Given James Bond’s affinity for Aston Martins — he’s driven DB5s, the DB10 and the two previous DBSs, among others — we could be talking about 007’s next car here. If the 2019 DBS Superleggera does find its way into the next Bond film, whatever that might be, our hero and his Aston Martin will join the expanding but still very exclusive 700-hp club.
Aston Martin’s other forays into 700-hp territory have been limited-run specials: the 750-hp One-77 (77 cars, 2008), the track-only 850-hp Vulcan (2015, 24 copies), and the forthcoming 1,130-hp KERS-equipped Valkyrie (150 planned at $3.2 million). The 715-hp DBS Superleggera is the first full-run AM to hit the benchmark, and its build volume will be metered only by customer demand.
The 715 comes courtesy of Aston Martin’s turbocharged V12, along with 664 lb-ft of torque (25 percent more than the naturally aspirated V12 in Ferrari’s 812 Superfast). Engine output is probably the DBS Superleggera’s primary attraction, but AM’s next alpha droid is generally cranked up across the board compared to the 600-hp DB11 that provides its groundwork. A shot of andro here, an extra bulge or crease there and, voila! — what AM creative director Marek Reichman calls “a brute in a suit” (like 007 himself, we’d guess). More explicitly, AM’s promotional literature describes the DBS Superleggera as “the flagship of Aston Martin’s series production range, combining the inherent elegance for which Aston Martin is renowned with raw, pure aggression. Explicit but not exaggerated, it exudes a sense of immense potency.”
Got that? Good, because even though it’s paid advertising, it’s not far off the mark.
2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
The DBS badge has been used twice previously to designate AM’s top dog (1967-72 and 2008-12). The new one replaces the outgoing Vanquish S in Aston’s model scheme, and its Superleggera tag throws back to Aston’s successful collaboration with Carrozzeria Touring in the 1960s and ‘70s. Alas, there is no new cooperation with the Italian coachworks made famous by its thin-tube auto and aircraft body technique, and no Touring role in the new DBS’s fabrication or assembly. AM is licensing the name, and the weight saving is organic.
The DBS frame is essentially the same in concept as Aston’s long-running VH (for vertical-horizontal) foundation: A mix of extruded aluminum box sections, stamped floor pans and precision castings at key points like suspension attachments, hot- or cold-bonded, aerospace style, with minimal application of self-piercing rivets and no conventional structural welds. The difference between old and new is largely technology and accumulated knowledge. New assembly techniques allow more stamped and extruded pieces, which generally translates to less weight, improved production efficiency and more space within the frame to squeeze stuff.
The roof and greenhouse are identical to those on the DB11, though all remaining body panels are different. The DBS looks a lot like a DB11, only tauter, edgier, lower and more than a bit flashier. Its overhangs are shorter. The extra leggera here comes exclusively from an all-composite body, including the clamshell hood, and a handful of lighter metal parts, including titanium mufflers. At 3,732 pounds dry, the DBS weighs 170 pounds less than the DB11, with a slightly heavier powertrain.
The flagship’s aero package is as least as different as its appearance, compared to the DB11. Most obvious are the larger mesh grille and ports necessary to meet the DBS engine’s greater cooling demands. Most effective might be the DBS’s larger, fixed rear spoiler, which helps generate 400 pounds of downforce at max velocity, according to AM engineers, compared to nil or slight lift in the DB11.
2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, hood detail
AM’s V12 dates to the early 1990s and Ford’s modular Duratec V6. Its latest evolution displaces 5.2 liters, with a twin-scroll turbo for each bank, fully variable timing for all four cams and a 9.3:1 compression ratio. Peak boost increases 3 psi compared to the DB11, and so does charge-cooling capacity. A new exhaust strategy applies internal valves and four tips, adding 10 decibels to DB11 volume at 5,000 rpm and more back-pressure popping and cackling during throttle lifts and blips. Horsepower peaks at an Aston-like 6,500 rpm, but torque is tuned in a fat, road-friendly range. The full 664 lb-ft comes as low as 1,800 rpm.
A carbon-fiber driveshaft carries power through an aluminum torque tube to the DBS’s rear-mounted transaxle. All of the front-mounted V12’s cylinders sit behind the front axle, and the powertrain layout keeps 85 percent of the DBS’s weight between its wheels. The transaxle combines a new ZF “Supertorque” eight-speed torque-converter automatic with a mechanical limited-slip differential and torque-vectoring electronics, final drive at 2.93:1.
Underneath, there’s AM’s familiar layout of forged double wishbones in front, a multilink suspension arrangement in the rear, coil springs and electronically adaptive shock absorbers all ‘round. In front, the DBS uses the same springs and bushings as Aston Martin’s Vantage sports car, but it keeps the DB11’s more isolating rear subframe. Its shocks offer a broader operating range than the DB11’s, and maximum body-roll resistance sits about midway between the Vantage and the DB11. The chassis and powertrain have three dynamic control modes — GT, Sport and Sport Plus — controlled independently with separate buttons.
The DBS has more front camber than the DB11 for more immediate turn in, and a quick, 13.09:1 steering rack with electric assist. Carbon-ceramic brakes come standard, with 16.15-inch rotors and six-piston calipers in front, 14.17 inches, four pistons rear. That’s a lot o’ brake. Factory wheels measure 21 inches, with 235/35 Pirellis in front, 305/30 rear.
2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, engine
Inside the DBS you’ll find all the modern conveniences, no doubt a function of Aston’s cooperative agreement with (and ownership stake from) Mercedes-Benz. The agreement focuses on electrical, electronics and V8 engines. Standard equipment includes full LED lightning, a 360-degree camera with parking distance display and Park Assist, Bang & Olufsen audio, a wireless hub and Bluetooth streaming. The pick-and-click device is obviously Mercedes sourced, but the finish is still Aston Martin, starting with the near-perfect Bridge of Weir hides that have upholstered Astons since the ‘60s.
You can get your DBS Superleggera this December, starting at $308,081 with the $3,086 destination charge. This will be the third Aston Martin released under new CEO Andy Palmer’s “Second Century 7 in 7” plan, after the DB11 and the new Vantage. The plan doesn’t include convertibles or subsets like the DB11 V8. Not sure what the other cars will be, after a replacement for the four-door Rapide and Aston’s first SUV, but it’s an ambitious plan nonetheless — especially for a company that’s built just 85,000 cars over a century in business. That’s a few days production for a mass manufacturer like Volkswagen or Toyota.
What are the obvious competitors for Aston’s new Super GT Flagship? Probably Bentley’s new Continental GT, or the GT Speed/Supersports that will inevitably arrive in a year or two. Definitely the 812 Superfast, or maybe none at all.
2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, interior
The DBS Superleggera remains a GT in basic orientation, absolutely. And it’s fast. The brute is most obvious in the engine.
AM’s V12 still delivers some of the great satisfactions auto-dom can provide — to the ears, the butt or the belly. In this Aston, though, sound delivery is a bit uneven: muted at part throttle, maybe more like a DB11, then aggressively loud when you floor it and open the by-pass flaps in the mufflers. And you have to keep your foot down for full effect. The torque band is broader than ever, thanks to the turbos and full-range VVT, but the biggest thrills still hide in the upper reaches of the rev range. Acceleration flows most pleasingly in long swells rather than quick bursts. With the eight-speed autobox, it’s best to pick an appropriate gear and hold it. You’ll certainly be speeding when you shift up, unless you started in first on a freeway ramp or have access to Germany’s shrinking stretches of unlimited autobahn. AM brags loudest about the DBS’s in-gear acceleration, and it should.
This car is formed in the modern, all-things-to-everyone supercar idiom: entirely civil at a moderate pace and amazingly super, with 1g lateral grip in its P-Zeros and prodigious acceleration regardless of speed. That’s a double-edged sword. With this idiom comes less immediate awareness that the driver is steward of a very powerful weapon, and maybe a diminished sense of speed. The trend is aggravated by another modern supercar trait, and that would be the disappearance of the clutch-pedal-engaged manual transmission. The previous DBS still had one, just six or seven years ago, and it more quickly introduced a healthy respect for the capability in the machine under the driver’s posterior.
I5 2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, white
It’s still more luxurious inside this Aston Martin than in a Ferrari — and Ferraris have gotten much, much richer in the last decade — but there’s less avant-garde here. The DBS surrounds you with a sense of achievement, well-being, maybe wealth (or superiority?), and there's not a sliver of carbon fiber to be found inside — unless you expressly ask for it. The headliner is Alcantara faux suede; the balance of the soft panels, including the dash, is hand-stitched leather.
The basic presentation and switch location will be familiar to anyone who’s sat in a new Aston in the last 15 years. What’s different are the bits, including some haptic switches and that Mercedes-style infotainment interface. What’s best are the separate buttons for chassis and powertrain modes — one on each spoke. If you’re cruising along, content with the softest damping rate and a little more isolation from road-surface rash in the steering, but you still prefer a more aggressive throttle rate or transmission response, no problem. It’s easier, much less cumbersome, than going in and presetting the “custom” option some German manufacturers are fond of.
The test DBS Superleggera may have had a slightly out-of-balance wheel that initially seemed like something else (did someone hit and curb and not tell the automaker?). Once that was isolated, there was never anything that we’d call a harsh ride, even in Sport Plus (though the road traveled was nearly always smooth).
The steering is quick, certainly compared to memories of some big Aston Martins past, and turn in is even quicker. Yet the default assist rate is low, so the DBS doesn’t feel darty. Compared to some other big GTs — as opposed to smaller, lighter ones like the Porsche 911 or Aston’s own Vantage — the DBS Superleggera is almost flingable. It has no real tendency to understeer, even with an ever-so-slight forward weight bias, and you’ll probably have to be pretty good (or well insured) if you think you’re going to hold any sustained, drift-style oversteer. This car is balanced, in both its basic dynamic behavior and the relationship between its engine and chassis.
2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, rear
Then there are some niggling….well….issues. The DBS’s transmission tuning isn’t the best we’ve experienced, for example. The ZF automatic is more decisively responsive in Sport than in Touring, but it can still get a little confused, almost as if it’s trying to protect from over-revving or something. At full boot it will kick down two, even three gears, but sometimes it will almost immediately shift back up one. Sport Plus pretty much solves that problem, but it presents its own set of drawbacks for touring purposes.
The brakes do their most important job very well. There’s little of the carbon-brake, fingernails-on-chalkboard, squeaking going on, warmed-up or not. Pedal feel on application is smooth and just about right, and the clampers will slow the DBS with enough force to stretch ocular ligaments. Pedal feel on release is a slightly different story. The amount of stopping force the system bleeds off with a partial release of the pedal isn’t always consistent with the amount of pedal released. When you let off a few tenths, you may get more than a few tenths reduction in stopping force, and you have to immediately get back on to adjust.
Put bluntly, the DBS might not be as thoroughly developed, dynamically, as comparably priced Bentleys, Porsches or Ferraris. That might not be hard to understand, given the relative size and full independence of Aston Martin. Cars and their electronic controls and algorithms are increasingly complicated, and there could be less money, time and manpower to keep hammering at near minutia in Gaydon than in Weissach or Maranello. That’s a thought, not an excuse, and you could spin it in terms of the fabulous job they do in Gaydon with the resources they have at their disposal….
Bottom line, you might get out of a $310,000 Ferrari after an hour or two with more breathless, frenetic, holy crap ringing between your ears, but you might be ready to get out for a while. In the DBS Superleggera, you might prefer to keep driving toward the sunset.
2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, profile
It’s not clear how much a handful of horsepower or a few tenths in acceleration or hot laps never experienced matter to people who spend $300,000-plus for a car most likely reserved for beautiful Sundays. Cars get better every year in objective terms — even cars that cost more than $300,000 — and differences in design philosophy or engineering objectives can get harder to delineate. The hunch is that brand affinity matters more than anything in the buyer’s thinking, and trying to change brand affinity with rational arguments is a losing proposition. People like Aston Martins or Bentleys or Ferraris. It’s still about emotion.
It’s easy to get emotional about the DBS Superleggera — about the look, the sound, the speed — and it has no obvious issues significant enough to change that. Aston Martin has done its job well. Its latest super GT will be as good as 007 has ever had.
On Sale: December 2018
Base Price: $308,081
Powertrain: 5.2-liter twin-turbo V12, eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Output: 715 hp @ 6500 rpm, 664 lb-ft from 1800 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,957 lb
0-60 MPH: 3.3 seconds
Fuel Economy: 14 city/21 hwy (est)(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Impossible to miss, and true to Aston Martin’s brief: A beast in fashionable yet comfortable duds
Cons: Not as perfectly sorted as some $300,000 competitors, maybe a hair less breathlessly thrilling than others