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Review: Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

What is it?
The ultimate Aston Martin. At least until the Valkyrie rocks up. And even when it does, this is the car that epitomises Aston’s brand values better than any other. Massively potent twin turbo V12 up front, rear-drive, 2+2 layout inside. How potent? 715bhp. Aston refers to it as a ‘brute in a suit’. Yes, really.

As you might be able to tell from the proportions, underneath it has a lot in common with the DB11 – same platform and basic engine – but the key addition is a high-torque version of ZF’s eight-speed gearbox. This is able to cope with 948Nm of torque - approaching 271Nm more than the standard ZF gearbox in the DB11 AMR. It’s not just a software recalibration – this gearbox has a different casing to contain the beefed up internals.

The key figure, says Aston, isn’t 715bhp, but the 898Nm available from 1,800-5,000rpm. Aston is keen to point out that a Ferrari 812 Superfast falls 181Nm short and makes you wait until 7,000rpm to get those 716Nm. However, as we’ll see the DBS is a very different type of car. But not a slow one. Sending its power out through a mechanical LSD it has the ability to hit 100kph in 3.4 secs and on to a 337kph top speed – three tenths and 5kph faster than the DB11 AMR. Not huge gains on paper, but in reality…

The message is clear – the DBS Superleggera may share underpinnings with the DB11, but this is a more muscular machine in every way. 72kg lighter thanks to the carbon bodywork, and able to generate 180kg of downforce (split 60:120 front and rear) at maximum speed with no drag penalty versus the DB11. That’s for stability more than any track-focused shenanigans, as the DB11’s front end actually generates slight lift. Dynamically, the DBS Superleggera is pitched into the gap between sporting Vantage and GT-ish DB11.

What is it like on the road?
This is a mighty car. Not explosive, not urgent, but mighty. Fourth and fifth gear sweepers are where it’s at. Why? Because at those speeds in those gears you can actually use the torque, allow the thrust to jet you out onto the next straight. As party tricks go, this deep and unrelenting push feels marvellous, so effortless and accessible and secure and sonorous that it’s a luxury all by itself.

This character defines the DBS Superleggera. Only in terms of layout and price is this a rival to a Ferrari 812 Superfast (English car with an Italian name, Italian car with an English name – weird, huh?). The 812 is a savage in comparison, the engine a masterpiece, the car ultra-active and hectic, the drive a constant bombardment.

Consuming a continent? You’d have the Aston every time. It may have the shorter final drive from the Vantage (2.9:1 instead of 2.7), but this is still a long-legged machine, pulling just 2,000rpm at 112kph in eighth. At that speed the engine is a sophisticated purr of noise, wind no more than a ruffle, the ride so impressively damped you don’t notice the work it’s doing. It stays level and calm, but not soft – it has none of the vertical float and slack that used to blight the DB11.

It’s this composure in pretty much every condition that characterises the DBS. It manages to rise above the hurly-burly. Like the DB11, it’s not an easy car to position around town: the bonnet is long and visibility harmed by the confluence of A-pillar and mirror. But it’s manners are polished, it responds well to throttle and brake, oils itself through the gears, all the while accompanied by this purring engine and authoritative suspension. Even here it moves more athletically than the DB11.

It shares the same double wishbone front and multi-link rear set-up, but rides 5mm lower, uses larger 21-inch wheels and features bespoke geometry settings. Camber has been increased front and rear to sharpen cornering and the bushes are firmer, too. In common with the Vantage and DB11, engine and chassis tune can be selected by buttons on the steering wheel, cycling through GT, Sport and Sport Plus modes.

On the sort of roads you’d enjoy driving the DBS on, Sport works nicely. I suspect in the UK you might want to back the suspension off to Comfort, but on the smoother roads of Germany and Austria the tighter control of Sport wasn’t exact a penalty. And it felt good here. The steering is weighty (there are two maps, one for Comfort, one for Sport/Sport Plus), but it’s accurate with a rack that’s quick enough to ensure you rarely need to move your grip, but never makes the front end feel darty or snatchy. Partly because of the weight you’re working against when you apply any lock.

The whole car is well judged. It moves as a piece, behaves cleanly, and is deeply satisfying. It’s only on the exit of slow corners that you need to watch the torque, moderate the throttle, that you want to go diving into the menus to slacken the traction control. There is still, under duress, a tiny proportion of the squirm early DB11s suffered.

But that’s fair enough when you have 663lb ft trying to find its way to the tarmac. And that thrust is easily managed. Partly because the traction control activates more smoothly now, partly because the torque isn’t quite as hard-hitting as the figures suggest. It’s not until the rev needles swings past 2,500rpm that you feel the full effects, but at that point you do need to start concentrating, because the rate the DBS hurls itself forward is a lot more startling than the DB11.

The engine is never - even up towards 7,000rpm - stressed. It just does what it does with calmness and dedication. The 80kph leap from 80-160kph in fourth gear is dispatched in 4.2secs. It’s a deeply fast car. Supercar fast, but with gentler manners. And it sounds lovely. 10db louder than the DB11, Aston claims, but still not obnoxious, and the overrun pops and burble in Sport and Sport Plus have been well judged.

The front end, wearing tyres 10mm wider than the DB11 and a thicker anti-roll bar, is keen and precise without being aggressive, while the 51:49 weight distribution (the gearbox is a rear transaxle), helps keep the DBS nicely balanced throughout a corner. As I said earlier, the car just moves well. If one component felt slightly out of tune, it was the brakes – although they’re due a pad upgrade before deliveries start around September.

On the inside
For DBS, read DB11, just with a bit more glamour. Still four seats (the most strident thing about the whole car will be the complaints emanating from those forced into the rears), the boot is an identical size and shape (wide, not deep), but the overall vibe is very… familiar.

The trim has been upgraded, the options are doubtless more extensive and the paddles have been given a crisper pull, but this remains a tighter, less well organised and user-friendly cockpit than that of, say, a Bentley Continental GT. The centre console is still cramped, there’s still nowhere to slot the large, heavy key and the seats don’t feel any more enveloping than those in the DB11.

The material quality is sublime, the build quality more than acceptable, but the design and layout needs work. This would have been the time to sort it out.

Verdict
For all Aston’s claims about the DBS’s sporting ability, this is not a radical step change but instead another pea from Aston’s GT pod. More honed and muscular than before, but essentially very similar to the DB11. I don’t doubt it’ll sell, but surely at the expense of DB11 sales.

We’ve heard so much about the extra investment going into Aston and this is not where it’s gone. Instead the DBS is another model to keep the firm ticking over until the new St Athan plant comes on line to build the DBX crossover. That, plus the Valkyrie and mid-engined supercar (in fact seven models over the next seven years), will be Aston’s chance to show there’s more to the company than a familiar range of sporting GTs.

That may sound like I’m being dismissive of the DBS. I’m not. It’s a cracking sporting GT and will thoroughly suit the people it’s aimed at. It’s a tenser, more alert and athletic DB11, faster and better to drive. It has the ability to take your breath away – and currently it’s the only Aston you can say that about.

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