I have an aha moment about 20km into the challenging Route Napoleon – winding across the Alpes-Maritimes in southern France – as I hook the Aston Martin DB12 into a sweeping left-hander. A tweak on the new coupe’s thick-rimmed steering wheel prompts its weight balance to shift subtly to the outside wheels.
A progressive squeeze of the throttle as I reach the apex and the DB12’s new electronic limited-slip differential meters out precise doses of torque to left and right Michelin Pilot Sport 5S rubber. This twisting force is instantly converted into rapid forward motion; the DB12 slingshots down the next straight, with a trace of tyre squeal providing the only clue that I was stretching the envelope.
Impressed as I am, it all now begins to make sense. Prior to this epiphany, I had found the DB12 a little too subdued – a bit like a pipe-smoking English gentleman exercising excessive restraint. But there’s a Jekyll-Hyde persona to the new Aston. It can be both cossetting cruiser and scintillating back road blaster.
The DB12 is technically an updated version of the long-serving DB11, but so much has changed (about 80 per cent of its parts are new) that it almost qualifies as an all-new car.
At the DB12’s heart is still the Mercedes-AMG-sourced 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that propelled the DB11, but it’s been massively uprated via reprofiled camshafts, a higher compression ratio, bigger turbos and increased cooling, and liberating outputs of 680hp and 800Nm. These figures not only trounce the 510hp/675Nm outputs of its DB11 V8 predecessor, but also the 639hp/700Nm peak figures of the V12-powered DB11 AMR.
Aston Martin quotes a 0-100kph split of 3.6 seconds and top speed of 325kph, which puts the DB12 within breathing distance of many of today’s hypercars in terms of raw straight-line speed.
The DB12 is scorchingly fast, yet – even with the dual exhausts in their most vocal setting – the twin-turbo V8 is far less shouty than it is in Mercedes-AMG offerings. Adding to the DB12’s credentials as an effortless continent crusher is its lovely loping stride. The Aston glides over tarmac surface imperfections that would be jarring in rivals such as the Ferrari Roma, Porsche 911 Turbo and Mercedes-AMG GT.
My drive route across the treacherous Route Napoleon is narrow and lumpy in parts. Even so, the DB12 soaks it all up, while the car’s substantial width is only noticeable when I encounter a truck or bus coming in the opposite direction on narrow, wall-lined roads.
The DB12’s dynamic recipe includes state-of-the-art Bilstein adaptive dampers, firmer anti-roll bars and springs, as well as a 7 per cent stiffer chassis that’s been strengthened via an engine cross brace, as well as reinforcements to the front and rear undertrays, front cross member and rear bulkhead.
Once dialled into the DB12, you realise you can carry far more corner speed than initially imagined. The supple suspension initially conveys the impression the Aston would be prone to body roll under heavy cornering loads. Sure enough, there is some initial roll as I turn in, but it’s well-contained as the car leans to only a small degree.
The ZF eight-speed auto is well calibrated, but in Sport+ drive mode it can be overeager to downshift, so Sport represents the most balanced mode for fast road driving, while GT is fine for inner-city schlepping.
The DB12 is easily distinguishable from the DB11 as it sports a massive gaping grille with aluminium vanes and a higher and more pronounced nose. Broader, squarer shoulders add visual muscle, as do the widened front and rear tracks, which are pushed out by 6mm and 22mm respectively.
The DB12’s cabin has benefited hugely from the new in-house-developed HMI set-up, with the 10.25-inch touchscreen neatly housed in the floating centre console, under which there’s a little oddments tray to keep your mobile phone, keys, loose change, etc. The all-new interface is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and is generally intuitive to use.
Is the DB12 the best car Aston Martin has built to date? One could certainly argue a strong case for it. It’s fast and engaging on the right roads, yet still effortlessly devours hundreds of kilometres. It’s an encouraging sign of what’s still to come from the revitalised British sports car specialist.