Aston Martin DBS
Since its launch Aston has made improvements to the DBS - but is it now as good as a Ferrari 599 GTB? Steve Sutcliffe finds out...
Whether you like the way it looks or not (being a tart I am not adverse to a big wing here or a side skirt there, even if the DBS does appear somewhat bolt-on for a £160,000 Aston Martin) there is no denying the mechanical integrity of the car. It may be little more than a breathed on DB9, but given how sweet the basic car is that’s no bad thing, especially since the breathing in this case is of the psychotically heavy and sweaty variety.
The fundamentals of the engine remain largely unfettled but by concentrating on making it breathe more freely at high revs Aston’s engineers (unaided by Ford this time round) have extracted another 60bhp from the DB9’s 6.0-litre V12. There’s a new bypass valve in the inlet port while the ports themselves have been reprofiled to improve airflow, and the exhaust is virtually all new.
Encouragingly, it also weighs less than the regular car, despite its extra bodywork. How so?Most of that bodywork is made from carbon fibre while the brake discs are made from ceramics. Result; a 65kg reduction in kerbweight to 1695kg, which means a meaningful jump in both power and torque-to-weight ratios (from 255bhp per tonne to 300, and from 238lb ft per tonne to 247).
Originally Aston’s chassis boys did all the things you’d expect them to do; they fitted stiffer springs, beefier anti-roll bars, bolted on a set of massive Pirelli P-Zero tyres, widened the tracks front and rear and specified monster carbon ceramic brakes to sit behind the new lightweight 20in wheels. Yet the results, somehow, just didn’t add up. According to one or two people who drove the car on its launch (and these were people who knew what they were talking about, rather the ones who turn up in search of a free lunch) the DBS didn’t know quite what it wanted to be on the road. It was too soft to be a sports car, too edgy to be a Grand Tourer.
There is still something curious about this car’s cabin, which features a fine basic driving position but ergonomics so misguided it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry, but on the road the DBS is now all but sorted. It has a fluidity to its handling and steering that makes even a Ferrari 599 seem flaky in certain circumstances (particularly on a wet or especially bumpy road surface). It’s much improved, in other words, where it really counts. And there was never any doubt about the way it goes in a straight line. Although the V12 lacks what you’d call huge urge below 3000rpm it really does deliver over the last 2500rpm, and it sounds absolutely sensational as it does so. Forget the fact that the dials rotate in the wrong direction and that the sat nav system feels desperately out dated compared with rival systems – because when the DBS comes alive, usually at around 5000rpm in any of the last five gears, it’s amazing how quickly its various issues fade into the background. Even the gearchange is much improved (ignore the lever itself, if you can) while the throttle response, and weight, have also been retuned to make the driving experience feel as cohesive as possible.
In the end the DBS is very nearly a very good car, one that’s endured a rather painful birth and, since then, been improved in several key areas. It may not have quite the same charisma of the Vanquish but, in most areas, it is a massively better car than its predecessor. And as an alternative to a Ferrari 599 it makes a surprisingly good case for itself – especially if, and when, they get round to rethinking that strange interior.