TESTED 9.7.18, GERMANY ON SALE NOW PRICE £225,000
Aston Martin is stepping into super-GT territory with this 715bhp coupé – and Ferrari and Bentley had better watch their toes
Imagine a car market without a Volkswagen Golf in it; or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche 911, BMW 3 Series or Range Rover, for that matter. A vastly poorer place, isn’t it? Some cars have such stature within, and defining influence on, the segments they inhabit that their creators might feel duty-bound to keep on making them until the waters rise and the sky falls in.
They have a defining, emblematic influence, too, on the character of the companies that make them – to the point that failing to renew these cars would look like an act of wilful self-harm. These are cars that the industry responsible for them genuinely needs, I reckon – as archetypes, standard bearers and beacons by which to navigate.
So is ‘the big Aston’ – the large, fast, beautiful, desirable, soulful and sporting GT coupé, made as only Aston Martin knows how – part of that rarefied group? Perhaps not quite; not yet, anyway. But it could be. Should be, I’d venture, after we all get to know Gaydon’s latest 12-cylinder flagship super-GT – the new DBS Superleggera – because I’m not sure I’ve ever driven a better example of this singularly wonderful breed.
The DBS Superleggera’s controls all feel really highly polished and perfectly tuned
Aston has flip-flopped between model identities for its biggest, fastest and most powerful coupé since 2001, when the original Vanquish was introduced. There was a DBS before the one that came along in 2007, causing a hiatus in the Vanquish lineage, and it filled the gap between the demise of the DB6 and the introduction of the V8. The reasoning behind this latest shift in nomenclature feels more permanent than Aston’s old naming mood swings, though. And that’s because there is room for both a new Vanquish and a new DBS in Aston’s life-giving ‘second century’ business plan. The Vanquish name is due to be switched onto the company’s first mid-engined series-production supercar, which is set to enter production in 2021 as an alternative to the Ferrari 488 and McLaren 720S.
The DBS nameplate, meanwhile, returns to describe the big-hitting grand touring coupé, which the outgoing Vanquish S so evocatively and indulgently played. And as for the ‘Superleggera’ part… “Why not?” said Aston design director Marek Reichman. “If Ferrari can adopt English-language descriptors for its V12 coupés, we can certainly help ourselves to Italian ones.”
Leaving the linguistic discussion to one side, I’m not sure a car weighing a shade under 1.7 tonnes without fluids counts as ‘very light’ but then, as explained, the DBS is ‘the big Aston’. It earns its model name with a mix of lightweight body panels, more than 80% of which are made out of carbonfibre composite.
Underneath that weight-saving skin is the same aluminium platform technology that underpins Aston’s other ‘second century’ models – the DB11 and Vantage. And it’s the DB11 with which the DBS has the stronger links, sharing a wheelbase in particular, although it stretches the lesser model’s axle tracks to its more sporting ends and gets 21in wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes as standard. Otherwise, most of the DBS’s suspension and steering hardware is common with the DB11’s (although it’s differently tuned) and its 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 engine is common as well.
As regards that engine, Aston has at last fully uncorked it to liberate 715bhp and 663lb ft of torque for this car. That act required only a new ECU calibration, the new Cologne V12 having apparently been capable of those outputs from its first fitment into a DB11 in 2016. Imagine that.
The extra power and torque have obliged Aston to fit greater cooling capacity, though, as well as the strongest automatic transmission yet used on a series-production Aston: an eight-speed ZF unit that, in the DBS’s case, similarly to the Vantage’s, sits between the car’s rear wheels in a transaxle layout. Downstream of that, the DBS eschews the Vantage’s electronically controlled e-diff for a mechanical limited-slip differential.
I’d defy any keen driver not to explore how tamely – or luridly – it can be throttle-steered
The DBS’s cabin feels a little bit like a backwards step for Aston Martin, although this is partly because of my road tester’s perspective and may very well not figure at all for an owner. The trouble is, the Vantage showed us a willingness on Aston’s part to adapt the fascia design of its cars, model by model, to suit their particular briefs and purposes. You quite reasonably therefore expect a dashboard layout you haven’t seen before from the DBS; yet what you get is a DB11 fascia but for some colour, trim and upholstery tweaks. A Vantage is, of course, a £121,000 car – and a DBS Superleggera… isn’t. And so, having admired the gently muscular, sharply tailored and cleverly distinguished exterior of the car, it may be with an air of deflation that you take in the car’s undoubtedly lavish and enveloping cockpit. Or, if you’ve never laid eyes on the interior of a DB11, it may very well not be. The DBS’s seats are certainly more comfortable than a DB11’s in this tester’s opinion and it wants for the material richness you expect of a £200k car in only a handful of places.
While we’re developing the theme, what kind of real-world pace do you expect of a £200k Aston super-GT in 2018? If you got last week’s issue, you’ll have read our full road test of the Ferrari 812 Superfast, which, among many, many other brain-frazzling feats of sheer accelerative brilliance, needs only 4.9sec to surge from 50mph to 100mph in fourth gear; and the Ferrari’s pretty short-geared, remember. A Porsche 911 GT2 RS needs 5.1sec for the same in-gear sprint. This new shaft-snapping Aston? A scant 4.5sec, says Matt Becker, Aston’s chief engineer.
That’s what 663lb ft of twist from 1800rpm achieves: the kind of simple, near-instant low- and mid-range thrust that makes mid-sized-SUV-level kerb weight just melt into irrelevance, and steep Alpine passes seem as good as level for all the difference they make to your explosive forward momentum. I always suspected this was a landmark engine just waiting to reveal itself when sampled in the DB11; and heavens to Betsy, it’s good. It sounds melodic at times, and deliciously loutish and rough-edged at other times. Always authentic, though – even when it’s burbling and popping on the over-run through Aston’s bespoke exhaust tuning. And having gained that readiness to kick you firmly in the joy department from well below 3000rpm, it retains the uncanny ability to wind on the revs with an elastic vivacity above 5000rpm, too, pulling all the way to 7000rpm really freely. It’s a slight shame that transaxle gearbox doesn’t always match it for smoothness and slickness of manually cued shift speed, but its moments of clumsiness are few and far between – and I suspect it’ll get even rarer the longer that Aston has to work with this new ’box.
The company’s mastery of what we might think of as its ‘second century’ technology armoury – the power steering, power braking, adaptive damping and stability control systems it has been working with since it embarked on the DB11’s development – has blossomed with this car. The DBS’s controls all feel really highly polished and perfectly tuned, so it feels like a car equally strong for the qualitative aspects of its driving experience as it is for the quantitative ones. The steering has just the right weighing to suit its medium-fast directness, and it’s wonderfully natural and tactile, communicating front axle load better than any electromechanical set-up I can think of. Its brake pedal has strong, reassuring initial bite but feels progressive as you add pressure.
As for that Goldilocks blend of suppleness, support, stability, response, balance and body control that’s so hard to describe but so important to find in the chassis of a big, continent-crossing GT car: it abides in the DBS Superleggera as plainly as blondie herself aspired to with that infamous ursine trio. Although it’s a fairly big car, the DBS doesn’t feel it on the road, possessing the precision and directional agility you expect of a proper sports car. Tuck it in tight and fast to a testing corner and it has fine body control and assured grip levels. The car’s key dynamic compromises – of keen but progressive handling response and of tautness in the primary ride but also pragmatic suppleness and absorbency – are measured to perfection and make the DBS an intuitive delight to drive quickly on any road you care to tackle. And its superb balance of grip, matched with the unchanging simplicity of the relationship between its mechanical slippy diff and its rear contact patches, allows a cornering attitude so deliciously, judiciously adjustable that I’d defy any keen driver not to discreetly and safely explore how tamely – or indeed luridly – it can be throttle-steered.
Aston is returning to its happy place with the DBS Superleggera. It is doing what it does best, and making the kind of world-class, time-honoured, grand touring driver’s car it has made so well for decades – but this time hitting a new level of real-world performance, drivability, dynamic sophistication and involvement in the process.
Suffice it to say, this tester isn’t minded to deny it due recognition on the basis that it hasn’t got its manufacturer’s own infotainment system or wiper controls. Aston Martin will do plenty of things and make plenty of cars it has never done or made before over the next few years – and we should expect it to make a few mistakes along the way. Some of them may not become a permanent part of the showroom catalogue. But as long as it keeps making cars like this as well as this, the world will carry on turning; all will be well. A rather wonderful automotive archetype has just been preserved for another model generation. Amen to that.
Why does a beast of an engine always look better under a forward-hinged clamshell bonnet? The DB11’s bonnet is forward-hinged too – and I particularly love the way both open to reveal the upper surfaces of the front tyres and the front suspension. MS
Engine V12, 5204cc, twin-turbo, petrol
Power 715bhp at 6500rpm
Torque 663lb ft at 1800-5000rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight 1693kg (dry)
Top speed 211mph
CO2, tax band 285g/km, 37%
Rivals Ferrari 812 Superfast, Bentley Continental GT