So the Beast of Dartmoor really does exist,” said the kind-eyed man. He was setting off from the Hay Tor car park for an early morning walk with his equally kind-eyed spaniel as photographer Jake Eastham diligently snapped away at the first V8-powered DB11 to be released from captivity. Well, it was black, stealthy, swift, muscular and with a menacing growl, so perhaps comparing this example of the latest DB11 with the elusive, big cat-like animals that have become part of Dartmoor legend was appropriate in the circumstances.
Early on a perfect summer morning with some truly sublime roads at our disposal, the 368 square miles of England’s finest national parkland also seemed to be the ideal habitat for a car which, in a world of traffic-clogged cities and nose-to-tail motorways, majors shamelessly on the sheer pleasure of driving. And the longer my family and I live “on the moor”, the more we appreciate its benefits. True, it can be decidedly damp at times and, as our more metropolitan friends like to point out, it is “a long way from London” (although sometimes not quite far enough). But we never leave home in trepidation of there being a snarl-up just around the corner, the air is as clean as it gets and, before the DB11 came to stay for a few days, there were rarely any arguments about who did the school run.
Yes, the DB11 certainly changed that a bit. It caused children to be ready for the off long before they needed to be and put an end to their parents lingering over that second cup of coffee. It also inspired each of us to produce implausible reasons why the other one really shouldn’t have to get behind the wheel for that oh-so-taxing 10-mile round trip.
That trip skirts half-a-dozen majestically-soaring tors (Dartmoor’s famous rocky outcrops) and passes beneath
sun-dappled oaks and tracks sparkling streams. It then descends sharply into the Willow Valley with an always startling view of St Pancras — not the one of Eurostar fame, but the church in Devon they call “the cathedral of the moor” — to arrive in the village of Widecombe, setting of the 19th-century folksong Widecombe Fair.
True, the DB11 rather stood out at the school gates, parked between the more usual, well-used, badly bruised four-by-fours. But it was undoubtedly the most photographed vehicle those gates had ever seen and, so long as there was no requirement for off-roading, it proved as practical a car as any for delivering children, its two-plus-two seating cosseting them in safe luxury.
With the rear seats empty and the journey home ahead, however, the DB11 always seemed to want to take the long way round — and I was never tempted to argue with it. Heading back up Widecombe hill, a country mile long and a one-in-eight gradient, the all-new engine’s stump-pulling 675 Newton metres of torque made for a truly effortless ascent.
The DB11 is undoubtedly a grand tourer, but the twin-turbocharged V8-powered option magnifies its sporting side
Indeed, while the DB11 is undoubtedly a “grand tourer” in the best traditions of the type, the twin-turbocharged V8 engine option seems to magnify the car’s sporting side, lending it a lightness of handling and a hunkered-down feel that encourages spirited driving and makes the most of everything from the custom-made Bridgestone tyres to the patented “Aeroblade” aerodynamics built-in to the exquisite bodywork by Aston Martin’s Chief Creative Officer, Marek Reichman.
And therein lies another surprisingly practical touch that makes itself welcome on the undulating,
often unpredictable roads of the moor, because the car’s wind-cheating shape eliminates the need for the excessively low-mounted front splitter found on many high- performance cars, thus putting an end to those heart-rending “graunches”. That paring down, that simplicity, extends further.
The superb, electrically powered steering combines the effortlessness of a limousine with a track-ready road car
There are, for example, only three driving modes: GT for gentle driving in the greatest comfort; Sport for firmer handling and sharper steering and braking response; and Sport Plus, which unleashes the car’s ultimate all-round performance potential. While many cars have more options, these can be so extreme that they are seldom, if ever, deployed. Aston Martin’s approach has been to offer fewer, more usable alternatives.
For my many (often unnecessary) drives around the roads of Dartmoor, Sport Plus alone might have sufficed, not least because it allowed the engine to give full voice and express the particular, muscular V8 character that first became a feature of Aston Martins with the original, Tadek Marek-designed unit that debuted in the DBS V8 of 1969.
The subtle tautening of the suspension settings in Sport Plus also enhances driver confidence, leaving time to appreciate one of the car’s other outstanding features — its truly superb, electrically powered steering. This contrives to combine the effortlessness of a limousine with a track-ready road car and is part of an exceptional quality of handling, the result of a near-perfect blend of front-to-rear weight distribution, the light, low-mounted V8 and that ingeniously slippery (and undeniably gorgeous) shape. On serpentine country roads, the result is a car that makes every curve a delight and every drive a thrill; a car that doesn’t just “beg to be driven”, but one that seems to actively respond to the fact that it’s being enjoyed to the full.
It makes it all the more strange that the word that continues to spring to mind when considering the many commendable traits of the DB11 is that seemingly incongruous one that I used earlier — practical. A car this quick, this characterful and this good-looking has no right to be practical, but somehow the DB11 manages it.
Fuel consumption is sufficiently frugal to encourage the use of the car for “running errands” and during our tenure the DB11 shuttled without fuss from home to school to shops to local pub to tennis court. My wife used it for the drive to her yoga class — even suggesting that its tranquil interior prolonged the benefits of her “practice” during the journey home — and quietly commandeered it as her short-term “company car” while carrying out her duties as a property viewer for an upmarket estate agency. “I don’t think they were interested in the house, but they do want to buy a DB11,” came the report on more than one occasion.
This suggests that “Dartmoor beasts” wearing a coat of Onyx Black paintwork might prove somewhat easier to see in the flesh than those of the furry kind. For most of us, evidence of the latter remains nothing more tangible than the blurry smudges of amateur photographers... unlike our photographer’s efforts, which show both the moor and the DB11 in all their considerable glory.