Aston Martin’s new DBS Superleggera appears a brave move but, on closer inspection, it has a market all to itself
It is said that fortune favours the brave and, judging by the spectacular recovery of Aston Martin in the last few years, there would seem to be something in it.
As anyone who follows the industry, even at finger-tip distance will know, the Aston Martin today is unrecognisable compared to the Aston Martin of even five years ago. The DB11 and Vantage have been accorded rapturous receptions, while the Valkyrie hypercar sold out as soon as its existence was made known to its most favoured customers.
And now more fortune has fallen Aston Martin’s way, and it has come from the most surprising of quarters. For it was Ferrari’s decision to reprofile the positioning of its flagship model when it modified the F12 into the 812 Superfast that created the gap into which this new DBS walks.
I’m sorry, I meant DBS Superleggera. To me it seems something of a contrivance, albeit harmless, to exhume not one but two names from Aston’s past, and although the DBS does indeed weigh a little less than the DB11 upon which it is based, there is nothing super-light about it. Then again, nor was there about the 1959 DB4, the first Aston to bear a name that then referred specifically to a Touring of Milan construction technique involving a platform chassis with certain stressed parts upon which a tubular frame was then built to support the body. Today it means nothing of the sort even if echoes of actual Superleggera design were in some Astons right up to the turn of the century.
I digress. The point is that the 812 Superfast is a super GT no longer, but a more traditional kind of supercar, the most sporting in character since the Daytona and as such a closer rival to a Lamborghini than the Aston. So the fact the Ferrari has 789bhp and the DBS a paltry 715bhp is not the weakness it might seem for the British car for, in truth, the DBS is now a car without any immediate or obvious competition. Which seems odd when you drive it, because for all its power and startling appearance, its character feels rather traditional. Indeed as I alternately cruised, blasted and skidded my way around Austria and Germany in it, I was reminded powerfully of the great V8 Vantages of the late 1970s and 1980s, a beautiful example of which is owned by Aston boss Andy Palmer.
A coincidence? Perhaps not entirely.
Like that car, the DBS is a considerably warmed-through version of a pre-existing product, which is ironic because the car that spawned that first Vantage started life as the original DBS… This time the 5.2-litre V12 has been given 715bhp, fully 115bhp more than when it first fitted the DB11, an output achieved not by fitting bigger turbos, new manifolds and uprated internals, but simply by taking the cork out: the engine was always good for this power and was artificially held back by its electronics for the DB11. The DBS has a wider track, stiffer suspension, fatter tyres, ceramic brake discs as standard, bodywork that provides more downforce but no more drag, largely carbon-fibre panels and a brand new ZF gearbox to cope with a mighty (147lb ft) increase in torque. A comprehensive job then, as you’d expect given the £225,000 price Aston Martin has chosen for it.
But does it feel sufficiently different to the DB11 to justify the name? The last DBS launched 10 years ago did not, and there are those in the factory to this day who think it would have been more honest and accurate to have called that car the DB9GT.
Well, I think we can dispel those thoughts quite quickly. Yes, it looks like a DB11 but only in the sort of way that a Bengal tiger looks like a cat. The relationship is clear, the weaponry of a completely different order.
Forget that its 0-62mph time of 3.4sec is ‘only’ half a second quicker than the original DB11, for this is a car that produces so much torque it will light up its tyres in the first three gears on a smooth, dry road if you let it.
To be honest with you, it’s the first Aston I’ve driven that feels relentlessly quick in the modern vogue. Probably the least appreciated transformation in the way cars drive these days is how turbochargers have changed power delivery. Once, exhaust-driven forced induction came only by sacrificing half or more of the rev range to off-boost lethargy, but now it’s the turbo motors that make the normally aspirated motors feel peaky, and few more than the DBS. There is no discernible turbo lag, just an avalanche of torque everywhere, often more than this very fluently suspended car can handle. And even Aston Martin admits that if it’s going to provide more in a front-engined car, the front axle will have to share traction-providing duties.
“It produces so much torque that it will light up its tyres in the first three gears on a smooth, dry road if you allow it to”
If Aston Martin had been insane enough to attempt to deploy such potency a few years back the result would have been so funny you’d still be laughing as you went through the hedge. Today, with computers controlling the damping, torque restricted in the lower gears and expert traction control simply rejecting any request for more than the rear axle can handle, progress is pretty serene for as long as you want it to be. The car steers wonderfully well, capably disguising its weight and wheelbase without the need for rear-wheel steer, and blasts you towards your destination to the inimitable song of 12 cylinders almost unaffected by the need to breathe through its turbos.
If I have a reservation about the DBS, it is not the car it is, but the kind. Whether built by Aston Martin, Ferrari or anyone else, these super GTs are always somewhat paradoxical – the most expensive cars in their ranges, yet also the most compromised. The truth is that a DB11 is a better GT than this because it’s quieter and more comfortable, while a Vantage is a superior sports car because it is lighter, shorter and stiffer.
Of course what neither provides (although the DB11 easily could with the right mapping) is that wrecking-ball punch from little more than idling speed. And Aston Martin has worked hard at providing a characterful interior design with a bewildering array of retail opportunities for the customer keen on customisation. But the Mercedes-Benz parts bin components are as easily seen here as on a Vantage costing little more than the half the money, and while it all works splendidly, visually it grates.
But none of this can obscure the fact that this is another confident, charming and capable Aston Martin that delivers in full on the promise of its looks. And right now I can think of nothing else like it: the Ferrari 812 Superfast is too hardcore, the Bentley Continental GT is a touring car first and a sports car a very distant second.
The Vantage remains my favourite of the new breed of Aston Martins, but that may say more about me than Gaydon’s current model line up. What I do know is that the company has got itself not only a fine new flagship, but sole occupancy of the field in which it stands.