It is possible to drift the Aston Martin DBX. Once. After that, the electronics ‘learn’ what you’re trying to do, and quickly curtail the fun on your next go. That’s the reality of stability controls for SUVs – roll-over mitigation means you can’t ever switch everything off.
But the fact I felt compelled to try, and that Aston Martin allotted some time at its small but perfectly formed Silverstone Stowe handling circuit for the pointless endeavour should tell you all you need to know about this SUV – hot damn, is it good to drive.
I appreciate we’ve said time and time again that the upper echelons of the fast SUV world are packed with vehicles that drive incredibly well for things that ride so high and weigh so much, but the DBX goes a step beyond.
Perhaps not in terms of outright capability – the Cayenne GTS and Turbo just about pip it in that regard. No – I’m talking about fun, as the DBX is a riot. Stop deliberately trying to hang the back out and set the ESP to ‘Sport’, and Aston’s first SUV provides smiles at a rate I never thought possible in a car like this.
The light steering provides genuine feedback, with a pleasing amount of kickback coming through the wheel. And although the DBX is all-wheel drive, the bias to the rear is highly conspicuous in almost every corner – under heavy throttle it loves to get loose at the rear, with power understeer rarely rearing its ugly, tyre squealing head.
The DBX’s tendency for oversteer in ESP Sport makes it feel agile and playful, countering if not entirely hiding its 2.2-tonne kerb weight. Yes, it still feels like a bulky thing, but the DBX makes it work.
It also makes a fabulous noise. The 4.0-litre twin-turbo Mercedes-AMG V8 is used in all sorts of cars – including Aston’s own Vantage and DB11 – but here, it belts out a soundtrack unlike any of them. Matt Becker, AM’s engineering chief, tells me its been tuned to give more high-frequency noise, rather than being all about low-end rumble, and it works fantastically. An early mule with open headers is said to have “sounded like a Nascar” – how I’d love to have a go in that.
Fun though torturing the DBX’s bespoke Pirelli P Zero Scorpions on track might be, it’s not an especially relevant test. Thankfully, I was allowed to take the keys to this pre-production prototype for 24 hours and saunter away from Silverstone, straight onto the kind of road where a customer car is going to spend a lot of its life – a dual carriageway.
Straight away, the tradeoff necessary to make the DBX feel the way it does during dynamic driving becomes clear – it’s rather firm. The damping isn’t harsh, but you do seem to feel a lot of what’s going on at the road surface through the cabin. Great if you’re out for a hoon and want the communication from the tarmac, less brilliant if you just want to waft in total comfort.
The earlier ‘1PT’ DBX prototype we tried in Oman felt smoother, but the roads out there (well, the paved ones) weren’t as rough, and lots of suspension work has been done between then and the ‘3PT’ we’re in now.
When you’re not doing silly things on track, you get time to study the interior. It’s Aston’s best modern-era cabin, being a decent balance between plush and sporty. Plus, at last, we have a properly integrated Mercedes infotainment screen, rather than one that awkwardly pokes out the top of the dash as in the DB11 and Vantage. It’s easy to use, and although it is a bit of a hand me down since it’s Daimler’s previous-generation system, this does at least mean you don’t have the company’s silly new trackpad thing.
The interior is still a long way off what Bentley can manage, however – in terms of layout, tech and general plushness. And speaking of the layout, I’m not keen on the drive select buttons and their location above the infotainment screen, nor the fact the LEDs on each are so dim you can barely see them on a sunny day. Not a massive issue when the drive selection is displayed on the instrument cluster, but you shouldn’t have to put up with niggles like that in a £158,000 SUV.
Diving off the dull dual carriageway onto a twisty detour home, the DBX makes me forget about all of this. If anything, it’s even more entertaining here than on the track. I simply haven’t had this much fun in a big SUV before – the DBX has a deranged appetite for corners, and I’m more than happy to indulge it.
Despite riding higher, carrying around more weight and packing four fewer cylinders, the DBX has me in mind of the DBS Superleggera. That sense of barely contained brutality and the – admittedly divisive – visual drama. It’s very much the SUV equivalent of that super GT, which is surely what you’d hope for in an Aston SUV. The DBX may not be as wafty as something like a Bentley Bentayga, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.
The DBX has plenty more going for it, too. It’s giant inside, with class-leading legroom and a 632-litre boot, expandable with a 40-20-40 split rear bench. There’s even some respectable off-road ability (we tested at a small course in Silverstone) which is broadly similar to what you get in a Porsche Cayenne. As pointed out when we drove that earlier prototype last year, a practical DBX and a Vantage – or a 911, if you’re not one for brand loyalty – would be a brilliant two-car garage.
This is a car that simply has to succeed for Aston Martin. But based on what we’ve seen, the DBX stands a very good chance of giving the British brand the turnaround it needs, all while staying true to everything that winged badge on the bonnet stands for.