huge difference.
The car was the DB11 V8, introduced as a nimbler and more efficient alternative to the 5.2-liter twin-turbo V12 that tends to capture the enthusiasts' imagination.
Of course, any Aston is going to be equally captivating, but would this really spark my imagination and set fire to my soul when it’s four cylinders shy of a full deck?
There, of course, lies the irony of downsizing engines – the results can sometimes be better than the bigger brethren from which the new incarnation sprang. That, of course, has to do with the same propagating impacts mentioned above – all the alterations the engineers have to make to accommodate even the smallest change, in this case an engine that is but four small cylinders shy of the original.
In the case of the DB11, that means an engine that produces 503 hp and 497 lb-ft of torque against the V12’s 600 and 516 lb-ft. That’s a negligible difference, yet the V8 feels lighter on its feet and more agile, thanks to the balance implications of the smaller engine. The V12 reaches 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, while the V8 gets there in 3.9 – barely enough time to register a thought about the difference, let alone notice it.
On my drive – during which I tried to score some equally imagination-sparking images of the car with some lighting and my own halo-spinning drone – I came to appreciate the power of right-sizing.
The V12 engine sounds fantastic, but there’s precious little that it can do that the V8 can’t. The differences exist merely in the margins, at the far end of performance and the brain’s ability to comprehend it.
All of this, of course, is simply to say that the V8 is fast, fun, and every bit the supercar that enthusiasts expect from the brand.
On remote roads deep in rural Pennsylvania, where I took the car, it held the line brilliantly through each of the bountiful twisty paths I found, in part because the V8 has a lower center of gravity over the V12 – something you feel as much as you can see. It also never hesitated coming out of the turns, it being a full 250 pounds lighter than the V12.
We’re seeing the impact of this everywhere – the right-sizing of power and performance to match what’s actually best for our pleasure, our interests, and our future. It’s the reason twin-turbo V6’s are showing up in new supercars even more than the vaunted V12s of yore.
At the end of my drive, I felt like I’d be fine never seeing another V12 again. Yes, the throttle on those things is perilously deep and the sound a magnificent chorus accompanying any adventure. But it doesn’t change your thinking. A well engineered V8 does that. You don’t have to double down in order to level up.