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2018 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera performance review

By Dylan Campbell, 01 Aug 2018 Reviews

2018 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera review

Aston Martin’s 533kW DBS Superleggera might find itself more at home on an autobahn than racetrack

As you thumb the crystal button on the dash, the starter motor emits a high-pitched, fast-paced whirr, then there’s a deep growl as 5.2 litres of twin-turbocharged V12 erupt to life.

Very sharp ears will be able to tell it’s a V12 of Aston Martin’s creating, and not just any V12 but the one nestled below the long clamshell bonnet of the DBS Superleggera, the brand’s new halo model, one boasting rear-drive and more than 500kW.

As basically the ultimate iteration of the DB11, the DBS Superleggera fills the gap the Vanquish S once occupied and in doing so, resurrects two revered monikers from Aston Martin’s history.

The DBS badge was first seen in 1967 and has appeared on and off since, most recently in 2007-2012, while Superleggera pays homage to the Italian coachbuilder Touring which gave the lightweight treatment to legendary Astons like the DB4.

If you’re not up to speed with how the DB11 evolved into the DBS Superleggera, read about the changes here. Basically, more boost bumps outputs from 447kW/700Nm to 533kW/900Nm; new carbon-fibre bodywork drops weight 72kg to 1693kg (dry); the whole car has been restyled, now wider and more muscular, aggressive yet elegant, more compact in the metal than in pictures.

There are bigger brakes; wider wheels and tyres; a 10dB louder exhaust; functional aero, up to 180kg of downforce at 340km/h, the DBS’s top speed. Zero to 100km/h takes 3.4 seconds, claims Aston, with 160km/h taking only another three.

There’s an eight-speed ZF automatic and a mechanical limited slip differential, the transmission mounted between the rear wheels for better weight distribution, which is 51:49 front-rear despite the big V12 up front.

As you might imagine, the DBS Superleggera is properly potent in a straight line. The torque is eye-opening, the traction control heavily trimming back the grunt in order for the rear 305s to stand any chance. But while wheelspin feels to be only ever a flex of the right foot away in the lower gears – provided the electronic nannies aren’t around – once it’s hooked up, the Superleggera charges forward in a way that will have the knuckles of passengers turning very white on the grab-handles.

That said, while it’s staggeringly quick and nobody in their right mind would ever want for more, it doesn’t leave you power drunk like other 500kW-plus cars we’ve recently sampled, like Porsche’s 911 GT2 RS, that last dizzying sting in the tail perhaps softened, in the DBS Superleggera’s case, by the weight.

It’s the weight that never quite goes away during hard cornering, either. The DBS Superleggera is a very competent handler, with a sharper front-end than we were expecting. There are masses of lateral grip available, making this car one seriously rapid gadget up a twisting mountain road.

However, while other breakneck grand tourers like the Ferrari 812 Superfast reveal more and more handling talent the harder you drive them – making them a bit addictive in the corners – it’s possible to “fully know” the DBS Superleggera in perhaps 30 minutes of enthusiastic driving. And prior to the end of our drive, we had no strong desire to get out the Gregory’s and look up the nearest racetrack.

Perhaps Aston Martin should be hitting up its AMG partners for some of their brilliant new chassis electronics as the DBS Superleggera is quite heavily tethered by those of its own. In fully ‘on’ mode, using the Sport Plus powertrain setting, while you’ll get the occasional flare of wheelspin in lower gears – sometimes fourth gear if you hit the right bump – barely a degree of corner-exit yaw is given on the throttle and ESC interventions can be brusque.

Very, very sadly for us, it wasn’t until the end of our short drive on the international launch that we discovered a Track mode ESC setting buried in the menu of the instrument binnacle. So it’s very possible that in this mode – or, dare we say, the electronics fully off – that the DBS Superleggera is a screaming riot on the road. Certainly, there’s no wanting for the ability to turn the rear tyres with the throttle.

We also felt sad to be exiting the short section of autobahn that was included in our test route in Germany. That’s because this is one car that feels made for autobahn top-speed blasts, its combination of stunning grunt, aerodynamic stability and ultra-supple damping priming the confidence reserves for a crack at that 340km/h figure. However, it was not to be.

True to its DB11 origins, the DBS Superleggera is a top-notch grand tourer. The ride, despite the 35/30-profile front/rear tyres, on 21-inch rims, remains blissfully intact.

Some, attracted to the grand tourer vibe, may find the DBS Superleggera transmits a few more minor imperfections of the road surface than desirable, but during our drive, on admittedly very good German roads, not once did we wince from a bump. The Superleggera’s supple, long-stroke suspension ticks the box very well for ride comfort. 

The interior is quite a nice place to be, too. Sumptuous leather abounds and you’ll find your hand automatically exploring various surfaces in the cabin. Mercedes switchgear is peppered about but works well.

One snippet of highly subjective feedback we’d give to Aston is ditch the digital tachometer and work up something beautiful and analogue incorporating a small digital display if need be. If one car company should be the last bastion of gorgeous analogue dials, it should be Aston.

A tessellating stitching pattern used around the interior adds a special and ultra-sporting ambience and, interestingly, reminds one of Lamborghini. In fact, perhaps this is the Italian 12-cylinder brand Aston Martin should have been mentioning at the international launch; more than once it dropped the 812 Superfast into the same sentence as the DBS Superleggera.

The DBS Superleggera’s styling is pure joy to drink in and as such, it turns heads like it’s feathered. It also makes a mean noise and is a bit of an event to drive – all things you could say about an Aventador.

But for the price of that car, with a few options, you could just about have two DBS Superleggeras – and while you’d need a double garage for that, and perhaps your head checked, unlike the Aventador there’d be no driving around pot-holes, or swearing at the transmission.

Engine: 5204cc V12, twin-turbo, DOHC, 48v
Drivetrain: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power: 533kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 900Nm @ 1800-5000rpm
Weight: 1693kg (dry)
0-100km/h: 3.4sec (claimed)
Top speed: 340km/h (claimed)
Price: $517,000

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars