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First Drive

Aston Martin DBS 770 Ultimate review: goodbye to the V12 Aston forever?

£315,000 when new
810
Published: 05 Jun 2023
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Aston DBS – isn’t that the old Aston Martin?

Yes, this is the last of the old guard. You’ve now seen the new DB12, with its delectable-looking interior and strictly eight cylinders under the bonnet. That’s where Aston Martin is going. The DBS 770 Ultimate is where it’s been.

Let me guess. More power, wheels from the Victor, and all the carbon fibre?

Bit cynical, but you’re not far off, on face value. More turbo pressure and calibration tweaks for the 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 give the DBS the last thing it needed: more poke. The standard car has 715bhp, which was already a lot given a DB11 with 600bhp felt a bit wayward, especially in the wet.

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In the Ultimate, you have another 44bhp, making 759 of the King’s finest brake horsepower, or 770PS in metric. The only reason torque hasn’t also climbed from the already silly 664lb ft is that if Aston Martin really let this rampant engine off the leash, it would simply sneeze the eight-speed automatic gearbox clean out the back of the car. 

Elsewhere, as you’ve spotted, there’s gloriously intricate 21-inch spiderweb wheels inspired by those optional on the Valkyrie and fitted to the wonderful Victor one-off. Small carbon fibre aero tweaks (note the revised front splitter and side skirts) are the only other clues you’re driving a one-of-300 limited edition DBS.

Looks good though, dunnit?

Oh, it’s not wanting for presence. The DBS is an enormous canal boat of a car, but its proportions are beautifully judged and the general public swoon over it where a Ferrari 812 Superfast or any V12 Lambo attracts scorn and hand gestures usually found in the away end of a football stadium.

It doesn’t matter how many financial storms Aston Martin has weathered. It matters not who owns the company, or how well the cars are selling. The British public seems to have a bottomless pit of affection for this car. It’s a universally adored national treasure. Like driving around on Adele.

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Except the DBS sounds better?

The V12 has that expensive many-cylinder note that a V8 can never quite offer, but unlike those old DB9s and Vanquishes, the turbocharged era of Aston V12s isn’t as musical. Still, when it’s idling and you just blip the throttle, you get a brooding snarl instead of an Italian yelp, and the whole car rocks on its foundations, as if the V12 is trying to escape from under the gigantic carbon fibre clamshell bonnet.

But when all's said and done, it’s more of the same from Aston Martin, right? Too much power, too much beauty, not enough money to make a car like the Germans…

Yes, cancel the brass band, take down the bunting: the reality is Aston’s cars haven’t often been at the races. The Vantage gets walloped by a 911. Bentley’s Continental is a better all-round GT than the now-replaced DB11. Ferrari’s in a different century. The DBX is very good indeed… but not twice as good as a Cayenne. Which costs half as much.

So you’d have forgiven Aston for just punting the DBS Ultimate out into the world with a bit more oomph, some design trinkets, and then getting on with life. But it hasn’t. It’s gone to town on the old warhorse.

The power steering has been recalibrated for better feel, and it's now mounted more solidly to the car, with less rubber in the fixings. The suspension settings (GT, Sport and Sport Plus) have been totally reworked. And someone appears to have hired a witch doctor to perform feats of magic on the gearbox.

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Don’t you dare say ‘it’s the car it should always have been’.

I know it’s a horrid, lazy cliché. And Aston Martin has a habit of doing it more often than most. But flipping heck, by the beard of Zeus, the Ultimate is a monstrously, vastly improved DBS. It’s sensational.

Firstly, there’s the power. Forget the numbers (0-62mph in 3.4 seconds, 211mph flat out, but so what?) and just marvel at the fact that you can use it. The gearbox obeys. The traction control doesn’t panic. It’s hilariously fast, in a kind of never-ending, elastic kinda way, but almost all of the little shimmies and wiggles that the DBS used to perform as it tried to wrestle over 700bhp onto the road are gone. You’ve got confidence to unleash the WWII fighter plane engine at last.

Then there’s the ride. Wow. This is one of the world’s best riding cars on British roads. It offers a sumptuous comfort no other big front-engined GT can get close to, but retains composure and control rather than going all flobbery and sagging when you’ve got the hammer down. And then, when you explore the stiffer settings, you find they dial up the poise but aren’t teeth-shatteringly rigid and useful only on a glass-surfaced racetrack. 

So, you can use the power, enjoy the corners (because the steering’s also more positive and delightfully crisp) and when you aren’t trying to save the world from a megalomaniacal villain, it’s soothing and well-mannered. Plus, everyone nearby loves you. Few cars make you feel quite as good about yourself. If only the DBS had had this rework a few years ago. Life would’ve been so much harder for its rivals.

Well done Aston (at last)! Is it really worth £315,000, though?

Not with this interior. Sorry, I know this is the old model now and Aston has pretty much admitted the DBS was ropey inside by totally redesigning the innards of the DB12. But if anything can spoil your day in the Ultimate, it’s the cockpit. 

Yes, the borrowed, dated Mercedes infotainment was a means to an end. But even the bits the company designed itself are all wrong. The transmission buttons are unhelpful, the touch-sensitive centre console is unusable, the dials looks unforgivably cheap, there’s nowhere to put the preposterously bulbous key, the motorised console lid is entertaining for five minutes then just annoying, and there’s no glovebox. Visibility is terrible too.

The only new bit for the 770 are the carbon-shelled torture devices Aston Martin calls ‘seats’. They’re very comfortable and supportive once you’re aboard. But you won’t care about that, because you’ll be telephoning the air ambulance to extract the solid carbon seat bolster from your rectum. And you’ll struggle, because the phone is rubbish. 

Bet it isn’t enough to put you off…

It really might. But the thing is, Aston Martin didn’t go to the bother of revitalising the DBS just for 300 cars. All of these lessons have been applied to the new DB12 – a car we’re now hugely excited for. It could truly be the greatest Aston Martin of all time.

The only thing it’s missing? A V12. For that, you need the old Ultimate. What a way to go.

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