“Better in Every Way”: The Story Behind Aston Martin’s New DB12

How the latest edition of the James Bond car came into existence with insights from Aston Martin's director of design Miles Nurnberger

July 24, 2023 6:46 am
The Aston Martin DB12 speeds along a freeway next to a mountainside
James Bond's car needs some speed.
Photographer Max Earey for Aston Martin

Miles Nurnberger has no doubt. Just two initials run through Aston Martin like the proverbial stick of rock: DB. “DB is the very core of Aston Martin; it’s the quintessential image of the company in the same way that 911 is for Porcshe,” says Aston Martin’s director of design, who returned to the company last year after a brief spell with Dacia. Prior to Aston Martin he designed for Citroen, Lincoln and Ford. “The DB line is the  GT car,” he says, “and has evolved around that principle.”

As Nurnberger points out, for those with little interest in cars, it’s a DB that nonetheless forged the dominant popular conception of Aston Martin — and arguably British sports cars at large — thanks to the cinematic association with one James Bond. In Ian Fleming’s novels Bond drives a Bentley. But, thanks to Sean Connery driving that silver DB5 in Goldfinger, the DB has been a recurring theme in the movie versions, one only cemented during the Daniel Craig era. It’s a relationship that marks its 60th anniversary next year.

“The bloodline is absolutely synonymous with James Bond — and he’s pretty famous in his own right,” Nurnberger jokes. 

That makes the launch of a new DB all the more of an event, even more so when this is the 75th anniversary of the DB line — named for David Brown, the businessman who bought Aston Martin, together with Lagonda, in 1947 — and the 110th anniversary since the founding of the company by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. And with the DB12 — deliveries of which start in the fall, at least for those lucky enough to have placed an advanced order, which many of the company’s diehard fans did without even seeing the car — Aston Martin has gone to town on the newness. 

The Aston Martin DB12 in hyper red, parked across the river of a coastline village
The Aston Martin DB12 sizzles in “hyper red.”
Photographer Max Earey for Aston Martin

Yes, there is, necessarily perhaps, some echo of past DBs. The DB12 is still a mid-engined, long-hooded car with a slightly outsized grille sitting proud and, quite possibly, an owner sitting rather proud in it, too. And, in fact, the DB5 proved a touchpoint for the proportions of certain DB12 design details — the grille and the headlights, for example. A DB has to have “pretty eyes,” as Nurnberger puts it, but it’s not easy to strike that note and still have some modern bite “without just showing off technology for technology’s sake.” He adds: “And there are a lot of headlight designs in the world that do just that.” That the design team has pulled off this balance between the two makes it Nurnberger’s favorite part of the exterior. 

Review: Drive Like a Super Spy in the 2024 Aston Martin DB12
Style, panache and 671hp, what else could you want from the world’s first “Super Tourer”?

“But while the DB11 was quite a technical design — with a more overly progressive look and lots of creases — the DB12 has more romance in it. There’s more fullness, with larger, purer curves and more sculpture. For me it harks back to a more classical era, without being ‘retro,’” says Nurnberger. “I think it will still look right in, say, a decade. It’s very much the next step in the DB line, but better in every way.”

Indeed, beyond the exterior form, the DB12 comes with a new engine, offering a best-in-class power output of 680PS/800Nm from a 4.0 V8 twin-turbo, giving you a top speed of 202mph and 0-60 in 3.5 seconds. There’s a new cooling system; new suspension system with adaptive dampers; upgraded eight-speed transmission; a new bonded aluminum framework with more torsional rigidity and lateral stiffness; and new 21-inch Pilot Sport 5 S tires, developed with Michelin, using a bespoke compound and given noise-cancelling polyurethane foam inserts that, Aston Martin says, reduce tire “hum” by 20%.

Then there’s the new software, including electronic power assisted steering, electric rear differential — a first for a DB model — and a new “wet” driving mode. There’s also a new infotainment package, the first Aston Martin has developed in-house, as well as a new 11-speaker, bespoke Bowers & Wilkins audio system; new LED lighting; a new Aston Martin app that allows users to monitor, protect and find their car; and…you get the idea.

the front seating area of the Aston Martin DB12
The dash and fine interiors.
Photographer Max Earey for Aston Martin

The Aston Martin badge has changed too, thanks to a squint-and-you-miss-it re-jig by graphic designer Peter Saville, of New Order/Factory Records fame. Ostensibly it removes a solitary line from the previous version for something ineffably more contemporary. Aston Martin — perhaps pushing its marketing creativity to the edge — is even billing the DB12 as belonging to a new category of car. It is, the company says, “the world’s first super tourer.”

Nurnberger chuckles when asked to define this, saying only that for him at least “it’s [more] an evolution of the category rather than a new category.

“It means it’s a GT with near supercar levels of performance,” he continues, “with an ability that puts it into new territory, one I can’t think many GT cars are capable [of being part of].” He says, conversely, that he knows of GTs that “can do the performance but not with these levels of refinement. That’s where the ‘super tourer’ idea comes in, with that ability to be both and, importantly, do so in a cohesive way too.”

Does it achieve this? The DB12 is certainly a happy space in which to cruise — the engine sound an unobtrusive ambient noise that belies the fact you’re probably, obliviously, well over the speed limit. There’s a cockpit feel to the interior and, cocooned in all that quilted leather, a 21st century gentleman’s clubbiness that would make even a long day’s driving into night more pleasure than chore. And yet…it’s hard to escape the rather reassuring sense that you’re keeping a lid on things, a sense made real after slipping into Sport+ mode and feeling the spiky, jittery urgency of the car fire up. And then you’re riding rails on a rollercoaster. 

Control panel for the "neutron white" edition of the Aston Martin DB12
Control panel for the “neutron white” edition of the DB12.
Photographer Max Earey for Aston Martin

Indeed, in some respects the DB12 is just the latest of a series of game-raising moves for Aston Martin, since the Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll acquired majority ownership in 2020 (he just about still has it, following his sale of shares in May) and became an enthusiastic hands-on executive chairman. Aston Martin is back into Formula One — it’s one of few auto companies that can claim to have started out in racing. The factory’s production line has been overhauled to provide much greater flexibility. This summer in New York the company opened the first of several planned Aston Martin Q brand stores, where customers can select all their preferred customizations (machine guns and ejector seats are not yet an option).

And now comes the DB12, really setting a benchmark for all subsequent Aston Martins with its blend of power and panache — a bid, it says, to move Aston Martin away from a market in which it might compete with the likes of Maserati or Jaguar, and toward one in which it’s more soundly up against Ferrari or Lamborghini on capability and Rolls-Royce and Bentley on comfort.

“The DB line really represents that in the sense that we always think of it as being our connoisseur car, with that balance of being able to drive it very calmly — imagining the bottle of wine you’re going to have that evening — but then you can also turn the thing alive, find that right road, point it at a corner and it will go around it in a quite lovely way,” Nurnberger enthuses. 

A small stainless steal plaque in the Aston Martin DB12 assures drivers of its quality, having been hand built in Great Britain and inspected
Quality, guaranteed.
Photographer Max Earey for Aston Martin

“The kind of investment we’ve put in to changing things and the greater luxury is most clearly seen in the interior. Honestly that wasn’t an area we’d [historically] put enough resources into,” he concedes. “Four years ago we took a very definite step [to change that]. Back then the interiors design team was four people. Now it’s 16.”

The DB12’s interior array has been reconsidered to strike a better balance between the digital — the car’s control screen is the highest resolution on the market — and the physical. Anything that might irritate a driver by forcing them to work through a menu — “the piss-off factors, as we called them unofficially,” Nurnberger notes — is now managed simply though solidly crafted knurled metal rollers on the central console. That echoes what he suggests is a shift in the industry toward acknowledging now that screens in cars have utility but are not always the right design solution. “And that in a car that’s all about emotion you want that analogue tactility,” he says.

Nurnberger is honest about the motivation for all this newness, this upping of the ante. The game has changed, he says, and premium brands in the automotive sector have become even more premium. Aston Martin, prompted in part by customer feedback, by new ownership and by an enthusiasm internally to grasp the nettle, had to bring in such changes to stay where it thinks it should be in the pecking order.

“It’s funny because when we launch a new car it’s usually fallen out of [the design team’s] hands about two years before, so it’s an old friend by then,” Nurnberger laughs. And, yes, while he isn’t giving any details away, he’s already got the next DB — maybe to be called the DB13, maybe, for superstitious reasons, not — in his sights.

“But take the extent and trajectory of change from DB11 to DB12 and that’s a line that’s only rising,” he says. “It’s not about to plateau. We have a lot of ambition.”

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.