This year, fans of the original 1967 Aston Martin DBS will be blowing out the candles on its 50th birthday cake. Wait another two years, however, and a more significant anniversary connected with the DBS occurs — more significant for fans of the entire brand, that is. For, in 1969, the DBS got the choice of a V8 engine, the first time a V8 had appeared in an Aston Martin.

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The Aston Martin DB11 prowling through Shanghai Film Park in the Old Town of Shanghai

The legendary straight-six engines of the DB4, DB5 and DB6 continued into the 1970s, but here was a larger, more powerful engine ready to take on a new iteration of dynamic, performance-orientated Aston Martins, which nonetheless retained a long-legged, cross-continental touring character.

It makes sense then, that the new DB11 Grand Tourer, the “most important car that Aston Martin has built in its 104-year existence”, and also “the most dynamically gifted”, according to Dr Andy Palmer, CEO of Aston Martin, should now be offered with the choice of a new 4.0-litre V8 engine alongside the 5.2-litre V12 that the car was launched with.

There’s a new alloy finish and the headlight bezels are darker

For Karen Gibson, Product Planning Director at Aston Martin, it’s all about extending the DB11’s abilities. “It increases the breadth of the DB11 family and positions the V12 version as a halo product,” she says.

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The new V8 flavour of the DB11 will be marked out by a couple of subtle design changes: the bonnet mesh blades from the V12 version are gone and there are fewer bonnet vents; there’s a new alloy wheel finish and the headlight bezels are darker. The launch of the V8 model also heralds the arrival, in both V8 and V12 derivatives, of blind-spot monitoring technology and new design options.

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The new V8 engine sits low in the car for better handling dynamics and to maintain the streamlined bonnet line

Developed as part of the collaboration with Daimler AG, the AMG-sourced V8 has been transformed, recalibrated and enhanced by Aston Martin’s powertrain engineers to give it a character and quality that suits the unique nature of the British luxury marque. The version in the DB11 has a new sump and new air intake so that it can sit lower in the car than it would otherwise have done, for better handling dynamics and to maintain that familiar, streamlined low bonnet line.

The DB11’s new V8 engine has that vital Aston Martin deep, visceral, signature note

The exhaust system is also unique to Aston Martin, which has recalibrated the engine’s software to give the DB11 that vital deep, visceral signature note. More significantly, this new engine has twin turbochargers, which is “where the market place is going”, says Gibson, pragmatically. As well as the obvious fuel savings, it places the DB11 in a lower tax bracket for drivers in markets such as China.

Then there’s the character of the engine in a car that is really the new face of Aston Martin and the marker for the brand’s future direction. You have to drive a V8 quite hard in a naturally aspirated engine, whereas the turbos do much of the heavy lifting for the more languid, grand-touring drivers among us.

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The DB11 V8’s performance figures are highly impressive: 503bhp, 498lb ft of torque, 0-62mph in 4.0 seconds, which is only one tenth of a second shy of the V12, and a top speed of 187mph. While the stats are undeniably impressive, they tell only half the story when it comes to the sporting character of the DB11.

Where the V8 engine excels is in its lighter weight, meaning that the front end of the DB11 has gone on a diet and the car’s weight distribution is close to the Holy Grail of a 50:50 balance. In other words, while you might miss the raw passion and definitive Grand Tourer experience of the mighty V12 — in which case, the larger engine is for you — you do get a sharp, engaging, sporting drive from a V8. And all of that comes at a slightly lower price point.

The front end of the DB11 has gone on a diet and the car’s weight distribution is close to a 50:50 balance

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It’s a conundrum that is at least as old as Aston Martin: the pinnacle of luxury, or the pinnacle of performance? Thankfully, British marques such as Aston Martin are past masters at pinpointing the ideal moment when performance and luxury cross over, and honing their engineering and design efforts on that pinprick on the chart.

If you’re still weighing up the odds, consider this: how many British marques can claim such a heady success with a V8 engine in both its road cars and its motorsport endeavours? I give you last year’s limited-edition and highly prized Vantage GT8, swallowed up overnight by discerning buyers.

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Fortunately, the DB11 presents the wavering V12/V8 customer with a win-win situation as the new Grand Tourer has already confirmed Andy Palmer’s description of it as the most dynamically gifted car in Aston Martin’s history. It’s simply a question of choosing immense passion or sporting refinement.

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