Aston Martin DB11 VS McLaren 540C
Aston Martin DB11
- Expected safety tech MIA
- Modest warranty
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Brilliant dynamics
- Impressive performance
- (Relatively) approachable price
- Tricky entry/egress
- Drinks a bit when pushed (don't we all)
- Practicality not a strong suit
Aston Martin DB11
It might look like a stealth fighter, but this dramatic example of Aston Martin’s DB11 AMR didn’t fly under anyone’s radar during its time in the CarsGuide garage.
Forget the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, this piece of British royalty caused jaws to drop and camera phones to rise more effectively than any mere ginger celebrity or ex-TV trouper.
AMR stands for Aston Martin Racing, and this performance flagship replaces the ‘standard’ DB11, delivering even more fire under the hood and fury from the exhaust. Aston also claims it’s faster, dynamically superior, and sleeker on the inside.
In fact, the DB11 AMR’s 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 now produces enough grunt to accelerate it from 0-100km/h in just 3.7 seconds.
More than just a flash Harry, then? Let’s find out.
|Engine Type||5.2L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Believe it or not, the McLaren 540C is an entry-level model. But you won't find anything remotely resembling rubber floor mats, steel wheels, or cloth seats here. This is a 'base' car like few others.
Revealed in 2015, it's actually the cornerstone of McLaren's three-tier supercar pyramid, being the most affordable member of the Sport Series, with the properly exotic Super Series (650S, 675LT and now 720S), and pretty much insane Ultimate Series (where the P1 hypercar briefly lived) rising above it.
Only a few years ago, McLaren meant nothing to anyone outside the octane-infused world of motorsport. But in 2017, it's right up there with aspirational sports car big guns like Ferrari and Porsche, both of which have been producing road cars for close to 70 years.
So, how has this British upstart managed to build a world-beating supercar brand so quickly?
Everything you need to know to answer that question resides inside the stunning McLaren 540C.
|Engine Type||3.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Aston Martin DB118/10
The Aston Martin DB11 AMR is fast, capable and beautiful. It has a unique character and charisma its Italian and German competitors can’t match. That said, some important media and safety-tech features are absent. So, it’s not perfect... just brilliant.
Is an Aston Martin DB11 AMR on your sports car wish list? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The 540C is desirable on so many levels. Its dynamic ability, blistering performance, and stunning design make the cost of entry a value-for-money ticket. And the refreshing thing is, choosing a McLaren, with its focus on function and pure engineering, sidesteps the wankery that so often goes with ownership of an 'established' exotic brand. We absolutely love it.
Do you think McLaren is a genuine competitor for the usual supercar suspects? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Aston Martin DB1110/10
For a while there it looked like Aston Martin had fallen into the ‘everything looks the same’ trap, with Ian Callum’s breakthrough DB7 design in the mid-‘90s writing the script for the DB9 that followed, and heavily influencing everything else in the brand’s subsequent portfolio.
But in 2014, Aston’s design chief Marek Reichman sent a message with the DB10 Concept that things were about to change.
James Bond had Q and MI6 to thank for his DB10 company car in Spectre, but real-world Aston Martin customers were soon offered the DB11, which combined the muscularity of Reichman’s work on the ultra-exclusive One-77 from a decade earlier with the swooping, long-nosed proportions of his track-only Vulcan hypercar.
The hallmark of a well executed 2+2 GT is that it looks bigger in photos than it does in reality, and the DB11 is a perfect case in point.
Appearing limo-sized in our accompanying images, the DB11 is in fact 34mm shorter end-to-end than a Ford Mustang, but it’s exactly 34mm wider, and no less than 91mm lower in overall height.
And as any fashionista worth their salt will tell you, dark colours are slimming, and our ‘Onyx Black’ AMR, with gloss black 20-inch forged rims and black ‘Balmoral’ leather interior accentuated the car’s tightly drawn, shrink-wrapped surface treatment.
Signature elements in the shape of a broad, tapering grille, divided side vents, and sharply curved, two-level (smoked) tail-lights clearly identify the DB11 as an Aston Martin.
But the smooth integration of the car’s broad haunches (very One-77), gently tapering turret (optional exposed carbon) and flowing bonnet is masterful and fresh. The dash-to-axle ratio (the distance from the base of the windscreen to the front axle line) is Jaguar E-Type-esque.
And it’s all subtly aero-efficient, For example, the door handles fit flush to the body, the mirror housings double as mini ‘wings’, and the Aston Martin ‘Aeroblade’ system channels air running from carefully crafted openings at the base of the C-pillar, through the rear of the car to generate downforce (with minimal drag) across a lateral vent on the trailing edge of the bootlid. A small flap rises at “high speed” when more stability is required.
The interior is all business, with a simple instrument binnacle showcasing a central 12.0-inch digital speedo-within-tacho combination, flanked by configurable engine, performance and media read-outs on either side.
Aston has form with squared-off steering wheels and the DB11’s is flat on the bottom and decidedly straight on the sides, affording a clear view of the gauges without compromising purpose. A leather and Alcantara trim combination is (literally) a nice touch.
The teardrop-shaped centre stack sits in a slightly recessed section (optionally) lined with ‘carbon-fibre twill’, while the form and function of the 8.0-inch multimedia screen at the top will be immediately familiar to current Mercedes-Benz drivers, as the system, including the console mounted rotary controller and touchpad, is sourced from the three-pointed-star brand.
A band of proudly illuminated buttons across the centre includes gear settings for the transmission and a winged stop-starter in the middle. Strange, then, that the plastic knobs on the adjustable air vents look and feel so cheap and bland. This a $400k-plus Aston Martin, where’s the knurled alloy?
Other highlights include elegant sports seats trimmed in a combination of premium leather and Alcantara. Aston offers various levels of leather and our car’s black ‘Balmoral’ hide is taken from the top shelf.
The key accent colour inside and out on our test example was a screaming lime green, picking out the brake calipers, centre strips on the seats, and contrast stitching throughout the cabin. Sounds awful, looks amazing.
In 2010 the recent rise (and rise) of McLaren Automotive really began, when its design director, the hugely respected Frank Stephenson, started to send things in a compelling direction.
He says McLarens are 'designed by air' and that intricately sculpted, wind-tunnel-driven approach to supercar beauty is clear in the 540C's shape.
A serious front spoiler and a mix of large intakes low in the nose create a delicate balance between downforce and corridors for cooling air.
Broad strakes down the side, standing proud of the main bodywork, are reminiscent of a formula one car's turbulence reducing barge boards, and giant intake ducts channel air through to the radiators in the cleanest, most efficient way possible.
And the look is suitably spectacular. You could hang the dramatically carved doors in a contemporary art museum.
There's a delicate lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the main deck, and a giant multi-channel diffuser proves air flow under the car is just as carefully managed as that going over it.
But the 540C doesn't lack traditional supercar drama. The dihedral design doors swinging up to their fully open position is a camera phone attracting, jaw dropping, traffic-stopper.
The interior is simple, striking and single-mindedly driver-focused. The chunky wheel is completely unadorned, the digital instruments are crystal clear, and the seats are the perfect combination of support and comfort.
The vertical 7.0-inch 'IRIS' touchscreen is cool to the point of minimalism, managing everything from audio and nav, to media streaming and air-con, with low-key efficiency.
Aston Martin DB117/10
On one hand it’s hard to describe a supercar like the DB11 as practical when its primary purpose is to go ridiculously fast and look incredibly good in the process.
But this is, in fact, a ‘2+2’ GT, meaning a couple of occasional seats have been squeezed behind the front pair to allow obliging contortionists, or more likely small children, to enjoy the ride.
No one is claiming full four-seat capacity, but it’s a trick that has for decades made cars like Porsche’s 911 a more practical choice for high-end, high-performance sports car buyers.
At 183cm I can verify the chronically limited space back there, without anything in terms of connectivity, specific ventilation or storage options provided. Good luck, kids.
For those up front it’s a very different story. First, the doors are hinged to move up slightly as they swing out, which makes entry and egress a more civilised process than it might otherwise be. That said, those doors are still long, so it pays to pre-plan a workable parking spot, and the high-mounted, forward-facing interior release handles are awkward to use.
Storage runs to a box between the seats, complete with a two-stage electrically controlled lid, housing a pair of cupholders, an oddments space, two USB inputs and an SD card slot. Then, there are slim pockets in the doors, and that’s about it. no glove box or netted pouches. Just a small tray for coins or the key in front of the media controller.
And speaking of the key, it’s another strangely underwhelming part of the DB11 AMR’s presentation. Plain and insubstantial, it looks and feels like the key to an under-$20k budget special, rather than the heavy, polished and glamorous item you’d expect to be subtly placing on the table in your preferred three-hat restaurant.
The carpet-lined boot measures 270 litres, which is enough for some small suitcases and a soft bag or two. In fact, Aston Martin offers a four-piece accessory luggage set “expertly tailored to match the car’s specification.”
Don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, an inflator/repair kit is your only option in the case of a puncture.
There are some cursory concessions to practicality… like a glovebox, a single cupholder under the dash at the leading edge of the centre console, a small bin between the seats, housing multiple USB outlets, and other storage options here and there.
The latter includes a shelf at the top of the bulkhead behind the seats, marked with a specific label saying (words to the effect of) 'don't put stuff here', but that's more about objects flying forward in a high-G deceleration, which in this car is more likely to be the result of hitting the brakes, rather than a crash.
But the 'big' surprise is the 144-litre boot in the nose, complete with light and 12 volt power outlet. It easily swallowed the CarsGuide medium sized, 68-litre hard shell suitcase.
In terms of getting in and out, make sure you've done you warm-ups because frankly it's an athletic challenge to maintain composure and get the job done either way. Despite best efforts, I hit my head a couple of times, and aside from the pain it's worth pointing out that being a follicularly-challenged person I'm forced to display abrasions in full public view.
Price and features
Aston Martin DB118/10
Head into the $400k new car zone and expectations are understandably high. The DB11 AMR’s is a continent-crushing GT after all, and you want your fair share of luxury and convenience features to go with its huge performance potential.
For $428,000 (plus on-road costs), as well as the safety and performance tech (of which there’s plenty) covered in later sections, you can expect a lengthy standard features list, including a full-grain leather interior (seats, dash, doors, etc), Alcantara headlining, multi-function ‘Obsidian Black’ leather-trimmed steering wheel, electrically adjustable and heated front seats (with three memory positions), heated/folding exterior mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, and 360-degree ‘Surround View’ parking cameras (including front and rear cameras).
Also standard are cruise control (plus speed limiter), sat nav, dual-zone climate control, the electronic instrument cluster (with mode-specific displays), keyless entry and start, a multi-function trip computer, 400-Watt Aston Martin audio system (with smartphone and USB integration, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth streaming), plus the 8.0-inch touch-control multimedia screen.
Then there are LED headlights, tail-lights and DRLs, ‘dark’ grille, headlight bezels, and tailpipe finishers, 20-inch forged alloy rims, carbon-fibre bonnet vent blades and side strakes, dark anodised brake calipers and, to reinforce the car’s motorsport DNA, the AMR logo sits on the door sill plates and is embossed on the front-seat headrests.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality is a surprising omission, but our test car more than made up for it with a motherload of optional extras including an exposed carbon-fibre roof panel, roof strakes and rear-view mirror caps, as well as ventilated front seats, the vivid ‘AMR Lime’ brake calipers, plus a ‘Dark Chrome Jewellery Pack’ and ‘Q Satin Twill’ carbon-fibre trim inlays to add presence in the cabin. Along with some other bits and pieces this adds up to an as-tested total of $481,280 (before on-road costs).
Standard kit runs to climate control air con, an alarm system, cruise control, remote central locking, LED headlights, tail-lights and DRLs, keyless entry and drive, a limited-slip differential, leather steering wheel, power folding mirrors, four-speaker audio, and a multi-function trip computer.
'Our' car featured close to $30,000 worth of options; headline items being the 'Elite - McLaren Orange' paint finish ($3620), a 'Sport Exhaust' system ($8500), and the 'Security Pack' ($10,520) which includes front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, alarm upgrade and a vehicle lifter that raises the front of the car an extra 40mm at the push of a column stalk. Very handy.
And the signature orange shade follows through with orange brake calipers peeking out through the standard 'Club Cast' alloy rims, and similarly coloured seatbelts inside.
Engine & trans
Aston Martin DB119/10
The DB11 AMR’s (AE31) 5.2-litre, twin-turbo V12 is an all-alloy unit, tuned to deliver 470kW (up 22kW on the old model) at 6500rpm, while retaining the previous DB11’s 700Nm of maximum torque from 1500rpm all the way to 5000rpm.
As well as dual variable camshaft timing, the engine features a water-to-air intercooler and cylinder deactivation, which allows it to run as a V6 under light loads.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via a ZF-sourced eight-speed (torque converter) auto transaxle with column-mounted paddles, recalibrated for faster shifting in more aggressive Sport and Sport+ modes. A limited-slip differential is standard.
Aside from you and a passenger, the most important thing sitting between the 540C's axles is the 3.8-litre (M838TE) twin-turbo V8.
Developed in collaboration with British high-tech engineering specialist, Ricardo, McLaren's used it in various states of tune across different models, including the P1, and even in this 'entry-level' spec it produces enough power to light up a small town.
In 540C trim, the all-alloy unit delivers 397kW (540 metric horsepower, hence the model designation) at 7500rpm, and 540Nm from 3500-6500rpm. It uses race-derived dry sump lubrication, and a compact flat plane crank design, favoured by Ferrari and others in high-performance engines.
While vibration damping can be an issue with this configuration, it allows a much higher rev ceiling relative to the more common cross plane arrangement, and this engine screams up to 8500rpm, a stratospheric number for a road-going turbo.
The seven-speed 'Seamless-Shift' dual-clutch transmission sends drive exclusively to the rear wheels and comes from Italian gearbox gurus Oerlikon Graziano. It's been progressively refined and upgraded since its first appearance in the MP4-12C in 2011.
Aston Martin DB117/10
Minimum fuel requirement for the DB11 AMR is 95 RON premium unleaded and you’ll need 78 litres of it to fill the tank.
Claimed economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 11.4L/100km, the big V12 emitting 265g/km of CO2 in the process.
Despite standard stop-start and cylinder deactivation tech, in roughly 300km of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded a figure exactly nothing like that, according to the on-board computer we more than doubled the claimed number on ‘spirited’ drives. The best average figure we saw was still in the high teens.
McLaren claims 10.7L/100km for the combined (urban/extra urban) fuel economy cycle, emitting 249g/km of CO2 at the same time.
For the record, that's six per cent better than the Ferrari 488 GTB (11.4L/100km – 260g/km), and if you take it easy on a constant freeway cruise, you can lower it even further.
But most of the time, we, ahem, didn't do better than that, averaging 14.5L/100km via the trip computer in just over 300km of city, suburban and freeway running.
Aston Martin DB119/10
The moment you press the starter the DB11 begins a theatrical performance worthy of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
A high-pitched whine reminiscent of a Formula One air-starter precedes a raucous blast of exhaust noise as the twin-turbo V12 bursts into life.
It’s spine-tingling, but for those wanting to remain on good terms with their neighbours a quiet-start setting is available.
At this point, rocker buttons on either side of the steering wheel set the tone for what follows. The one on the left, marked with a shock-absorber graphic, allows you to scroll the adaptive damping set-up through Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ settings. Its ‘S’ branded partner on the right facilitates a similar trick with the drivetrain.
So, throwing urban serenity out the window, we pushed into maximum attack mode for the engine, and by extension the exhaust, selected D and began to enjoy the first act.
A launch-control function is standard, so purely in the interests of science we explored its function and can confirm it works exceptionally well.
Aston claims the DB11 AMR will accelerate from 0-100km/h in just 3.7sec, which is properly fast, and two tenths of a second faster than the standard DB11 it replaces.
Keep the pedal pinned and two things will happen; you’ll reach a maximum velocity of 334km/h and generate headline news across the country while making your way directly to jail.
With 700Nm available from just 1500rpm, and remaining on tap to 5000rpm, mid-range thrust is monumental and the thundering exhaust note accompanying it is the stuff automotive dreams are made of.
Peak power of 470kW (630hp) takes over at 6500rpm (with the rev ceiling sitting at 7000rpm) and delivery is impressively linear, without a hint of turbo hesitation.
The eight-speed auto is simply superb, picking up gears at just the right point and holding on to them for exactly the right amount of time. Select manual mode and the slender shift levers on either side of the steering column allow even more control.
In Sport and Sport+ drivetrain modes the howling exhaust is accompanied by an entertaining array of pops and bangs on up and down shifts. Bravo!
Spring and damper rates are unchanged from the previous DB11 and even on enthusiastic back-road runs we found suspension in Comfort and driveline in Sport+ to be the best combination. Flicking the shocks into Sport+ is best kept for track days.
Steering is (speed dependent) electrically power-assisted. It’s beautifully progressive, yet pin-sharp with excellent road feel.
The big 20-inch forged alloy rims are shod with high-performance Bridgestone Potenza S007 rubber (255/40 front – 295/35 rear), developed as original equipment for this car and Ferrari’s F12 Berlinetta.
They combine with the 1870kg DB11’s near perfect 51/49 front to rear weight distribution and standard LSD to deliver confidence-inspiring balance and ferocious power down on (quick) corner exit.
Braking is handled by huge (steel) ventilated rotors (400mm front – 360mm rear) clamped by six-piston calipers at the front and four-piston at the rear. We might have put them under decent pressure from time-to-time, but stopping power remained prodigious and the pedal firm.
In the calm of urban traffic the DB11 AMR is civilised, quiet (if you prefer) and comfortable. The sports seats can be adjusted to grip like a vice at speed or provide more breathing room around town, the ergonomics are spot-on, and despite its striking looks, all around vision is surprisingly good.
Overall, driving the DB11 AMR is a special event, flooding the senses and raising the heart rate no matter what the speed.
The best word to describe driving this McLaren is orchestration. The 540C's dynamic elements flow seamlessly together to transform its operator into a conductor guiding a well-honed mechanical orchestra through an energetic concerto.
And slipping (carefully) over the carpeted bulkhead into the driver's seat is like dropping into an ergonomic masterclass. It feels like you're putting the car on, rather than getting into it.
Like all other current McLarens, the 540C is constructed around a one-piece, carbon-fibre tub, which it calls MonoCell II. It's super stiff, and just as importantly, light.
McLaren quotes a dry weight (no fuel, lubricants, or coolant) for the 540C of 1311kg, with the kerb weight a stated 1525kg (including a 75kg passenger). Not featherweight, but with this kind of power sitting a few centimetres behind your head, it's not a lot.
A sophisticated launch control system means zero to licence loss is achieved in a flash (0-100km/h – 3.5sec), with jail time lurking if you ever decide to explore the 540C's 320km/h maximum velocity. And in case you're wondering, it'll blast from 0-200km/h, in just 10.5sec.
The engine sounds brilliantly guttural, with lots of exhaust roar managing to find a way past the turbos. Maximum torque is available across a flat plateau from 3500-6500rpm, and mid-range punch is strong. However, the 540C is anything but a one-trick pony, or is that 540 ponies?
The double wishbone suspension, complete with the adaptive 'Active Dynamics Control' system lets you channel all that forward thrust into huge cornering speed.
The switch from Normal, through Sport to Track progressively buttons everything down harder, and an ideal weight distribution (42f/58r) delivers fantastic agility.
Feel from the electro-hydraulic steering is amazing, the fat Pirelli P Zero rubber (225/35 x 19 front / 285/35 x 20 rear), developed specifically for this car, grips like a Mr T handshake, and the standard 'Brake Steer' torque vectoring system, which applies braking force to optimise drive and minimise understeer, is undetectable in the best possible way.
The steering wheel paddles come in the form of a genuine rocker, so you're able to change up and down ratios on either side of the wheel, or one-handed.
Hammer towards a quick corner and the reassuringly progressive steel rotor brakes bleed off speed with complete authority. Flick down a couple of gears, then turn in and the front end sweeps towards the apex without a hint of drama. Squeeze in the power and the fat rear rubber keeps the car planted, and perfectly neutral mid-corner. Then pin the throttle and the 540C rockets towards the next bend… which can't come quickly enough. Repeat, and enjoy.
But slotting everything into 'Normal' mode transforms this dramatic wedge into a compliant daily driver. Smooth throttle response, surprisingly good vision and excellent ride comfort make the McLaren a pleasure to steer around town.
You'll love catching a glimpse of the heat haze shimmering up off the engine in the rear-view mirror at the lights, and the (optional) nose-lift system makes traversing awkward driveways and speed bumps manageable.
Aston Martin DB117/10
Big speed demands serious active and passive safety, and the DB11 comes up short on the former.
Yes, there’s ABS, EBD, EBA, traction control, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Positive Torque Control (PTC) and Dynamic Torque Vectoring (DTV); even a tyre-pressure monitoring system, and the surround view cameras.
But if a crash is unavoidable there’s plenty of back-up in the form of dual-stage driver and passenger front airbags, front side (pelvis and thorax) airbags, as well as curtain and knee airbags.
Both rear-seat positions offer top tethers and ISOFIX anchors for baby-capsule and child-seat location.
The DB11 hasn’t been assessed for safety performance by ANCAP or EuroNCAP.
In terms of active safety, the car's dynamic ability is one giant safeguard against a collision, and that's backed up by tech features including ABS and brake assist (no AEB, though), as well as stability and traction controls.
But if a crunching-type incident is unavoidable, the carbon-composite chassis offers exceptional crash protection with dual front airbags in support (no side or curtain airbags).
Not a huge surprise that ANCAP (or Euro NCAP, for that matter) hasn't assessed this particular vehicle.
Aston Martin DB117/10
Servicing is recommended every 12 months/16,000km, and an extended, transferable 12-month contract is available, including everything from provision of a taxi/accommodation in the event of breakdown, to coverage of the vehicle at “official Aston Martin organised events.”
That's a lot of kays for a premium exotic like this, and some may not see 15,000km on the odometer… ever.