2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera: A Hooligan With Excellent Manners

Spoiler alert: The GT car at the top of Gaydon's range is the one to have.

Soon enough, Aston Martin will settle all scores. It’ll tell McLaren and snooty Ferrari to get bent and eat its dust. It’ll show up the mopes who insist the British brand is skating by on its looks and relationship with That Movie Spy. All will be in place: an unstoppable design squad, a world-class dynamics team, a next-level powertrain program, a volume crossover SUV, a moonshot supercar, a trustable financial footing, and most of all, a line of cars that compete fiercely at the highest levels of super-luxury-cardom. The carmaker is this close.

Even as the company navigates a transitional phase, Aston’s future looks as bright as the Diavolo Red-painted DBS Superleggera that’s coiled like a pit viper amidst the Bavarian Alps, where the company let journalists test-drive the car for the first time. With this model, the company’s trio of GT cars has been refreshed fully (minus the final convertible variants of the Vantage and DBS), and imbued with more incisive character development: there's The Hunter (the Vantage), The Sophisticate (the DB11), and The Hooligan in a Waistcoat (the DBS Superleggera).

Aston Martin Lagonda

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

In the silky Berchtesgadener light, the DBS’s savage, long-hooded beauty is self-evident: The golden-ratio proportions, the striking formalization of animal ferocity, the broad shoulders and athletic flanks. It’s a sexier, more fully realized GT design than the DB11 and Vantage, which are no slouches in the looks department.

Its name is a fridge-magnet poem assembled from Aston Martin’s heritage of nomenclatures. With “Vanquish” pledged to a mittelmotor McLaren fighter due in 2021, Aston Martin surfaced two legacy tags for the flagship GT: DBS, once affixed to a William Towns-designed coupe of the late 1960s and more recently to a juiced-up DB9 variant discontinued in 2012; and “Superleggera,” a lightweight construction method branded by Italy’s Carrozzeria Touring, the Milan coachworks that penned Aston’s mid-60s masterpieces—the DB4, DB5, and DB6. In Italian, superleggera means “super light,” and while the 4,000-pound-plus DBS is 154 pounds lighter than the DB11, the name is purely a nod to heritage.

Aston Martin Lagonda

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

Considering the DBS shares most of the DB11’s bonded-aluminum underpinnings, drivetrain, and proportions, engineers derived the added lightness by way of composite body panels, including a clamshell hood, rear decklid, and an optional carbon-fiber roof. Similarly fabricated aero appendages facilitate the cooling and vertical force needed to stabilize the DBS at full tilt. At the DBS’s 211 mph top speed, an imposing front splitter produces 132 pounds of downforce. The latest version of Aston’s Aeroblade airflow system, plus a fixed lip spoiler, load the rear axle with 265 pounds, all with little added drag over the DB11. Not to mention, the "curlicue" vents behind the front fenders dispatch a greater volume of air from underhood than the similar outlets on the DB11.

With an ECU tune and some extra cooling gear, the DB11’s 5.2-liter, Cologne-assembled twin-turbo V-12 now produces not just a bold-type 715 horsepower, but a gargantuan peak torque figure of 664 pound-feet, the latter practically at liftoff. With the bespoke Pirelli P Zeros (over 21" alloys) sufficiently heated, the DBS can accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.4 seconds, according to the company—a figure that understates the magisterial drama with which it does so. In fact, the turbo-12 is not only sonorous, but also willing, flexible, and unrelenting as the revs build to a chilling 7,000-rpm wail.

Aston Martin Lagonda

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

As impossibly perfect roads unfurl through postcard panoramas, the DBS’s vividness is an immediate show-stealer. At wide-open throttle, it’s more than just a brute, it’s a natural force like the Röthbach Waterfall, combining a wall of V-12 sound with a monumental onrush. The feeling is less manic than broadly assertive, and it's available throughout the throttle's travel; even mid-range acceleration is downright explosive.

The latest ZF eight-speed automatic transaxle dispatches the power, and its only stumbles can be chalked up to the profound software calibration exercise required to deliver on all promises: manage a tugboat’s load of torque, provide smooth and precise drive-mode operations, and fire off crisp manual-mode shifts on demand. Make no mistake, this is the best torque-converter box available, but it can be caught flat-footed on quick, complex stretches of Alpine highway. While lolling around quaint Königssee lake towns, the necessary torque-limiting protocols in the lowest gears caused awkward delays between throttle position and power delivery. No doubt, engineers will continue to refine the code—while Ferrari, with its precise, rev-matching dual-clutch 'box, snickers smugly.

Aston Martin Lagonda

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

Like the scenery, the DBS’s chassis is a stunner. Like its sister gran turismos, the DBS, which gets a mechanical limited-slip diff instead of the Vantage’s e-diff, uses three driving modes to manage throttle response and the rates of the active dampers. In all modes, including Sport Plus, ride quality continues to be one of Aston Martin’s most appealing traits. With spring rates and roll resistance set somewhere between the hard-edged Vantage and the softer DB11, the chassis is a masterwork of tuning. The front end feels dead planted, with a change in camber adding immediacy to turn-in; the rear responds a bit more languidly. There’s just enough squirm in the subframe bushings to notice when a winding roadway suddenly goes off-rhythm. The steering may not have Ferrari’s double-espresso quickness, but its heavy-side weighting utterly matches chassis response. Overall, the effect is holistic; the faster you go, the smaller it feels, with a sophistication and subtlety the DB11 can’t match.

Aston Martin Lagonda

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

Indoors, it’s the usual Aston Martin acreage of fragrant, Scottish Highland leather and, in this case, alcantara seat centers. The cockpit feels a bit more snug than the DB11, and the sport seats support any and all roadway schussing. In standard spec, there’s no shortage of touchable alcantara coverings, including on the square-ish steering wheel, which will always look odd to my Momo Prototipo-tuned eyes, and headliner. 

At some point in its ascendency, Aston must find a solution to the infotainment question. Fumbling with the previous-generation Mercedes-Benz gear will still annoy the gadget squad, while the usual rejoinder, “This is a car for driving, not goofing around with electronic toys,” won’t fly for much longer. At least the DBS has 4G WiFi connectivity, and connecting to Bluetooth is no garment-rending horror show.

Aston Martin Lagonda

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

Perhaps for buyers, the big question is whether or not the DBS Superleggera, which starts at around $310,000, is special enough to make it worth the “Big Aston” premium over the DB11. The answer is clear: Yes, it's plenty special enough. As a range topper, the DBS offers a thrilling synthesis of sports-car aggression and gran turismo refinement, with the visual fireworks to signal its breathtaking capability. In fact, if the DBS doesn’t steal sales from the DB11 AMR V12, I’ll sing “Do Re Mi” from the top of Zugspitze Peak.