The DBX is an odd bird: part SUV, part sporty grand tourer, and part AMG brute. It’s Aston Martin’s first SUV, first all-wheel drive vehicle, but their third production car with more than two doors after the Lagonda and Rapide (or 4th if you count the ultra-exclusive Lagonda Taraf).
It’s got a lot to prove, surely, but more important than that is the PR dance that accompanies the controversy of an SUV entering the ranks of any ‘pureblood’ performance luxury brand. Aston Martin Malaysia lists a starting price of RM818,000 excluding taxes, duties, and customisation options, so it’s worth having an additional few hundred thousand Ringgit in reserve for those.
Before we dive in, it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t going to be a full-blown review as we had only a day with the DBX to inform our opinions on it. While this is plenty to solidify first impressions and a general grasp of what it offers and how it delivers a unique experience, we’re limited in knowing how it might be to live with.
It isn’t like high-end sporty SUVs have suddenly started popping into existence over the past few years. They’ve been an established category in the automotive space, first legitimised by the Porsche Cayenne back in the late 1990s. In fact, many credit its surging popularity with singlehandedly saving the German automaker from financial ruin.
With this in mind, it isn’t too surprising that Aston Martin has waded into these contentious waters with the DBX. Though they’ve survived rougher tides, they needed an addition to their line-up that would garner them the boost in sales volume necessary to prosper. What is surprising is that it has taken so long for the rest of brands under the VW Group to get the same idea.
The Lamborghini Urus, Bentley Bentayga, and Audi SQ8 are, like the Porsche Cayenne has been for over two decades, all spawns of the latest Volkswagen Touareg, but have only started entering the market within the last 5 years.
This coincides with when Aston Martin started gauging public interest with a two-door high-riding coupe they presented at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show called the DBX Concept. The name stuck, obviously, and the British firm was probably already set on it reaching production.
In the intervening years, a technical partnership with Daimler AG was inked with a 5% stake given away, netting Aston Martin's cars access to AMG powertrains. Hence, the M177 4.0 bi-turbo V8 found in the DBX as well as the Vantage and DB11.
However, it would still require them to develop a completely new architecture as none of their previous cars could realistically form a basis for a new model so alien to the brand. It needed to be a functional, spacious SUV, not just a high-riding Rapide wagon.
Good question. Unfortunately, I’m not any authority on what even constitutes a ‘real Aston’. The DBX definitely isn’t one in the traditional sense, either.
Clearly, the design team worked very hard to make this shape and its larger SUV dimensions work in the context of their more svelte GT coupes, but it’s just missing that wow factor that makes you purse your lips when it rolls by.
Key ingredients are here: the ‘frowny catfish’ Aston front grille, vents on that imposingly long bonnet, fender strakes, flush door handles, and a Vantage-like light bar at the rear that sits just below an integrated ducktail spoiler. It’s a very beautiful SUV, however, and without doubt the most visually arresting of any of its peers.
This is especially true up close where you can more easily appreciate the details and surfacing work that result in such a cohesively taut shape that hides a relatively big vehicle so successfully.
Inside, things get a little strange. There’s a lot of space and you’re made very aware of this with the interior being bathed in light from that panoramic glass roof. Yes, the blue is almost overwhelming but it’s actually the sheer volume of leather that’s unrelenting.
Build quality is pretty solid - but shy of Audis, Porsches - and there’s a good balance of digital and finely machined analogue touchpoints. There’s a big screen in the middle and another in the instrument cluster, so it is sufficiently high-tech.
However, with the gear selector being high up on the centre console (in typical Aston Martin style since the original Vanquish), they are no longer at arm’s reach like they were in their GT cars’ smaller, cozier cabins.
This might seem like a trivial gripe but it informed so much about what the DBX’s priorities are, which doesn’t seem to regard the driving experience quite as highly.
Firing up the AMG engine felt familiar, despite Aston’s insistence that much has been done to give the M177 a distinct (British?) personality. That said, revving it up revealed a throatier, higher-pitched shriek that definitely isn’t of Affalterbach origin - thanks to a bespoke exhaust system and some engine tuning to dial in the harmonics.
Speaking of tuning, this motor produces 550PS and 800Nm which makes itself very apparent even at low speeds. This engine is known for its near zero-lag responsiveness and that urgency doesn’t seem to have been fazed by the DBX’s 2.2-tonne kerb weight.
Complain all you want about Aston Martin no longer producing in-house V8s, but having such a competent (albeit German) motor in their arsenal is already proving an invaluable asset, especially given how much time and money would need to be poured into R&D in order to produce a comparable alternative.
Aston claims about 4.5 seconds to 100km/h and that’s easily believable, put your foot down and the performance is rampant in a straight line, probably partly due to those fat Pirellis and AWD giving hand-of-God levels of instant traction.
However, the DBX can’t escape physics and there’s a certain numbness about the way it shoots up a set of curves. It’s very sharp and confident at the front and, especially mid-corner, but most of the time the chassis feels distant.
The Porsche Taycan convinced me that supreme vehicle handling can be achieved with air suspension even when handicapped with plenty of mass/inertia, both of which the DBX has, but even on its lowest ride height setting and sportiest drive mode, the Aston felt a little disconnected. Comfortable and fast, yes, very daily drivable as well, but none too involving.
That said, expecting this to have driving characteristics on par with something like the DB11 is silly. However, I did want to be able to feel at least a few common threads from the driver’s seat. The DBX really is a different sort of beast from Aston Martin, and should be viewed as such.
On a highway cruise, the ride and refinement is excellent, and the V8 settles into a low burble in its top gear (9th), allowing onlookers and fellow motorists to admire. This is its element. Don’t get me wrong, the DBX does handle rather well, but it’s no sports car on stilts.
Point to point, this could be the most accomplished and rewarding of all the contenders in the ‘new breed’ of performance SUVs to drive in the real world. It’s beautiful, fast, practical, luxurious, and most important of all, elegant in a way that only an Aston Martin could be. They even say you could take it off-road, if you’re brave enough to try, Mr. Bond.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.