2009 Aston Martin DBS – driven by Kevin Bartlett
His autobiography is entitled Big Rev Kev for good reason. Kevin Bartlett or KB to those lucky enough to know him, has always been a hard charger.
He won Bathurst in 1974 with John Goss in the rain, as well as a string of other races in both Grand Prix open wheelers and sports sedans.
Most memorable though, was the time when his Chevrolet Camaro, sponsored by television network Channel Nine, flipped over due to a tyre failure during the 1983 Bathurst race. Channel Nine must have replayed that footage thousands of times over.
I’d worked with KB when we produced the TEN Network motoring series, Behind the Wheel in 1995, and although a little scared of him - he’s a big bloke who doesn’t suffer fools - he was hard-core and very good at analysing a car’s performance.
So when Aston Martin Australia, said that they had a Quantum Silver DBS, identical to the car used in the latest Bond film but with the Touchtronic (automatic transmission with paddles) ready for CarAdvice, we had to come up with something beyond the standard review piece, so I thought of KB on the Sunshine Coast and those deserted twisty roads up there.
With a 5.9-litre V12 under the bonnet, which sounds like a Le Mans sports car whenever you belt the throttle, KB was the perfect guy to test this monster.
Which is why, in his own words, Kevin Bartlett is here to tell the story:
"My phone rang.
"Would you like to experience the new Aston Martin DBS Touchtronic for us at CarAdvice and say a few words about the drive?"
Not difficult to guess the answer from this car nut:"When and where?" Answer:"Your place, your local roads, your call" Yes please. In my recollection I can’t remember having driven an Aston, at all. So with 50 years + of driving many makes the opportunity had arrived.
"When the sleek Aston crawled up my rather rough rain scarred driveway I had thoughts that the test would just be one of a series of photographs taken of a constantly washed and cleaned exterior. Not so, and I was told "it is here to be used in real world conditions"
"Seated and eager to go I had a quick run-down on the start procedure. The row of function buttons on the fascia told the story that this was a purpose built car with individual ideas about how one would have convenient but not conventional control of the next step of getting in motion. A series of buttons for Park, Neutral, Reverse, Drive, flanking the start key (push to fire up).
"As they started on the details of the Bang & Olufsen audio I said; enough; the donk will be my music thanks.
"I've never been enthralled with sound systems anyway as I tend to put all of my concentration into the task of open road driving and any distraction, even with a great sound system, doesn't sit well with my style.
"The area around my mountain home is a variety of secondary roads connected by well-maintained tourist roads that hold a sometimes-slow procession of cautious drivers unfamiliar with them. However during certain parts of the week these roads have little more than locals using them.
"My familiarity with the area doesn't allow any form of 'blitzing' the tricky parts as there is wildlife to consider, however, even to do the posted speed limit on them can be challenging at times, particularly in the wet, which it now was.
"So the stability control and ABS would be important part of this drive impression, helped immensely when the power pedal was shoved to the firewall by the mandatory traction control.
"About 15 minutes into the drive my familiarity with the wheel and seating adjustments, controls, brake and turn-in, power application was to my satisfaction so the sedentary pace was stepped up a couple of notches. The first feel is one of balance, 52 per cent/48 per cent is what they quoted and it felt very sharp, for a car this size with a weight of just 1695kg.
"No nasty kick back to road feel through the steering either, also the ratio was spot-on. Tyre grip was as expected with the 20-inch rims with Pirelli 245/35 at the front and 295/30 at the rear. The combinations of good balance, great brakes, suitable tyres give such grip that you can be one of the late-braking elite, awesome.
"One comment I'd make about the use of ultra low profile tyres, on many of our Aussie roads, is that owners should take care in both the high pressures required and constant checking of same so as to prevent premature failure of sidewalls, due to the inevitable pot-holes we encounter, even on well maintained roads.
"Further on my test route I was able to explore the capabilities of the carbon ceramic stoppers at my disposal and they are indeed impressive. I would venture to say I had plenty in hand, even trying my best at times and most probably braking would only get to the 'enth degree if on a race track.
"As confidence in the car grew I tried changing to and fro with the firmness control and decided that for the terrain and nature of the secondary roads we were travelling and the fact that it was damp in patches I would leave the suspension settings at the factory default.
"Certainly one would experiment a bit more and gain some benefit on a track day. What I am trying to suggest here is that an owner should be quite selective about use of the adaptive damping system, only really using it where road surfaces are smooth and constant. For this little black duck I need a safety margin I can handle when sharing public roads.
"The major plus in my book is the smart function of the Touchtronic rear mounted transmission. My first surprise came when shifting the left paddle for a lower gear, hard braking into a tight right-hander; ready for some rapid flicking of the lever the tranny brain took me directly to the appropriate gear.
"I thought I'd made a mistake, but no, it did the same thing a little later and I came to rely on the function.
"Whilst not exploring the boundaries further I came to realise this piece of machinery was an indication of many brains inside the chassis let alone the engineering team that was involved in its evolution.
"Bloody clever transmission and certainly worth the extra $4000. Brought up on manual stick shifts one would think from a racing background modern paddle systems would be the last thing I'd want.
"Let me tell you I LOVE them, and I LOVE the power and torque, as you would expect from a confirmed rev head.
"Two little things I have trouble with are; the rev counter going anti-clockwise and; the fly by wire throttle control, which doesn't give me the feel I expect and want when using the throttle to steer through an apex.
"Maybe that's something I could live with if one day the lottery comes my way."