Grand tourers are designed to cross continents in a hurry, using every ounce of power to transport you in comfort from departure to destination, eating miles in massive mouthfuls. And that’s given us plenty of comfortable GTs with supercar power. But Aston Martin wanted more for its mainline GT. Don’t call the 2023 Aston Martin DB12 a grand tourer, call it the world’s first “super tourer.”
According to the brand, that means the DB12 walks the line between a conventional supercar and that of a traditional grand tourer. A car that’s as much at home shredding its tires at Silverstone or Laguna Seca as it is beating sat-nav ETA projections between London and Monaco. And the DB12 certainly has the specs to do just that, with a twin-turbocharged V8, better tires than previously used on the DBS and DB11, chassis and suspension improvements, standard carbon ceramic brakes, and an all-new interior. But can something actually be a super tourer?
Dual-personality cars are often compromised in ways that don’t allow them to be great at either goal. It leaves a confused product that just doesn’t work and that’s where this DB12, unfortunately, lands. Aston Martin has come close, though, as the ingredients are there. But there are some key issues that don’t quite let the DB12 fully adopt that super tourer role.
It likely had to do with the cars provided for this test being pre-production prototypes not ready for the limelight, but the DB12 caused a literal, physical reaction I’ve never felt in a car. Ever.
2023 Aston Martin DB12 Specs
- Base price: $245,000
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 | 8-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 670 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 590 @ 2,750-6,000 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,714 pounds
- Seating capacity: 4
- 0-60 mph: 3.5 seconds
- Top speed: 202 mph
- Quick take: Good ingredients that need more time cooking in the Great British Bake Off.
- Score: 6.5/10
Maybe Pre-Production Prototypes Shouldn’t Be Reviewed
Throughout the years, I’ve driven almost every Aston Martin—apart from the DBX SUV and my current white whale, the absolutely bananas Valkyrie—including the DB11 and DBS extensively, which underpins this new car. I’ve never had a problem with either, apart from the first-year DB11’s penchant for understeer. But something very odd happened during this first drive of the new DB12. I got sick, something I’ve never felt before in my decade-plus of reviewing cars.
And I wasn’t the only one.
Aston set up a great event, driving along the French Riviera and up into the mountains, following the awesome Route de Napoléon, the same road I once blazed along in Bentley’s Flying Spur. It’s a perfect course for something like the DB12. But that wasn’t my experience, nor was it my co-driver’s.
Almost immediately, something was off. I started getting a headache, which at first I attributed to France’s rocket-fuel espresso. Moreover, the seats were digging into my right side so hard, it was really hard to comfortably drive. And after our coffee stop, a half-hour into the day, things declined rapidly.
We exited the bustling city and got into the winding mountain roads, but my headache got worse and worse, and I started feeling like I was about to get sick. I’ve never been carsick. I’ve never been nauseous, apart from those days after college parties in my youth. But I was driving. That just doesn’t happen. My driving partner felt equally bad. So much so, that we pulled over repeatedly to get some fresh air and swap driving throughout the route. We finally called it quits a half-hour before we were set to hit our lunch stop. We just couldn’t continue. Nor could I tell you what the car was like to drive because I was so focused on just trying to feel not terrible.
Through it all, we tried to figure out whether or not it was us or the car. We went through the food we’d eaten, our sleep patterns, and whatever else that came to our heads. But in the end, it was absolutely the car. At dinner that night, and the following morning, others expressed similar issues, though they’d all chalked it up to them usually getting car sick or a latent ear infection. Aston Martin’s PR people were duly concerned, too, which is why they set up another drive with the chief engineer in a second car the following day before my flight home.
It was a far better experience, and I didn’t feel nauseous at all. I did get a slight headache, though that gave me the soundest theory of what happened to us: We got gassed.
These are hand-built pre-production prototypes, and they were fresh from Gaydon. Hand-built prototypes tend not to have the bake times of production models, and my theory is that the glue or resin used to seal certain parts of the car didn’t have enough time to fully dry and the fumes stuck with it all the way from England to the South of France. These can give you both a massive headache and nausea, as myself and my colleagues experienced.
I doubt it will occur in the production cars, as they’ll have longer bake times before they reach customers’ hands. That said, I felt it important to report, especially as not all my colleagues were able to drive a separate car the following day.
A Second DB12 Showed What the Super Tourer Could Do
As I mentioned, Aston Martin grabbed a completely different car for me to sample and threw in Simon Newton, Aston Martin’s Director of Vehicle Performance, for good measure and to make sure it wasn’t the six-foot-four clodhopper of an American doing something wrong.
For what it’s worth, I wasn’t.
The second day showed that Aston Martin is onto something with the concept of a Super Tourer, as this DB12 felt great and didn’t necessitate laying on the ground. My headache did return, just not as bad.
The beating heart of the DB12 is a heavily revised twin-turbocharged V8 sourced from everyone’s favorite team at Affalterbach, Mercedes-AMG. Aston, for its part, has worked with this engine before, both in the DB11 and the Vantage. However, if you’re going to make a Super Tourer, you’re going to want big numbers, which is why Gaydon’s engineers threw bigger turbos at it to develop a wondrous 670 horsepower. That number is also utter bullshit, as that engine is making 700-plus according to my patented butt dyno.
As to the clear sandbagging, an ex-Aston employee once responded to my questioning the validity of the DBS’ figures with “My dear boy, we’re British. We’re always conservative.”
What’s truly righteous about this engine is you don’t ever need full throttle to turn and burn asphalt, as half to three-quarters throttle sends you rocketing forward with such urgency, you barely have time to think on mountain roads. And it took an extra prod from Simon to give it the full beans when we could finally stretch the DB12’s legs. Germany’s Autobahn better look out.
That raucous engine is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the same unit from the DB11, though it’s been given shorter gear ratios and revised tuning for sharper, cleaner shifts. There’s also Aston’s new e-diff, which allows for a far more playful persona compared to the grand tourers of old.
The DB12 also receives five drive modes: the default Grand Tour, Sport, Sport+, a configurable Individual mode, and a Wet setting for, you guessed it, wet conditions. These modes change steering weight, suspension stiffness, throttle map, transmission shift points, and exhaust volume. I found that I liked Grand Tour the most, as you have plenty of power and the gearbox and suspension are gentle enough for road use. Though the steering in pretty much all modes could’ve been heavier for my liking.
Aston also revised the chassis for better turn-in with increased stiffness and tossing it along both the fast sweeping corners as well as the hairpins that litter the Route de Napoléon, the DB12 feels half its weight. That’s also down to the now-standard carbon ceramic brakes, revised suspension geometry, and new Michelin Pilot Sport 5 tires, which are way better than the Pirellis the company used to run. The only sense you get of its 3,700-pound curb weight is from its width speeding through those incredibly tight confines.
It does truly feel like a super grand tourer, though the seats were once again digging into my right side. Thankfully, there are other seat options, including grand tourer specs that have less bolstering and more padding. These mid-range sport seats could use some more cushion, but even these were pre-production and felt like it.
Aston Martin also offers skeletonized carbon buckets, but those weren’t available to try. Simon relayed they were pretty comfortable but not made for longer trips.
There were also issues with the infotainment which was glitchy as all hell. Aston Martin said it wasn’t ready for customers, and that was true. The engineers said there were four more software drops before it reached production status, but that didn’t give me a chance to tell you whether it was good, bad, or straight-up trash. Apple CarPlay is available, and the Bowers & Wilkins stereo wasn’t half bad, though it needed a little bit of tuning, too, as the default tune was bass heavy.
The DB12 Could Be Great…
Aston Martins tend to get better with age, as dynamics sharpen, and manufacturing is figured out once the cars hit their production strides. And the bones of the DB12 are solid, as the chassis, suspension, and that tower of power of an engine work. Or as the kids these days say, serve. But based on these hand-built prototypes, this isn’t the introduction Aston Martin would’ve hoped for.
My second drive revealed a car that’s happy to cross continents in short order. But its seats weren’t great, and the transmission and steering weight could’ve used some fine-tuning. There’s also the fact that it still gave me a headache, though it was far less intrusive compared to my first drive.
There’s still room for overall improvement, as the steering also isn’t as direct as I’d like, there’s still too much weight moving around underneath to inspire true confidence, and the shifts in Grand Tour are a little too aggressive for a truly smooth Grand Tour-type ride. They tend to hang longer than you’d expect, but that’s a small issue that could be solved by a quick software update. But this was far better than that first day, and I’m grateful Aston Martin gave me another go.
With a few dynamic tweaks to the chassis, suspension, seat design, and steering—and, of course, some time to properly air out—there is a “super tourer” underneath that pretty design worthy of the Aston Martin crest. You could feel it wanting to get out. I just don’t think it was ever going to in a hand-built prototype.
My final verdict on the new 2023 Aston Martin DB12 is something I believe I need to save until I drive a production car—a car built to the spec that customers will receive. This wasn’t Aston Martin’s best showing, nor indicative of what I know the brand and this chassis are capable of.
When that happens, I’ll tell you if it’s worth the $245,000 base price tag. But until then, maybe? Maybe not. I just don’t know.
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