I’s all about torque. Power numbers are interesting, but you drive torque.” So says Paul Barritt, Aston Martin’s vehicle line director for the DB11 and DBS, as he talks about the ne wDBS Superleggera, before going on to mention that it not only has 200Nmmore than the regular DB11, but 150Nm more than the One-77. Oh, and half the fuel consumption of the latter. The DBS Superleggera, then, is 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, RWD, 2+2 layout inside. How potent? 535kW. Aston calls it as a “brute in a suit”. Yes, really.
Torque show 2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
R5 650 000
Due: November 2018
We say: welcome to a world beyond DB11. it’s surprisingly familiar
It sits above the Vantage (‘Hunter’) and DB11 (‘Gentleman’) at the summit of the three-strong model range, and features carbon body panels to help lower weight by 72kg and justify the R5 650 000 asking price. And it does require some justification, because when you scratch the surface you find an awful lot of DB11. Sure, it’s been sportified and in the flesh it looks properly muscular and haunchy (that is a word – well, it is now), the anti-roll bars are stiffer, the shorter final-drive ratio is from the Vantage for sprintier (again, a word) acceleration, it rides 5mm lower, features bespoke geometry settings with increased camber front and rear to sharpen cornering and firmer bushes.
But the biggest single change is the gearbox itself. It turns out that what limited the DB11 wasn’t the engine, but the ZF gearbox – it couldn’t cope with much more than the DB11’s 700Nm. But it also turns out that ZF-makes a high-torque version of the eight-speeder, able to tolerate more like 1000Nm.
It’s not just an electrics tweak, but a completely different casing to contain the beefed-up internals. So now there’s 898Nm available from 1,800rpm to 5,000rpm. Aston is keen to point out that a Ferrari 812 Superfast falls 180Nm short and makes you wait until 7,000rpm to get it. However, the DBS is a very different type of car. Only in terms of layout and ethos is the DBS Superleggera a rival to a Ferrari 812 Superfast (English car with an Italian name, Italian car with an English name – weird, huh?). The 812 is 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. Despite the shorter final drive this is still a long-legged machine, pulling just 2,000rpm at 110km/h in top. 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 early DB11s.
It’s this composure in pretty much every condition that characterises the DBS. It manages to rise above the hurly-burly. Around town its 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.
On the sort of roads you’d enjoy driving the DBS on, its best to start investigating the engine and chassis modes. As with the DB11 and Vantage, these can be selected by buttons on the steering wheel, cycling through GT, Sport and Sport Plus modes. On the smoother roads of Germany and Austria, the tighter control of Sport suspension works nicely. I suspect in SA you might want to back the suspension off to Comfort, but if you’re in the mood, the impressive body control takes the drama out of the stiffer modes.
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 darty or snatchy. The whole car is well judged. It moves as a piece, behaves cleanly. In short, the way it moves is deeply satisfying. It’s only on the exit of slow corners that you need to watch the torque. A few of those and you’ll be 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 898Nm trying to find its way to the tarmac. And that thrust is easily managed. Partly because the t/c activates more smoothly now, partly because the torque isn’t quite as hard-hitting as the figures suggest. It’s not until the rev needle swings past 2,500rpm that you feel the full effects, but at that point you need to start concentrating, because the rate the DBS hurls itself forward is startling. The figure to focus on is the 4.2secs it takes to make the 80–160km/h leap in fourth gear. That’s deeply fast. Supercar fast, but with gentler manners.
And it sounds lovely. Aston claims it’s 10dB louder than the DB11, but still not obnoxious, and with just the right amount of popple and burble on the overrun. The engine is never stressed, even up towards 7,000rpm. It just does what it does with calmness and dedication. And force. The figures may say the DBS is only 0.3sec faster to 100km/h and 5km/h faster at the top end, but the reality is that the DBS punches forward with far, far more vigour. Fourth- and fifth-gear sweepers are where it’s at. The deep and unrelenting push feels marvellous, so effortless and accessible and secure and sonorous that it’s a luxury all by itself.
The changes to the bodywork have enabled Aston to generate 180kg of downforce (split 60:120 front and rear) at maximum speed – and with no drag penalty. That’s for stability, more than any track-focused shenanigans.
Inside, think 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 material quality is sublime, the build quality more than acceptable, 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. And like its gentler sibling, it’s not an easy car to position around town: the bonnet is long and visibility is harmed by the confluence of A-pillar and mirror.
I suspect the DBS is an easy sell for Aston dealers. It’s a more assertive, powerful car than the DB11, and for the wealthy, the price differential is likely neither here nor there. So who’s going to be buying the DB11 AMR now? There’s too much overlap between the two. For all Aston’s claims about the DBS’s sporting ability, this is not a radical change but instead another pea from Aston’s GT pod, a car to tide us over until the real new Astons arrive: the DBX crossover, Valkyrie hypercar and yet to be confirmed mid-engined supercar.
Nevertheless, this is a cracking sporting GT and will thoroughly suit the people it’s aimed at. It’s a tenser, more alert and athletic DB11, significantly faster and better to drive. It has the ability to take your breath away – currently the only Aston you can say that about.
5204cc, V12 twin-turbo, RWD,
12.3l/100km, 285g/km CO2
0–100km/h in 3.4secs, 340km/h
Cabin feels very familiar, but still beaten by the Bentley Continental GT.
“80–160km/h in 4.2 is deeply fast. Supercar fast, with gentler manners”
Venetian blind aero just one of the many tweaks to make the Superleggera superer.
VERDICT: A car defined by its torque. Effortless, luxurious and clean to drive. However, why would you buy a normal DB11 now? 8/10