► DB11 on steroids
► 812 Superfast rival
► Fastest and most powerful road car Aston
Following a decade or more of glacial change, we suddenly can’t keep up with the slew of new Astons. This year alone we’ve already driven the new Vantage, the heavily revised AMR-spec DB11, and now there’s this, the new Aston Martin DBS Superleggera.
It’s the fastest and most powerful road car Aston has ever built – with a 211mph top speed and 715bhp twin-turbo V12 – and it ups the ante on the DB11, just as the Vanquish did on the DB9 before it. But it’s not called Vanquish this time around, as that’s now allegedly reserved for Aston’s forthcoming, mid-engined Ferrari 488 and McLaren 720S rival.
Instead the DBS name is back; it’s been around since ’67, and was last used on the Vanquish’s predecessor, another amped-up DB9, the one Daniel Craig barrel-rolled in his Casino Royale debut. As for the ‘Superleggera’ tag, Aston says it’s a homage to the lightweight construction methods pioneered by Italian coachbuilder Touring.
Where does the DBS Superleggera fit in?
Atop the lot, though Aston itself has blurred the lines a little with the recent introduction of the AMR-spec DB11, a car never in its product plans. 2017’s Mercedes-engined V8 version of DB11 outshone its bigger V12 bother, what with it being cheaper, more economical and better to drive. So the base V12 is gone, replaced with an Aston Martin Racing-badged model with more power (now 630bhp) and a sharper chassis.
Still, the DBS manages to put space between it and this interloper. Not least thanks to the extra power and torque easily available from the twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12: there’s now 715bhp, and an additional 148lb for a whopping 664lb ft total (which necessitated a new, strengthened eight-speed ZF gearbox).
Power still goes to the rear wheels, and Aston claims 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds and 0-100mph in 6.4 seconds. And I remember a time when the McLaren F1’s 3.2 and 6.3 seconds seems untouchable – and yet here we have a big front-engined GT that could breathe down its neck.
A DB11 on steroids…
It does, thanks to a new carbonfibre body. Weight is trimmed by 72kg (though it’s still 1693kg dry, and close to two tonnes with fluids and a driver aboard) but the real impact is in the extra visual menace. From the sculpted, vented clamshell bonnet to the muscular squared-off rear arches, it’s a gorgeous thing to behold.
Where there isn’t carbon, the huge front intake nixes Aston’s trademark grille for a more Zagato-esque nose flanked by inlets either side that add more menace. The side strakes aft of the front wheels are better resolved than on the DB11, and while that car always looks like there’s too much air between wheel and wheelarch, here the inch bigger forged alloys (now 21s) and 5mm ride height drop fill the gap to perfection. Only a little fussiness around the rear exhaust and lights let it down.
More than just extra power and less weight
Those tyres are 265-section at the front, and 305 at the back (up from 255 and 295 respectively) and it’s Pirelli P Zero rubber rather than Bridgestone S007s now. They wrap carbon ceramic discs in place of the DB11’s steel brakes. There’s a new exhaust too, bespoke suspension geometry, while aero tweaks (including a fixed rear spoiler in place of the DB11’s pop-up item) generate more downforce – now 180kg at top speed, the most of any series-production Aston – without any additional drag.
Inside the changes aren’t quite so striking; here the DBS is more obviously a re-trimmed DB11. Though that’s no bad thing, as Aston’s fit and finish keeps getting better, the DBS-specific materials now err towards carbon rather than wood, and all the infotainment electronics work wonderfully. It’s not something we could praise in the past (and the Mercedes-sourced parts are still a novelty) but by the time the company’s DBX SUV turns up in 2019 we’ll be long past mentioning it – and that for Aston will be the real victory.
What’s it like to drive?
A little intimidating at first. Just as with the new Vantage, the offside front wing is utterly out of sight. And the bonnet disappears from view /before/ the new vents begin, so there’s acres of precious carbon out front you just can’t place without fear of clipping something.
That aside – and it becomes less of an issue over time – the DBS is no more intimidating to drive than a DB11. There is some tyre roar and a faint rumble from the engine, but with eight gears to choose from it never need get near the point when it starts to really make itself heard. The DBS isolates and filters with aplomb too, and despite the 21-inch wheels doesn’t crash into potholes or fidget over expansion joints.
The DBS has the same (albeit re-tuned) GT, Sport and Sport+ modes for the powertrain and chassis as the DB11 – rather than the Vantage’s more focused Sport, Sport+ and Track. It’s been a year or so since I’ve driven a DB11, but the DBS feels no less compliant or cosseting.
Over 700bhp and nearly 700lb ft. Must be quick?
It is. On fast, sweeping roads, or on the autobahn, it’s a monster with relentless mid-range urge. That 664lb ft torque total is around from 1800 all the to 5000rpm, and in fourth Aston reckons it’ll do 50 to 100mph in 4.2 seconds. Make sure it’s at least in Sport mode too, as then the engine becomes vocal at 3000 rather than 4000rpm, and pops and bangs on the overrun. Sport+ gives you lower gears, and even more exhaust theatrics.
Switching up through Sport and Sport+ is crucial though, because otherwise this Aston doesn’t show its hand. But it’s party piece isn’t the high-rev insanity of the Ferrari 812 or its F12 predecessor, but rather remaining unfazed and never intimidating the driver.
Okay, we drove in atrocious conditions and all that torque can trouble the traction control through second and third (and fourth) when it’s soaking wet – but the reality is the DBS doesn’t feel its size or its weight. All that torque means part throttle and low revs are all that’s needed for swift progress.
Its optimum setting is Sport+ for the powertrain, and then Sport or Sport+ for the chassis depending on the surface, and then you get the noise and poise. The heaviness of the steering through the first few degrees of lock isn’t reflected in how nimble the front end feels. And the brakes too, huge carbon discs, aren’t perfect through the initial travel but are so strong that you never need worry when barrelling up and down an Austrian Alp.
It feels like the last few degrees of magic are missing. The new DBS doesn’t have steering feel and feedback of the old Vanquish – blame the new electric system versus that car’s electro-hydraulic rack. Nor does it have the sense of occasion that came courtesy of its naturally aspirated V12.
You can push it much harder than the DB11, indeed it feels closer to the smaller Vantage, but whereas little brother reveals its raw and extrovert character readily, the DBS is more reserved. It seems like a less-aggressive Vantage, a more-rounded, more composed, faster, DB11.
DBS Superleggera: verdict
That conclusion shouldn’t damn the DBS, far from it. This is a great GT – stunning to behold, as useable as the DB11, yet with a broader range and greater dynamic abilities.
Yet Aston openly talks about purposely building a car that doesn’t terrify inexperienced drivers. But that means this a better DB11, rather than its own thing. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise given the last DBS and outgoing Vanquish furrowed the same track, but I expecting more given how Aston hopes to differentiate its range more than before.
Aston doesn’t want this to be a rival to the Ferrari 812, rather an alternative. But in doing so, although the DBS is definitely a step on from the DB11, it seems to tread on that car’s toes first and foremost.