Sunday drive with Hormazd Sorabjee: A look at Aston Martin DBX
How does one begin to describe the significance of the Aston Martin DBX? Yes, it is the first SUV from the iconic brand in its 106-year existence, and when it goes on sale in the second half of 2020, it will join the ranks of super SUVs like the Lamborghini Urus, Bentley Bentayga and Porsche Cayenne. Yes, the DBX is late to the party but it will unlock a new and broader customer base. The British sports car-maker hopes to sell more than 4,000 DBXs a year and boost total Aston sales past the magical 10,000 mark. In fact, the DBX is the great white hope charged with reviving an ailing Aston Martin.
So the DBX has to be not just good but great, if it is to resurrect the company. To give us a taste of things to come, we got to sample a prototype version last month in Oman. To make it clear, this wasn’t the finished product; the protos were lightly disguised, more by way of large sponsor stickers than a camouflage, and an unwashed coat of mud and grime collected over the course of the two-week-long media test-drive programme.
The matte-black paint, sponsor decals and caked mud hinder my view of the DBX, but under the bright Oman sun, the shape and a lot of the details clearly stand out. There’s, of course, the massive and unmissable Aston grille but it’s the rear that has some really interesting design elements like the blade-like scuff plate and thin tail-lights that follow the contours of the prominent spoiler. It’s always hard for sports car or luxury carmakers to design an SUV and yet keep their traditional look and in that context the DBX carried forward the restrained aggression of the brand.
Aston, however, has missed a trick (or a generation) with its infotainment piece, by installing Mercedes’s last-gen system. It’s not a touchscreen and feels somewhat outdated, especially in comparison to Merc’s latest MBUX system; but expect an infotainment upgrade at some point during the DBX’s long life cycle.
What you don’t expect is a remarkably spacious interior, especially at the rear, where there’s ample legroom even for tall people. The seats are quite cosseting, there’s plenty of storage space around, including a useful area behind the centre console for a small bag, and a genuinely big 632-litre boot.
Oman is one of the best places in the world to enjoy a car. This small sultanate has a delectable selection of roads – many of which would be perfect for a rally championship stage. Our route had very little traffic and all the ingredients to give any car a solid workout: undulating terrain, a mix of surfaces, and all types of corners in the middle of the desert which look like they’ve been engineered just for you to have fun.
So, how good is the handling of this super SUV that’s been benchmarked against the technically brilliant Porsche SUV? I’m going to stick my neck out and say that this is the sweetest-handling high-performance SUV I’ve driven. Firstly, the balance is spot-on, the steering is perfectly weighted and apart from a mild, inconsistent feel when you start turning, it’s full of feels and complements the DBX’s agility. The DBX is so easy to control that it can be chucked around playfully and the best part is that the sharp responses haven’t come at the expense of ride comfort. The overall suspension setup is on the soft side, and the cushioning it offers will be a big advantage on Indian roads.
Edge of glory
The DBX uses a Mercedes-AMG sourced engine, which develops 550hp and propels the 2.2 from 0-100kph in a claimed 4.5sec and a top speed of 290kph, which is very quick. It’s just that there are quicker and more powerful SUVs, and the DBX isn’t quite in that ultimate league. Also, the chassis is so good, you feel it could do with even more power for greater thrills.
No doubt, Aston Martin’s first crack at an SUV has yielded outstanding results. It’s the best-looking SUV and it clearly has an edge in the ride and handling department. It’s spacious and practical too, which will cater to the rational side of buyers. It’s how customers perceive an SUV from a traditional brand like Aston Martin that will ultimately determine its success. And in India? The company expects the DBX to more than double sales in this market when it goes on sale this year at an estimated Rs 3 to Rs 4 crore.
Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India
Sunday Drive appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, February 9, 2020
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