Aston Martin’s 533kW, 900Nm DBS Superleggera is a car of staggering numbers, but is it defined by its statistics?
Regardless of the unit of measurement – be it kilowatts, Newton metres, kilograms or dollars – there’s usually one number that defines a car. Design guru, Gordon Murray would rage against such a notion, arguing that his philosophy is wholistic and not dictated by chasing numbers. While I’d certainly agree that the genius of Murray’s McLaren F1 and the upcoming Gordon Murray Automotive T.50 (see page 68) is that numbers were never the target, I’d argue that even his F1 and the new spiritual successor are defined by their low weight, or more accurately, the outrageous power-to-weight ratios.
All of which brings us, in a very roundabout way, to the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera before us. As one would expect of a super GT, its numbers are mighty and mightily impressive, but there’s something genuinely wholistic about the driving experience that no single number jumps out at you and dominates the experience. In contrast, Ferrari’s extraordinary 812 Superfast, the other great super GT and the Superleggera’s only true rival, is largely defined by its crazy V12 and its 588kW power peak.
Back to the Aston and we probably should have a quick refresher on the numbers in question. The DBS Superleggera shares its structural underpinnings and drivetrain with the more mild-mannered DB11 that, until the AMR variant, hadn’t really hit the spot with evo. Though the 5.2-litre twin-turbocharged V12 is a development of the DB11’s engine, the Superleggera’s numbers dwarf the former’s, with 533kW playing 470kW for the AMR or 447kW for the regular DB11 V12. Like the 470kW AMR, the DBS’s peak output arrives at a low-sounding 6500rpm, but that number belies the engine’s smoothness and its willingness to rev. In fact, the 7000rpm redline feels like it’s selling the engine massively short.
If there is a single number that attempts to define the DBS Superleggera, and it is the number that Aston Martin believes to be most important for their super GT, it’s the 900Nm that the V12 produces from 1800rpm all the way around the tacho until 5000rpm. That is an extraordinary amount of torque and a figure that is bested by very few cars. Not only is it a full 200Nm stronger than the DB11’s best, but the DBS’s 900Nm out-muscles the Ferrari Superfast’s naturally aspirated 6.5-litre V12 by 182Nm.
While the basic structure of the DBS is shared with the DB11, the Superleggera uses carbonfibre for its unstressed panels. At 1770kg, there’s not really anything super light about the DBS, but that 900Nm makes light work of any amount of mass. The eight-speed torque converter gearbox is a fine partner for the engine and a natural fit to the Aston’s GT nature, but it does rob some of the engine’s fire especially compared to the synaptic response of the Superfast’s drivetrain. And despite the power and torque advantages that it enjoys, the DBS isn’t claimed to be significantly faster than the DB11 AMR. Its 340km/h vmax is just five klicks quicker and the 3.4-second 0-100km/h standard just three tenths fleeter of foot. That’s on paper, though. In reality, the DBS Superleggera is brutally fast, the twin-turbocharged V12 filling its lungs and bludgeoning the air with its jutting jaw. To put the DBS’s accelerative potential into sharper focus, consider that the claimed 0-160km/h time of 6.4 seconds is just a tenth slower than that of the McLaren F1, and that’s after falling two-tenths behind to 100km/h. The DBS is major-league quick.
The DBS Superleggera’s other stand-out number is its $517,000 list price. While that’s an enormous wedge for us fiscal mortals, and merely the jumping-off point in terms of the final personalised and on-road price (our test car wore around $90K in options), it does significantly undercut the $610,000 ask for a non-optioned Ferrari 812 Superfast.
Settle into the Superleggera and all of these numbers simply melt away. It’s the mark of a truly great gran turismo that the sense of occasion doesn’t disappear but that these impressive figures coalesce into an awe-inspiring whole. Within the first handful of kilometres, it occurs to me that this might be the best Aston Martin the company has ever made. Five hundred kilometres later when the bug-splattered Superleggera is returned, the initial impression has been confirmed.
I’ve never been a fan of Aston’s lumpy steering wheels, but otherwise the interior is a fine place to be. If you like to sit low in a car, the view fore and aft is a little restrictive with the shallow glasshouse creating a turreted effect. However, recognise that the Superleggera is a wide car with a long bonnet and it’s not difficult to place in traffic or on a challenging road.
The ride quality and the pairing of the mighty engine with an easy-going auto immediately dissolves some of the getting-to-know-you stress in a car of this power and value. Whether on Sydney’s pock-marked roads or under the dynamic microscope on writhing country roads, the ride of the DBS Superleggera is extraordinary. Ultimately, it probably lacks a little body control when you’re really attacking a challenging road, but for a car that rides on 21-inch alloys shod in wafer-thin strips of Pirelli rubber (265/35 fronts and 305/30 rears), the big Aston is extremely well mannered.
If you’re too eager to dip into that vast well of torque before the corner exit has been properly sighted, or indeed, you dip too far into it from low speed, the rear tyres can struggle to keep the union between road and tyre speed. In such circumstances, the stability control tune is there to be leaned on, with softly chamfered edges that trim torque but don’t leave you in a black hole of throttle response.
Driven within the available grip limits (and the day of our test saw snow edge the blacktop), the Aston makes devastating progress. Despite its plus-sized dimensions, the steering, chassis and brakes deliver such clarity of feedback that you can really lean on the DBS. It never quite feels as lively and up on its toes as a Ferrari 812 Superfast, but nor does it feel like its running away like the slightly bonkers Ferrari can on occasion. And while certainly slower than that of the Ferrari, the Aston’s steering provides wonderfully vivid feedback with a grainy tactility that never leaves you guessing about available front-end grip. If only the steering wheel wasn’t such a peculiar shape…
There are no caveats about the mighty engine, however. Yes, we motoring enthusiasts all yearn for the good old days of naturally aspirated screamers, but the Superleggera’s twin-turbocharged V12 really is a thing of wonder. It’s quiet and with a demure delivery when you’re merely ticking along through traffic, but it’s savage and eager when you’re thundering between corners. As the spec sheet suggests, there’s vast amounts of torque from just off idle, but it never feels like it arrives in an unwelcome lump that upsets the equilibrium of the chassis. Instead, the mightiness of the engine continues to swell as the revs rise and the tacho needle quick-steps to keep up.
Though largely a very fine partner for the V12, the eight-speed auto does sometimes let down the side with a tardy shift that a dual-clutch gearbox would never deliver. We’re talking fractions of a second here and there (and it’s more noticeable on big-rev downshifts), but it’s enough to stutter your rhythm.
Still, the big Aston Martin is a beguiling machine and a truly first-class GT. It’s certainly more of a gran turismo than the Ferrari Superfast that is probably it’s only genuine rival. With the mid-engined Valkyrie and Valhalla on the horizon, Aston Martin’s stature is set to increase exponentially, but here’s hoping that the brand never forgets the great British bruisers on which its history is founded. Jesse Taylor
Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
Engine V12, 5204cc, twin-turbo
Power 533kW @ 6500rpm
Torque 900Nm @ 1800-5000rpm
Top speed 340km/h