One word: understated. It defines the very best British sports cars to come out of Jaguar, Bentley and Aston Martin. Why else would James Bond, whose legend was built around the suave sophistication of understatement, choose Astons as his cars of choice? Usually in gunmetal grey, with simple, clean lines and calm interiors, but with bulldozing V8s and extraordinary V12s under their skins, Astons have remained the car of choice for those who prefer not to shout about their wealth. Old money versus new money, if you like. Unlike your average Ferrari owner. Look at the curlicues, the side gills, on the GTC4Lusso. Then look at the plain silhouette of the DB11, a car that even lacks bonnet vents because the turbos rely on hot air, not cool. The latter, please.
The DB11, with its V12 launch engine, is a grand tourer, with plenty of space for two adults and weekend luggage. But with Aston’s Mercedes AMG-derived 4.0-litre V8 under the bonnet, it turns into a taut, sprightly, lithe sports car. The changes in character are reflected in the design tweaks: less glistening chrome, more smoky glass and blackened metal, and general attitude. It is not pretty: it is serious. Still, if you want to shout about it, the interior will do that for you. Aston does not do shrinking-violet cabins these days, unfortunately: there is a loud mixture of materials, cuts and lines, with vibrant stitching and perforated surfaces, while dark, anodised aluminium surrounds the vents and handles.
There is also the matter of the sound from those exhausts, as the hot twin turbos spool up and the engine explodes into life. Aston has added its own fairy dust to AMG's creation, in part to expunge the AMG sound and insert its own orchestral manoeuvre. The result is a throaty, metallic roar, which compared with the fancy lyrical opera emerging from a Ferrari, sounds seriously Brit-cool. On the move, the DB11 V8 is fleet of foot, putting power through the rear tyres, and with perfect 50:50 weight distribution, where the Ferrari is unavoidably heavy through its four driven wheels. Compared with its V12 counterpart, the V8 has less brake travel, stiffer subframe bushes at the rear, rebalanced dampers for more vertical rear support, more weight added to the steering effort and reduced travel on the steering-wheel transmission paddles. There was a gap of 18 months between V12 and V8, which allowed the Aston engineers to iron out all the reported deficiencies of the V12. The result is pretty much the perfectly set-up Aston.
Why on Earth would you want to buy Italian, when you have this little home-grown number to hand? It's like Dolce & Gabbana versus Stella McCartney. The past versus the future. I will take the latter, thank you.
Sacrilege. That is what a lot of Ferrari fans would call downgrading one of Maranello's famous screaming V12s down to "just" eight cylinders. But if Scuderia Ferrari managed it in Formula One – indeed, they have halved that original cylinder count nowadays – then road-car aficionados should be able to stomach the change. And in all honesty, that change isn't all that noticeable in practical terms.
Last time I was in a GTC4Lusso, I was piloting it up the wonderful tarmac of Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah. So in the interests of a fair test with the GTC4Lusso T, the turbocharged V8 version of the four-seat Ferrari, that is where I find myself again.
The main differences? Well, the response time when you hit the throttle contains a barely perceptible nanosecond of turbo booting; and that engine note, once a glorious scree of angry wasps, is now somewhat more discreet, although still possible to get growling on downchanges via aggressive braking.
Performance is ever so slightly compromised, but not in ways that would actually worry any normal driver on the real-life roads. The 0-to-100kph split of 3.5 seconds is 0.1 second longer than the V12; it goes on to a top whack of 320kph, rather than 335kph.
The flip side is that for a car that was always intended to be more than a weekend blast-off machine, it is now a more manageable package. Take the difference in fuel consumption: 15 litres per 100 kilometres is in supercar territory and makes filling-station visits a regular feature of your week; 11.6 litres, on the other hand, makes the T a comparative daily driver.
It is actually slightly safer, too, braking from 100kph to a stop in 33 metres (versus 34 metres) and 200kph to nowt in 137 metres (also a metre less than the V12). And it certainly feels it – the brakes are so mighty that they require feather-touch, best-training-shoes treatment. It is nice to know when you are still in charge of more than 600hp and 760Nm of torque.
The remainder of the experience is much unchanged, which is good news indeed – as I opined a little less than a year ago about the full-fat GTC4Lusso, it has a wild side, but kept under wraps in such a way that it can navigate city traffic without causing curvature of your spine. The T consumes less fuel and costs Dh150,000 less than the Dh1.17 million V12, which makes it kinder to the world and your wallet.