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Whatever sports car purists may think of sports SUVs, they’ve become a business imperative.
Niche sports car brands were slow to embrace them, but when it became clear how profitable vehicles like the Porsche Cayenne were, almost every carmaker got on board (however grudgingly). Aston Martin was one of the last holdouts and launched its DBX in 2020, a full 18 years after the Cayenne’s debut.
It turned out to be auspicious timing for a struggling company that posted big losses in 2020, and the DBX has been an instant success. Aston Martin sales soared 224% in the first half of 2021 compared to the year before, with the DBX accounting for half of them.
The 108-year-old company is on steadier ground after a consortium of investors led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll took a 16.7% stake in early 2020, and he became executive chairman. Tobias Moers, former CEO of Mercedes-AMG, was hired as the new CEO and Mercedes-Benz will boost its stake in the British automaker from 2.6% to as much as 20% by 2023.
The Mercedes partnership goes back to 2013 and under its clamshell bonnet the DBX uses a Mercedes-AMG twin-turbo 4.0l V8 shared with the Aston Martin DB11 and Vantage. In the DBX it is tuned to deliver 405kW and 700Nm, which is good for a claimed 292km/h top speed and 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds.
I didn’t achieve anywhere near that top speed in my stint behind the wheel on public roads, but the luxury SUV accelerated with real gusto — enough to make that quick 0-100 claim seem feasible.
Power comes in hard and lag-free from a standing start, and in terms of straight line performance this big SUV has the feel of a machine bearing the winged Aston Martin badge. It has a fittingly hoarse sound to raise the emotions too, blurting lustily through a pair of oversized exhausts.
Emotion of a more negative kind will be felt at the fuel pump however, with the test car slurping 17.6l/100km.
Heavy, high-riding vehicles are the antithesis of agility but engineers have done a decent job of making the DBX feel less hulk-like.
Despite its aluminium body the vehicle still weighs a hefty 2,245kg, but adaptive air suspension combines with an electric antiroll control system to keep this jumbo from feeling excessively top heavy. An active central differential and an electronic rear limited slip differential (eDiff) allow the torque to be moved fore and aft and across the rear axle, maximising traction whenever the driver gets playful with the throttle.
The DBX is a jack of all trades in a wide range of driving conditions, with ride height that can be raised or lowered, and there are five driving modes: a default GT, Sport, Sport Plus, Terrain and Terrain Plus.
These latter modes, along with permanent all wheel drive, give the DBX some off-road ability if sensible high-profile tyres are fitted.
In its softer settings the air suspension provides a suitably wafting ride and it’s not a vehicle that jars uncomfortably on unkempt tar.
The design of the DBX relies on standard Aston Martin tropes including the signature “DB” grille at the front, and a curving tailgate line that draws inspiration from the Vantage.
The DBX uses a Mercedes infotainment system but hasn’t sold its soul to its German cohort, and the interior décor is the brand’s typical handcrafted luxury right down to the traditional glass start-stop button.
It’s a family-sized Aston Martin with plenty of space, a large 632l boot and a full-length glass panoramic roof, and you can order a Pet package with a portable washer to hose off dirty Dobermans after a walk.
This kind of practicality seems jarring for a sports car brand and one is tempted, in a moment of purist pique, to suggest that SUVs have no place in the line ups of marques like Aston Martin, Porsche, Lamborghini et al. That such high-riding behemoths can't be considered true sports cars.
But such quaint ideals quickly evaporate against the bottom line. SUVs are money spinners for sports car brands and in some cases have kept those brands alive.
The bulky DBX does manage to channel some Aston Martin spirit into its design and driving character. The winged badge commands a premium and at R3.95m the DBX is expensive compared to a number of accomplished rivals, some of them considerably more powerful.
The vehicle is available from Daytona in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, and comes with a three year/unlimited mileage warranty and three year/45,000km service plan.
Audi RS Q8, R2.4m — 441kW/800Nm
Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S, R2.9m — 450kW/850Nm
Porsche Cayenne Turbo S e-hybrid, R2.98m — 500kW/900Nm
BMW X5 M Competition, R2.99m — 460kW/750Nm
Bentley Bentayga V8, R3.8m — 404kW/770Nm
Maserati Levante Trofeo, R3.9m — 433kW/730Nm
Lamborghini Urus, R3.99m — 478kW/850Nm
Range Rover SV Autobiography Dynamic Supercharged, R4.06m — 416kW/700Nm
Bentley Bentayga Speed, R5.45m — 467kW/900Nm
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.