From £225,00010
New flagship super-GT has world-class fast grand touring capability, handling and driver involvement. Stunning, searingly rapid and yet deliciously cultured
  • First Drive

    Aston Martin DBS Superleggera 2018 review

    New flagship super-GT has world-class fast grand touring capability, handling and driver involvement. Stunning, searingly rapid and yet deliciously cultured

What is it?

Imagine a car market without a Volkswagen Golf in it; or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche 911, BMW 3 Series or Range Rover, for that matter. A vastly poorer place, isn’t it?

Some cars have such stature within, and defining influence on, the segments they inhabit that their creators might feel duty–bound to keep on making them until the waters rise and the sky falls in.

These cars have defining, emblematic influence, too, on the character of the companies that make them — to the point that to fail to renew these cars would look like an act of wilful self-harm. These are cars that the industry responsible for them genuinely needs, I reckon — as archetypes, standard bearers and beacons by which to navigate.

So, is 'the big Aston' — the large, fast, beautiful, desirable, soulful and sporting GT coupé, made as only Aston knows how — part of that rarefied group? Perhaps not quite; not yet, anyway. But it could be. Should be, I’d venture, after we all get to know Gaydon’s latest 12-cylinder flagship ‘Super-GT’, the new DBS Superleggera — because I’m not sure I’ve ever driven a better example of this singularly wonderful breed.

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Aston has flip-fopped between model identities for its biggest, fastest and most powerful coupé since 2001, when the original Vanquish was introduced. There was a DBS before the one that came along in 2007, causing a hiatus in the Vanquish lineage, and it filled the gap between the demise of the DB6 and the introduction of the V8.

The reasoning behind this latest shift in nomenclature feels more permanent than Aston’s old naming mood swings, however. And that’s because there is room for both a new Vanquish and a new DBS in Aston’s life-giving new ‘second century’ business plan — the former name due to be moved to the company’s first mid-engined, series-production supercar due to enter production in 2021 as an alternative to the Ferrari 488 and McLaren 720S.

The DBS nameplate, meanwhile, returns to describe the big-hitting grand touring coupé that the outgoing Vanquish S so evocatively and indulgently played. As for the ‘Superleggera’ part? "Why not,” explained Aston design director Marek Reichman. “If Ferrari can adopt English-language descriptors for its V12 coupés, we can certainly help ourselves to Italian ones.”

What's it like?

Leaving the linguistic discussion to one side, I’m not sure a car weighing a shade under 1.7 tonnes without fluids counts as ‘very light’. But then, as explained, the DBS Superleggera is ‘the big Aston’. It earns its model name with a mix of lightweight body panels, more than 80% of which are made out of carbonfibre composite.

Underneath that weight-saving skin is the same aluminium platform technology that underpins Aston’s other ‘second century’ models — the DB11 and Vantage. And it’s the former with which the DBS has the stronger links, sharing a wheelbase in particular, although the DBS stretches the lesser model’s axle tracks to its more sporting ends and gets 21in wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes as standard. Otherwise, most of the DBS’s suspension and steering hardware is common with the DB11’s (although it’s differently tuned), while the 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 engine is common also.

And as regards the last item in that list, Gaydon has at last fully uncorked its turbocharged V12 to liberate 715bhp and 664lb ft of torque for this car. That act required only a new ECU calibration — the new ‘Cologne’ V12 having apparently been capable of those outputs from its first fitment into a DB11 in 2016. Imagine that.

The extra power and torque have obliged Gaydon to fit greater cooling capacity, however, as well as the strongest automatic transmission ever used on a series-production Aston: an eight-speed ZF unit that, similarly to the Vantage, sits between the car’s rear wheels in a transaxle layout. Downstream of that, the DBS Superleggera eschews the Vantage’s electronically controlled e-diff for a conventional mechanical limited-slip differential.

The DBS Superleggera’s cabin feels a bit like a backwards step for Aston, although this is partly the result of my road tester’s perspective and may very well not figure at all for an owner. The trouble is, the Vantage showed us a willingness on Aston’s part to adapt the fascia design of its cars, model by model, to suit their particular briefs and purposes; you therefore quite reasonably expect a dashboard layout you haven’t seen before from the DBS. However, what you get is a DB11 fascia but for some colour, trim and upholstery tweaks.

A Vantage is, of course, a £121,000 car, and a DBS Superleggera… isn’t. And so, having admired the gently muscular, sharply tailored and cleverly distinguished exterior of the car, it may be with an air of deflation that you take in the car’s undoubtedly lavish and enveloping cockpit. Or, if you’ve never laid eyes on the interior of a DB11, it may very well not be. The DBS Superleggera’s seats are certainly more comfortable than a DB11’s in this tester’s opinion and it lacks the material richness you expect of a £200k car in only a handful of places.

While we’re developing the theme — what kind of real-world pace do you expect of a £200k Aston ‘super-GT’ in 2018? The Ferrari 812 Superfast, which, among many, many other brain-frazzling feats of sheer accelerative brilliance, only needs 4.9sec to surge from 50-100mph in fourth gear; and the 812’s pretty short-geared, remember. A Porsche 911 GT2 RS needs 5.1sec for the same in-gear sprint. This new shaft-snapping Aston? It's 4.5sec, says chief engineer Matt Becker.  

That’s what 663lb ft of twist from 1800rpm achieves; the kind of simple, near-instant low and mid-range thrust that makes mid-sized-SUV-level kerb weight just melt into irrelevance and steep Alpine passes seem as good as level for all the difference they make to your explosive forward momentum. I always suspected this was a landmark engine just waiting to reveal itself when sampled in the DB11; and heavens to Betsy, it’s good. It sounds melodic at times, and deliciously loutish and rough-edged at others. Always authentic, though — even when it’s burbling and popping on the overrun through Aston’s bespoke exhaust tuning.

And having gained that readiness to kick you very firmly in the joy department from well below 3000rpm, it retains the uncanny ability to wind on the revs with an elastic vivacity above 5000rpm, too, pulling all the way to 7000rpm really freely. It’s a slight shame that the transaxle gearbox doesn’t always match it for smoothness and slickness of manually cued shift speed, but its moments of clumsiness are few and far between, and I suspect they'll get even rarer and fewer the longer that Aston has to work with this new 'box.

There can be no doubt that the company’s mastery of what we might think of as its second century technology armoury — the power steering, power braking, adaptive damping and stability control systems it’s been working with since it embarked on DB11 development — has blossomed with this car. The DBS Superleggera’s controls all feel highly polished and perfectly tuned, and so it feels like a car equally strong for the qualitative aspects of its driving experience as it is for the plainly quantitative ones. The steering has just the right weighing to suit its medium-fast directness, and it’s wonderfully natural and tactile, communicating front axle load better than any electromechanical set-up I can think of. Its brake pedal has strong, reassuring initial bite but feels progressive as you add pressure.

As for that Goldilocks blend of suppleness, support, stability, response, balance and body control that’s so hard to describe but so important to find in the chassis of a big, continent-crossing GT car: it exists in the DBS Superleggera as plainly as blondie herself aspired to with that famous ursine trio.

While it’s a fairly big car, the DBS Superleggera doesn’t feel it on the road, possessing the precision and directional agility you expect of a proper sports car. Tuck it in tight and fast to a testing corner and it has fine body control and assured grip levels, too. The car’s key dynamic compromises — of keen but progressive handling response and of tautness in the primary ride but also pragmatic suppleness and absorbency — are measured to perfection and make the DBS Superleggera an intuitive delight to drive quickly on any road you care to tackle. And its superb balance of grip, matched with the unchanging simplicity of the relationship between its mechanical slippy diff and its rear contact patches, allow a cornering attitude so deliciously, judiciously adjustable that I’d defy any keen driver not to discretely and safely explore how tamely — or indeed luridly — it can be throttle-steered.

Should I buy one?

Aston is returning to its happy place with the DBS Superleggera. It is doing what it does best and making the kind of world-class, time-honoured, grand touring driver’s car it has made so well for decades — but this time hitting a new level of real-world performance, driveability, dynamic sophistication and involvement in the process.

Suffice to say, this tester isn’t minded to deny the DBS Superleggera due recognition on the basis that it hasn’t got its manufacturer’s own infotainment system or wiper controls. Aston will do plenty of things, and make plenty of cars, that it has never made before over the next few years, and we should expect it to make a few mistakes along the way. Some of those cars may not become a permanent part of the showroom catalogue.

But as long as it keeps making cars like this as brilliant as this, the world will carry on turning; all will be well. A rather wonderful automotive archetype has just been preserved for a new generation here. Amen to that.   

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera specifications

Where Berchtesgaden, Germany Price £225,000 On sale now Engine V12, 5204cc, twin-turbo petrol Power 715bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 663lb ft at 1800-5000rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1693kg (dry) 0-62mph 3.4sec; Top speed 211mph; Economy 22.9mpg CO2/tax band 285g/km; Rivals Ferrari 812 Superfast, Bentley Continental GT

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Comments
19

1 August 2018
Using Italian in the description of a stiff upper lipped British icon.

1 August 2018
I can't help but feel, however, that the DB11 is already a super GT. I was expecting something racier, harder. That's nit picking - I LOVE this car!

1 August 2018
Cobnapint wrote:

Using Italian in the description of a stiff upper lipped British icon.

Aston Martin have never been stiff upper-lipped.

Surely they are debonair, raffish, or louche - all of which definitely have a stereotypicaly Italianate flavour.

1 August 2018

I hope This new Aston Martin DBS Superleggra will be in Bond 25 as 007 next car

1 August 2018

...so you'd usually expect a 5-star rating for a Blighty car. That said, I really like the DBS. The sytling - inside and out - the engines alone make it preferable to any McLaren in my eyes, even if calling a 1700kg supercar 'Superleggera' would suggest the folks at AM do have a sense of humour!

1 August 2018

What a stunning machine. This is the most I've liked an Aston since the sublime 70's and 80's Vantage. Lovely, though calling it 'Superlight' is just asking for trouble...

Aston really is on a roll just now. Great effort chaps!

1 August 2018

So Aston claims a 1693kg dry weight. Autocar should have driven this car straight to the nearest weighbridge to find out what it really weighs, fit for the road with all fluids on board. Why waste time with a 1.4% factor converting PS to BHP, when the manufacturer's weight figure is allowed to go unchallenged?

This may be a great grand tourer, but why not give it a more fitting name.  

1 August 2018

Seeing other reviews, not as excited as Saunders about this car. Big, heavy (calling it "Superleggera" makes me laugh, words have a meaning for a reason), with clear Mercedes roots in some of its parts, with a slow auto. Autocar - as ever - very biased. Not by coincidence last week the 812 Superfast (a completely different car, but for some reasons they see it as a direct competitor of the Superleggera) got "only" four stars and was considered as "flawed". To be honest (and residuals will be there to justify my opinion), I would go for the red one, even if Autocar thinks it's "flawed". I will survive somehow.

1 August 2018

I used to love the detailed roadtests that Autocar used to do. On the last left hand page you got a complete page of detailed facts and figures for performance, dimensions and just about everything else you could wish to know. The right page showed the competition with outline drawings showing their engine and gearbox placement, dimensions etc... It was brilliant.

Blame the internet but now every test just reads like what used to be called a 'first drive'. They never seem to call manufacturers out for vehicle weight (I'm amazed at how the claim is ALWAYS a mile away from what the scales say – call them out FFS!). It's this lack of holding manufacturers to account that allows them to claim a car will do 50mpg when owners often struggle to see 35...

Has the scramble for access turned motor journalism into little less than car industry PR? I think I know the answer...

1 August 2018

for years. And they could care less. In this day and age you would think someone would start an independant video channel that asks lots of questions and holds makers to account. As cars have gotten bigger and lazier so have automotive magazines and their editors. j

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