Early last year, the Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll threw Aston Martin a lifeline so that the struggling British automaker could live to see this day. Stroll, who made his fortune in the fashion industry, led a group of investors who poured more than $300 million into Aston Martin to help get its first ever SUV out the door.
Today, that SUV – the 2021 Aston Martin DBX – is finally on the road, and Stroll, the investors, the company and all of its staff really need this machine to be good. Actually, they need it to be spectacular, because Aston Martin has had a rough few years, to put it mildly.
After going public in 2018, the British brand’s stock has more or less bellyflopped; to date it has dropped roughly 80 per cent since the IPO. Most of the damage was done before Brexit and the pandemic really hit.
Ed Moran, interim president of Aston Martin’s operations in the Americas, says the company’s stock was hurt mainly by Brexit, plus a weak credit rating and a lack of cash. The cash flow issue was caused, in part, by the massive investment required to create a new SUV from scratch, and a new factory in Wales to produce it, he says.
Stroll, who is now the executive chairman of Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings plc, is actively involved in the business and worked quickly to make changes, Moran says. “We had more supply than we had demand, and Lawrence was adamant that that was going to change, and it has changed,” he explains.
Tobias Moers, formerly the head Mercedes-AMG, replaced Andy Palmer as Aston’s chief executive in 2020. The new executive team lowered the price of the DBX, making it more competitive with Bentley and Lamborghini rivals, which was surely a smart move.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the DBX is crucial to reviving Aston’s fortunes. “There’s lots riding on the DBX because of how important it is from a volume standpoint,” Moran says. The vision for the next five years, he explains, is to nearly double Aston’s 2019 sales to around 10,000 vehicles annually. Half of those will come from SUVs, he estimates. In other words, the DBX is meant to double Aston Martin’s sales, and fast.
So, what’s it like to drive? From the moment you slide into the driver’s throne, ensconced in a cocoon of the softest leather in known automotive universe, it’s obvious the Aston Martin DBX is not the product of one the usual auto-industry juggernauts. The DBX feels like a boutique product in a market full of machines that can often feel thoroughly corporate. Even high-end SUVs like the Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne are all built on the same Volkswagen Group platform, and it shows, in the way they all seem vaguely familiar. Aston Martin could’ve used a Mercedes-Benz platform for the DBX, but the brass decided to take the hard route and create this new SUV from scratch.
As a result, despite the fact this is a big, burly SUV – the antithesis of the low-slung coupes the brand is known for – it still drives like an Aston Martin. It’s the way the DBX’s steering is so alert, with almost no dead-zone around centre, and the way the car flows into corners like liquid mercury, pouring itself around bends. It also has to do with the way the suspension reacts quickly to take the edge off impacts, but isn’t soft and still holds the car up nicely in corners. It would give any Porsche Cayenne a run for its money on a twisty road, but feels altogether more calm when cruising around. The DBX is let down by a somewhat noisy cabin, but that’s a minor issue.
The interior is more Savile Row than department-store Hugo Boss. From the dashboard down, everything – even the hidden cubby under flying-buttress centre console – is covered in buttery leather, stitched with dizzying complexity. The seats are decorated with punched holes like a pair of brogue shoes, a luxury that’s part of the optional $5,500 Elegance package. Contrast stitching costs $1,300. The Alcantara headliner – which frames a spectacular glass-slab of a roof – costs $2,800. All told the car you see here has roughly $40,000 worth of optional extras. Savile Row tailoring ain’t cheap either.
Where the boutique nature of the DBX shows its limitations is in the technology. No surprise there. Aston (and every other small car company) struggles with tech. The switchgear and infotainment system is based on last-generation Mercedes-Benz stuff. Poke the big central touch screen and – oops, it’s not a touch screen.
The engine itself also comes from Mercedes, but we have no complaints there; it’s an AMG-sourced twin-turbo V8 producing 542 horsepower, which is easily among the best in the business, so long as you don’t mind spending a fortune on gas.
The DBX SUV is carrying the future of Aston Martin on its hefty haunches, but things appear to be turning around. The stock price has stabilized and even risen slightly since last summer. So far this year in Canada, sales are nearly back to 2019 levels thanks in large part to the DBX, says Moran. The DBX needs to lure customers away from Bentley, Porsche and Lamborghini, and based on first impressions it should do just that. Trading the latest and greatest in-car technology to drive a car that feels properly unique, truly special – that’s an easy trade to make if you ask us. (Whether it can double the band’s sales is another question entirely.)
If this all seems a bit like déjà vu, well, we have been here before. Every recent Aston Martin has been a lovely thing to admire and to drive, let down by outdated technology. The company’s financial woes are all too familiar as well, just part of a long history of boom-and-bust that has seen the company go bankrupt seven times in 108 years. But, like James Bond, the fictional spy who likes to drive its cars, it seems Aston Martin just can’t be killed.
2021 Aston Martin DBX
Base price/as tested: $203,500/$245,580
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Transmission/drive: Nine-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 17.1 city/12.8 highway
Alternatives: Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid, BMW Alpina XB7, Mercedes-AMG G 63
You wouldn’t think an Aston Martin SUV could work, but it does.
It’s like getting into a tailored suit. The grab handles are strips of suede-like fabric, not floppy plastic things. The paddle shifters are solid metal. Double sun visors are a nice touch. But, the driver’s side mirror could use a larger range of adjustment and the buttons are all black plastic.
Unlike most cars, the suspension’s Sport mode is actually useful since it won’t rattle your teeth and scare passengers. The DBX isn’t as quiet and cushy as the Bentley SUV, but much more fun to drive. It also guzzles gas without remorse.
Not exactly cutting-edge, but it gets the job done. The main screen could be brighter. The sensor pod on the windshield is too low and blocks much of the view. Driver-assist tech is there, but again, not the last word in refinement.
It’s a five-seater with ample space for adults in the second row. It trades some trunk space for a sleek-looking roofline.
More than good enough to spark fresh interest in the brand. If you’re tired of (very expensive) SUVs that all feel a bit similar, the DBX is the solution.