OJAI, California—It’s been a hard year for the world, and it’s not over yet, but in business terms, 2020 has been especially difficult for Aston Martin. The company has faced strong financial headwinds, poor stock-market performance, and has even cut prices of its cars, including the all-new 2021 DBX SUV. Under the guidance of a new CEO (former Mercedes-AMG chief Tobias Moers), the British marque has, at times, looked like it was teetering on the precipice. But with the 2021 Aston Martin DBX, Aston shows it still has the sensibilities to produce a truly special vehicle, even in this most unlikely of spaces.
Meet the 2021 Aston Martin DBX in Golden Saffron
The very vehicle that convinced me of this is shown in the photos here, covered in a liquid metallic coating of Golden Saffron paint that turns any light into good light. Inside, deep blue All Dark Knight leather covers nearly every visible surface that’s not a button, a screen, or carpet, and it’s all laid out in a handsomely modern-yet-classic way. For someone who stands 6-feet, 2-inches tall as I do, the cabin is also a very comfy place, both in front or stationed in the second row.
Among the upgrades visited upon this 2021 Aston Martin DBX’s $179,986 base price were the Golden Saffron paint ($9,100), Madagascar Orange brake calipers ($3,100), carbon-fiber design accents (various; total: $49,100), an umbrella ($300), and 22-inch Ribbon Satin Black wheels ($3,800), as well as various other material and cosmetic upgrades. Final asking price for this DBX? A cool $272,886.
But Wait, an SUV?
Yes, an SUV. Why? Because that’s what people want to buy, and the super-luxury SUV space is one of the few parts of the market that isn’t already crawling with competition. Sure, the DBX may be a few steps behind the Lamborghini Urus, Bentley Bentayga, and Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and it’s not trying to play in the same field as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, but aside from those equally expensive (or more so) and limited-production alternatives, your main choice is a Range Rover. Or, at least it was until now.
Thankfully, Aston’s first foray into the realm of the high-rider doesn’t put all of its emphasis on off-road prowess. My day with the DBX was scheduled to include a (brief, carefully selected, supervised) trip through a portion of Hungry Valley off-road park, but due to the necessities of custom photography and the tight schedule, I spent my entire day on the road. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.
It’s not that I doubt the 2021 Aston Martin DBX’s off-road abilities are legitimate; it has the ability to lift itself 1.77 inches on command. Rather, I doubt the DBX’s off-road abilities, just like those of nearly any other crossover SUV on the market, are relevant for anyone but the handful of the financial elect who’ll shred the nearest dunes until the car breaks and then simply buy a new one.
But an SUV? For Performance Driving?
So, if the off-road ability is mostly irrelevant to how real buyers will really use the DBX, why make it an SUV at all? Well, see the above, but also, the SUV, or more accurately, the crossover, has become something of a Trojan horse; it’s the only way to get American buyers to buy the vehicle they actually want but for some reason have a mental block against: the station wagon. Lift a wagon a couple of inches and take away some of the long-and-low looks, and the car that would have languished on dealer lots now becomes a best-seller.
Among us enthusiasts, performance wagons are not a strange idea; in fact, they’re among the most coveted of conveyances. And with the DBX’s air-ride suspension granting the ability to lower its ride height as well as raise it, this long-roofed Aston Martin drives much more like a large performance wagon than an SUV.
In fact, based on my day blasting through Southern California’s mountains, the DBX, relative to its competition, is the best-driving Aston Martin made today. Sure, the Vantage, DBS Superleggera, and DB11 will probably outrun the DBX, but in each of those segments, there are better-driving alternatives, usually wearing Ferrari or Porsche badges. But in the SUV space, there are only the aforementioned alternatives, and while the DBX likely won’t beat the Urus or the Cayenne Turbo around a track, it won’t be far behind them.
Driving the 2021 Aston DBX in the real world, you’ll find it’s not the vehicle holding you back should you find yourself with a long way to go and a short time to get there. The only thing holding back your pace in the DBX is the desire to avoid a life sentence for premeditated vehicular homicide, because even at a leisurely 7/10ths pace, the DBX can handily double the speed limit, corners included, on nearly any winding road.
I know because I covered an indecent amount of winding road in the DBX between the day’s base of operations at TK hotel in Ojai and Hungry Valley—I did make it to within just a few miles of the off-road site, but with too little time left to run the circuit. All the better, as it meant an unfettered run back down the same winding roads, mostly Lockwood Valley Rd. and Highway 33. Offering a range of surface quality varying from rough and pocked to serenely smooth, these roads also present the full gamut of curves, a THX sound sweep from tight 10-mph-signed hairpins to speed-limit sweepers. And the DBX devoured all of them with not just ease, but eagerness, as its AMG-supplied, 542-horsepower, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 and the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system extracted every ounce of the chassis’ considerable performance.
What Makes the 2021 Aston Martin DBX Tick?
Under the skin, the DBX’s structure isn’t all that special, at least by modern small-production, high-price-tag standards. It is made largely of bonded pressed aluminum or cast aluminum, extensive use of which helps keep the DBX’s curb weight from reaching 5,000 pounds while providing a rigid platform for the real stars of the show.
The suspension, as mentioned, can raise or lower the DBX’s svelte-for-an-SUV form through a range of 4.0 inches to suit its given mission. On top of that, the DBX’s eARC 48-volt active anti-roll system provides an astutely tuned amount of control to the DBX’s cornering attitude, keeping the vehicle more level than would otherwise be the case, but without going so far as to make the handling feel unnatural.
In practice, the 2021 Aston Martin DBX feels and drives just like a nearly-5,000-pound super-performance wagon does—provided, of course, that wagon has a palpable bias toward rear-wheel drive. Another ingredient in the DBX’s special sauce is the all-wheel-drive system, which not only delivers most of its power to the rear, but feels like it dynamically, a sensation palpable not only through the seat, but also the steering. Yes, there’s more than a little feel there. In an SUV! Remarkable.
If You’ve Got the Dosh, Do It
After a day with the all-new 2021 Aston Martin DBX, I was smitten, despite going into it expecting a good-sounding, handsome, and luxurious but otherwise uninteresting day in an SUV. And while a few hours aren’t enough to know how the DBX would handle the day-to-day grind, or how well it tows at its 6,000-pound max rating, it’s more than enough time for me to wish I had the cash to find out.
But what about those massively competent and similarly priced competitors, the Urus and the Cayenne Turbo? Sure, you could buy one of those and be phenomenally happy. Or you could buy an SUV that’s just as fun as either (though in a different way), looks better than both, and is probably going to remain considerably rarer, even if it turns out as the smashing sales success for Aston that it deserves to be.
|2021 Aston Martin DBX Specifications|
|PRICE||$179,986/$272,886 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||4.0L twin-turbo 32 valve DOHC V-8/542 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 1,750-4,250 rpm (rpm est)|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||17/23 mpg (city/hwy) (est)|
|L x W x H||198.4 x 87.4 x 66.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.3 sec|
|TOP SPEED||181 mph|
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