When the DB11 inaugurated Aston Martin’s ambitious “Second Century” plan a few short years ago, there was a striking catalogue of changes. As well as more power, the new car signalled the arrival of an all-new aluminium platform, a radical design departure that reworked the famous Aston Martin front grille while adding the aerodynamic as well as aesthetically stimulating “aeroblades” up front and the ducts within the C-pillar, not to mention new tricks such as torque vectoring and fully electric power steering.
But at the heart of it all sat the new 5.2-litre V12 engine, augmented by twin turbochargers. Whether or not forced induction was a derogation from some sacred sports car script was a matter of personal conviction, but anyone lucky enough to sample this engine found enlightenment as quickly as the DB11 could accelerate to 62mph. This mechanical jewel circumvented whatever prejudices still attached themselves to turbos. And it sounded every decibel like a “proper” Aston Martin engine — perhaps even better.
And now it has 725PS and a new identity. In morphing from the gentleman’s express — “a sports car in a tuxedo”, according to Aston Martin’s head of exterior design, Miles Nurnberger — the DB11 becomes the DBS Superleggera, a name that stirs the soul, issues a stout call back to the late-Sixties playboy GT, (think Roger Moore in The Persuaders) and hints at the new car’s lightweight form and performance potential. Racing boots replace the brogues.
It also carves out a new space for itself in Aston Martin’s ever-evolving model landscape. “It’s our super GT,” says the company’s chief engineer, Matt Becker. “The DB11 is very much our long-legged gran turismo, and the Vantage the most overtly sporting model. The DBS Superleggera will sit slap bang in the middle of the two in terms of how it feels dynamically. We haven’t gone as stiff as the Vantage, but it’s also not as compliant and forgiving as the DB11.”
Becker is a man whose fingerprints are all over some of the most sublimely kinetic sports cars ever made. Formerly at Lotus, he’s a key figure in the renewal and renaissance of Aston Martin during the past three and a half years. He’s also not a man given to hyperbole, so you can’t help paying attention when he starts to emote. “The DBS Superleggera is right up there,” he says animatedly. “But it’s not just the amount of horsepower, it’s the torque. It really is capable of ballistic performance on the road. Everyone who travels in it gets out and just giggles. It’s relentless. But it does its thing with a distinctly different sort of character, which is exactly what we were aiming to achieve.”
You could argue that character is one of the most critical deliverables at this end of the market. In a world where high net worth individuals are drawn to cars and products that are bespoke on the one hand and part of a unique experiential continuum on the other, the new DBS Superleggera somehow manages to be both. Aston Martin sits alongside the world’s greatest luxury brands and this car is a highly evolved representation of everything the company now stands for, explicitly engineered to make its owners glow with appreciation.
And, of course, to send the adrenaline coursing through their veins. Different car companies have different templates for this particular challenge and there’s something of an ongoing power race. So the opportunity here isn’t just in how much power you can wring out of an engine, it’s in the way that you do it. The DBS Superleggera’s torque figure — 900Nm — is arguably more relevant than the power output, as is the fact that it’s on tap from just 1800rpm. Back to Becker: “I could quote you the zero to 62mph and 100mph times and so on, but really it’s the in-gear acceleration that has to be experienced to be believed. It’s not a car that’s all about the top-end — it’s fast everywhere.”
But it's not just the amount of horsepower, it’s the torque. It really is capable of ballistic performance on the road
So much so that Becker’s team has had to limit the amount of torque transmitted to the rear wheels in first and second gear and a different torque map is also used depending on which of the powertrain modes the car is in: GT, Sport or Sport Plus. Designed from the outset to deliver these hugely impressive figures, the 5.2-litre V12 engine needed little more than an increase in boost on its two turbos to make the extra power and torque. For the record, the DBS Superleggera will top 210mph and reach 62 in 3.6 seconds.
It’s a similar story with regards to the chassis. That all-aluminium platform supplies a rigorous basis for this new
high-performance Aston Martin. As Becker explains: “It’s into hypercar territory. The ride stiffness is 20 per cent above that of the DB11, but it’s still not as extreme as the Vantage. The new car uses bespoke Pirelli P Zeroes and 21 inch wheels. They’re 265 section at the front and 315 at the rear. We needed more front tyre performance to accommodate the aero requirements and more traction performance to manage the torque. The gearbox is a new iteration of the ZF eight-speed and there’s a shorter final drive ratio.
“There has been lots of learning from the Vantage — it was developed in parallel with DBS Superleggera. Like the DB11, the new car has an isolated rear sub-frame for more suppleness (it’s rigidly mounted in the Vantage). Ride comfort and isolation are more important in this car. It also has a limited slip differential rather than the electronic diff used by the Vantage, but uses the same carbon ceramic brakes. It has been a challenge finding that balance between comfort and really high performance, but we’re happy with what we achieved. We ringfence the cars as to where they should be in relation to each other. We don’t want the cars to creep right or left from where they should be. There are clear lines.”
Becker is also very adept at calibrating the electronics and software systems that are integral to cars at this level. As extreme as the DBS Superleggera is, it also has to make its mighty potential accessible to as broad a pool of customers as possible. This goes to the heart of Aston Martin’s philosophy and, despite the objectivity inherent in the process, there’s also an alchemy at work here. Another example is the fully electric steering. Linearity and what some pundits refer to as “granular” responses are key attributes in fast cars. How does Aston Martin stay true to that?
We needed more front tyre performance to accommodate the aero requirements
“The steering rack installation and column mounting needs to be as stiff as it can possibly be,” Becker avers. “It needs to transmit everything from the tyre contact patch to the driver’s fingertips. The skill is to ensure that the software is blending all that effectively. You can tune connection and sensation, but you can’t rely on EPAS (electric power assisted steering) to mask fundamentals that aren’t right. And it’s the same with the suspension. You can’t use electronics to paper over inadequacies.”
Did we discuss how savagely beautiful the DBS Superleggera is? Well, this is one of those cars that really needs no explanation. Like the first Aston Martin to wear the badge, this one overlays its aggression with a distinct strand of beauty. That evocative name originally denoted Touring’s unique super-lightweight construction, the spirit of which is carried on by Aston Martin’s carbon fibre expertise. The DBS’s roof, boot and bonnet are all made of carbon fibre and, although stunning, the visual reinterpretation is primarily a function of its aerodynamic and cooling requirements. The car is also 70kg lighter than the DB11. Inside, there’s more carbon fibre, longer paddles for the gearshift and a sports steering wheel and seats. Such is the attention to detail and scope for personalisation that no two DBS Superleggeras will be the same. But they certainly share one common goal: to take the Aston Martin adventure into thrilling new territory.