The Aston Martin DB11 unveiled at the Geneva auto show raised a few eyebrows, not least of which because it replaces the seminal DB9 design created by Henrik Fisker 13 years ago. There’s no denying the new car’s design is polarizing, but pushing forward a new design language for a historically conservative brand is certain to have its detractors. So let’s take a closer look.
As McLaren design boss Frank Stephenson recently stated in an interview with Road & Track magazine: “design is not subjective”. While Stephenson points to science in determining beauty, good design is a culmination of elements that work well together for the chief objective of lending function to form. Good design and the ‘golden ratio‘ goes a long way toward explaining why people find beauty in common things, but the formula doesn’t account for an important element: individual taste.
While speaking to Aston Martin designers on the stand I saw a range of people — from actor Hugh Grant to Arab sheiks — admiring the new car. Now I’m not saying that all Hollywood actors and royalty have good taste. Far from that. But it has been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that couldn’t be more true.
So what is it about the DB11?
Some will invariably be drawn in by the romanticism associated with the Aston Martin badge; others will revel in the vehicle’s underlying technology, or crave the brute force of its twin-turbocharged V12 powerplant; others, still, will love the vast array of personalization options available to make the car truly their own. Only its admirers can tell you their reasons, but each one of them was attracted to the car in their own way.
I find it laughable that the people criticizing the design are the same people that often deride cars that fail to push a company’s design language forward. The DB11 may not embody everybody’s notion of beauty, but it’s nonetheless a successful interplay of old symbolism with new, cutting-edge solutions for a powerful supercar capable of ridiculous speeds.
The front of the car is undeniably Aston Martin. The shape of the grille — which also, incidentally, shapes the front fenders — is a coup de grace, reinforcing the brand’s identity through an iconic design element that has matured over time yet remains consistent while meeting safety regulations. But perhaps the crowning achievement is the single piece aluminum hood that covers the entire front end and banishes unsightly cutlines. According to chief designer Miles Nurnberger, it proved very difficult to find a company able to stamp a panel of its size.
The solutions that have been employed to manage air through the hood to the side the side of the car and through the rear deck by way of inlets on the C-pillars are nothing short of remarkable for a small company like Aston Martin. While some have been quick to slate the now integrated side strakes coming off the front wheel arch, they are a clever solution that not only move the design aesthetic of the brand forward but also serve an intrinsic function.
Sure, there are some design elements that I don’t particularly like — such as the aluminum cant rail that stops just short of the decklid, for example. Because of these, the clean, undeniably classic roofline of the DB9 is lost and the design plays up to current trends, which could adversely affect its longevity.
Fortunately — and to cater to the ever-growing personalization trend — designers also had the foresight to add alternative styles for the cant rails, which means that if a potential customer isn’t keen on aluminum they can opt to have these all black or in body color. This opens up the order books to a variety of people with different tastes. It’s a marketer’s dream.
By offering a multitude of personalization options that can be mixed and matched, Aston Martin is catering to the desires of prospective buyers like never before. This will go a long way toward ensuring the future success of the company that has vowed to create seven new products in the next seven years.
It’s important to note that Aston Martin has gone bankrupt seven times in the carmaker’s 100-year history. New CEO Andy Palmer is certainly keen to not repeat past mistakes. Investing in new technology, patenting innovative systems and instilling value in the company’s products is something he’s been pushing since he moved over to the small-scale manufacturer from Nissan in 2014, and it shows no sign of slowing.
The DB11’s progressive design signals a new chapter in the seminal British luxury carmaker’s future. To do this the brand’s design language must evolve. While the design may have its detractors, the waiting list at showrooms proves that people are welcoming the brand’s new design language in the best automotive industry way possible — by opening their wallets.