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.
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