Australian first drive: 2021 Aston Martin DBX

The DBX is impressive on paper, but does it hold true to Aston's brand?

2021 Aston Martin DBX drive review
Gallery47
8.0/10Score

Things we like

  • Immensely capable dynamics for a big SUV
  • AMG V8 can be either relatively suave or savage
  • Can get its (Pirelli) boots muddy

Not so much

  • Underwhelming infotainment system
  • Ride can be reactive over bumps
  • Several rivals are quicker (and cheaper)

David Brown was building tractors before he helped turn Aston Martin into one of the world’s most famous sports car manufacturers, and in a full (crop) circle moment we find ourselves in a field with the British brand’s latest model.

Carrying the late English industrialist’s initials just like Aston’s most famous GT cars, the 2021 Aston Martin DBX ploughs a completely new product path as the company’s first ever SUV.   

For a company still striving for profitability, it’s as pivotal to Aston’s future as the 2002 Cayenne was to Porsche’s. And perhaps just as controversial, even two decades on.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Ride And Handling Review
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Surprisingly handsome styling won’t harm the appeal of DBX that is priced from $357,000 to sit in the vicinity of rivals such as the Bentley Bentayga V8 ($364,800), Lamborghini Urus ($392,000) and Maserati Levante Trofeo ($336,990).

Aston’s design team deserves credit for the way it has converted the company’s styling language into a sports utility vehicle shape for the first time. (The visually awkward, first-generation Cayenne, for example, looked like a 911 that had suffered an allergic reaction.)

From side on, the DBX looks fast even when stationary – courtesy of a sweptback, sloping-roof shape and relatively short overhangs that disguise the longest wheelbase in the class.

A prominent ducktail – an obvious cue from the Vantage along with stepped rear lighting – forms part of the DBX’s integrated aero treatment that also includes a rear diffuser complete with carbon fibre vanes.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Ducktail
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This, however, is an Aston that’s more about versatility than velocity. The company follows other upmarket brands in spruiking the off-road ability of its luxury SUV. 

With the local PR team kindly (or perhaps bravely) opening the gates to some muddy fields, the DBX proves to be another posh SUV that’s capable of tackling some softer, variable terrain even if few owners would dare be so adventurous.

Although a planned hill-descent control test was cancelled after the lead vehicle – a dual-cab ute – struggled after a downpour made matters slightly treacherous, the DBX coped well with some boggy conditions. This included some deepish mud ruts where some seesawing of the wheel and judicious throttle use were both helpful for ensuring progress.

Our DBX was also wearing its standard Pirelli P Zero road tyres, not the alternative all-season rubber also available.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Off Road Test
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Aston’s SUV is helped by adjustable air suspension, with a Terrain mode lifting the DBX by 20mm and Terrain Plus increasing ground clearance by 45mm. This also adjusts the vehicle’s chassis electronics to suit lower-speed driving, including increased engine braking.

The all-wheel-drive system, featuring an electronically controlled centre diff, provides a greater balance of torque between the axles – up to 47 per cent front, 53 per cent rear.

A secondary rear diff shuffles torque between the rear wheels to further assist traction... or help push the DBX faster around corners on the road, where most owners will appreciate the diff’s effect.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Performance Test
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While there are the usual SUV caveats of the driver being more distanced from the road and having a greater need to manage mass compared with the company’s GTs, the DBX in no way shames the brand’s heritage. It could even leave some rivals red-faced through a series of bends.

With its stiff bonded-aluminium construction, sophisticated aluminium suspension with air springs and adaptive dampers, plus a 48-volt electrical system controlling active anti-roll bars, the DBX feels lighter on its feet than a 2245kg kerb weight would suggest.

The electronic anti-roll system is particularly impressive, allowing the DBX to carry plentiful speed through tight corners with less body roll than we’ve experienced in some sports cars.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Road Handling Review
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With the twistiest roads of our drive also dampened by rain, we kept to Sport that improves engine response, lowers the ride height, and – unlike the even lower and more aggressive Sport Plus setting – retains some ESC assistance that is welcome in an all-wheel-drive SUV that is clearly rear-biased in its sportiest settings.

With the tailor-made 22-inch Pirelli P Zero tyres providing encouraging adhesion through both their grip and generous contact patches (285mm front, 325mm rear), plus strong and progressive braking performance, Aston’s SUV can keep a rear-driven Vantage honest – at least in wet conditions.

The DBX looks fast even when stationary – courtesy of a sweptback, sloping roofed shape and relatively short overhangs
Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Front Wheels
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On bumpier roads at speed, we just found it best to select Individual so the dampers could be in their more supple GT mode while everything else remained in Sport. The DBX is otherwise a touch reactive. 

The DBX is thoroughly relaxing on freeways, too, though our brief urban experience suggested luxury SUV buyers seeking a super-plush ride should look elsewhere.

The AMG V8 emits a muted note in GT mode, but pick Sport or Sport Plus and flaps open in the exhaust system to give the DBX an enjoyable throaty, if somewhat monotonous, sound.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Engine
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While the DBX provides entertaining speed, it’s not blisteringly quick. The DBX’s 4.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint matches a Bentayga V8 petrol but most rivals offer quicker, sub-four-seconds acceleration. They include the Urus (3.6sec), Levante Trofeo (3.9sec), Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe (3.9sec) and the Audi RSQ3 (3.8sec) that looks a particular bargain at just under $210,000.

Shifts from the nine-speed auto aren’t necessarily the quickest you’ll find in the segment, either, but the DBX’s metallic shifters are not only perfectly shaped and positioned but thoroughly tactile.

There’s plenty to admire about materials used elsewhere in the cabin. 

Aston’s SUV can keep a rear-driven Vantage honest – at least in wet conditions.
Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Cabin
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Brogue-style patterning is distinctive among all the hand-stitched craftsmanship, the sumptuous leather upholstery comes from renowned Scottish tannery Bridge of Weir, and there’s real glass used for the transmission buttons plus genuine carbon fibre sections.

The cabin looks best in all-black in our view, though already seems dated in some respects – notably the infotainment system that has Aston-specific graphics but based around an old Mercedes non-touchscreen interface (including the console controller).

The centre console is also a touch busy with all its buttons, and the need to cycle through the drive modes with up/down buttons isn’t ideal when driving. It’s easy to select the wrong setting or even put your finger on a different button completely.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Centre Console
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Unlike the Rapide sold during the last decade, this is a four-door Aston that rear passengers will appreciate. There’s plentiful legroom and headroom for six-foot adults in the back seat of the DBX, and the outboard positions are especially comfortable (and include ISOFIX anchor points). 

A total of four vents helps keep them cool or toasty, and storage options are in healthy supply.

A 632-litre boot that includes up to another 62 litres under the floor offers more luggage capacity than some rivals, too.

Yet while the DBX delivers on its promise of greater versatility than your average Aston, it’s also commendable that it hasn’t compromised on the brand’s core sporty values.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Aston Martin DBX Rear
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8.0/10Score

Things we like

  • Immensely capable dynamics for a big SUV
  • AMG V8 can be either relatively suave or savage
  • Can get its (Pirelli) boots muddy

Not so much

  • Underwhelming infotainment system
  • Ride can be reactive over bumps
  • Several rivals are quicker (and cheaper)

 

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Jez Spinks
Journalist

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