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First drive: Aston Martin DBS

2008-06-09 08:37
Aston Martin, DBS

Egmont Sippel

It starts with the looks, of course. Aston Martin has the best grille in the business. It's low and wide and powerful, with an open-mouthed upper lip that yearns for more.

The magic bit, though, comes at the edges where the grille is flattened out by an inside-out flourish to clamp the corners down on the unyielding straight base line.

At the same moment, the Aston grille is transformed from hungry to angry, from succulent to mean. It's like a monster rising from the Black Lagoon, tearing from slippery waters with evil intent.

Behind that, the car flows with the sheer fluency of an aero-shaped emerald. It is smooth and muscular and solid. It also projects a perfect balance between line and shape, roof and rump, metal and glass, power and elegance.

Proportion, then, is the sorcerer's potion.

Plus stance. The rear wheels are planted wide and super-aggressively, ready for take-off. The rump of the car, in fact, looks like a sub-station for launch control, all on its own.


Here-in also lies the genius, in the tapering of the greenhouse.

For it leaves two flat-topped rear fenders picking up from a flat-decked hood-and-wing theme up front, to ensure a hewn-from-rock, stuffed-to-the-brim overall look; the DBS is manly and brutish, with no hint of a Ferrari's soft, femininely rounded humps and hoops.

Astons aren't of the futuristic space-age cutting-edge rectangularity of a Lambo either; St Agatha's projectiles answer to a radically different call again.

No. Gaydon delivers organic design.

Except that Marek Reichman has now put some war-like DNA on the DBS, changing the DB9 - on which the DBS is based - into a completely new macho machine.

The DBS is a meteor from outer space, then, scarred in the most compelling fashion by vents and streaks born from inter-galactic travel.

This is what an Aston Martin should all be about. The DBS has injected a good dollop of danger into magnificent looks and overwhelming gravitas.

Sound track

I once saw a quartet of Vanquish V12s on the town square in Le Mans.

Everybody had a good look, of course. It's impossible to walk past an Aston and ignore the physical splendour, the solidly planted stance. Nothing can shake a Martin (or dry Martini) out of its own boots or self belief.

At the same time, an Aston cannot fail to stir.

Yet, eyeing the car out was nothing compared to what happened next. A driver fired up his Vanquish. Everybody turned, not in admiring appraisal of the car's aesthetics, but in utter awe.

The world had just been torn apart.

Now, add one more layer of grunt to that sound, one more crackle of fire, one more slither of a scream, another bark to the bellow and you're listening to a DBS bursting into life.

It's a sound that shatters the universe, a crack of audio more addictive than coke.

Beethoven would have wept with joy.

On the road

So, how does it go, the DBS?

Superbly well.

The ride is split into comfort and sport modes, with electronic Bilstein dampers offering five valve settings for each.

In soft mode, the DBS smooths the road out better than anything else aspiring to supercar status. Ride quality, in fact, rivals that of luxury sedans.

The downside is that the tail does float a bit at speed. Stiffening the dampers, in turn, plugs road shocks straight into your vertebrae.

I've not yet gunned a DBS through a mountain pass. But I'll be more than happy with the softer Bilstein tuning on the way there.

The teeth-shattering setting, in turn, certainly facilitates body control by flattening the vehicle's posture, yet it won't transform the 1 695 kg Aston into a real sports car.

For that, the steering and handling is not sharp and agile enough. It's muted, in fact, compared to Porsche's GT3 RS set-up.

The RS has a much shorter wheelbase, of course. It also weighs 420 kg less than the DBS. The Aston's bonded aluminium VH structure is also not as tight as a Porsche chassis.

And the RS compass is pure live-wire exhiliration; it darts the car around via telepathic control.

GT character

The DBS thus covers a different patch of automotive turf, notwithstanding a raft of genuine sports car cues: Reichman's bold detailing, the rear's brawny diffuser, the tail's edgy flip, thunderous wheels, a limited-slip diff and a body from aluminium, magnesium and carbon fibre.

And yes, the DBS is brutally fast, right up there in sports car territory with a 0-100 km/h dash in 4.3 seconds and top speed of 307 km/h.

Yet, the Aston is not a car that should be hustled. The emphasis is rather on style, status and big performance parlayed into glamour and grandeur.

The secret resides in how mighty this car is, not how nimble. It's about living large, not shaving small fractions off a second. Great and stable speed is the name of the game, not squirmy, on-the-edge cornering.

Dynamic behaviour has therefore been smoothed over just enough to make the DBS relaxing, rather than taxing, to drive.

The steering has been lightened, for instance, vis-à-vis Astons of old. It now navigates with marvellous ease and fluency at all speeds, yet with enough meaty feel left in its fibre to constantly inspire confidence.

Working in tandem with well-damped body movements, the car is never nervous or skittish over broken asphalt - a big bonus in modern-day South Africa.

The DBS is also well-balanced, boasting a classic Ford V12 up front and an equally classic Graziano transaxle at the back.


In very tight stuff on a rather smooth surface the nose will eventually slip and slide a bit, yes.

But that's OK, for here follows the answer: a manual cog swapper in command of 380 kW unleashed from 5.9 litres of furious combustion at a compression ratio of 10.9:1, operating in lieu of double overhead cams plus 48 valves, the produce of which powers down the car's carbon-fibred prop shaft spine straight into the rear axle.

That means a cool 570 Nm every time the Aston's motor reaches 5 750 r/min.

On 295 mm wide bespoke Pirelli P Zero rubber at the back with a flat aspect ratio of 30 on huge 20-inch alloys, this means only one thing: long, magnificent tail slides out of the apex, once traction control is dialed out.

Which is what happens when the nose starts sniffing around at slip angles: a mere prod on the loud pedal, and the V12 re-aligns the whole universe.

And not so much because the Aston is the most powerful beast out there. For more than R2.5 million less, Merc's CLS63 AMG pushes out an equally impressive 378 kW and 630 Nm.

There are obvious differences between the two cars.

But here's the crucial one: that manual gearbox.

Gearbox, cabin

On Astons, such boxes used to be sticky, lumpy and recalcitrant.

And the DBS clutch will still test your left leg.

But swapping cogs is delightfully light and fairly quick now, if used in tandem with a short clutch (meaning a shallow push on the pedal).

The shift still feels slightly dry and bony, but slots are positively defined and easily located via the thick-necked lever, topped out by a skull-like alloy knob.

Oh yes, and that's perhaps the ultimate reward, to enjoy such awesome style and performance from the opulence of a beautifully crafted, hand-trimmed interior - and well-built, too.

The DBS cabin is decked out in shades of black and highlighted by chrome and aluminium, the sharp and crisp design of silvery graphics and shiny controls imbedded in softer, sensual Alcantara surrounds plus stitched semi-aniline leather.

The design, the lay-out and the ultra-luxurious look is simply magnificent.

It also travels beyond class, into the zone of dangerous beauty.


Which brings us back to the Aston's anchors, consisting of four huge carbon ceramic discs, just short of 400 mm in diameter at the front and 360 mm at the rear, respectively with six and four pots.

Retardation is about as mighty as the way in which the DBS stops onlookers in their tracks, not least when they notice the R3.6 million price tag.

But let me tell you this: the engine and exhaust note alone is worth a gazillion. It's the Big Bang recreated.

Ditto for design, looks, presence and pulling power: it's probably worth another million.

Which leaves R1.6 million for a mighty V12 plus other high-tech stuff, such as an Apple iPod connector, believe it or not.

Now, that's not too high an asking price, is it, for a dirtier, meaner, savvier Bond mobile?

Or shall we sum it up by saying that a 007 driving the DBS should, as a matter of course, carry a carving knife in his jacket as well, besides a Walther PPK?

Egmont Sippel is Rapport's Motoring Editor and SA Motoring Journalist of the Year 2007/08. 

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