23/09/2020

The luxury brand wants its first SUV to be a multi-terrain all-star, and that means leaving the pavement behind.

When you take an Aston Martin into a turn, the only thought in your mind should be how to get out of it as fast as possible, preferably with tires smoking and the back end swinging out just enough to help you carry more speed through the curve in the road without losing control. Making it happen is a question of combining the throttle, brake, and steering just so, keeping everything pointing the right way. So thats what Im thinking as I hang an arcing left, but the calculus is a novel one. Instead of predictable pavement, Im on a dirt road covered with the slippery red sand of the Arabian Peninsula. And instead of a track beast like Astons Vantage, Im in the companys all-new SUV, the DBX.
Im testing the DBX in Oman, where Aston engineers are putting the finishing touches on the handling and dynamics of the sleek new five-passenger, $189,000 model, due out later this year. Theyre nudging it as close to being a multi-terrain supercar as they can, something that can power slide across tarmac and dirt with the poise that befits the British carmakers storied nameplate. If they hit the mark, Ill look like T. E. Lawrence reincarnated, with an upgraded camel. If not, I may well wrap their new toy around one of the ageless boulders that line the road.
Stay in the know with our Transportation newsletter. Sign up here!
I flick the wheel to break the back end loose and plunge the throttle. The Aston skips and shudders across the rippled surface, but holds the line as it arcs to the left. The rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, adjusting how much torque goes to each wheel from one millisecond to the next, helps the cars steadily increasing oversteer creep toward the edge of the road, the tires spitting rocks and dirt at the boulders. Were trying to send engine power to all the right places to make it fun and playful, but still very safe, says DBX chief engineer Matt Becker. So, as you can see, the car is able to go sideways, much to everyones joy.
The Aston delivers a few scary moments as the terrain slides around beneath it, but does impressive work considering it lacks the proper kitknobby tires and a truly off-road suspensionthat would make it unbearable to drive on surface streets. The V8 engine, brought in from Mercedes-AMG, produces 542 horsepower and takes the SUV to 181 mph. The nine-speed transmission keeps pace brilliantly, giving me no reason to interfere with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
This is just one more test for the DBX, but every grade carries an outsize weight. Aston Martins sales dropped last year, despite a lineup of savage supercars like the Vantage, DB11, and DBS, the Valkyrie hypercar, and the upcoming Valhalla hypercar. And despite a variety of efforts underway to secure further investment and right the companys financial ship. A briskly selling SUV could be Astons savior. It wouldnt be the first of its kind: Luxury SUVs from Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, and Maserati have become customer favorites, reflecting the markets obsession with the big rides and performance enthusiasts desire for a practical vehicle that still feels special.
To deliver that feeling, Astons engineers are leaning heavily on the highly adaptable, electronically controlled powertrains and suspensions that have made truly multi-environment SUVs newly possible. The DBXs 48-volt electric system, for instance, allows for an active anti-roll bar, which pushes the wheels down in response to body roll movement in hard cornering. An old-fashioned passive equivalent, such as the torsion bars that must be set permanently, cant be adjusted based on driving conditions.