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New flagship super-GT has world-class fast grand touring capability, handling and driver involvement. Will Aston’s Vanquish successor be the third hit in a row for its second-century plan?

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All of a sudden, there is a gap in the market. We’re talking about a small and niche, but also an enduring and very meaningful, gap, gleefully filled by this Aston Martin DBS.

It pertains to large-capacity, front-engined ‘super’ grand tourers. These might be a rare sight on the road but they are among the most prestigious and best loved of all the exotic breeds, with the finest sporting pedigree.

Ian Callum’s 2001 Vanquish would still be my all-time favourite Aston to look at, but this runs it close. It is easily the best-looking Aston we’ve seen in the Marek Reichman era, and needed to be too. Bravo

Regular Autocar readers may have earlier surmised the gap in question might be Ferrari-shaped: specifically one best plugged by the 812 Superfast – but that car turned out to be more supercar than transcontinental express, and simply too overwhelmingly full-on to nail the traditional super-GT brief. It’s for this reason that an otherwise extraordinary Ferrari attracted only qualified praise during its road test this summer, and why Aston Martin now has a gilt-edged opportunity.

This halo model would seem to emphatically tick every box on the most time-honoured checklist in the business.

Presence and elegance are subjective matters, but the DBS unquestionably has them. And most encouragingly, it’s arriving at a time when the chassis experts at Gaydon, spearheaded by eminent dynamics guru Matt Becker, have not only found their mojo but seem to grow it with every new model.

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These are interesting times for arguably the most famous British automotive marque. It is simultaneously settling into its new status as a public limited company, throwing open the shutters at a new plant in South Wales and has also released a run-out best-of-the-breed Aston Martin DBS 770 Ultimate model.

But today we get to focus solely on what matters most. Is the DBS worth its top-of-the-pile status? And can it be considered the genre-defining machine Aston Martin the old Vanquish never quite was?


Aston Martin DBS Superleggera 2018 road test review - hero side

If a super-GT’s success is best defined by sensational looks and an equally sensational powerplant, the DBS gets off to a flying start. Beneath the front-hinged carbonfibre clamshell sits the same twin-turbo 5.2-litre ‘Cologne’ V12 deployed in the Aston Martin DB11, only tickled electronically to heights of 715bhp and 664lb ft from a mere 1800rpm.

The latter figure necessitated an all-new transaxle gearbox: ZF’s ultra-modern 96HP eight-speeder, though torque, sent rearwards via a carbonfibre propshaft, still has to be limited through the first two ratios in the interests of longevity.

I’m not a fan of the Aston Martin lettering across the bootlid. A simple winged badge is how Gaydon used to roll, and would be a more elegant and attractive solution these days too, I reckon

Like the DB11, the DBS also benefits from a mechanical limited-slip differential at its driven rear axle, rather than the electronic apparatus in the more junior Vantage. Aston Martin has, however, increased the bias to help put all that muscle through a pair of 305/30 Pirelli P Zero tyres bespoke to the DBS.

The track widths are also up by 10mm and 20mm at the front and rear respectively, and so the DBS has a larger footprint than the equivalent DB11, even if it sits some 70kg lighter on the scales, at as little as 1799kg in running order (depending on lightweight options). Which may hardly seem ‘superlight’, especially given our test car still weighed 1910kg with a full tank. But remember how big a car this is, and the rich, luxury touring brief it serves. If anything promises to move such mass with urgency, it’s 664lb ft of torque.

In mechanical terms, the chassis is pure DB11, which is no bad thing. That means the DBS is built on the same aluminium platform and with a double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspension design, each with coil springs, skyhook adaptive damping (changeable through GT, Sport and Sport Plus mode) and anti-roll bars front and rear.

Then there are the detail changes. The DBS is laterally stiffer, with only 2.6deg of roll per g compared with 3.0 for the DB11 (the Aston Martin Vantage is only 2.1).

Those larger tyres, of course, offer up greater grip but the suspension is tuned for a progressive breakaway, Aston says, and the weighting of the electrically assisted steering has also been altered to suit this more sporting application – though, at 2.4 turns lock to lock, it’s no quicker than in the DB11.


Aston Martin DBS Superleggera 2018 road test review - front seats

Your response to the DBS’s cabin design may well be defined by just how well acquainted you are with the wider Aston Martin model range. While there’s no questioning the material richness or luxurious ambience of the interior, customers upgrading from the Aston Martin DB11 will certainly notice the similarities between the two treatments.

Aside from our test car’s ‘triaxial’ diamond quilting (a £1995 option) and sportier seat design, the two cars are identical in terms of layout and primary componentry, which may come as a bit of a disappointment given the DB11 can be yours for some £80,000 less than our test subject.

Crisp, clear quality of the Bang & Olufsen sound system is certainly impressive, but the £5495 cost is steep – especially when you’ve got a V12 to listen to

The firm yet comfortably supportive seats position you low down in the cabin and, unlike in the 812 Superfast we road tested, are completely electronically adjustable. The steering column, meanwhile, also offers plenty of adjustability for rake and reach. Aside from a slight right-handed offset of that steering column, the DBS’s driving position is practically spot on – as it should be in a car pitched as an effortless intracontinental tourer.

Unlike the previous DBS – that of Bond-franchise fame – this latest model retains its ‘occasional’ rear seats, although you’re unlikely to find that anyone bar small children will actually be able to use them. Isofix child-seat mounting points are present, so there’s the potential to squeeze a booster seat in the back – but actually doing so would only be possible by sacrificing a lot of space in the front.

The DBS’s boot is of a useful size, and certainly large enough for a few weekend bags, and maybe even a suitcase or two. The aperture itself is conveniently wide, but a touch on the narrow side. We don’t expect you would have any great problems loading the DBS with enough kit for a long-weekend sojourn to the south of France, though.

Aston Martin’s Mercedes-sourced infotainment system isn’t a patch on what the German firm fits to its current upper-range saloons and SUVs – although, compared with some in the super-GT class, it has plenty going for it.

When we evaluated its application in the DB11 two years ago, we praised it for being “fine-looking” and slick to use. In 2018, it’s beginning to feel its age, lacking something on graphical sophistication and coming without features such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Still, although the DBS Superleggera may not have the best infotainment system money can buy, it’s reasonably intuitive and easy to figure out. Our only complaint concerning its ergonomics is the fact that the rotary controller is tucked slightly too far beneath the touchpad, which can make it a bit awkward to reach.

The sound quality from the optional Bang & Olufsen BeoSound speakers is excellent – but so it should be given the £5495 that Gaydon charges to fit it.


Aston Martin DBS Superleggera 2018 road test review - bonnet gold

Aston Martin hasn’t bothered with a labelled electronic launch control system for the DBS – and on a super-GT rather than a sports car, it would have been a discretionary inclusion anyway.

But Gaydon has programmed a simple workaround into the electronic transmission safeguarding software that allows you to wind just the right amount of revs and torque into the DBS’s driveline for a perfect standing start, for couple of seconds only, while holding the car stationary on the brakes. Really, it’s a de facto launch control system that doesn’t need a separate button or a complicated series of paddle flicks to activate. And it works well enough, without quite giving this car the off-the-line thrust some might expect of Aston’s most powerful series-production model.

Dynamic repertoire extends from long-legged, supple and comfortable super-GT to sharply responsive, taut and engaging super-sports car

Despite launching cleanly on full throttle and with strong enough traction on dry Tarmac, the DBS needs a tenth-of-a-second longer to hit 30mph from rest than the Aston Martin Vantage we tested earlier this year. It matches its smaller, lighter, cheaper sibling’s 0-60mph time to the tenth (3.7sec), and only then begins to assert its authority in the way you might expect it to, cracking 100mph from rest almost a full second sooner than the Vantage, and 150mph from rest a scarcely believable nine seconds sooner.

If the car had matched Gaydon’s 3.4sec 0-62mph claim, it probably wouldn’t have needed such prevailing speed to show what 700 horsepower can do for a modern front-engined Aston. And yet, judging by the standards of all super-GTs currently on the market save one, this is still an exceptionally fast car.

That a Ferrari 812 Superfast is more than a second quicker to 100mph cannot go unmarked here – although the highly strung compromises the Italian imposes in order to deliver that dynamism will hardly need repeating to regular readers.

And yet in terms of in-gear roll-on acceleration of the sort that keen drivers commonly take an interest in when exploring the performance character of an A-list V12 engine in the real world, the boot’s on the other foot – because it’s often the DBS that would eke out an advantage over the 812. From 30-70mph in fourth gear, from 40-80mph in fifth and from 50-90mph in seventh, it’s the Brit that’s the faster-accelerating car of the two – and that’s in spite of also being the heavier of the two, and the more mechanically overdriven in its higher intermediate gears.

Unsurprisingly, then, it’s the sense of hugely muscular, accessible, effortless in-gear thrust that the DBS provides that appeals most about it when you’re bowling along out of town. The car’s transmission doesn’t always tap into that roll-on performance smoothly or to best effect, occasionally fumbling shifts in automatic mode to deliver them lazily or a touch clumsily.

But pick the ratios yourself, as you’ll probably be minded to anyway given there’s an engine of such outstanding breadth of potency at your command, and you’ll be amazed at how nonchalantly this big coupé picks up really big speed. It’s the sort of quality that befits a long-striding super-GT perfectly, but that few possess to such an abiding extent.


Aston Martin DBS Superleggera 2018 road test review - on the road nose

The DBS Superleggera has to get an awful lot right in this section to inspire the sort of confidence and assurance you need to really enjoy a car of this size, bulk and effortless pace on the road.

The perfect mixture of lateral grip, body control, steering response and handling agility, tempered against long-striding high-speed stability, ride compliance and grand touring comfort, isn’t an easy one to concoct. And, as both the Ferrari 812 Superfast and the Bentley Continental GT have already proven this year, even with the latest chassis and suspension technology it’s still easy to narrowly miss the super-GT class’s pimple-like dynamic bullseye to one side or the other.

Pirellis struggled for outright grip on the wet handling track, but the rear end lets go progressively

But this time, Aston Martin hasn’t missed. The DBS Superleggera can satisfy the need, at times, to be supple-riding, easy-going and undemonstrative. Leave the car’s powertrain and suspension set to GT mode and its bump absorption is somewhere between that of a 12-cylinder Aston Martin DB11 and a Aston Martin Vantage. Its ride filters and isolates a little; feels fluent and breathes with longer-wave inputs; massages away the nastiest shorter and sharper edges without fussing; and yet keeps the Aston’s body flat and level, and always in close contact with the road. A fairly negligible bit of head toss, as the car’s laterally stiff rear axle deals with bigger inputs affecting one side of the axle or the other, is the closest the car ever gets to being uncomfortable.

From GT mode, you can ramp up the car’s dynamic temperament via Sport and Sport Plus now and again, as your mood takes, trading ride compliance off against tauter vertical body control and slightly keener steering response as you go – and dialling up the DBS’s dynamic character well into super-sports car territory, making it as compelling a driver’s car as most could ever want it to be. Though several testers said that they would seldom use the Sport Plus suspension settings on UK roads, most were glad of the option to.

And none had a bad word to say about the perfectly judged weight and pace of the car’s power steering, which communicates the cornering load going through the front tyres particularly well and never lets you feel anything other than intimately connected to the road.

On track could so easily have been where the DBS Superleggera came unstuck: all 700 horsepower and 1910kg of it, driving through one axle shod with fairly humble Pirelli P Zero tyres.

Although you certainly need to be aware that you’re inviting a fairly lurid driving experience if you deactivate the driver aids and seek to fully deploy its power and torque even on dry Tarmac, the DBS doesn’t ever make you feel like you’re dicing with peril. It’s not quite the big, soft, tenderly skiddable oldschool Aston, instead gripping harder and carrying Aston Martin greater speed than any Vanquish might have; but it’s also more predictable and benign when pushed beyond the limit of grip than some rivals, while also more balanced, agile and exploitable than others.


Aston Martin DBS Superleggera 2018 road test review - hero review

Next to what is arguably the DBS Superleggera’s closest rival – Ferrari’s hyper-focused 812 Superfast – Aston’s new flagship looks, on the face of things, like something of a value proposition. Strip away any options (an unlikely scenario in the real world) and the DBS is priced from £225,000 – some £38,000 less than the Ferrari.

Our experts predict that the 812 will prove to be more resistant to depreciation of the two, however – albeit only initially, only in percentage terms and only by the narrowest of margins. Over the course of a three-year ownership period and 36,000 miles travelled (your average DBS owner will likely do far less in that time, mind), the Aston is expected to retain 56% of its original value, versus 60% for the Ferrari. After a more typical pattern of usage – at three years old and with 15,000 miles on the clock – CAP expects the DBS to retain 63% of its original value.

According to CAP, Aston’s list price advantage means you’ll lose less over three years than with its Ferrari rival

But then big, exotic V12 coupés have never been as canny a buy as GT3-badged Porsches – and their owners have so far indulged them anyway.

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Aston Martin DBS Superleggera 2018 road test review - driving rear

With a hybrid hypercar, a mid-engined supercar and a luxury SUV all waiting in the wings ready to alter our perceptions of what an Aston Martin is and what it can be, the arrival of the brilliant – and brilliantly traditional – DBS Superleggera could hardly have been better-timed.

This car is a big, powerful, elegant, front-engined, 12-cylinder, blood-and-thunder GT alike in concept to so many we’ve known and loved from Aston. But it’s also such a stunning one to behold, and so stellar to drive in its singularly enriching and enticing, occasion-cherishing long-distance mould, that it sets a new standard for its maker.

Effortlessly fast, intoxicating to drive: the big Aston is better than ever

While there is clearly room for Gaydon to absolutely perfect this car over the next couple of years, by better disguising the Aston Martin DB11-derived roots of its cabin, by fettling its gearbox and, dare we suggest, even by making it a bit more ‘leggera’ here and there, it can do that knowing that nothing of real import needs changing one jot. This is already an outstanding super-GT and represents a rejuvenated British car maker at its absolute best.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.