Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Aston Martin DB11
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
Aston Martin DB11
- Expected safety tech MIA
- Modest warranty
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Ever since the middle of the 1990s, I've been captivated by the Mercedes-Benz S Class. It used to be known as Sonderklasse - special class - and teenage me certainly thought it was. The one that caught my attention was the W140. A huge, two-tonne beast when that sort of mass was rare, it was loaded with amazingness and owned the road.
Part of its unique appeal was that that it was properly ugly. When it hove into view it was like a battleship entering Sydney Harbour. And it used almost as much fuel, with the V12 on board.
Over the years, genuine style has invaded the S-Class and today I found myself, for the first time, in an unusually pretty pair of S Classes - the S560 and S63 Coupes. And, astonishingly, it's the first time I've ever driven an S-Class. So with all that baggage I've built up over the years, they had a lot to live up to.
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Both of these vast vehicles are phenomenally comfortable - this is the kind of car that Mercedes does so well, and has done for decades. The S Class is rarely a disappointment but it's difficult to believe that such a big, heavy GT car can also dance the way the S63 does.
The S560 is far more weighted to being a GT - supremely comfortable with that active suspension, a growly, refined V8 and a cabin full of gadgets and comfort. The S63 is altogether more aggressive, to look at and to drive. Lopping the roof off both of them adds weight but, like any cruiser, also puts you out in the sun, the breeze and into your surroundings. Plus, in the case of the S63, you get more exhaust noise.
They're two very different cars and not just because of the engine. After all these years admiring it from afar, the S63 has delivered on my teenage expectations - fast, smooth and utterly mad.
Is the S Class still the car that springs to mind when you think ultimate luxury? Or has another brand taken its place? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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 S Class Coupe is obviously related to the sedan but manages a svelte appearance. Slimmer hipped and with a more Coke-bottle shape, the Coupe - if you squint a bit - has a bit of the classic old pagoda about it. Obviously you can't do pillars that slim anymore, but the glass roof takes away some of the visual weight inside and out.
The cabriolet's roof is nicely integrated and looks good when it's up, which isn't always the case.
They all look long, though. It's obvious to see why the cars all run on 20-inch wheels - anything smaller would look hilarious.
The cabin is a fairly sensible re-imagining of the E-Class. The big twin-screen layout of the dash and multimedia system seems a bit more at home here. The chintzy Burmester speakers in the doors let down an otherwise classy cabin, which steers clear of otiose vulgarity in looks and materials.
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.
Well look, if you end up in the back of the S Coupe, it's not a riot of space. Obviously it has back seats (the SL doesn't even squeeze a jump seat into its considerable length) but they're for occasional, if luxurious, use.
The boot is a reasonably decent 400 litres, obviously the cabriolet loses a few litres with the roof folded. Front and rear passengers will both enjoy a pair of cupholders and the whopping long doors will each hold a bottle.
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.
Price and features
One thing hasn't changed in nearly 20 years - the S isn't cheap. Available in coupe and cabriolet, the S560 starts at $314,900 for the former and $336,900 for the latter. Step up to the S63 pair and you'll pay from $370,500 for the coupe and $399,900 for the cab. If you're super keen for something spectacular, the twin-turbo V12-powered S65 is available for between $508,900 and $520,500, and features Swarovski crystals in the headlights, for some reason.
As you can imagine, there's quite a bit to cover, so for both cars I'll stick to the edited highlights. The S560s roll on 20-inch alloys, has a 590-watt 13 speaker sound system, digital TV, auto parking, active cruise control, panoramic glass roof, Nappa leather, active seats and power-closing doors.
It also comes standard with a heating pack that not only heats the seats but the steering wheel and centre console. In the cabriolet you also get the 'Airscarf' neck heater.
Both cars also feature's Mercedes' Magic Body Control with curve function. More of that wacky feature later.
The S63 AMG is a step up in power, price and spec. One notable change from the S560 is the loss of 'Magic Body Control', which is replaced with mere air suspension. The 20-inch alloys are 10-spoke forged units, the brakes higher performance composites with red calipers, while an AMG sports exhaust brings the noise.
Naturally, both are swathed in high-quality leather and feature dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric seats that adjust in every direction, deep carpets, keyless entry and start, fully digital dashboards and just about every gadget to which you can point your imagination.
Entertainment and sat nav are via Mercedes' 'Comand' system, which is displayed on a massive 12.3-inch slab of glass at the top of the dashboard. The 13-speaker Burmester-branded system is predictably impressive and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you only have to use the basic software for the radio or various car controls.
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).
Engine & trans
All four coupes and cabriolets ship with Daimler's formidable 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. The S560 scores 345kW/700Nm to drive the rear wheels through Benz's own nine-speed automatic. With all of that available, the S560 will crack the ton in 4.6 seconds and make a wonderful racket on the way.
Moving on to the S63, the same engine delivers a massive 450kW/900Nm. The run from 0-100km/h is dispatched in just 3.5 seconds and if I thought the S560 made a good noise, the S63 with its standard sports exhaust makes a better one. Again, Mercedes' nine-speeder is along for the ride.
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.
The lower-powered 560 drinks 98RON at the rate of 8.5L/100km for the coupe and 9.9L/100km for the heavier cabriolet.
The S63 ups the ante with 9.9L/100km for the coupe and an identical 9.9L/100km for the cab.
Our launch program contained some...er...spirited driving, which would explain the mid to high-teens fuel figures.
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.
Let's start with the S560. That smooth V8 rumble is all you'll ever hear if you just slot into drive and go for a leisurely spin. The nine-speed automatic continues to be a revelation to me - in the GLC63 it's good and here, once again, it's excellent, finding the right gear for the occasion and riding the fat torque curve. Other nine-speed autos are not very good at all.
The test route for the S560 played to the strengths of the car. It had some lovely winding roads, which brought the trick suspension into focus - the Magic Body Control with curve function is hilarious. While the active suspension works hard at all times to ensure the ride is smooth and drama free, the Curve mode (no, really) actually leans the car into corners.
Those of you who remember the video game Wipeout 2097 will be big fans of Curve mode. As you approach a corner, you turn the wheel and then the car leans into the bend. This isn't active damping reading the road, it's the outside suspension lifting the car and the inside lowering it, so the car feels like it's gliding, like a hovercar. It's wild but oddly calming. Mercedes reckons it's great for those who get car sick. As I didn't have my wife on hand to test this theory - she chucks at the first sign of a corner - I couldn't verify this claim. That will have to wait.
The S63 AMG is a completely different proposition. The air suspension is more than up to the job of helping smother the effects of the car's considerable weight, meaning that no matter what you're up to, the car feels reasonably light on its feet. It never feels small, though, commanding the respect of the driver and plenty of space from other road users.
And boy, do you need some space if you kick the S63 into Sport mode. In true AMG style, the electronic reins relax and the big luxury coupe cheerfully kicks off. The tail will wriggle under an unsympathetic right foot, that signature V8 roar, crackle and hiss filling your ears. The S63 is always the harder-feeling car, but it delivers with a more sporting drive than the S560.
Being the generous soul I am, I volunteered to return the S63 to its home for the evening rather than consign it to the back of a truck. On the back roads I took to reach the highway, it was rock solid - fast, predictable and a lot of fun. Once I found the boring straight bits, it turned into a supremely comfortable cruiser, ticking along in ninth at the legal limit (and being Melbourne, it was very much the legal limit), dispatching overtaking with barely a flex of a toe.
The active cruise took the stress of keeping away from the State Revenue Office's clutches while being quiet and utterly pleasant.
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 S-Class coupe comes loaded with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward and reverse AEB with pedestrian detection, reversing camera, crosswind assist (I know, right?), traffic-sign recognition and reverse cross traffic alert.
The S-Class Coupe does not have an ANCAP or EuroNCAP rating.
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.
Mercedes offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist for the duration.
The company also offers both service plans (where you pay up-front as part of the vehicle purchase) and capped-price servicing on the coupes. Servicing over three years is in the order $2500.
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.”