We’ve known it for a while, but downsizing is now ‘a thing’ in the car industry. In the scramble to save the planet, boggo family hatchbacks have replaced their 1.6-litre engines with microscopic 1.0-litre units, while supposedly luxury cars have swapped their V8s and V6s for piddling little four-cylinder powerplants. Nothing is safe – not even the Aston Martin DB11.
Once upon a time, the flagship Aston would have had an enormous V12 and anything else would have been faintly ridiculous. And when the new DB11 was first launched, it looked as though that might be the case again. But then that car was quietly killed off, and the only DB11s you could buy were fitted with the 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 from a Mercedes-AMG C 63.
Happily, however, the V12 wasn’t gone long. In a bid to make it viable, Aston Martin has given it more power and hidden it under the gorgeous snout of the most hardcore DB11 there is: the AMR.
AMR is not a jumble of meaningless letters stolen from a fax machine. Instead, it stands for Aston Martin Racing, which is the British company’s in-house motorsport outfit, and that gives you some clue as to this car’s pedigree.
It’s basically an uprated, upgraded version of the old V12, with the 5.2-litre twin-turbo engine churning out an extra 30 horsepower, bringing the total to 630bhp. That means 0-62mph is now dealt with in 3.7 seconds and the top speed is a whopping 208mph.
Aston’s engineers have fettled the exhaust, too, so the car sounds as fast as it goes, and they’ve changed the suspension to make it sharper through the corners.
Add in a smattering of carbon-fibre trim, a sports steering wheel and a bold lime-green stripe on the seats, and the look is complete. Unless, of course, you opt for the optional go-faster stripe found on our test car.
But let’s be clear. The DB11 AMR is not a road-legal racing car that’s escaped from the pit lane. Instead, it’s simply a more potent version of the 4.0-litre GT car. Aston Martin is adamant that the DB11’s user-friendliness remains, and that’s evident from the moment you fire it up.
You see, the car will behave differently depending on how you press the centrally mounted starter button. A long press gives you a full-blooded Beowulf bellow from the trick exhausts, while a short stab results in a much more subdued start-up. Either way, though, the car soon settles into a bubbly yet purposeful tickover.
Once you’re underway, the car feels very civilised, with a big (if fiddly) infotainment screen, comfy seats and a stiff but composed low-speed ride. The square steering wheel is a bit of a pain for low-speed manoeuvring and visibility is no better than average, but for a car designed for the open road, it copes with the urban jungle surprisingly well.
Leave the concrete canyons, however, and you’ll be able to unlock the AMR’s somewhat split personality. Leave it in its most comfortable settings and it’s serene and relaxed, flowing from one bend to the next. Think of it as a butter knife, making smooth progress without ever putting you in too much danger.
Ramp it up a bit and it’s more like a steak knife. There’s a sharpness to the steering and the gearbox, and you’ll be punished if you start behaving like an idiot.
Take it up to 11, though, and you’ll be working with an automotive samurai sword. It’s too big to be wieldy in tight spaces, but it’s a savage weapon in the right hands.
Aston Martin freely admits that the traction control can barely cope with the fierce power delivery, so any judicious stabs at the throttle will light up the rear tyres. With the electronic aids on, it results in little more than a chirrup from the wheels and a wiggle of the car’s curvy hips, but it’s enough to frighten on a narrow country lane.
On hearing that, some prospective buyers will undoubtedly head for the Mercedes garage and order an S 65 Coupe. But some will love the GT car’s visceral side – the part that ignites our imaginations and adrenal glands in equal measure. Because that’s what makes the AMR worth the £174,995 Aston Martin is charging.