Aston Martin DB11
The DB11 is the Aston Martin of choice for those craving something sleek and graceful rather than overtly aggressive. This, arguably the classiest car in the Aston range, is primarily a consummate sporting luxury GT, but can play the sportscar when required thanks to clever adjustable damping. It's very desirable indeed.
In its top AMR V12 form, the DB11 gets an Aston Martin-designed 5.2-litre V12 developing 630hp. There's definitely something about the gloriously fearsome bark of the twin-turbocharged engine when it barks into life - or at least there is if you start it in 'full woofle' mode; there's also a 'quiet start' option, should you want to make a soft getaway. That noise is instrumental in preparing you for a unique experience as you nose out into the traffic. A thoroughbred sportscar deserves a thoroughbred engine and this is exactly that, with an exhilarating roar under hard acceleration, yet with a growl that becomes muted and melodic when cruising.
The alternative powerplant is a 4.0-litre V8 borrowed from Mercedes-AMG (the same as that used in the Mercedes-AMG GT) putting out 503hp. With both engines, 62mph from rest takes about 4 seconds, but the top speed of the V12 is a little higher than that of the V8 (200mph as opposed to 187mph). In both cases, drive is dealt with via a super-smooth paddleshift eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox mounted at the rear and driving the rear wheels. And there's a drive mode control system that independently controls the powertrain and the chassis via 'GT', 'Sport' and 'Sport Plus' options, all of which are quite viable for road use.
Aston Martin tells us that it aspires to make the most beautiful cars in the world. Is this one of them? There are many who would say so. Prior to the DB11, modern era Astons, though sleek and elegant, had all tended to look rather similar. Here too, you get the usual long bonnet, sweeping roof line and short rear overhangs, but this time round, stylist Marek Reichman and his team wanted to build on these established design cues to create a car with a bit more of its own identity. Yet one still respectful of a historic DB line design legacy that's given us icons like the DB2, the DB4, the DB5 and, more recently, the DB10 developed specifically for the James Bond film 'Spectre', a model that provided the aesthetic inspiration for this car.
We tested the coupe body style. The alternative Volante convertible features a special eight-layer fabric hood. It takes just 14 seconds to lower and 16 seconds to close and can be operated at speeds of up to 31mph. Whichever version you prefer, distinctive touches are plentiful, starting with this sharply-sculpted clamshell bonnet that features twin cooling vents.
Equal effort has been expended in the interior, which is trimmed in gorgeous leather and features classy trimming that is exactly what it looks like. It is a bit disappointing that the single column stalk off the steering wheel is very obviously borrowed from a Mercedes, as is the centre-dash infotainment screen. Through the wheel, you view a fully digital instrument panel and there's a proper start button with keyless go, rather than the previous Aston system that required you to clunkily put an 'emotional control unit' key into the dash. There are a pair of small child-sized rear seats. And a 270-litre boot.
And in summary? Well the founders of this brand, Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, had a clear vision. To create sportscars with a distinctive character. Cars built to a high standard, exhilarating to drive and to own. Cars with power, beauty and soul. Over around 100 years, Aston Martin has made motorcars just that way, building well over 50,000 of them, 80% of which are still in use, cherished, driven and raced by enthusiastic owners all round the world. In all of this history though, no model line has been more significant to the future of this marque than this one.
The DB11 as we've said is the first Aston of the modern era. The first to show that the company can now take on its German and Italian rivals head-to-head, wheel-to-wheel. Faster, more sporting models will in future follow this one from the Gaydon factory, but arguably, there's nothing quite like a DB11 when it comes to pure GT-style elegance. There are certainly quicker, higher-tech or more sharply handling options in the market. But when you've miles to put on the clock and want the journey to feel special rather than just effortlessly rapid, it's hard to think of anything much better.Click here to find out more about our Aston Martin DB11 range
The 570S coupe engages with a wider audience than McLaren has targeted before, but it serves up a treat at first asking. This car delivers the uncompromising driving experience that the Woking brand promises, moving forward with innovations in comfort and design, ensuring new buyers are afforded McLaren's legendary attention to detail.
McLaren's philosophy revolves around the driving experience, so it's no surprise that the 570S rates highly here. While the models further up the range have an emphasis on track driving, the 570S is more focussed on the real-world use that sports cars endure most of the time. So it has to be comfortable and manageable in the city, yet deeply rewarding when unwinding on country roads.
McLaren achieves this with science proven in the crucible of motorsport. It employs an adaptive suspension system, an innovative 'Brake Steer' system which applies gentle braking pressure to the inside wheels when cornering, and a seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox to allow the car to respond instantly to different styles of driving on different types of road. These settings can be tweaked from a control panel between the seats for maximum comfort or optimum road-holding at speed.
The 570S coupe's lightweight structure is propelled along the road by a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, tuned to deliver 570PS (just over 560bhp) making the car rocket to 62mph in 3.2 seconds, passed 100mph around three seconds later, and on to a top speed of 204mph. These numbers alone put the 570S coupe at the head of its class.
The family face of McLaren is now firmly established and it will take a keen eye to differentiate a 'Sports Series' design like this one from an even quicker model in the pricier 'Super Series'. The 570S wears the signature headlights reflecting the company logo and the overall stance of the car carries the DNA established in early McLaren road car projects such as the fabled F1 built in the 1990s. Shaped for performance, every surface optimises the flow of air over and around the car, drawing on the expertise McLaren have accumulated from decades at the pinnacle of motorsport.
The minimalist interior keeps everything simple with a touch-screen centre console controlling most of the car's functions and settings. There is nothing on the 570S that doesn't need to be there. Every little detail contributes to the driving experience, yet it is executed with an understated elegance that sets it apart from more flamboyant rivals. Care has been taken to give the occupants adequate stowage for a little luggage and even a cup holder. At this level, build quality cannot be compromised and the state-of-the-art production centre near Woking ensures that the 570S will protect McLaren's reputation for perfectionism. The robust carbon-fibre chassis underpinning a lightweight aluminium skin helps guarantee longevity.
McLaren's ambitious model strategy has resulted in some of the most dramatic cars in each market segment entered and the 570S coupe carries on this tradition. Faster, lighter and more advanced than the competition, the 570S almost defines its own niche at the pinnacle of sports car performance and technology.
The completeness of the car, in terms of quality, design, capability and competitiveness, conceals the fact that McLaren is still relatively new to volume car production. It's a thoroughly modern British sports car that competes on merit with the best in the world. Many will feel that it comes out on top too.Click here to find out more about our McLaren 570S range
Porsche 911 Carrera S
The subtle exterior re-design of this '992'-series Porsche 911 clothes a body that's lighter and stiffer thanks to a doubling of its aluminium content. Plus there's a new 8-speed PDK auto gearbox, a higher-class cabin, re-designed suspension, even better brakes and (for the first time) different-sized wheels front-to-rear on mainstream models. Plus you get a lot more technology, including a clever new 'Wet Mode' which adapts the drive dynamics to suit slippery conditions. Here we check this car out in base 385PS 'Carrera' form.
This base Carrera model now puts out 385PS, which is 15PS more than before. For reference, the alternative Carrera S model puts out 450PS. But do you really need the 'S' when this base 911 is already so startlingly quick? There's a gutsy 450Nm of torque and rest to 62mph occupies 4.2s - or 4.0 seconds dead if the optional 'Sport Chrono' package is fitted. Either way, this Zuffenhausen sportscar wouldn't let up until it reached 182mph, were you to be on the main straight at the Nurburgring. Just like with the Carrera S, you can have a four wheel drive version of this car. The performance stats for that (in Coupe form) are the same, but the top speed is fractionally reduced (180mph).
The twin turbo 3.0-litre flat six may have a very different sound and feel to the bigger-capacity units served up by rivals, but you still get a delightful howl from the 'boxer' motor. With so much low and mid-rev torque from this powerplant, you can drive it as lazily as you like. As before, there's a manual gearbox available, but most buyers will want the PDK paddleshift auto, which now offers eight speeds. Plus the usual selection of drive modes has been added to with a 'Wet mode' that senses excess road surface spray and can adapt the handling for slippery conditions.
Visually, the only difference setting this Carrera variant apart from its Carrera S stablemate is that this base 911 model gets 19-inch wheels at the front and 20-inchers at the rear. For reference, the 'Carrera S' gets 20-inch wheels at the front and 21-inchers at the rear. Either way, big red four-piston brake calipers with cross-drilled 350mm discs are fitted. There's a choice of Coupe or Cabriolet body styles.
You'd know the classic silhouette at a glance of course, but if you weren't a 911 brand loyalist, you might not necessarily notice the changes that designate this eighth generation model. For admirers of this car though, they'll be uber-significant. The door mirrors have been re-designed and aerodynamically enhanced to reduce wind noise. The lower section of the nose is more horizontally-orientated, emphasising the 46mm of extra front track width that's sharpened up the handling, but there's now rather an expanse of black plastic across the larger intakes, which is arguably less elegant than before
The interior meanwhile, has entered the digital age. And, just as it did in the very first 911, the dashboard now flows in an unbroken span across the entire width of the interior and feels luxurious, contemporary and extremely stylish. Through the grippy three-spoke wheel (also new) lies a defiantly analogue central rev counter, without which a Porsche simply wouldn't be a Porsche. But the two 7-inch read-outs that sit either side of it are actually configurable freeform displays. Just about everything else you need to know is covered off by a generously-sized 10.9-inch flush-mounted 'Porsche Communication Management' touchscreen display in the centre of the dash. Out back, you still get two tiny child-sized seats. And under the bonnet, there's a small 132-litre boot.
The 911. Whether you've a classic model or this eighth generation '992'-series variant, it's an automotive icon that's globally loved. Which is why though this version has been substantially re-designed, Porsche hasn't messed with the fundamental formula. In other words, if, like us, you've always loved this car, then you'll love this one.
There are surely lots of reasons to. The improved six cylinder twin turbo used in this Carrera series is efficient, yet sonorous and gloriously tractable. Plus the cabin's more up to date and the infotainment's been brought up to scratch. In addition, like its predecessor, this 911 is practical and easy to use - and remains satisfying to drive in a way that rivals can't quite match. In other words, though apparently everything's changed, nothing is really different. Thank goodness.Click here to find out more about our Porsche 911 Carrera S range