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Fast When Wanted, Refined When Needed

Andre Lam Experiences The Aston Martin DBS Superleggera At The Picturesque Bavarian Alps.

When the next James Bond movie, "No Time to Die" is screened in April 2021 (delayed from initial April 2020 date due to the pandemic) we will see Aston Martin's DBS Superleggera in action alongside three other Aston Martins namely, the DB5, V8 Vantage and the Valhalla.

The DBS is a nameplate used sparingly through the years and the first time was back in 1967 alongside the DB6. It took another four decades before the second DBS was released as the ultimate variant of the DB9 series. Both these icons appeared in the James Bond movies (On Her Majesty's Service and Casio Royale). 

The original DBS was to be designed and built by an Italian coachbuilder named, Touring Superleggera who had previously made the DB4, DB5 and DB6 under license. They were planning to make the first DBS in 1967 but Touring folded before completing it so Aston Martin then took the unfinished DBS back to the UK to complete. The resurrected firm, Touring Superleggera has kindly allowed Aston Martin to use its evocative name on the latest DBS.

While the DBS Superleggera is derived from the DB11 line, its overall presentation is that of a standalone model. The DBS Superleggera looks simply stunning dialling up the aggression level one notch over the DB11. When approaching the DBS Superleggera for the first time one will be reminded of the insanely expensive (US$2.3m) 831 hp Aston Martin Vulcan of which only 24 were ever made. 

The most obvious similarity is the front grille which occupies nearly the entire front snout lending it an aggressive demeanour. The side front wheel arch strakes and side valence also seem to be lifted from the Vulcan. At the rear, the full-width tail lamp and prominent aeroblade rear spoiler are nothing like the monstrous wing of the Vulcan. However, there is a smaller replica of the Vulcan's rear diffuser under the bumper.

The clever aerodynamic package of the DBS Superleggera allows it to reach an impressive top speed of 340 km/h yet generating 180 kg of downforce at 300 km/h, which is 70 kg more than that of the DB11. The DBS Superleggera has a purposeful hunkered down appearance as it is both wider and lower than the DB11. 

The 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 has been uprated to deliver a massive 725 hp instead of 600 hp of the DB11 and this is a significant jump in power. Aston Martin is determined to deliver supercar rivalling dash to 100 km/h and it clears the benchmark it in an impressive 3.4 seconds, making this the quickest accelerating street legal Aston Martin to date. 

Helping it manage the power is the new rear transaxle 8-speed ZF Automatic featuring a lower final drive for greater acceleration in all gears and a limited-slip differential for better power distribution. This gearbox is built to be more robust and future-proof being able to handle the 900 Nm of this engine and any future engines with over 1000 Nm of torque.

Weight reduction is an important feature in the DBS and thanks to a comprehensive program to replace the exterior body panels with carbon fibre parts, it is 72 kg lighter than the standard DB11. So keen is Aston Martin to reduce overall weight it has resorted to using carbon fibre to make the prop shaft in reducing the rotating mass as the unique rear-mounted gearbox requires a long prop shaft to connect it to the front V12 engine.

Crucially its stoppers are now huge Brembo Carbon Ceramic brakes, 410mm fronts and 360mm rears that not only offer far more stopping power and stamina, but they also reduce the unsprung weight considerably compared to steel items. 

This turbocharged V12 has one very impressive party trick. Its fourth gear acceleration from 80 km/h to 160 km/h takes a scant 4.2 seconds which could well be the quickest in this class of car. Needless to say in-gear acceleration in lower gears and from half that speed is stupendously fast thanks to the mountain of torque accessible from low revs. All that power is delivered in a refined swath, never in a frenzy and never daunting to use.

To give the DBS Superleggera the added sporty handling without penalising the ride is more alchemy than engineering. This is a direct result of Aston Martin being able to engage the services of ex-Lotus chassis wizard Matt Becker. To heighten sportiness he has made the suspension 15 percent stiffer and 5mm lower but it is still supple over challenging roads which still translates into a good ride on city roads.

Even with three dynamic modes to select from- GT, Sport and Sport Plus, we found that the best setting for everyday driving and even brisk driving is Aston Martin's GT mode. It has been carefully tuned for fast road driving without sacrificing much comfort. Sport mode firms up the suspension a bit more and features the automatic downshifts when slowing for corners. For us, it is perfectly acceptable but one may be tired of the sporty downshifts when not in the mood.

Sports Plus puts the engine, transmission and suspension into full attack mode which is great for smooth mountain roads or track days but it is way over the top for daily use. Thoughtfully the engineers have provided independent settings for the dampers so one can have the engine and transmission in Sport or Sport Plus while the suspension is in the supple GT mode.

The impression one gets when driving the DBS Superleggera hard is not one of intimidation especially even when using the full quota of power. The DBS Superleggera always feels stable and positive at the helm, repeatedly giving the driver reassurance. The suspension is set up to remain fluid and controlled keeping harshness from upsetting one's concentration yet not dilute the drive experience.

While the steering is electrically assisted in this generation of Aston Martins, Matt Becker has been hard at work to salvage some decent steering feedback to help keep the driver abreast of the driving. In Sport or Sport Plus it is a tad heavy but there is a secure positive feel about it. This is important as the DBS needs to stand toe to toe with the Ferrari 812 SuperFast. Our choice- the GT mode that provides more assistance for the ideal steering effort for daily driving activities.

Conclusion

Sure, Aston Martin has been making great grand touring cars for a long while now but here is a hard-hitting Super GT as Aston Martin calls it and it is aimed at the poorly delineated border between GT and Super Sportscars. Aston Martin makes fast cars but they are not consciously chasing the title of being the fastest, unlike their Italian competitors. They just need to be in the running because there are other attributes that if one takes time to savour for a moment becomes more important than outright speed alone.

In its early days, Aston Martin was a hand-made, lavishly luxurious GT car that though fast was just too gentlemanly for the genre it competes in. But the current generation of Aston Martins are a standout even in the presence of Ferraris or Lamborghinis thanks to its new styling and new design language.

Aston Martin has created a rapid super GT that offers up good ride quality and handles with confidence without the spectre of fear. The DBS Superleggera's twinned characteristics, fast when you want it and refined when you need it, is clearly its greatest asset.

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

  • > Engine: 5204cc, 48-valves, twin turbo V12
  • > Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic with paddle shift
  • Power: 725 hp at 6500 rpm
  • Torque: 900 Nm at 1800 to 5000 rpm
  • 0-100 km/h: 3.4 seconds
  • Top Speed: 340 km/h
  • Fuel Consumption: 8.14 km/L , 12.28 litres/100km (combined)

Visuals: Max Earey & Dean Smith