Made In Wales – For Whom?

Wizardry and Dragons… are we in Middle Earth?

Image: MOTOR1

An impressive opening gambit for the Aston Martin DBX, the company’s first attempt at the ever expanding luxury crossover sector. Made in St. Athan, near Cardiff, Wales: 542bhp, 516 foot pounds of torque from a four litre, twin turbocharged V8, permanent four wheel drive on 22” wheels and available in 42 subtly named hues.

Sheffield born chief creative officer, Marek Reichman appears proud of his design team’s baby. This car has to succeed. One cannot really blame Gaydon for mining such reserves; they’re all at it. Urus, Bentayga, Cullinan, not to mention the faintly believable, and as yet unseen Purosangue. Still, even with the immensely deep pockets of new chairman, Lawrence Stroll, Aston Martin maintains the presence of financial hangers-on. Now with a technical deal with Mercedes-Benz, along with former AMG supremo, Tobias Moers running the day to day, an upturn is surely imminent?

Starting with size, DBX is a full five metres in length. At two metres wide and 1.7m high, the scales tip according to Aston at 2,245 kgs whereas AutoCropley found the car heavier at 2,328 Kgs (in old fashioned imperial read 5,000 Lbs). Quite some mass. Luckily, the engineers’ revisions were deep, practicing what they preach with bonded aluminium alongside hybrid materials to lessen not only that mass but provide what Aston Martins are about – luxuriant, powerful motoring.

The Affalterbach-produced mill consists of many exotic sounding names and numbers. 32 valves of variable timing nature, an 8.6:1 compression ratio, 90 degree V8 aluminium alloy block with a zirconium head. Bores of 83mm, a stroke of 92mm, those bores are spectacle-honed, existing within yet more aluminium – connecting rods and pistons, coated with arc-sprayed Nanoslide®. Will the average DBX driver ever know or care of such engineering matters? As much as they’ll care about petrol prices.

Cushioned by air (adjustable by 95 mm), the suspension also comprises hollowed double wishbones at the headlight end with multi-links underneath the brake lights. The aluminium subframes are hollow, allowing for driveline cooling. A 48v electric system powers the anti roll bars, assisting the handling which could very well be Welsh wizardry to this layman.

Steering derives from a rack and pinion system with electrical assistance. A nine-speed automatic is snugly protected in its magnesium case and comprises six modes; four on-road and two never-to-be-used off-road. The braking system contains more acronyms than a NHS meeting; you’ll be requiring their services should the worst happen. 

Reichman stated that to succeed in this now heavily populated market, “I searched for the golden proportion as the design process edged on. A proper stance with a unique offset between side glass and wheels from both front and side views. That we made DBX less boxy helps decrease the physical size. 

Image: Motoring Research

Comprising the largest grille to front any Aston Martin, the DRG is unmistakably bold, those small DRLs widening the stance but not overtly. The elliptical headlights almost replicate the newer version Ford Puma – not necessarily a flattering reflection. The side view is handsome; I’d offer a more striking Velar outline. And the doors. The doors are quite the signature of DBX. Swan wing opening front, Aston’s design chief eluding to the pleasing attribute of the frameless door having infinite opening angles until the driver or passenger closes them. In-and egress front and rear were top priorities, the rear H-point allowing for class leading access. 

And to the sumptuous interior we tarry awhile. The material quality is how one might expect yet also borderline vulgar. No-one really needs contrasting or mirrored stitching but nevertheless some tasteful results can be had. Laughably, a standard DBX has 12-way adjustable, heated seats but the steering wheel remains cold. Most internal colours are black.

Image: goodwood

Perusing the interior menu becomes as difficult to navigate as the Welsh valleys or indeed pronouncing village names. One can opt for CREATE, ACCELERATE or INSPIRE where each trim level can have mono-or duotone colours with leather, alcantara or a blend. One must have contrasting seat belt colours, mind. Reichman’s team was looking into vegan friendly options of silks, ceramics and natural woods. As the site configurator contains no prices, guess high. The cabin actually contains some physical buttons to press but perhaps a few too many, being picky. Overall, the DBX (on screen, at least) appears an ingratiating interior.

Jumping outside once more, the body colour lower package is the one to have, heathens opting for the glossy black door sill covering. That grille can be Light or Dark, whereas if standard wheels just don’t cut the mustard (not an available body colour but will Cosmopolitan Yellow do?) a satin black/bronze combination on 22” rims are there. An inch bigger fills the wheel arches, if nothing else. Brake calipers can be coloured too, leaving your weekend free to head to hills by mountain bike. And that other, rearward signature, the duckbill lights – red or smoked glass? Difficult decisions.

So difficult in fact that vehicle attribute engineer, (and former Lotus dynamics chief) Matt Becker has just left Gaydon for McLaren. Following Becker out the door were head of special vehicle operations, David King (believed America) along with design director, (and Reichman’s erstwhile deputy) Miles Nurnburger – off to Bucharestand[1]. The merry-go-round of senior positions revealing that loyalties count for little when cold, hard cash is offered.[2]

Reviewers in the main are accepting of the idea that DBX is a true Aston Martin, packaged in a believable, useable manner whilst having the grunt of their, nowadays, more niche products. One must take their words as gospel, having no opportunity to drive anything DB related.

Image: CAR

Now for the caveat. On sale some eighteen months, hands up if anyone has seen one in the metal? European figures say 305 sold in 2020 with (as of writing), another 360 this year. With a sticker price around £160,000 (before options) and monthly payers shelling out at least £1,700, just who are buying these hand crafted, chrome-plated, brass and enamel Aston Martin badges placed front and rear?

Forget them being the F1 medical car. Lawrence, Tobiers and Marek need to shift more X’s, else the spectre of Aston’s financial heritage crosses back over into the red.

Editor’s note [1]: Miles Nurnburger, who carried out most of AML’s design heavy lifting has since taken up a position as chief designer at Dacia cars.

Editor’s note [2]: Some observers have characterised this apparent exodos in a less than positive light. DTW quite naturally, remains entirely agnostic on the subject.

Data sources: Forbes interview with Marek Reichman, 17/08/20/ Autocar.com/ Aston martin.com

Sales figures from carsalesbase.com

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

51 thoughts on “Made In Wales – For Whom?”

  1. I think the original projection was around 5,000 sales a year – the DBX has got nowhere near that.

    Conceptually, it is something like an engorged F Pace, that other British ‘SUV to save the company’. And that hasn’t been a smash hit either.

  2. How, where have I seen this before? Ah, yes:







    The ‘metrocab’ Cullinan and hideous Bentayga at least couldn’t be mistaken for anything else, unlike the DBX…

    1. Daniel, that says it all…. The really sad thing is, scrolling down those side-on images I couldn’t put a manufacturer’s name to any of them. Probably an indication that the world has finally left me behind!
      As for Andrew’s question “for whom?” the answer can only be those who are addicted to displaying the right logo – a concept (in the world of motoring) pioneered by the Nuffield Group , I believe….

    1. Now I come to think of it, Peugeot´s efforts in this class are distinctive.
      What we see exemplified here is the way that the uniformity of the profiles makes it rather hard to find other good ways to give the cars some identity. The Maserati has some (it resembles an AR Giulieta). Jaguar´s is the most insipid. The rest of them are different in quite small ways. I can identify all of them but only because I am vaguely up to speed on this. I mean, I know brands but not necessarily the model names with the same level of confidence.

  3. The fold that defines the waistline of the Aston is parallel with the ground. I like that, it’s unusual these days.

    1. Good observarion. Would we unsurprised if that line was lifted wholesale from some previous AM legend. The horizontal waistine doesn´t belong to Aston though. Most cars had this until about twenty years ago. It still doesn´t do much to lend the car much identity. The Aston costs way more than some of the others and doesn´t communicate this at all. Perhaps it should.

    2. Well spotted, Susan. The high-tailed styling trope is done to death at this stage. That, and thick C/D pillars, makes reversing cameras a virtual necessity.

  4. Peugeot? There’s a Peugeot hiding in there? Do we not have: Aston, Ford, Jaguar, Mazda, Alfa, and Maserati? Either these lookalikes or my eyes are worse than I thought.

    1. You’ve missed out the SE… sorry, Cupra. Best looking of the bunch.

    2. I see the cars you mentioned. No Peugeot here, but I agree with Richard that Peugeot’s efforts are distinctive here. I still wouldn’t buy one, though.

    3. In fairness to David, I added the Cupra in after I posted the others (and Richard’s humour passed him by!)

  5. Looks like I might be the only person here to have seen one in the flesh – my home town of Nottingham, UK.

    As it approached, I didn’t know what it was – I was waiting to cross a road – and I had to look at its badges to discover its identity. I liked it. In real life it’s better looking than any of its up-market competitors such as Cullinan, Bentayga, Urus, etc etc, and I’ve seen them all.

    If I was in the market for something at that price, I’d definitely go for the Aston.

    1. It’s amazing how the use of wide and consistent radii for DLO and door surfaces is already enough to lend a reassuring air to this (and any contemporary) Porsche. Surely the main responsibles for these smooth flanks must be careful modelling work and advanced panel shaping capabilities. Still, the basic styling of the Cayenne these days is decidedly less polyglot and more eloquent than its rivals’, even despite a few erratic curves going on at both ends.

    2. Hi Jeroen. Yes, Porsche design is much less busy than the current industry norm, and the details are handled very consistently, as you say. (That said, the front end of the Taycan is decidedly awkward. I hope the next Boxster doesn’t follow suit.)

  6. I recognized the Mazda, but none of the others (ignoring the Alfa’s telltale clover leaf).

    I saw an electric Porsche SUV (Macan?) from a distance, and from above, recently. I thought it looked good.

  7. There’s no more apt a description of Aston’s woes than the absence of emotions this DBX elicits (even in the case of our neighbour’s matte black specimen).

    It’s neither ugly nor beautiful, original or striking. It’s perhaps best described as ‘agreeable’ – but for a ‘luxury lifestyle brand’ (thank you, Doctor Andy!) whose sheen has become remarkably dull, that’s not nearly enough. This car ought to be Aston Martin’s Lagonda Series 2 for the 2020s, but really is just one of the better Macan epigones.

    Historically speaking, Aston Martin was never renowned for producing the prettiest cars on the market (the exception being the DB9/V8 Vantage and, to a lesser degree, DB7), but their products always visually stood out, for one reason or anther – including the laughably inept Virage. This one doesn’t.

  8. It could have been so much worse.

    I find it hard to form an opinion of the “offroad” EV they probably will never build because the lighting

    1. the lighting… The concept EV SUV they are afraid to show outdoors… I suggest the name “Vampire”.

    2. You think they might have fixed the grille before putting it on show…

    3. By accident, unless someone smacked it in the mouth out of revulsion, of course…

      Here’s how it should look:

      I use the word ‘should’ advisedly.

    4. My god that’s ugly. When did that one slip past me?
      For what it’s worth, I would have a DBX were it not for the cabin: woeful.

    5. While they’re at it, paint it a color that doesn’t look so much like the once-ubiquitous turn of the millennium GM greige.

    1. Mike, it’s even more, er, interesting at the rear:

    2. You like it?

      Seriously?

      Here’s the inspiration for that tail:

  9. I can see the connection, but the Lagonda’s high tail lights give the rear the look of a huge angry grizzly bear.

  10. I have to confess that my reaction yesterday the Lagonda concept (for clarity, the gold one, not the green one above) was reflexive and poorly considered.

    Looking afresh at the Lagonda concept this morning, I can’t help wondering if it actually has rather more to recommend it than the production DBX. The latter is yet another expression of the styling tropes of the crossover genre and adds almost nothing interesting or distinctive. That might partly explain its weak sales compared with the highly distinctive (for better or worse) Cullinan or Bentayga.

    The Lagonda concept is highly distinctive and is very smooth and clean in its detail execution. Yes, many will hate it, but the minority who feel otherwise will really like it. Not that I’m a potential buyer, but I might be joining their number.

    1. The Lagonda concept is not wrong enough for me to dislike it; the rear window and boot have an intriguing character. The large grille lets down the side somewhat; I´d also delete the blacked out A-pillars as they are a trope belonging to low-slung sports cars not high-slung saloons. The design is one I can begin to address whereas most of the others shown today are as hard to talk about as mineral water: different but not meaningfully so (except the Maserati).

    2. At this rate, might we look forward to a positive reassessment of E65?

  11. Further to recent correspondence, I think Peugeot have understood this genre´s problem and so all their cross-overs have very distinctive side elevations. Daniel might consider adding some of them to his rogue´s gallery by way of counterpoint to the data. Yes, a lot of these cars look the same but there are outliers. Volvo´s efforts also stand out. I can tell a Volvo and Polestar from the others at a long distance; ditto the Peugeots.

    1. I regret the continuing omission of the Opel Bigland X from the identity parade.

    2. I wonder what prompted GM to name a product line in honour of a rival auto executive?

    3. I think it’s a running joke amongst the industry high-ups. Groupe Renault have followed up with the Dacia Bigster.

  12. I saw a DBX at the 2020 Bathurst 12 Hour and was reasonably impressed, considering (ie within the frame of luxury SUVs), but can’t say I’d buy one over some competitors. Tidy design and well executed, but not particularly notable.

    On a separate note I was expecting to see a reference to Gilbern! Or are there other less famous Welsh cars?

  13. Having read an interview with DBX designer, Marek Reichman, at the Road & Track website, I have the literal answer to the ‘made for whom?’ question – it’s Charlotte from Silicon Valley, apparently. The content of the interview isn’t very astonishing, so I haven’t pasted a link to it here.

    I also found a short video of Mr. Reichman analysing the car’s design. Again, it’s what you’d expect, apart from his admitting that the car has a duck’s bottom. That’s a positive thing, apparently. Also, don’t the vents from the wheel arches blast dirt down the side of the car? At least they’re real, I suppose.

    Nevertheless, it’s a lovely vehicle, or at least a very nicely-made one. In a way, I don’t suppose it matters if SUVs look similar, as long as one likes the version one is currently driving.

    However, as with all SUVs, I’m brought back yet again to the question ‘where next?’

    1. During the Sixties and Seventies, did aficionados of any of the grand marques groan; “not another close-coupled GT!” I wasn’t sufficiently sentient at the time to know for certain, but I don’t get the sense that these cars were viewed in a particularly negative light. Unlike today. There is clearly a market (and an undeniable one) for CUV vehicles of any stripe. Only a fool would deny such a thing now, so from a commercial viewpoint these vehicles make a great deal of sense.

      Nevertheless, the whole “lets wheel the design chief out to rationalise the shift in direction and hope he baffles them with design-speak” approach is becoming a little threadbare now, in my opinion.

      As CUVs go, the DBX is okay. At best, it’s inoffensive. Is that sufficient? I don’t think so.

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