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Aston Martin’s greatest ever GT car might have a sharper edge than the DB9, but its natural environment is the open road rather than the track

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The Aston Martin DBS is a strange kind of supercar flagship. On paper it’s slower and less powerful than the Vanquish S of old, and it’s clearly a development of the DB9. After so many bold statements from Aston in recent years, it looks like something of a pulled punch. Or maybe not.

The DBS may look disturbingly similar to its baby brothers but it is cleverly positioned below the likes of the Ferrari 599 and Lamborghini Aventador, and above any Porsche. Aston has found some clear air for it to breathe.

The DBS looks outgunned by pricier, less derivative rivals, but the less extrovert approach gives it a unique appeal in this class

This is not the first car to carry the DBS name, of course. The original model was introduced in 1967 as a supplemental model to the DB6, but it continued in production until 1972, a couple of years beyond its ‘donor’ car’s demise.

The 4.0-litre straight-six model, which had up to 325bhp as a Aston Martin Vantage, is one of the less famous James Bond Astons; it is the car in which Tracy di Vicenzo, aka Mrs Bond, is shot dead by Irma Bunt in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The current DBS wasn’t about to miss out on the tie-in either; it made its Bond debut in 2007, in Casino Royale, and also featured in the follow-up, Quantum of Solace.

It does still look like a DB9 with a bit of hurriedly applied make-up, though – but Aston says the construction is defined by “the need for high-performance stability, handling stability and low kerb weight”.

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If that is the form it requires to let it function at a level beyond that of any of the brand’s previous models, then we have no quarrel with it.

DESIGN & STYLING

Aston Martin DBS rear

The Aston DBS’s styling is, in essence, a ‘DB9 and a bit’ - with add-ons such as the carbonfibre front splitter, neat carbonfibre door mirror mounts and a rear diffuser (yep, carbonfibre too) to make you feel like you’ve got value for the extra cash. The end result is clearly derivative but still not without appeal – and it’s helped further by huge 20in alloy wheels, the best-looking items available on any Aston Martin product.

If anything, the Volante looks even better. Its folding cloth roof looks great up or down. By using fabric, rather than a folding hard top, Aston's engineers have managed to keep the weight increase down to 115kgs. And a bulky rear end isn't required to store it, which given Aston's reputation for building pretty cars, is a very good thing.

Low seating position and steeply raked A-pillars restrict forward visibility, but for a supercar the DBS isn’t too bad

Both models have a bonnet, boot and front wings constructed from carbonfibre. Aston Martin uses a patented process to apply a 200 micron-thick layer of epoxy glue to the surface, before painting, to prevent the carbon weave protuding through the paintwork.

As well as the bulk of its looks, the DBS inherits both its bonded aluminium chassis and its 6.0-litre V12 from the DB9. But both are tuned to suit its more extreme ends. The engine gains a bypass in its inlet port to allow it to breathe more easily at high revs, while the ports themselves have been reshaped to improve the flow of air into the engine.

The chassis has also been substantially revised. It benefits not only from bespoke spring and anti-roll bar settings but also a wider track and, most importantly, adaptive dampers that are capable of switching automatically between five different settings in the car’s Sport and Comfort modes.

The brakes are not only carbon-ceramic rather than steel but also colossal (398mm in diameter at the front compared with just 355mm on a DB9).

INTERIOR

Aston Martin DBS interior

Aston Martin takes a very particular approach with its interiors that will probably enthuse and infuriate in equal measure, depending on the priorities of its occupants. Those who like things on the showy side will be in heaven, for there is plenty of automotive jewellery in here.

But those more interested in how things work are likely to put their blood pressure in the danger zone the moment they try even a simple task like setting a destination on the dreadful, ancient sat-nav system. The centre console is a myriad of buttons, many of which are concealed behind the huge, ugly gear lever, and while acclimatisation will eventually familiarise you with their operation, we suspect you’d be in your grave before it became remotely intuitive.

The Aston DBS has a suitably decadent cabin, though ergonomics clearly weren't a top priority

That said, the driving position is excellent and the illegible dials are less of a problem than you might imagine, thanks to a large digital speedo and change-up lights that remove the need to use the revcounter. The steering wheel, which adjusts for rake and reach, is of the correct diameter for such a car – albeit with a rim that’s a smidge too thick and squishy for our tastes – and the weight of the pedals is perfectly judged, even if the throttle movement is slightly too long.

Behind the seats are two hollowed-out shells where the DB9’s rear seats have been removed, allowing Aston Martin to refer to the DBS (somewhat annoyingly) as a “2+0”. Still, it’s welcome extra luggage space to supplement a boot that’s wide but not very long and rather shallow.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

510bhp V12 engine in the DBS

Using Aston Martin’s kerb weights, the DB9 has a power-to-weight ratio of 256bhp per tonne, while the DBS has over 300bhp per tonne, which means it carries the mark of an extremely serious performance car.

So read nothing into the fact that its 191mph top speed is just 4mph higher than that claimed for the DB9, for that is purely a function of its additional downforce. Concentrate instead on the fact that despite the traction disadvantages of its front-engined, rear-drive configuration, the DBS flings itself to 100mph in 8.7sec, passing 60mph in 4.2sec on the way.

Despite being more potent, the DBS emits fewer CO2/km than the DB9, as Aston tries to cut emissions model by model.

The Aston continues to delight when you look past such bald numbers. Despite its apparently sky-high torque peak, in fact there’s solid urge available from as little as 2500rpm that just gently builds in urgency until peak power is reached 4000rpm further around the dial. Better still, the V12 has never sounded better in its nine years powering Astons. Rich and sonorous in the mid-range, its voice evolves to an urgent, piercing howl as it nears its 6900rpm cut-off; every decibel is what you’d hope for in a 21st-century Aston Martin.

Power is rated 510bhp at 6500rpm. Peak torque remains unchanged at 420lb ft, but it comes in at 5750rpm rather than 5000rpm. Then again, carbon panels and ceramic brakes have dropped the kerb weight of the DBS by a claimed 65kg relative to the DB9, so there is less work for that torque to do.

And while it will find its detractors, we are great fans of the simple six-speed gearbox. The linkage to the Graziano ’box slung between the rear wheels has been much improved since we first tried a manual DB9, and with a light and progressive clutch, a shortened final drive and a fast-yet-precise action across the gate, it is a decent gear lever away from providing a transmission perfectly suited to the DBS’s character.

RIDE & HANDLING

Aston Martin DBS drifting

What lies beneath the DBS is a chassis that, in many areas, sets new standards for Aston Martin and approaches its very best rivals. Most impressive is the new damper system. You can firm them up by pressing a button on the dash, whereupon the ride will deteriorate quite considerably, but left in normal Comfort mode the DBS rides with a fluency we consider to be unrivalled in its class.

The Volante is also first class on most road surfaces, but fold the roof back and there is a small but noticable reduction in rigidity.

New adaptive damper system is best left in Comfort mode for best-in-class ride quality

It’s true that the steering could do with more feel, but it remains very precise and perfectly weighted. And with three turns across its locks, it eschews the modern fashion of fitting very quick steering racks with the aim of making a car feel responsive but, more often than not, simply making it feel more nervous.

This translates into a car that is fabulously easy to drive. The body control is good enough at sane speeds for the car’s considerable size not to be a problem, the steering ensures you hit every apex and the brilliant Brembo brakes are untaxed even by a car of this performance potential. The only serious criticism concerns a lack of traction. On damp roads the DBS will spin its rear tyres in third gear, while if the road is wet the traction control light can become a constant companion.

More impressive is the level of refinement Aston Martin has achieved. Road roar becomes oppressive only on very coarse surfaces, wind noise is well suppressed, and the big V12 is vocal when you want it to be and near silent the rest of the time. Given the excellence of its ride, it makes for a formidably able long-distance tourer.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Aston Martin DBS

Let’s be honest: you don’t buy a car like the Aston Martin DBS if you’re going to be particularly concerned about running costs. It falls comfortably into Group 50 insurance, emits not far off 400g/km of CO2 and so falls into VED band M.

However, as a place to put (a large chunk of) cash for a while, there are worse options. For starters, we don’t expect Aston’s flagship to be affected by the same levels of depreciation seen in the firm’s other products, thanks to the considerably lower numbers in which it is being built.

Average test economy of 15.1mpg is very respectable for a V12 GT

Furthermore, while the DBS’s list price might seem steep, it has to be remembered that this is a car with very few options to ramp the price up further. It even gets items like ceramic brakes as standard; you can easily pay north of £10,000 for them as an option in this area of the market.

It may surprise you even more to learn that the DBS’s daily running costs are less harmful to your wallet than we had anticipated. Test procedures had the usual calamitous effect on fuel consumption, of course; you’ll see single digits if you dare to take it out on a track day. But if you simply cruise down the motorway the DBS will return a steady 18mpg. That’s enough to give a usable range of almost 300 miles, despite the smallish 78-litre fuel tank – a reasonable figure for such a large-engined grand tourer.

VERDICT

4 star Aston Martin DBS

By putting such distance between it and the DB9 in price and name alike, while mentioning it in the same breath as its Le Mans class-winning DBR9 racers, Aston Martin has made promises about the DBS that it has difficulty honouring at times.

However, none of this makes it a bad car or even, once you’ve figured it out, a disappointing one.

More of a DB9S than a standalone model

The DBS is, if you like, the optimal DB9, a touring car that’s been honed to have a sharper edge but whose natural environment remains the open road, not the mountain pass. It won’t thank you for an hour’s abuse on a race track; nor will it be comfortable with being hurled down a narrow B-road.

It will, however, prove a faithful, charming companion on a fast cruise over long distances, bring bags of V12 character, an extravagant cabin and ride quality that is right up there with anything north of £100k.

In truth, calling this car the DB9S and charging £30,000 less for it would have reflected its positioning and abilities with much greater accuracy and resulted in a more positive outcome from this test. Even so, with time and miles it soon becomes clear that it is, in fact, Aston’s greatest GT to date.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Aston Martin DBS 2008-2012 First drives