Power play: A scenic Californian drive with the Aston Martin DBX

Words by
Geoff Nudelman
Photography by
Alfred Yson /Neue Focus

6th October 2021

Combining high performance with sporting good looks, the DBX is an SUV like no other – and proves perfect for an adventure in the great outdoors

At some 1.75 million acres, Los Padres National Forest is one of California’s biggest wooded spaces. In a state not short on natural wonders, it’s a striking array of coastal vistas, desert crags and rocky wilderness. It consists of two dramatic parcels of land, the most northern of which starts above Big Sur’s famous cliffs. The larger, southern section begins near the city of San Luis Obispo and extends almost to Los Angeles.

On the southwestern edge of Los Padres, the city of Santa Barbara has long been a popular gateway for exploring the heart of the southern section. In this area, the Santa Ynez river, like a rugged camping knife, cuts a sharp canyon through a broad section of the wilderness, with dense, bright greenery running on either side, encouraged by a compact, cool microclimate.

Power play: A scenic Californian drive with the Aston Martin DBX
The Aston Martin DBX is in its element in the terrain of Los Padres National Forest

The proximity to LA offers a special opportunity to enjoy a night under the stars, then retreat back to the comforts of modern life. In other words, this is the perfect environment to unleash the power of the Aston Martin DBX – a grand tourer that feels as at home traversing rocky terrain as it does winding through town. Launched to much applause in 2020, the DBX is the marque’s inaugural SUV, combining high-performance power with the unique sporting character of Aston Martin.

My fiancée and I met up with our DBX in the Spanish-inspired rotunda of the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, to enjoy a night of comfort and preparation after a late flight. We reviewed local maps, planned our route and gathered necessary provisions. A jaunt out for dinner proved a worthy introduction to the nimbleness of the DBX, the car moving along the coastal tarmac with graceful agility.

Power play: A scenic Californian drive with the Aston Martin DBX
The interior of the DBX is beautifully upholstered in Dark Knight leather

Any good weekend camper needs to have the space to carry gear with ease and our DBX, outfitted with trim courtesy of Q by Aston Martin – the marque’s bespoke and customisation service – and finished in sunny Golden Saffron bodywork, did not disappoint. Two buttons send the rear seats fully flat, protecting the Dark Knight leather while unlocking 22.5ft of stowage space. The result was more than enough room for our needs and even allowed for a bit of extra space for anything we might pick up along the way.

Highway 154 is the main route into Los Padres, quickly rising out of Santa Barbara into the mountains, with the blues and beiges of the California coastline in your rearview mirror. Less hardy explorers can continue north to the quiet Santa Ynez Valley – a fine winegrowing destination in its own right with plenty to enjoy. On this trip, our path veered east off the 154, on to the aptly named Paradise Road and further into the mountains.

Patches of broken rock drew lines in the sun-bleached gravel and were easy work for the DBX. The car’s accomplished suspension and all-wheel drive didn’t even require a change in drive modes as all four tyres made light of the terrain. Our campsite of choice was just off this road and overlooked the canyon, with the Santa Ynez flowing gently below. We set up our camp gear and took a short walk to enjoy the special quiet that only this landscape can deliver. As the sun dimmed, we lit a fire and enjoyed the peace of the wild.

A jaunt out for dinner proved a very worthy introduction to nimbleness of the DBX, the car moving along the coastal tarmac with graceful agility

After a well-rested night, we awoke to a fiery sun (elevation intensifies the California glow), packed up and headed back towards the city. The DBX is such a pleasure to drive, we decided to take the long way around the mountains and then we took Highway 101 along the coastline. We arrived at our next home for the night, Hotel Californian, with plenty of time to explore the re-emerging Funk Zone, the name for Santa Barbara’s former industrial, marine and fishing district that now presents a rich mix of wineries, restaurants and shops, all juxtaposed by California’s Spanish Mission architecture. There’s a new energy here, defining the future of Santa Barbara much as the DBX does for Aston Martin. The DBX was perfectly in keeping with such an environment, just as it was when ascending rocky crags the day before; such versatility is certainly one of its greatest strengths.

Yet perhaps the best word to describe this new flagship is balance. At no point was the DBX not up for the challenge – whether on California’s notoriously uneven freeways or the curvature of a bumpy backroad. It conquered each and had a hefty appetite for more.

Power play: A scenic Californian drive with the Aston Martin DBX
With the rear seats flat, the DBX offers 22.5ft of stowage space

Our final day included another late flight, which meant we had a full day to soak up the coastal air. We drove south to the idyllic beachside community of Summerland. Here, numerous home design shops have popped up and we stopped for a look at the craft ware at Field and Fort. Some of the quality culinary and home goods would have been fine trinkets to commemorate our weekend, but we settled instead for a pastry. Then we took the side streets up to the enclave of Montecito. Even though the clouds hadn’t released their grip on the skies, we couldn’t resist an afternoon ice cream from one of the many artisanal shops we passed on our trip through the area.

Our drive to the airport offered an opportunity to reflect on the well-spent weekend and on the DBX as a marvel of engineering. To truly be an SUV, a modern grand tourer has to perform when and where it’s asked and to do so without breaking a sweat. Not only does the DBX meet that standard, it exceeds it and readily asks for more. It’s like a perfect camping trip: you should feel refreshed from the great outdoors and already anticipating your next expedition. 

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