The Grand Tourer Spirit
When first conceived back in the 50's and 60's, V12 grand tourers, or GTs, like the Lamborghini 350 GT and Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta were envisioned to be luxurious cross-country machines. The idea was to whisk their drivers across hundreds of miles in comfort and effortless power.
More recently, these GTs have been more involved in one-upping one another in terms of power and track performance. The grand tourer aspect has somewhat diminished in favor of faster track times and higher cornering G's. Granted, very few owners will actually take these cars cross country trips these days, yet isn't that the product of the stiff ride and cramped quarters in the pursuit of impressive figures?
Aston Martin believes a super GT should excel at being a grand tourer, first and foremost, and that is evident in their most recent product, the DBS Superleggera.
On a recent trip to the UK to visit Aston Martin's many facilities in the Warwick Area, we were granted the rare privilege of driving one.
Top of the line
Parked in our charming country hotel’s driveway were a choice of Aston Martin Vantage, DB11 V12, DB11 V8 AMR, and a DBS Superleggera. Like a giddy schoolboy, I didn't hesitate and quickly strode towards the DBS. Out of habit, I headed to the car’s left side, only to realize too late that it was the passenger side. My Thai press colleague, seemingly surprised by the generous offer, sauntered over to the driver’s side (on the right) and started the car.
Nonetheless, the foolish move gave me time to orient myself to driving on the other side and enjoy the DBS’s accoutrements.
Based on the DB11 platform, the current DBS takes everything up a notch, being the top-of-the-line offering now. The Vanquish has been discontinued and will be resurrected in the future as a tamer version of the mid-engine RB003. It would be unfair to call the DBS a tarted up DB11, as it features more distinctive bodywork, a wider track, improved suspension, and an upgraded powertrain. True to its name, Superleggera (super light), it’s even lighter than the DB11 by nearly 200 kg.
The bodywork integrates far more clever aerodynamics too. In front, the massive valence helps direct air to the front brakes and out the side gills. Then, there’s the rear aeroblade, first installed in the DB11. Because of the downforce it produces, the rear spoiler size can be reduced to just a lip that expels a curtain of air behind it. It also comes with a double rear diffuser to add even more downforce at higher speeds.
Inside, there are still hints of the DB11 platform with a similar center console and wheel. It's not an exact copy as the instrument cluster is more aggressively styled with intricate leather trim. Behind are two proper seats that actually can fit Filipino-sized adults. And if that space wasn’t enough, the trunk capably fit my suitcase and carry-on luggage.
Its massive clamshell hood swivels forward to give an unobstructed view of the massive 5.2-liter twin turbo V12. There are anti-roll bars above it seemingly installed to restrain the monster of an engine. And what a monster it is, producing 725 PS and 900 Nm of torque. It passes through a rear-mounted 8-speed transmission with a mechanical differential to rocket the car to 100 km/h in just 3.5 seconds and on to a claimed top speed of 340 km/h.
Even from the passenger seat, I could clearly see my Thai colleague trying hard to hold back the growing smile every time he floored the throttle. It took quite a bit of convincing to get him to pull over and finally give me a try.
When he finally did, I thought to take it slow first to get a better feel for the power first. That and adjusting to left-side driving on narrow British roads was also quite challenging.
Brute in a suit
Aston calls this car the “brute in a suit,” and as cheesy as the description sounds, it’s quite apt. Starting up any Aston is always a treat. It’s never discreet. It always begins with a roar that snaps heads in your directions.
The DBS made adjusting to driving on the left side easy. Left in GT mode, the steering has just the right weight but is still quick and accurate. Power delivery was liquid smooth, in spite of the claim that much of that is available as early as 1,800 rpm. The ride was surprisingly pleasurable; comfortable but not floaty, and still quite taut when going into corners. I took a few dabs at the throttle and the momentum it produces borders on frightening, as how rough it is delivered depends on how deeply you press on the throttle. Stab the throttle harshly and it will kick down a few gears and you'll feel a slight fishtail as the traction control tries hard to restrain the power sent to the wheels. Yet with the tight and reassuring steering, it was easy to handle, even over the roundabouts scattered on our route.
After a few minutes in, I switched it over to Sport mode, and already the response had improved. The crisp paddle shifters were a delight to click. A mild burble emanated from the quad exhausts. The ride was still tolerable, making it a practical mode to use even in long drives.
Sport Plus really lets the beast out and is best reserved for track days. The snap, crackle and pop from the exhaust are the best indicators too. In this mode, some wheelspin and slide is allowed. And while I tried not to tempt fate on narrow British back roads, the few instances the engine howled and the tires clawed for grip were quite intoxicating.
For most of the drive, driving on some portions on the famous M1 motorway, I left it in GT. It really is all you need, subtly dropping a gear and accelerating smoothly when the need to overtake arises. It climbs into the triple digits (in miles) faster than you expect.
When we came into the busier towns, negotiating intersections and driveways were easier than I expected. Built-in back-up cameras and a bird’s eye view of the surroundings make squeezing into regular parking spots easy. Best of all, nothing quite compares to arriving at a pub in a DBS. It draws quite a lot of stares. Hogging two spaces is somewhat a necessity owing to the low stance and wide doors.
While I'm fairly certain buyers of this car already have a stable of Land Cruisers and Mercedes-Benzes to go to work or other functions with, one could still conceivably use the DBS daily (provided it doesn't involve BGC's humps or steep driveways). It's extremely refined yet can still conquer horizons at a moment's notice. Try that in any other top-of-the-line V12 and the harsh ride, rough power delivery, and low stance will cause more worries than driving enjoyment. If you're one of the lucky few who can spare some change for one, Aston Martin Manila will offer the DBS Superleggera locally very soon too.
Sure, any car can travel long distances. But, with its comfort, opulence, and amazing ground-covering abilities, it's like nobody does it better than Aston Martin.