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Best of 2018

Living with an Aston Martin DBS Superleggera over a weekend

Here's how you deploy a 715bhp V12 supercar to The Real World

  • Last month we ran a first drive on the new Aston Martin DBS Superleggera. We liked it. A lot. The best car Aston makes, we said, and gave it a coveted award, naming it our Intercontinental Missile of the Year. This made us happy. Until the DBS arrived it looked as though luxury car firms had abandoned the sporting GT sector, making cars that were either very GT-ish (Bentley Continental GT, Mercedes-AMG S63) or very sporting (Ferrari 812 Superfast).

    I know this sounds like a slender niche, but it’s slender for a reason – getting the blend of sport and cruise just right is DIFFICULT. Aston didn’t manage it with the DB11, after all. It’s not just a matter of speed and damping, but every facet of the car, from noise (must sound good, must also be quiet) to cabin ambience (must be intimate, must also have space) and visual impact (It must have attitude, must also be elegant).

    The DBS hits these median points, and that’s brilliant, but what it doesn’t tell you is what it’s like to live with. So being a fortunate sod, for a few days, I did. Here’s how it panned out.

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  • The DBS looks utterly tremendous. It has real presence but doesn’t try too hard to stand out. Neat trick to pull off when it’s sat alongside an orange McLaren 720S and a viper green 911 GT3 RS, plus the long term BMW M5 and a Porsche Panamera Turbo. Why these cars? The chaps from People Just Do Nothing popped down to the TG track one afternoon...

    I’d picked it up from the office, where two things struck me: firstly it looked fabulous, secondly the cabin is tight for a big car. A lot like the DB11's too, which isn’t great when you’re paying another £60k. But it had motored down here (and motored is the right word) without any stress. Despite how low it sits, it manages to rise above the trivialities of everyday driving.

  • It’s filled with cameras and the People Just Do Nothing boys, who arrived in a battered MkIII Golf GTI are let loose on track. That passed without incident…

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  • …but then Chris Harris had a go.

  • The DBS doesn’t have a separate launch control system. It doesn’t really need one. In between takes I snuck out and tested it. On a drying track I couldn’t quite match Aston’s acceleration claims (3.4 to 60mph and 6.4seecs to 100mph), but was only a small clutch of tenths away. What impressed me most was how it piled on speed higher up. From 60-130mph it was faster than a 911 Turbo S or Audi R8 V10 Plus. But not as swift as a Ferrari 812 Superfast. But then almost nothing is.

  • Friday night is school night. 9pm collection, but I rarely mind because my son’s school is 15 miles away along a cracking set of B-roads. I’m approaching this with a certain sense of trepidation because I remember how unsettled the DB11 was along these roads.

    And now it’s deep into autumn, a wet blustery night, the road surface more leaf mulch than tarmac. I have, and I’m not kidding, put on my most sensitively-soled footwear that didn’t involve me opening the attic for my race boots. I want to make sure my foot can work out the difference between 300bhp and 700bhp.

    In the way that these things do when you’re preoccupied with the weather conditions, it only strikes me after a couple of miles just how well the DBS is coping. I feared the front end would skitter and slide, but it had real bite, and as for the rear, how the hell is it finding traction? And the throttle is so well calibrated. Could have worn wellies and not found myself in a ditch. Would have been wearing the right footwear if I had, though.

    But it’s not just the grip and speed it’s delivering, but the feedback and tactility. It had real poise, a car that holds its head up and is prepared for what’s coming. It made a difficult journey easy.

    Couple of points of house keeping. No matrix headlights here, but the beams are strong. However, you sit low, which makes you more susceptible to being dazzled by oncoming cars. Oh, and it sounds really good at low revs as you burble through villages.

    Couldn't grab a pic hoofing through this weather because it was too dark. Here's one from earlier in the year.

  • Saturday was practicality day. First practical point: it’s not too bad over speedbumps thanks to 120mm of ground clearance, but watch out on slopes as the front splitter has a nasty habit of catching its chin on gutters and ramps. Next: can you fit people in the back? As long as they’re not fully grown, yes. They don’t even complain too much. This is mainly because they’re in an Aston Martin.

    Three is OK – you just have to shuffle the front passenger forward a bit, but putting a fourth in behind the driver and having to shuffle them forward… less satisfactory. But that’s what needed to happen...

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  • ... because these are the playing fields of Eton. Son had a football tournament. I was charged with bringing him and two of his mates home afterwards. My wife had been sceptical when I said I’d take the Aston. I was breezily confident in my replies to her, but inside was sceptical too – three kit bags for the boot, plus overnight gear. But there was no way I wasn’t taking the Aston. You can’t deny 13 year old boys that sort of experience. They’d remember it even more if they had to be wedged in with their own dirty socks because they didn’t fit in the boot.

    But it all did. Close run thing, but the boot is deceptively wide (if undeceptively shallow), so a kit bag tucked into each side, then a third went in the middle, and various rucksacks, sleeping bags and sponge bags filled the gaps.

    The journey home was untaxing on the car’s dynamics, but more testing for the Bang & Olufsen sound system. Musical tastes amongst 13 year olds are varied (Abba to Stormzy), but the common factor is volume. Criticism was made of the fact the volume is on a touch sensitive slider rather than a knob, and that the surround sound didn’t quite have the depth it should and maybe the treble was a little pronounced, but on the whole three boys emerged very happy. Especially once I’d convinced them to switch the tunes off and listen to the artillery barrage the exhaust was capable of delivering on the overrun.

  • The DBS has got dirty in interesting ways. General build up of grime on the back of course, but there are some interesting grimy contours over those huge rear arches, and streaky dribbles from these strakes. They’re designed to reduce pressure build up in the front wheel arches by venting air. Venting mucky water is probably a less desirable byproduct.

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  • Open the bonnet up and you can see how complex the shaping of those strakes is. And how bloody awkward to clean.

  • While under the bonnet I had a bit more of a poke around. The bonnet is a one-piece carbon fibre section, the whole car is carbon bodied in fact. The gold-coloured pads? They’re there to prevent heat soak into the carbon. Front hinged and full width, the Aston’s under bonnet area is a compelling piece of theatre. You lift it and people lean in.

  • You could almost say the engine is best seen, if not from behind bars, then at least a mesh grille. 715bhp and 663lb ft make it a fearsome thing, but what surprised me most was how docile and tractable it was around town, and how well calibrated the throttle was. You could use precisely as much as you wanted to.

    The torque was just amazing. Aston claims it peaks at 1,800rpm, but in reality you don’t get properly exposed to the force until 2,500rpm. From that point on though, you’re aware of this deep, primal surge thrusting you forward. It’s not a sudden explosion, more a pressure build that carries you on. And it’s exponential, behaves more like a naturally aspirated V12 than a twin turbo one.

  • I really, really enjoyed using it. It’s not as ferocious and memorable as a Ferrari or Lamborghini V12, doesn’t scream at you, but because it’s less specialised, less demanding, the deep daily satisfaction it delivers is enormous.

    As is the fuel consumption. The V12 was sucking on fumes after 237 miles, the trip computer reckoning on an 18.3mpg average. The truth of it was more like 16.6mpg. It’s not good, but I suspect the pockets necessary to lay down upwards of £225,000 aren’t going to worry about a £100 fill up every 250 miles. But they will care about the frequent stops.

    Now to be fair, Aston claims 22.9mpg on the combined cycle and at a relaxed motorway cruise the DBS will match or better that, so expect 350 miles on a tank if you’re pointing towards the Cote d’Azur. But anywhere else you point it, specifically town trawl or B-road, watch it.

  • What does help the hours pass is seat comfort. I’m not sold on the pedantic quilting (too much design going on there), but the comfort and shaping is great. Long hours can slip by effortlessly. Your elbows rest easily either side and even if you raise the seat to improve the view over the long bonnet, there’s still decent headroom.

  • There are a couple of things you have to get used to, though. Foremost amongst them the octagonal steering wheel. It’s not pretty. It’s not great to hold. And don’t spec the chopped carbon trim (you can see it on the door edge). Even if you do think it looks good now (and do you, really?), it’s not going to age well.

    Next gripe the centre console. It looks sleek enough, but actually operating it is more awkward – the touch sensitive panel below the gearlever buttons won’t recognise fingernail presses, so you have to angle your finger awkwardly. Same applies when you’re adjusting the seat position, due to the controls being sited where your left thigh is.

    And then there’s the screen. Not touch sensitive, so you operate it via clickwheel and pad. It’s OK now, but like the crushed carbon less last gen Merc system is going to fall off the pace.

  • Went for a walk on Sunday afternoon. The first time I’d got the missus in the car. She liked it. No, I’ll go further: cared about it enough to want to talk about it. Had no issue figuring out how the door handles worked, liked the engine’s deep purr, the way it moved silkily and effortlessly. We got talking about the colour, because it is a rather special red, really deep and lustrous (it’s called Hyper Red and is a £1,195 option). That got approval too: the colour tone was just right apparently – immediately noticeable, but not brash.

    The sun was getting low and we were heading up a deeply leafy avenue to the top of a hill. The car’s colour worked perfectly against the leaves. And not just the colour. We decided the DBS was quite an autumnal car. A car almost perfectly attuned to this time of year.

    A little later it also proved very adept at gathering leaves in its grille.

  • I found a dynamic flaw. The gearbox is way too eager to kickdown. It just doesn’t need to when there’s such colossal torque there. It barely needs a gearbox at all. In fact one of the most satisfying aspects of the car is sweeping round roundabouts in fifth and just letting the torque shoulder charge you onwards. There’s also some tyre noise on coarse surfaces, but a tweak of the volume slider sorts that out.

    Best settings? Engine in Sport Plus for the full last-night-of-the-proms exhaust (you get it in Sport, too), dampers in Sport to just bring in a hint of alertness. A special mention for the brakes too – they’re not only exceptionally powerful, but operate with the same easy precision as the rest of the car.

    The DBS has a good gait, that’s the best way I can describe it, an athletic flow that penetrates into everything it does and everything it represents. I’d driven the DBS before when it was launched in Austria back in the summer, and thought it was really good then, but this was the extra dimension – proper roads in proper weather. And the DBS came through with flying colours. The best Aston Martin in yonks, a car that drives as commandingly as it looks. Properly world class.

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