Rolling through a short tunnel on the stunning Purtschellerstrasse alpine road near Berchtesgaden in Germany, I'm about to nail the accelerator on the 2018 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, when I see a familiar DRL signature approach at speed in the rear-view mirror.
Instead of introducing my right foot to the firewall, I back off and watch the tail car sweep closer and then bellow past at warp speed, exhaust note thundering off the tunnel walls and roof. A cacophony of V12 aggression screaming toward redline as the broad tail disappears out of the other end of the tunnel – 900Nm is mighty handy for overtaking.
Speed is addictive, but so is a performance like that, even when you’re the audience and not the conductor.
The James Bond/Aston Martin reference is obvious – maybe too obvious – but the DBS Superleggera really does suit the suave British spy. It's a grand tourer – genteel, unassuming but stylish, with an air of sophistication. Flick a switch, though (press a steering-wheel-mounted drive select button more to the point), and it will put a bullet in your chest and steal your girlfriend in the blink of an eye.
Plenty of performance cars do duality of character these days, but few do it with the panache of Aston Martin.
You can read our pricing and specification details on the $517,000 DBS Superleggera here, but the short story is that its mission statement is to replace the Vanquish S in the English company's burgeoning line of high-end sports cars and grand tourers. The last time CarAdvice drove a Vanquish, we quoted design boss Marek Reichman, who claimed it was ‘the best Aston Martin ever’. While the company has undoubtedly gone from strength to strength in the last five years, this new flagship GT needs to retain the mantle as being the absolute best the brand can conjure.
The theory goes that styling is subjective, but we didn’t cross anyone’s path at the launch in Germany who didn’t think the DBS was stunning. The lines, the broad haunches, the fat rear end and the lighting signatures all tie together in a near-perfect blend of automotive form. It’s hard to think of a more beautiful front-engine car from any manufacturer – from any angle, the DBS is a very special car.
We attend myriad launches where designers wax lyrical about panthers, horses and jockeys, fighter jets, and unrelated architecture seemingly having something integral to do with automotive design. None of that BS at the DBS launch, thank you very much. Lead exterior designer Julian Nunn simply walked us around the exterior and explained some of the engineering challenges the team had to face down in order to ensure the DBS was slippery enough to satisfy the aero and cooling requirements, but also looked the way it needed to.
We loved the cabin as much as the beautifully brutal exterior – it’s got just the right amount of bespoke handmade touches, lavished with attention to detail and premium quality. With the door closed, you’re ensconced in something of a muted secret men’s club, although there are some crucial differences in 2018. Namely, no heavy oak panelling and women are most definitely allowed, especially in the driver’s seat.
While the interior is familiar to me from the DB11 I tested not long before this launch, there are plenty of inclusions worth noting. Keyless entry, tyre pressure monitoring, a 360-degree camera, DAB radio and quality satellite navigation. It’s still a tweak of the Mercedes-Benz COMAND system, but it doesn’t jar too much in the Aston’s cabin.
The quality of the leather, the stitching and seat inlay designs, the deep-pile carpet, all make the DBS feel very special whether you’re driver or passenger. While you can shriek through tunnels if you want to, you can also cruise around in quiet comfort when that mood takes you. It’s a beautiful way to take in spectacular countryside.
At some point, though, you’ll have to stop staring (not to mention drooling) at the DBS and press the starter button. That’s when the thunderous V12 comes to life in a cacophony of high-revving warm-up. There is a quieter cold-start option, but I couldn’t be bothered looking for it.
Its 5.2 litres and twin turbos make for serious power delivery, and the numbers are quite staggering – 533kW and 900Nm punishing the rear rubber via a ZF automatic and an LSD. The engineers are keen to remind us that peak torque is available below 2000rpm, meaning the real-world kick in the back of the head is savage.
The 0–100km/h dash is done and dusted in 3.4 seconds, and 0–200km/h takes just 6.4 seconds. Top speed is 340km/h, but while the numbers are up there with current supercars, everyone at Aston Martin is quick to remind us that the DBS is as much about comfortable cruising as it is crushing autobahns. The 'Superleggera' name isn't just for show either. Thanks to carbon-fibre panels and propshaft, the DBS weighs in at 1693kg, which is 72kg lighter than the DB11.
Cruising through town, hunting the highway, I leave the Aston in GT mode – its most sedate option. Everything about the drive experience is ridiculously easy. It rides beautifully too, easily dealing with German B-roads. The steering is light, lighter than I expected, and while there’s no doubt the DBS is a big car, it really is easy to manoeuvre.
Bypassing Sport and heading to Sport Plus mode for both the drivetrain and dampers once we fire onto some open road, and the sedate nature I mentioned is replaced by one of genuine savagery. It’s like being set upon by a pack of rabid dogs. The throttle pedal response, gearshifts, exhaust note and handling all instantly sharpen, with a fierce and violent edge and cannon fire on the downshifts.
What strikes me most when I switch to Sport Plus is how quickly and easily the DBS has gone from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde. With a deft press of the two steering-wheel-mounted buttons, I’m in a narrowing tunnel warped by speed and the savagery of the epic power delivery. The full 900Nm pushes the tyres to – and beyond – their very limits of effective adhesion, and the DBS gets the kind of tail-happy wag you feel you’d adore on a racetrack. Not so much on public roads, though.
The sharpness of the steering and accuracy of turn-in takes me by surprise too. A vehicle of this heft and dimensions shouldn’t feel as nimble as it does. I noted the same thing with the DB11, in fact, and Aston has done a fine job of engendering a feeling of lightness you’d never expect from a GT platform.
I’ve commented in the accompanying launch video that this DBS Superleggera is the car for people of means who’ve owned a Maserati, a Ferrari or a Porsche and none of those are – dare I say it – bespoke enough. Therefore, it follows that the potential buyer won’t care one iota what I think of the DBS. Even if you did, you wouldn’t admit it anyway.
Regardless, the DBS is a superb execution of old-world British craftsmanship for the new millennium. It does exactly what it needs to, and does so with unending style. Yes, at half-a-million big ones it’s too expensive in Australia, but name an automotive indulgence that isn’t. Our ludicrous luxury car (and other) tax shouldn’t detract from a brutal V12 that sits among the very best GT cars with its head held high.
Driving any Aston Martin is a privilege, and this DBS Superleggera is no different. It’s stunningly fast, properly premium, different and classy. The fact that it can also be so easy to drive and benign is a sign of the times at the highest end of the buying scale. It will be rare Down Under too, and that in itself is priceless.