The Aston Martin DBX climbs effortlessly up the brow of this extraordinarily steep hill, with the sweep of landscape up ahead gradually replaced by the Bedfordshire skies as the car’s elegant nose points ever upwards. And then it’s up and over the crest, and suddenly the windscreen is filled with the road ahead, a vertiginous plunge down a narrow track with dense vegetation rising up on each side. It’s time to take my foot off the brake and trust the car; DBX’s Hill Descent Control takes over and we proceed at a stately pace down this apparently impossible slope.

Over the years, the off-road course at the Millbrook Testing Ground has put hundreds of dedicated 4x4s through their paces. But Aston Martin’s first SUV has no hint of utility or raw functionalism. We’re sitting in an airy, spacious cabin, surrounded by familiar Aston Martin qualities, from the meticulous craftsmanship to the mix of contemporary and traditional materials. Initially, it’s rather disconcerting to equate the physical sensations of driving an Aston Martin with the view out of the window, but it soon becomes second nature and the car doesn’t put a 22-inch wheel wrong on the challenging course.

Rising star: Driving the DBX at the Millbrook Testing Ground

Earlier that day, I walked out to the DBX from the Aston Martin hospitality room at Millbrook, feeling a little bit like a test pilot about to undergo their first flight into the unknown. Like a radical new aircraft, Aston Martin DBX has been a long time in the gestation, teased through concepts and prototypes before the finished version is finally sitting there in front of me on the tarmac. It is a car with a lot to deliver, but the handover is brief and without ceremony: push the starter button and go.

From the earliest conceptualisation to the finished product, Aston Martin has remained unwaveringly committed to its vision for a high-performance SUV. DBX was conceived without compromise, with an intensive development programme that started with the creation of a dedicated bonded aluminium platform. From the outset, DBX could be shaped to deliver the very best of every world, both on-road and off, preserving the essential character of an Aston Martin GT car while offering practicality and functionality like no other model.

We’re surrounded by familiar Aston Martin qualities, from the meticulous craftsmanship to the mix of contemporary and traditional materials

Off-road mission accomplished, there’s a chance to admire the way DBX has been shaped. What matters most to every Aston Martin is proportion, the innate sense of balance between form and surface, wheel and body, glasshouse and headlights. We can take in the entire form of a car in a single glance, but that’s enough for awkward and unbalanced forms to jar and jog the eye. Thankfully, there is no such visual dissonance at play here. Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman has overseen the project from the outset, ensuring that the correct proportions were in place before engineering work and detail design work began. “We’ve successfully managed to achieve a package with the proportions and mechanical layout that allow sports car styling to be applied to a versatile, five-seat vehicle in a beautiful way,” he explains.

Rising star: Driving the DBX at the Millbrook Testing Ground

DBX’s visual connection to Aston Martin’s design legacy is unquestionable. The familiar Aston Martin grille that defines the shape of the bonnet and front wings, with the signature Aston Martin headlights flanking the grille, gives the front of the car a taut, dynamic and sporting focus. A gently curving creased shoulder line runs the length of the car, accentuating the rear haunches and long wheelbase and ensuring the visual mass of the car is focused on the rear wheels. The wheelbase gives DBX a decidedly different set of proportions than its rivals, making it both lower and sleeker with a more sporting appearance. A careful fusion of form and function defines DBX’s ethos, creating one of the most effective grand tourers on the market. “DBX is an SUV that does not compromise beauty or performance for practicality or usability,” says Reichman. “It has been designed to deliver on the proportions that meet the criteria for beauty that we would always apply to the form language of any Aston Martin.”

Stepping up slightly is a novel way of entering an Aston Martin, but once inside you immediately feel at home. This is perhaps the most ergonomically advanced Aston Martin ever made, with class-leading head and leg room, as well as a clean, contemporary dashboard that blends digital dials and screens with beautifully detailed buttons and switchgear. New materials were a particular focus throughout the design process, and the cabin pairs Aston Martin favourites like such as Bridge of Weir leather and Alcantara with a huge panoramic glass roof, carbon fibre trim and a new 80% wool fabric, with the option of incorporating wood such as walnut (available through Q by Aston Martin, the marque’s personalisation service). It is simultaneously familiar and modern, welcoming and focused, with space for five and their luggage for the first time in an Aston Martin.

Rising star: Driving the DBX at the Millbrook Testing Ground

DBX doesn’t just look like an Aston Martin — it sounds and goes like one as well. Back on the twisting inclines of Millbrook’s famous Hill Route, the benefits of DBX’s electric anti-roll control system and adaptive air suspension feel immediately apparent. As well as the ability able to raise the ride height by 45mm or lower it by 50mm, the air suspension adapts to the loading of the car, the driving dynamics and the road surface, giving DBX remarkably flat cornering capabilities. There’s all-wheel drive as well, as one would expect on such a practical machine, all set in motion by a 4-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine, a development of the unit installed in DB11 and Vantage. For DBX, the V8’s output measures 550PS with 700NM of torque, giving the car a 0-62mph of 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 181mph.

Stepping up slightly is a novel way of entering an Aston Martin, but once inside you immediately feel at home

In Sport+ mode, the instant throttle response and barking exhaust contrast strongly with the refined, but muscular performance and exceptional ride quality of GT mode, confirming Chief Engineer - Vehicle Attribute Engineering Matt Becker’s claim to have “pushed the boundaries of what is possible for an SUV”. The brief was exceptionally broad, but Becker and his team have managed to bottle the essence of an Aston Martin GT into an entirely new body shape, sending the brand into territories unknown.

On tarmac, in real-world conditions, DBX’s extraordinary on- and off-road skill set is temporarily put into the back seat. This is our opportunity to experience how well the car rides and drives in day-to-day life, as well as indulge in the qualities that make it a true Aston Martin. That includes a capacity for turning heads, especially with the Satin Xenon Grey bodywork, which gives the car’s flanks a shimmering, lustrous appearance. A full suite of cameras and sensors give you confidence in tight spots, while the refinement and balance make every-day driving effortless.

Rising star: Driving the DBX at the Millbrook Testing Ground

Many owners will designate a DBX as an all-purpose family car and it’s more than suited to the task, if you don’t mind transforming every journey into an occasion. You don’t just drive DBX because you love it — you’ll drive it because it demands to be driven, whatever the place or time and wherever the location.

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