2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera First Drive: What’s In A Name?

Any car is a grand tourer if you try hard enough. But a true GT is a special thing, designed for sustained triple digit speeds in lavish comfort and with a look that causes other motorists to ask, “What the hell was that?” And the new 2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera might just be the best of the breed.
Super-Light Stunner:
This shouldn’t really surprise. Over the decades, Aston Martin has made its name as the preeminent GT manufacturer. But where its past cars succeeded as GTs, the DB11-based DBS Superleggera is a quantum leap in the art of grand touring. That it comes with one of the coolest badges from one of the coolest styling houses doesn’t hurt, either.
While old Astons were sublime cars for covering continents, they never quite had the straight-line punch of a comparably priced Ferrari, Porsche, or Bentley. The last Vanquish only nudged up against 600 horsepower when the Ferrari F12 was sitting pretty at 730. The V8-powered Bentley Continental GT, meanwhile, easily outmuscled the 430-hp V8 Vantage S.
The DBS Superleggera is still down on power, but its output is north of 700 horsepower – at that point, 20 ponies here or 30 there don’t really matter all that much. There’s still more than enough speed here to scare your pants off, as we found out while testing on Germany’s famous Autobahn.
Despite plenty of traffic – a given on the Autobahn, nowadays – we zipped quickly and loudly to 130 miles per hour and maintained a steady cruise. Aston Martin claims the 715-horsepower, twin-turbocharged, 5.2-liter V12 can get the DBS Superleggera from 50 to 100 miles per hour in just 4.2 seconds with the eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic sitting in fourth. Yes, fourth gear, which we wouldn’t even consider a passing gear in most cases, can get the DBS from 50 to 100 in the time it takes a very quick sports car to get to 60.
Fourth gear can get the DBS from 50 to 100 in the time it takes a very quick sports car to get to 60.
Aston Martin accomplished this feat with the oldest trick in the turbocharged book to increase the output of the DB11-sourced engine: turn up the boost.
An extra 2.9 psi of boost helps generate the engine’s 715 horsepower and 663 pound-feet of torque, allowing the DBS to hit 62 mph in just 3.4 seconds and run up to 211 miles per hour. Torque was constant, regardless of the engine speed, while the sustained power from this engine as speeds climb was addicting.
Where the DBS fell flat – and we use that term very loosely – is off the line. It was difficult to tell if it was the two turbochargers spooling up or the new ZF eight-speed’s torque converter taking its time to engage or simply the stability control trying to figure out how to save the tires from annihilation, but multiple journalists noted the DBS seemed to hesitate off the line. It’s worth noting our cars were running pre-production software, so the cars arriving for customers could remedy this issue.
That’s not to say it was slow, of course. Taking just 3.4 seconds to get to 62 mph is a supercar number – slightly faster than the McLaren 570GT we tested last week – and even if you aren’t going for outright pace, the DBS and its V12 will still bury both driver and passenger in its beautifully crafted leather seats. And it will do so with a soundtrack that marries the automotive equivalent of Pavarotti and Skrillex.
The twin-turbo V12 boasts a soundtrack that marries the automotive equivalent of Pavarotti with Skrillex.
In the cabin, the DBS sounded remarkable: sonorous, soothing, and chilling in the way that only a V12 engine can be. It popped and burbled in Sport + mode, too, for a dose of old-school charm. Put the windows down – or better yet, stand at the roadside and listen for a DBS at full chat – and the whistle from the two turbochargers dominates the conversation the way a piccolo can overshadow a cello. The Doppler effect has a particularly odd impact on the DBS – first you hear the hiss of a thousand boiling kettles, there’s a blur, and then there’s the best of the golden age of V12s coming from four prominent tailpipes. This car is as interesting to listen to as it is to drive.
The transmission is a new eight-speed automatic from Germany’s ZF. Mounted in back – Aston Martin calls it “rear mid-mounted” – it delivered crisp upshifts and predictable downshifts. Set the DBS Superleggera to attack mode and shifts speed increase while avoiding shift shock. The DBS did struggle with dropping multiple gears at a time, but few transmissions don’t – shifting down is still a delightful appetizer before the main course that comes with wide-open throttle.
The steering was also wonderfully balanced between natural-feeling weight, isolation when cruising, and feedback while pushing hard. Within our first five minutes behind the wheel, we remarked at how good it felt as we navigated away from our hotel in the beautiful town of Berchtesgaden, Germany.
Aston Martin hasn’t made dramatic changes to the DB11’s suspension to accommodate the DBS. The DBS rides two-tenths of an inch lower – the visual stance is better because of it – and gets its own unique suspension geometry. But beyond that, there are still double wishbones up front, a multi-link rear, and adaptive dampers at all four corners with three-mode adjustability (GT, Sport, and Sport +).
While we dialed up Sport + for some of the windier bits of the Austrian and German Alps we crossed, the DBS was just so composed and happy in GT mode that it never really felt necessary to switch out. The ride was excellent, despite the larger 21-inch alloys, and very little of the suspension noise entered the cabin.
Sport + had the predicted effect, firming up the suspension noticeably and giving the DBS a more planted character around turns. But at higher speeds, the firmer suspension hurt the DBS’ stability. Burning along the Autobahn at 130, it was surprising how much this Aston moved around, particularly in back. It wasn’t a disconcerting feeling, per se, but the DBS simply didn’t offer the unshakeable high-speed stability we’ve experienced in some of the brand’s other products.
Burning along the Autobahn at 130, it was surprising how much this Aston moved around.
That’s despite aerodynamic enhancements designed to increase downforce at high speeds. The DB11’s polarizing side strakes are prettier, more artistic (particularly with the clamshell hood open), and more functional on the DBS, as they force turbulent air out of the wheel wells to reduce lift. And out back, a fixed Gurney flap and a Formula 1-style double-decker diffuser eke the last advantage out of the air passing over and under the DBS. The result of this work is nearly 400 pounds of downforce at the Superleggera’s 211-mile-per-hour top speed.
The DBS’s body enhancements are also there to keep the 5.2-liter V12, which is sat low and as far back as possible to helps the car achieve a near-perfect 51:49 ratio, breathing. Aston Martin Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman and his team ditched the DB11’s more traditional grille for a mouth-like orifice with a honeycomb design to feed better the 5.2-liter V12, while a new, more significant splitter and additional intakes further manipulate air, forcing it under the DBS to create additional downforce.
And absolutely none of those obsessive hours in wind tunnels matter when you look at the thing.
The DBS Superleggera is the prettiest Aston Martin since the last-generation Vantage debuted in the mid 2000s. It hones the odd shapes and touches of the DB11 into something that forces people to stop and stare. Opening the clamshell hood attracts passersby like moths to a flame. From behind, the slivers of smoked taillights, the carbon-fiber-clad double-decker diffuser, and the four exhaust pipes present a stunning shape for other motorists trying to keep up.
The DBS’ badges are our main issue with the exterior. Yes, badges. We’re nothing if not pedantic.
The Superleggera badges on the hood perfect.
The Superleggera badges on the hood perfect. To be clear, this is nothing more than a licensing agreement between Aston Martin and Italian design house Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, the folks responsible for the bodywork on the cars from Aston’s first golden era, with the DB4, DB5, and DB6. Who cares? Those badges are neat as hell and the perfect exotic complement to an already exotic vehicle.
At the back of the car, things go a little sideways. Our main critique – one expertly highlighted by Jonny Lieberman from Motor Trend – is the Aston Martin lettering on the tail of the brand’s newest products. If people don’t know what the streak of beauty and V12 engine noise that just blew by them is, that’s their problem. Don’t muddy up the tail of this gorgeous car with a chromed billboard.
Fortunately, the only badge you can see while driving is the Superleggera script, which makes you feel like an aristocrat. But you won’t focus on that, because the rest of the cabin is as lovely as the exterior, but without the wart on the tail.
Aston Martin sourced its hides from Bridge of Weir, which American readers may recognize as the source of leather for the Lincoln Zephyr – don’t worry, the DBS gets much nicer stuff. Our test car’s Blue Haze and Argento Gray hides were perfect, and that’s before we get into the intricate stitching. Just look at that hexagonal pattern – it’s gobsmackingly cool. The seats themselves left us feeling fresh and cosseted over hundreds of kilometers. Our only wish was for the driver’s seat to sit a bit lower in the body – a small complaint. Another is the presence of vestigial rear seats. This is a Superleggera, surely Aston Martin could have deleted these otherwise useless “chairs.”
A less obvious – but no less significant improvement – comes with the DBS’ electronics and infotainment. Sourced from Mercedes-Benz, the controls for the navigation, audio, and climate controls are better and far more responsive than Aston Martin’s last-generation cars. Drivers that remember – and are still suffering from post-traumatic stress over – the old Volvo-based navigation system will be thrilled with the simplicity and learnability of today’s cars.
Prices for the DBS start at lb225,000. Our test example – with its stunning White Stone paint, carbon-fiber body bits, two-tone leather interior, Bang and Olufsen audio system, and ventilated seats – costs a dear bit more.
There’s no shortage of vehicles to spend that kind of money on, and no matter what you end up grabbing, it won’t disappoint. But none of them have this kind of panache or history associated with their names. Get a Rolls-Royce Wraith or a Ferrari 812 Superfast if you want – they’re remarkably cool vehicles – but for us, the lure of Aston Martin performance, prestige, and style, with a dose of automotive royalty, is too hard to ignore.


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