Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to the best Aston Martins arriving sometime after the original launch. The DB11 V8 was preferable to the V12 (then the AMR proved it wasn’t just in the engine), the F1 Edition is a better-resolved Vantage, and every single VH car noticeably improved with the passage of time. It’s sort of become tradition to judge an Aston sports car by the one that arrives a couple of years after the first model.
The DBS Superleggera was the exception. Oh sure, it was superlight like darts is an Olympic sport and the interior should have been better - but it went how it went, looked how it looked and when all was said and done, you couldn't want for more from an Aston Martin flagship. The 2018 DBS was absolutely mighty, and never got the take-two variant - it really was that well sorted from the get-go. The Volante inevitably arrived, which only furthered the appeal, being even better looking and not massively compromised dynamically, and enjoyed an exclusive place in the Aston lineup as the only V12 convertible. Useful, as there were some out there (guilty as charged) who thought the DB11 AMR offered a lot of the DBS coupe experience for considerably less.
Whatever the truth there, we’re now in mourning for the DBS and ready to remember it fondly; while the rest of the range will get an extensive (and much-needed) update over the coming months, this is the end of the road for the big dog. It’s being signed off with this, the Ultimate model, resurrecting a badge from the V12 Vanquish days and emulating the approach seen in the 2016 Vanquish S, a valedictory V12 special with more power, tweaked styling and the prospect of a sharper drive. Done right, it promises to be a modern Aston icon; done wrong… well, how wrong is it possible to actually get a DBS?
Visually, the 300 lucky customers (there are 199 Volantes coming as well) are in for a treat come delivery day. Even in highlighter yellow or, er, highlighter orange, the DBS is arguably the best looking of a very handsome bunch of recent Astons. Kitted out with a meaner, more chiselled front end, additional carbon and a chunkier diffuser, it’s properly arresting. Even in black, even in the rain. Perhaps the wheels are a tad fussy, but come on. What was a below-par interior in 2018 (and even in 2016, with the launch of the DB11) has reached the frustratingly outdated stage - as opposed to the endearingly retro one some get to - and is only improved slightly by stunning carbon seats from the V12 Vantage. Now more than ever, you’ll love the 770 Ultimate very much despite its interior.
The focus for the chassis modifications has been to retain what the standard car did well while introducing some edge and excitement. Hence the focus on tightening up the front end, with an emphasis on steering precision, alongside a rework of the dampers to retain the lovely rolling refinement while improving traction and agility. It's notable in the briefing from Head of Vehicle integration Simon Newton (apologies for any glazed facial expressions, Simon) how power wasn’t priority number one, the hours really invested on getting all the nitty gritty calibrated and responding as close to perfect as possible. This seems strange when dealing with a rear-drive Aston Martin producing almost 800hp; but the Ultimate project was apparently about making a DBS drive as well as it could rather than simply making a V12 as powerful as it could realistically be.
That focus is immediately apparent on the road, too. Even at ambling speeds, the expectation is to find yourself overawed, not just by a monstrously powerful engine, but by having its output drive just two Pirellis, the P Zeros carried over from the standard DBS. Hopefully, it says much about what’s been achieved that it feels like ‘just’ the standard V12, your attention instead drawn to much crisper steering, a tauter (yet still comfortable) low-speed ride and a gearbox transformed, one far more responsive in both manual and automatic modes. This V12 only ever needed three gears, so you can imagine how much more urgent it feels with greater potency and a sharper set of cogs.
Despite gushing praise for the DBX, Aston doesn’t always get the credit for suspension tuning that it deserves, and the Ultimate shows off what it’s capable of fantastically well. Even wound up to its most aggressive Sport+ setting, the mode that’d presumably keep a lid on movements all the way up to 211mph, the DBS retains a level of compliance that somehow soaks up craggy roads without unduly disturbing those in the cabin. In truth, the default GT setting feels like such a sophisticated compromise between refinement and precision that you’ll seldom deviate from it, but the fact that Sport and Sport + deliver additional clarity without a significant sacrifice to the ride quality is some achievement.
If the few things that were subpar about the DBS before remain (sorry to mention the interior again), then all that was good is tangibly better again. That work to the steering column and front end means greater confidence in getting exactly what you requested, which is useful when sat on the wrong side of a very large, very expensive Aston Martin as rush hour looms. It still doesn’t flit like a Ferrari 812, but you probably wouldn't want it to. Instead, there’s an improved sense of connection to a faithful and more willing front end - which perhaps isn’t necessarily what might be expected given that hunk of V12 up front. Whether negotiating mini roundabouts or stringing together corners at higher speeds, the way the DBS changes direction is a highlight. This was in miserable conditions, too - presumably it'll be even sweeter in the dry.
This newfound eagerness is matched by the rear axle; the revised steering makes the DBS keener to get into a bend and, somewhat miraculously, the back encourages earlier application of the throttle to get you out of it as well. Course you still have to be mindful, because when it’s wet out it’ll wheelspin in fourth gear, but once again the enhanced sense of connection ought to give most drivers the faith to explore what is a beautifully honed chassis. If there’s a criticism, it’s that maybe the driving assists are a little strict, even in the Sport mode (once you’ve found it), which can be a little spooky with a very sharp kickdown and with the powertrain in Sport and Sport +. Maybe it’s a churlish complaint given the performance potential, but it feels like similarly powerful cars can intervene more subtly.
Once hooked up, the engine, of course, remains as epic as ever. Another 45hp isn’t much more when dealing with many hundred, especially with torque unchanged (at 664lb ft!), so the feeling is broadly familiar - i.e. there’s effortless, emphatic, enormous performance everywhere. If there is lag, it’s ably masked by the vast swept capacity, the entire experience of this 5.2 - from noise to throttle response - far more akin to a larger naturally aspirated engine than something reliant on forced induction. Which is as awesome as it sounds. Only when dropping the window for a more authentic take are the chuffs and whistles of the turbos apparent, along with an exhaust growl even more melodic than the one that reaches you inside. All in, the V12 seems much as it did before - which is to say, staggering - but it’s the car’s ability to better contain its rampant performance, from shift speed to traction, that serves to make you love the Ultimate more dearly.
There seems a certain irony that an Aston Martin likely destined for life in a collection is one of the marque’s finest at traversing mile after glorious mile. The DBS has always provided a charismatic way to cover large distances, but its maker has comfortably eclipsed its virtues. There’s never any desire to call time, to stop feeling that engine winch the horizon in from 1,500rpm, to stop enjoying front and rear cornering in perfect harmony, to stop appreciating how sorted the ride is or how nice the brakes feel or how well it steers. And when you do occasionally stop, you instantly want to jump out and gawp at the thing again. That no more people will get to experience that feeling is, of course, a first-world problem of the highest order, but a shame nonetheless. Such is its ability to meld continent-crushing civility with masterful driver involvement that it could have replaced the standard car as a DBS GT, AMR or similar. Regardless, the 770 Ultimate is comfortably the best version of probably the best Aston in decades. Enjoy it while you can, people.
SPECIFICATION | 2023 ASTON MARTIN DBS 770 ULTIMATE
Engine: 5,204cc, twin-turbo V12
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 770@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 664@1,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.4 seconds
Top speed: 211mph
Price: N/A (and all sold out!)
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