More than just a pretty face

Sports car companies creating SUVs is a phenomenon that enthusiasts have been watching with varying degrees of horror/excitement/acceptance since the launch of the first Porsche Cayenne. With its DBX, Aston Martin has arguably – and, well, surprisingly – been the most successful in transferring its sports car design language to an SUV form. The brand, however, has also realized that the last days of internal combustion are not the time to hold back when it comes to power. So while the standard DBX puts out 542 horsepower from its AMG-supplied 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, the new DBX 707 model produces 697 horsepower or 707 hp in the most flattering European measure.

The design of this highly tested version has of course changed, mainly for functionality reasons. The 707’s grille opening is 27% larger to allow more airflow for engine cooling. It is flanked by revised air intakes bisected by horizontal DRL lighting elements. There are several new aerodynamic elements: a carbon fiber front splitter, revised skirts along the side sills, air deflectors in front of the front and rear wheel openings, an air outlet cut into the rear quarter panel, an elongated rear diffuser and a longer rear spoiler. Mirror caps and side strakes can be done in carbon fiber or black to match the window surrounds, hood vents and roof rails. Luckily, none of these addenda detract too much from the DBX’s organic shape, although we’re not particularly fans of the rear air outlets and that protruding diffuser. Still, it’s a far cry from Mansory-style aftermarket overkill.

Improved power output comes from the same 4.0-liter V-8 as the standard DBX. Of course, the engine is not exactly the same: there are new turbochargers, redesigned induction and exhaust systems and a reprogrammed engine control unit to handle it all. The massage was done at Aston Martin under the direction of powertrain engineering Ralph Illenberger, who, coming from AMG, knows this engine well. To cope with the extra power, the standard DBX’s nine-speed automatic transmission is replaced with an AMG-sourced version that includes a wet-clutch pack in place of a torque converter.

In addition to faster shift times, the new gearbox adds a Race Start launch control feature. It’s pretty easy to get to. In Sport or Sport+ mode, simultaneously press the brake and the accelerator. The digital instrument display flashes a red Race Start message, and when the revs reach 4000 rpm, release the brake and enjoy being sent back to your seat. We mean literally – our passenger was leaning forward balancing a smartphone atop the dash to capture the moment, and the force of acceleration threw him backwards in his chair, resulting in to a video clip of the headliner.

In our tests of the standard DBX, it jumped to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and sped the quarter mile in 12.4 seconds at 114 mph. That doesn’t sound too shabby, until you learn that those numbers track the Audi RS Q8, Bentley Bentayga V-8, Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S and even the Maserati Levante Trofeo. Bragging rights matter, and Aston says the beefier DBX 707 – which also benefits from a shorter 3.27:1 final-drive ratio – cuts the benchmark 60mph time to 3.1 seconds and can reach 100 mph in 7.4 seconds. Top speed is 193 mph.

In the real world, which for our reader was the island of Sardinia, the DBX 707 is simply amazingly fast. You struggle to find an opportunity to fully stretch her legs for more than a few seconds at a time. When you do, the rush of acceleration is so intense that even the fractional pause in power during the transmission’s lightning-fast upshifts creates a head-spinning moment as the DBX 707 soars.

The 707’s throaty soundtrack comes from an active exhaust system with four outlets that differs from the base car’s standard and optional sport configurations. Regardless of drive mode, holding either paddle shifter while pressing the ignition button triggers a hoarse, vocal start-up bark. Even in the milder GT setting, and a bit more in either of the two Sport modes, there’s a spitting exhaust noise during upshifts, and the V-8 roars with a deep-voiced baritone when revs increase. But this Aston’s soundtrack is even more reserved than the high-pitched crackle of AMG’s most hardcore products or the theatrical pops favored by Jaguar.

New standard carbon-ceramic brakes exclusive to the 707 keep a leash on all that new power. The rotors are 16.5 inches up front and 15.4 inches in the rear, gripped by black-painted calipers (or choose bronze, orange-, yellow-, red-, or gray-painted). The big plugs are said to shed 88 pounds over the cast iron rotors of the standard DBX. We regretted that in the regular car the brake pedal felt less responsive than we’d like in its initial stroke, but we had no issues with modulation here. However, once the brakes warmed up, there was some squealing that accompanied light duty applications – an issue Aston engineers say they are working on.

The 707 has four on-road driving modes and one for off-road, with selection made via a new dial on the console, making them relatively easy to access without taking your eyes off the road. Hit the center of the dial to invoke the transmission’s manual mode, which contains paddle-selected gears. We found manual mode to be the preferred setup for attacking the long series of tight corners in the island’s rural, mountainous terrain. With the full measure of this DBX 707’s generous 663 lb-ft of torque available across a wide rev range of 2,600-4,500 rpm, there’s simply no need to downshift in most corners or move up a gear.

As in the standard DBX, this upgraded model uses 48-volt active anti-roll bars along with air springs, which can raise the ride height by 1.8 inches or lower it by 1.2 inches. The system offers GT (default), Sport and Sport+ modes. The active anti-roll system has been modified to increase roll resistance and cornering attitude is virtually flat. The ride, however, became fairly firm, though some of that harshness could be due to our example car’s 23-inch wheels (which are optional on both models).

During a previous drive of a pre-production DBX 707 on a circuit in England, we experienced the fun oversteer ability of this upgraded SUV. On public roads lined with steep drops, we were happier to learn that the DBX 707 has grip for days. Part of the credit has to go to the ultra-wide Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires, sized 285/40YR-23 front and 325/35YR-23 rear. But the 707’s rear track has also been widened by 0.6 inches and its electronically controlled rear differential has been recalibrated, which helps the rear end sink into the pavement better when exiting corners. The DBX 707 has surprisingly good balance for a heavy SUV, its rather light bar matching an eagerness to change direction without too much thrust from the front end. Aston Martin claims a 52/48% front-to-rear weight distribution, which is better than most of its competitors.

For less frenetic moments, there are now-common driver aids such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, forward collision warning and blind-spot monitoring. The DBX doesn’t offer hands-free driving assistance though, it’s still a car for drivers who prefer to keep both hands on the wheel. As in the standard DBX, the environment for doing so is a leather-rich cabin throughout, and slipping inside is like walking into the best shoe store in the world. The skins cover virtually every surface, and their scent fills the nostrils, reminding us that the biggest challenge facing “vegan leather” is olfactory. The 707’s firmly padded sports seats have a different stitching pattern than the standard car, with contrasting color elements around the shoulder area and a central stripe on the backrest.

Like the engine, the infotainment system is another piece of hardware borrowed from the Stuttgart gang, but it’s not Benz’s latest mega-screen setup. Instead, it’s a 10.3-inch display (with Aston’s own graphics), operated via Mercedes’ previous-generation rotary controller and touchpad. While we appreciate this layout for its tactility, the lack of touchscreen functionality seems out of place these days, and it would be nice if the screen could display multiple functions at once, such as audio and navigation. The 707 also sports a revised center console layout. Along with the aforementioned drive mode selector, there are dedicated buttons for adjusting damper firmness and exhaust note, or disabling the auto engine stop and start feature. Enlarged cupholders are shared with both DBX models, as are soft-close doors. And as in all Astons, gear selection is done via a series of buttons in the center of the dashboard.

We can’t say the standard DBX lacked power, but the 707 certainly ups the intensity of its driving experience. Naturally, this also drives up the price. The asking here is $239,086 to start, some $50,000 more than the standard version. Nevertheless, Aston Martin expects the 707 to be the most popular DBX variant. While the standard DBX continues to boast an extremely elegant design, in this market segment nothing succeeds better than excess.

Features

Features

2023 Aston Martin DBX 707
Vehicle type: front-engine station wagon, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door

THE PRICE
Basis: $239,086

ENGINE
Twin-turbocharged V8 and 32-valve DOHC intercooler, aluminum block and cylinder heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 243″33982cm3
Power: 697 hp at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 663 lb-ft at 2,600 rpm

TRANSMISSION
9-speed automatic

DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase: 120.5″
Length: 198.4″
Width: 78.7″
Height: 66.1″
Passenger volume: 109 feet3
Cargo volume: 23 feet3
Unloaded weight (CD east): 5100 lbs.

PERFORMANCE (CD IS)
100 km/h: 2.9 sec
100 mph: 8.5 sec
1/4 mile: 11.4 sec
Maximum speed: 300 km/h

EPA FUEL ECONOMY (CD IS)
Combined/City/Highway: 14/12/18 mpg


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