2021 Aston Martin DBX First Drive Review


The 2021 Aston Martin DBX is the first SUV in the storied British automaker’s 107-year history. Daimler supplied the engine, the transmission, and the electrical architecture, but the rest of the DBX—the all-aluminum body structure, the anti-roll air suspension, the roomy and practical interior—has all been engineered and executed in-house. Now here’s the thing: This off-road Aston isn’t just a great first-time effort for an automaker that’s never designed and developed an SUV before. It’s great, period. The Aston Martin DBX sets a new benchmark for luxury performance SUVs right out of the box.

Range Rover, Porsche, Bentley, even Lamborghini: You’re on notice. This $192,986 Aston Martin SUV delivers a bewitching blend of performance, luxury, capability, and sheer driving enjoyment.

How Fast is the 2021 Aston Martin DBX?

We’ve already covered the technical elements of the DBX in detail, and we drove a prototype through the rocky desert of Oman last year, but just to recap the highlights: The DBX is powered by the AMG-developed 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 used in various Mercedes-AMG models, as well as Aston’s own DB11 and Vantage sports cars. In DBX trim, it makes 542 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque and drives all four wheels through a performance version of Daimler’s 4Matic all-wheel drive system and silky nine-speed automatic transmission. The drivetrain also features an active center-differential and rear e-diff. Suspension is by way of triple chamber air springs, with active anti-roll, and 22-inch wheels are standard.

At 198.4 inches long, 78.7 inches wide, and 66.1 inches tall, the DBX is slightly longer and wider than the top-of-the-line, $180,000 Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic. But three key numbers reveal where the Aston differs dramatically from the vehicle that in many ways still defines the luxury SUV: 5.5, 7.2, and 850. The first number is how much longer, in inches, is the DBX’s wheelbase than that of the full-size Range Rover. The second is how much lower, in inches, is the roof line. The third is how many fewer pounds the Aston Martin weighs relative to the last short-wheelbase Rover SVA we weighed. And it’s in that third number that the genius of the DBX lies: It’s bigger all around and considerably roomier inside than the Range Rover, yet it weighs 15 percent less.

That not only translates to better performance—Aston Martin engineers claim the DBX takes 4.3 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph, 0.6 seconds less than the 15 hp more powerful Range Rover—but, with the help of the nine-speed transmission, should also translate to lower fuel consumption; at 70 mph in ninth gear, the engine is ticking over at just 1,300 rpm. Plus, it only takes a handful of miles behind the wheel to understand how its lighter weight has helped define the DBX’s dynamics. That, and the sophisticated suspension developed and tuned under the direction of Aston Martin vehicle attributes guru, Matt Becker.

Does The 2021 Aston Martin DBX Have Height Adjustable Suspension?

The DBX rides on a height adjustable suspension with triple chamber air springs and has a ZF active anti-roll system that deploys up to 1,032 lb-ft of torque to twist both the front and rear anti-roll bars against the cornering forces. The hardware itself is not unusual—Bentley’s Bentayga uses a similar setup—but what sets the DBX apart from any other large luxury SUV is the tuning: Becker’s team has delivered a chassis that feels at once agile and poised, regardless of what’s happening beneath those 22-inch wheels and low-profile tires.

There are six drive modes, accessed via a pair of switches on the center console. The default setting is GT mode, which gives smoother throttle tip-in and gear shifts, comfort steering and suspension settings, and 7.5 inches of ground clearance. Terrain mode keeps the powertrain in GT mode but raises the ride height 1.2 inches. Terrain+ mode takes the ride height up a further 0.6 inch to 9.3 inches, giving the DBX a 25.7-degree approach angle, a 27.1-degree departure angle, an 18.8-degree breakover angle, and a maximum wading depth of 19.7 inches.

Sport mode drops the ride height by 0.6 inch, sharpens both throttle and transmission response, and sets the steering to Sport, which marginally increases the effort; the ratio stays at 14:1. Sport+ drops the ride height to 6.3 inches—the system will drop it to this level automatically at speeds above 124 mph—and allows a distant snap-crackle from the exhaust when you lift off the gas. Both modes stiffen the spring and damper rates, as well as the roll stiffness, with Sport+ adding a little extra stiffness to the rear axle to help the car rotate, says Becker.

How the 2021 Aston Martin DBX drives

Left in GT mode, the DBX flowed beautifully down the gnarly British backroads on our drive loop, with the nine-speed automatically adroitly surfing the twin-turbo V-8’s broad swathe of mid-range torque. The steering is light, accurate, and communicative, and there’s an oily compliance to the primary ride, heave motions additionally calmed by that long wheelbase. The lack of body roll through turns, the absence of diagonal pitch and side-to-side head toss over bumps, and the way the dampers deftly catch upward body motions all conspire to make the Aston feel remarkably calm and composed.

With the suspension in Sport+ mode, the Aston is in a class of its own. Selecting stiffer spring, damper, and roll rates make many of its rivals feel jittery on anything other than perfectly smooth roads, but in the DBX, Sport+ mode barely constrains the natural fluidity of the chassis and adds a touch more agility on corner entry. The twin-turbo V-8 likes to party in Sport+ mode, with the exhaust note taking on a basso profundo growl and the tach needle swinging readily to the 7,000 rpm redline under the more alert throttle.

The DBX is no rock crawler, of course, but there was similar calmness and composure evident around the short off-road course on our drive route. In the Terrain modes, the active anti-roll system uses data from ride height sensors at each wheel to push the wheels down into hollows, effectively decoupling the roll stiffness and electronically enhancing articulation. The 22-inch wheels, the biggest wheel Aston has ever offered, and taut low-profile tires—285/40 front and 325/35 rear—make the ride under 25 mph a little niggly at times, not quite as good as a Range Rover on similarly sized rims. Ordering four-season rather than summer tires takes a little of the edge off, says Becker, as the tread blocks are softer.

To really appreciate how much of a game-changer the Aston Martin DBX is, head to a racetrack, select Sport+ mode, and switch off all the nannies. And be prepared to be blown away. It is a staggeringly good thing to drive fast, an SUV you can genuinely push with passion and verve and all the skill you can muster, without feeling you’re constantly at war with the laws of physics. On summer tires, there’s a deftness and precision at the front end you simply won’t feel in any other SUV apart from, perhaps, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q4 Quadrifoglio. The Aston rotates beautifully on corner entry, stays flat all the way through, and dances on the throttle on the way out, exiting with just a smidgeon of perfectly poised opposite lock as the e-diff optimizes the torque flow.

Unlike the Porsche Cayenne Turbo or Bentley Bentayga, or even the spectacularly fast Lamborghini Urus, the Aston never feels like it’s murdering the front tires when you push it hard, and it doesn’t need the rear-steering system fitted to all three to help it turn in to corners. Instead of feeling like a tall, nose-heavy truck, the DBX drives more like a low-slung gran turismo, the 4Matic system sending up to 100 percent of the drive to the rear axle, and no more than 47 percent to the front. It can understeer if you get on the gas too early, but you instantly feel the slip, with the tire sliding across the surface rather than trying to roll off the rim, and can quickly adjust by easing off the throttle momentarily to get the chassis to rotate and then going to power to keep it all nicely balanced.

2021 Aston Martin DBX Exterior

It’s difficult to translate sports car design cues onto a tall two-box canvas; witness Porsche’s first-generation Cayenne. But the elegantly proportioned DBX is indisputably a member of the Aston Martin family. The front end is dominated by a supersized version of the iconic Aston Martin grille that gives the DBX a muscular yet sporty road presence. The sculpted body side is framed by fenders teased out over the wheels. A strong, carefully tensioned line that runs back from the top of the front fenders, and a roofline that drops as it runs rearwards from the windshield, give the DBX the athletic gesture of a sports car.

At the rear, the light graphic arching across a pronounced ducktail spoiler is an obvious nod to the Vantage coupe. But its thin section means that, from the base of the rear bumper to the lower edge of the rear backlight, you’re looking at an awful lot of painted metal and plastic. The black-painted lower fascia helps take away some of the visual mass, but that trick won’t work on a DBX painted black. It’s probably the most polarizing element of the car.

There’s function as well as form baked into the exterior design. Ducts around the daytime running lamps at the front of the DBX create fast jets of air that flow through the front wheel wells, around the front tires and exit through vents on the body sides, helping keep air attached to the sides of the car and reducing drag. A wing at the trailing edge of the roof provides some downforce, but more critically, it keeps most of the airflow attached to the rear window, which ensures that water is cleared from the raked backlight. That Vantage-style ducktail on the tailgate then manages that airflow at the rear of the vehicle to reduce lift at speed.

2021 Aston Martin DBX Interior

The DBX interior execution is straight out of the current Aston Martin playbook. It’s modern in its forms and details, but you can order some quintessentially old-school English touches if you wish, such as leather on the seats that’s brogued like a hand-made shoe, and wood on the center console and door trims. Fashionistas can opt for an 80 percent wool blend covering on the seats if they prefer, along with bronze mesh, a flax composite, or carbon fiber trim instead of wood. Whatever the specification, each DBX interior will require more than 200 hours of hand finishing.

The configurable digital dash is pure 21st century, however, with different colored frames for the virtual speedo and tach in each drive mode. Look around, and you’ll notice lots of pre-MBUX Mercedes-Benz hardware, most notably the infotainment system and switchgear. The heated and cooled power front seats are comfortable, though the adjustment controls are hidden down on the side of the seat squab rather than up on the door and easy to see like in a Mercedes. The horizontal spokes of the steering wheel are crammed with fiddly little buttons that take time to decipher, and Aston’s trademark spread of PRND buttons across the center of the dash may force shorter drivers to stretch when selecting a gear.

The practical side? Rear seat accommodation is superb, with that long wheelbase offering more legroom than anything other than a long wheelbase Range Rover or Rolls-Royce Cullinan. There’s plenty of headroom for six-footers, too; This Aston Martin can genuinely carry four adults in comfort. The electrically powered tailgate opens to reveal a 22.3 cu-ft. trunk that can be expanded to 54.0 cu-ft. via the 40/20/40 split-fold rear seat. The rear load space is relatively shallow, but wide and long, and the floor lies flush with the rear bumper. Buttons on the right side of the hatch opening unlock the rear seat backs; on the left, they raise and lower the rear of the car to make loading easier.

Today’s big, fast, and powerful SUVs are arguably 21st century gran turismos: vehicles capable of taking four passengers and their luggage across continents quickly and comfortably, on all roads, in all weathers. But the 2021 Aston Martin DBX is the first one that actually drives like a proper GT.

2021 Aston Martin DBX
BASE PRICE $192,986
LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 4.0L/542-hp/516-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4,950 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 120.5 in
L x W x H 198.4 x 78.7 x 64.2-68.0 in
0-60 MPH 4.3 sec (mfr est)
EPA FUEL ECON 15/20/17 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 225/169 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.15 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE Fall 2020

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