As­ton Martin DBS Su­per­leg­gera Hell of a ‘lag­ship

The ‘su­perlight’ bit of the name is a down­right lie, but As­ton’s new uber-DB11 is a joy­ously ac­com­plished high-speed GT.

CAR (UK) - - News - By Ben Pul­man and Ge­org Kacher

WITH A 211MPH TOP speed and a 715bhp twin-turbo V12, the third new As­ton Martin in six months is the fastest and most pow­er­ful road car the com­pany has ever built. It’s to the DB11 what the Van­quish was to the DB9: a re­skinned, amped-up ver­sion of As­ton’s front-en­gined GT.

Logic says it should also be called Van­quish, but it’s not, as that’s been re­served for As­ton’s forth­com­ing Fer­rari 488 ri­val, if the ru­mours are to be be­lieved. In­stead, the DBS name is back. It was first used half a cen­tury ago, and again a decade ago for a DB9-based GT. Mean­while, the ‘Su­per­leg­gera’ tag pays homage to the light­weight con­struc­tion skills pi­o­neered by Ital­ian coach­builder Tour­ing. Which is ironic, be­cause the DBS Su­per­leg­gera sports a new car­bon­fi­bre body to trim 72kg off the weight of a DB11, but still comes in at 1693kg dry. Add petrol and oil, and some­one to drive it, and it’ll be close to two tonnes.

Still, what a body. The huge front in­take nixes As­ton’s trade­mark grille for a more Za­gato-es­que nose, and from the sculpted clamshell bon­net to the squared-off rear haunches it’s gor­geous. Its sits much bet­ter than the DB11, too, the inch-big­ger 21-inch forged al­loys and 5mm ride height drop fill­ing the whee­larches to per­fec­tion. Only a lit­tle fussi­ness around the rear lets it down.

De­spite the trick alu­minium space­frame be­neath the car­bon­fi­bre, the new DBS is a charm­ingly old-school con­struc­tion de­void of rear-wheel steer­ing, ac­tive anti-roll bars, air sus­pen­sion or elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. Ver­sus the top-spec AMR ver­sion4

There’s a level of trust not even the lat­est Van­tage can match

of the DB11 there’s an­other 85bhp, and an ex­tra 148lb ft of torque that ne­ces­si­tated a new, strength­ened eight-speed ZF gear­box. The en­gine’s hard­ware hasn’t changed; its in­creased out­puts are down to re­vised elec­tron­ics, im­proved cool­ing and a new ex­haust.

Driv­e­train and chas­sis can be pre-con­di­tioned in three steps via two switches on the steer­ing wheel. GT, Sport and Sport+ are well spaced: pro­gres­sively firmer and faster, but all in­tended for road, not track. Make that smooth road; not even GT is suf­fi­ciently com­pli­ant for bumpy ground. When you push the pow­er­train into Sport the dig­i­tal tacho shifts, so 6000rpm is top dead cen­tre of the dial, rather than 4000 in GT mode, and now the en­gine is vo­cal at 3000rpm and pops and bangs on the over­run.

You’re usu­ally best off in Sport, which com­bines a quick throt­tle re­sponse with plenty of me­chan­i­cal grip. The ESP but­ton hides in a sub­menu, Mer­cedes-style, from where it can be re­trieved and dis­armed in two stages la­belled Han­dling and Off. In the dry, you need Off to play the hooli­gan; it’s a dif­fer­ent story in the wet.

Sport+ gives you lower gears, and even more ex­haust the­atrics. Un­like the Fer­rari ap­proach – loud-or-even-louder two-stage ex­haust – the tune played by the As­ton’s four tailpipes varies with the drive pro­gramme cho­sen. Only Sport+ opens all the acous­tic flood­gates for that cher­ished Wagner-meets-Me­tal­lica ef­fect.

But the DBS’s most im­pres­sive trick is to re­main un­fazed and un­in­tim­i­dat­ing, what­ever the con­di­tions. We drove in atro­cious weather on the Gross­glock­ner high Alpine pass and the DBS was al­ways calm and com­posed through­out.

The chas­sis set-up feels firmer over­all as well as lower than the DB11’s, and the fi­nal drive ra­tio has been short­ened for an even more stel­lar punch. The elec­tro-hy­draulic steer­ing is well weighted, di­rect at 2.4 turns from lock to lock, gifted with ex­actly the right amount of self-cen­ter­ing ac­tion, but we’d have liked more feel. The V12 is big and heavy, but since most of its bulk sits be­hind the front axle, the weight dis­tri­bu­tion works out at 51 per cent front to 49 per cent rear. On the Salzburg-Mu­nich au­to­bahn the DBS feels sleek and as­sured, go­ing great guns in fifth, hit­ting 185mph in sixth and top­ping an in­di­cated 221mph in sev­enth. Al­though high-speed road­hold­ing is strong, ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties can de­flect the car’s flight path. The other thing to watch out for is the ex­plo­sive kick­down that rocks all the as­sis­tance sys­tems to their very foun­da­tions. In the dry, that’s man­age­able. In the wet, how­ever, full-bore down­shifts can be dis­con­cert­ingly brusque.

For a steady flow, it’s best for the driver to take over from the eight­speed au­to­matic. In man­ual, you can ride the torque wave with the el­e­gance of a sea­soned surfer and ex­e­cute over­takes with­out paus­ing while the auto pon­ders a gearchange.

The Su­per­leg­gera never loses its weighty, bulky feel­ing, but that doesn’t stop it plot­ting a pre­cise path from one cor­ner to the next. The blind un­der­stand­ing between driv­e­train, steer­ing and brakes es­tab­lishes a level of trust not even the lat­est Van­tage can match.

The in­te­rior doesn’t live up to all this. You get an oddly shaped steer­ing wheel, a pimped DB11 dash­board, heav­ily quilted seats, slabs of car­bon­fi­bre and so-so er­gonomics. The ta­pered bot­tom half of the cen­tre con­sole is a hap­tic and func­tional mess, and the in­fo­tain­ment pur­chased from Mer­cedes smacks of a pre­vi­ous C-Class. As­ton has ob­vi­ously spent big on elec­tron­ics, mu­sic and hides, but the sum of all cock­pit parts is still kind of ho-hum. Al­though this is a 2019 model, don’t ex­pect mod­ern pleas­antries like a head-up dis­play, mas­sage seats or the most ba­sic as­sis­tance sys­tems. And the rear seats are barely seats at all.

Like a lot of high-end cars, the DBS is quite vul­ner­a­ble. The 21-inch wheels are eas­ily fouled by au­to­matic car washes, the width of 2146mm (with mir­rors) can be an is­sue in nar­row road­works or car parks, and there is no push-but­ton axle lift to pro­tect the low-hang­ing front spoiler.

It’s not quite as ag­ile as the smaller Van­tage, but it’s closer to that end of the scale than it is the DB11. The DBS doesn’t feel quite as big and heavy as it is, and it’s blessed with car­bon discs. These may not be per­fect through their ini­tial travel, but when they come good they’re so strong and con­sis­tent you never need worry when bar­relling down an Aus­trian Alp.

And away from tight Alpine roads the DBS of­fers more. On fast, sweep­ing roads, or on the au­to­bahn, it’s a monster, just re­lent­less. The peak torque – all 664lb ft of it – is around from 1800 to 5000rpm, and in fourth gear As­ton reck­ons it’ll do 50 to 100mph in 4.2 sec­onds.

Has As­ton suc­ceeded in build­ing the first su­per GT? Yes and no. No, be­cause this claim to fame must be shared with, among oth­ers, the Fer­rari GTC4 Lusso, Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT Speed and Mer­cedes-AMG S63 Coupe; that’s some pretty im­pres­sive com­pany for the As­ton to be keep­ing. Yes, be­cause han­dling and per­for­mance are on par with the very best. And, on a more sub­jec­tive level, be­cause this is one of the shapeliest cars money can buy.

In its el­e­ment: fast sweep­ers through the Alps show the DBS at its very best

Un­like the V8 in the Van­tage this isn’t an AMG: it’s abig, bru­tal V12

Still a winged badge on the nose but the rear now spells it out

Ex­trem­i­ties are wide and hard to see from the driver’s seat

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