Feeling like Bond driving the Aston Martin DBS
A V12 is rarer than an honest politician. A V12 with two turbochargers breathing on it? Hold on tight!
Bond. Beautiful cars. Spectacular women. Guns. Toys. Legs. Villains in lairs across high mountain passes. Continent-crushing power. Mad money. To my mind, and I suspect yours too, it’s everything that Aston Martin stands for. Tragedy too. Bond’s ladies rarely last till the credits. And neither did Aston Martin. Well, almost. As I was taken round the factory I lost count of the number of times the company downed shutters, the number of owners, the ebbs and flows and fits and starts. They’re not even sure who owned the company before David Brown bought it after WW2 and slapped his name on the badge as well as the nomenclature (DB, get it?). Yet, through it all, there’s been one constant. Cars, just like the women Bond chases, that are painfully gorgeous to look at. I mean the new Vantage, without a doubt, has the best arse in the business. The special-edition Zagatos — nobody makes a more stunning shooting brake and nobody does needles shooting out of the taillamps. The DB11 and that nose — it’s as iconic as anything in the automotive universe. And at the pinnacle of what Aston does today, at least until the Adrian Newey-designed Valkyrie screams to its 11,100rpm redline, sits this car; almost brutal, a thrusting British bulldog, a statement of power, dripping in details that scream money, a power plant that can pull down the mountain Bond’s nemesis is holed up on.
This is the DBS Superleggera and is next in line as Aston Martin renews its focus on India, a focus that involves sportcars and not just biding its time till the DBX SUV comes along and does for Aston what the Urus has done for Lamborghini. The DBS will be only the third V12 you can splurge mad money over, after the Aventador and 812 Superfast, and the only one with a V12 blown by two turbochargers. The result? Well, I’m not quite sure what turns me on the most. The thunderous 715bhp of power, the seismic 900Nm of torque, or the beastly beauty. I rarely linger over the styling but it’s impossible not to just stare at the DBS. It’s freaking awesome. There’s nothing like it. The Aventador, you can’t imagine Bond driving something so cartoonishly over the top. The DBS; this is Bond’s car. Conservative colours on the outside, shockingly red on the inside. And it doesn’t need any of Q’s toys. There’s 900Nm of torque at just 1800rpm. With a car like this, you don’t bother with airplanes and the terrible unpleasantness of modern air travel. Brim it up, set the heading for Europe and demolish Autobahns and mountain passes. This is the car that defines modern Grand Touring and its presence is entirely in tune with just such a trans-Europe express lifestyle, blending themes of aggression and luxury: a vast acreage of bonnet pinched tightly over an indulgently profligate 12-cylinder engine, cab set aft and framed by powerful haunches. It’s not a track car, and it’s wasted on something as humdrum as the daily commute. No, this is a car for the big journey, to cosset across the open plains and thrill on the interesting sections of route before that surreal final destination.
The DBS is a DB11 V12 on full afterburner reheat and one of this car’s key strengths was actually relatively easy to achieve: extracting 715bhp from Aston’s twin-turbocharged V12 may seem like a landmark achievement, but getting the extra 85bhp and 200Nm over what the DB11 AMR offers simply required an ECU remap, taking the 5.2-litre lump to the extreme of what it can manage before hardware changes are required. If we must accept that this familiar motor has lost some of its operatic vocal range with the reduction in capacity (731cc down on the 5935cc in the DBS’s Vanquish S predecessor) and the addition of twin turbos, then we can also revel in the massive boot up the backside it’s been given by the adoption of forced induction. It’s hooked up to a new gearbox – still an eight-speed ZF auto, but a larger, stronger unit to handle the massive torque now pulsating through it. There’s a mechanical limited-slip differential after that, with torque vectoring, and a shorter final drive for the benefit of acceleration. Dealing with those massive outputs at the ground are 21-inch wheels shod with bespoke Pirelli P Zero tyres, 265/35 at the front, 305/30 at the rear and filled with noise cancellation foam to cut down road noise while crushing continents.
Aston has dusted off the old Superleggera badge because the DBS features carbonfibre body panels over the company’s latest aluminium chassis architecture, echoing in spirit the alloy panels and tubular-frame chassis of models such as the DB5. The carbon body contributes to a 25kg weight saving over the DB11 AMR, although the ‘Superlight’ description is a bit of a misnomer because at 1770kg this is emphatically not a light car.
With its gaping jaw ready to hoover up anything and everything in its path, and numerous aerodynamic enhancements, the DBS exudes a simmering menace and also produces a handy 180kg of downforce at its 316kmph top speed. Seems like Aston’s engineers are learning a lot from Red Bull Racing’s aerodynamicists who’ve worked extensively on the Valkyrie project. There are no wings peppering the bodywork but by bending and swirling the air through the gaping nose, out via the side gills, back in through the flying buttresses and out over the discreet boot spoiler they’ve managed twice the downforce of the DB11. Most of all, it’s the sheer size of the car that makes a lasting impression: whichever angle you view it from it’s a Goliath, in particular the length of the bonnet. The downside to these proportions is a practical one: sitting low in the driver’s seat I can barely see the top of the bonnet, let alone where it might end. Yes, the hyper-GT proportions are part of the car’s charm, but it’s worth noting that the combination of poor visibility and the car’s substantial girth will make committing with conviction to country roads a challenge.
The DBS is a comfortable place to spend large amounts of time in. The seats could use a little more lateral support but for high-speed cruising they’re excellent. Copious use of Alcantara and luxuriously soft leather, lifts the cabin but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t point out the electrical architecture in Mercedes’s last generation unit together with the cumbersome old COMAND system, outdated maps, poor resolution screen and no Apple CarPlay, forget a touchscreen. The damper switch is on the left spoke of the weirdly quadrilateral-ish steering wheel and offers three settings. The harshest, Sport+, is too firm for the road, so I settle on an approach where I use the base setting about 80 per cent of the time (the DBS rides surprisingly well), but select Sport to get extra support at each corner of the car when the road gets twisty. It’s the same with the powertrain settings, because while Sport and Sport+ give you all the drama, exhaust volume and pops and bangs that no doubt thrill on a short test drive, and are the stuff of great YouTube videos, the regular GT setting has a nicely progressive throttle response that makes the V12 feel much more like the old naturally aspirated lump. It’s not as if you can’t hear the engine even in this setting, because one of the really nice things about the DBS is that it never tries to hide completely those inherent sporting credentials like some other cars do. The exhaust note is always there, even at just above walking pace, and there’s a directness to all of its controls, a subtle tautness not to be confused with weight, that means you’re always aware you’re driving something out of the ordinary.
So, a 0-100kmph time of 3.4 seconds suggests the DBS is fast, but it has such a raging, relentless, yet eerily smooth tide of mid-range torque that it actually feels even quicker. Then again, its claimed 0-160kmph time of 6.4 seconds is only one-tenth off a McLaren F1’s; essentially, it’s a real dragster in a straight line. Despite the promise of massive torque from just above idle there is a little lag to the engine’s delivery at very low rpm – a brief moment where lungs fill with air before exhaling a gale of smooth yet unrelenting power that builds and builds seemingly without end. Overtaking, unsurprisingly and crucially for a real GT, is a core DBS strength. And when you stretch its legs it does so in emphatic fashion, linking corner to corner with giant surges of thrust, but it also puts the rear axle to work in a very busy fashion. Despite three suspension settings, the rear of the DBS feels inherently quite soft, presumably to aid traction under the onslaught of so much torque, and the damping and bushing is something of a halfway house between DB11 and Vantage in terms of its stiffness and tuning. It still exhibits a fair amount of vertical and lateral movement at the rear and is a little more than would be desirable.
I’m using the paddles to shift gears manually: apart from when maintaining a constant speed on the motorway I just can’t bring myself to not get involved with the process of driving the DBS, even if the torque-converter auto occasionally lacks the sharpness of the best twin-clutch boxes. I also knock the ESP into its less restrictive Track setting, because it’s incredibly zealous about killing the throttle otherwise, which can make the DBS feel rather clumsy, and the driver too. Again, without that strict safety net nothing alarming happens unless you really provoke the DBS, for it actually generates a significant amount of grip, and our pace over the road is accordingly high. Even out of tight hairpins it prefers to work in the name of traction rather than instantly sliding broadside. As for the carbon-ceramic brakes, they provide faultless stopping power with good feel underfoot.
Overall, the DBS feels the most coherent of the three new-era Astons. You’d hope so, given it will cost just shy of `5 crore (excluding Indian taxes and duties) when it does get here. It is far more cosseting and undemanding than an 812 Superfast, much faster and more driver-focused than a Bentley Continental GT, more exciting and attention-garnering than a Mercedes-AMG S-class coupe – no one would crowd around the big Merc when you park, but they do with a DBS. Everywhere. I just can’t think of another car that covers so many GT bases. Yes, the DBS isn’t perfect, but right now I don’t think there’s a better car in which to live out those grand touring fantasies, defiant in the face of the ubiquitous Airbus. And by combining readily exploitable talents, Aston Martin may just have hit upon a particularly sweet recipe for you to live out your Bond fantasies.