When ‘Q’ Branch (read: Giltrap Prestige) offered Allan the sapphire Emotional Control Unit (Aston-speak for ‘ignition key’) to a brand spanking new Aston Martin DBS he didn’t question their motives — just grabbed the key, cranked up the car’s mighty V12 and laid rubber before they changed their mind!
When Aston Martin’s gorgeously aggressive DBR9 racers first appeared as a GT1 contender at the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 2005, they showed themselves to be fearsomely fast — although rather fragile, eventually being beaten in their class by the Corvette team. However, that all changed in 2007, when DRR9 #009 thoroughly trounced the Corvettes to take a popular class win — a win which was repeated in 2008.
The overall winner at Le Mans in both 2007 and 2008 was Audi’s radical R10 TDi, a diesel-powered racer running in the top, LMP class. An impressive achievement for an oil-burner, to be sure, but for me the clinically efficient Audi definitely played second fiddle to the DBR9s. Watching filmed footage of the Astons cutting through the chicanes during the 2005 race sent shivers up my spine; they just sounded so good.
And when the team finally gained reliability in 2007, watching the leading DBR9 sweeping over the finished line at La Sarthe brought back instant memories of Aston Martin’s famous 1959 Le Mans win — the drama as Stirling Moss’ epic drive was cut short by a forced retirement and the final triumph when the second DBR1, driven by Carroll Shelby and Ray Salvadori, scored overall honours.
Winning at Le Mans in 1959 was a defining moment for Aston Martin and for David Brown, the industrialist who revived the marque’s flagging fortunes.
Building on its late ’50s motor sport achievements, Aston Martin would translate success on the track into a series of iconic road cars — all of which carried the ‘DB’ prefix. The years following that Le Mans triumph were heady days indeed for the Newport Pagnell concern, and when the DB5 co-starred with Sean Connery in the 1965 James Bond movie, Goldfinger, Aston Martin graduated from motoring history to become part of popular culture.
Since 1959, Aston Martin has largely eschewed international motor sport — although there have been a few valiant but largely unsuccessful attempts to put the marque back on the motor sport map. It is for this reason that the first appearances of the DBR9 — complete in Aston’s own version of British Racing Green — was such a thrilling sight for enthusiasts.
While modern technology undoubtedly plays an important role in the DBR9’s success, when comparing to politically correct diesel engines, how can anyone (Greenies aside) resist the allure of a traditional, thumping great petrol-sucking 6.0-litre V12?
Grand touring refinements
While not many outside of the Aston Martin racing team will ever get to experience a DBR9 first-hand, well-heeled punters can buy a DBRS9 — a slightly detuned version of the race-car (with only 410kW as opposed to the DBR9’s 450kW) — complete with carbon-fibre bodywork. With a listed price the equivalent of $430,000, a DBRS9 is an expensive piece of kit and as a ‘customer’ race-car it is hardly going to be very practical as a road car.
Instead, you could go for the road-going DB9. It shares the same heart as the DBR9 — although you get less power (350kW) and a much heavier car (1760kg as opposed to 1100kg), but at least you’ve got a simply beautiful car that boasts all of Aston Martin’s traditional grand touring refinements. The DB9 also costs considerably less — a ‘mere’ $359,600.
That all sounds well and good — until you examine the DBS, which presents a wallet-draining compromise between the flat-out racing style of DBR9 and the more civilised DB9, making the DBS effectively a half-way house between those two cars.
Not intended to supplant the now defunct Vanquish as Aston’s top model — a true Vanquish replacement is due in 2010 — for the moment the DBS assumes the mantle of Aston’s halo model by default.
The DBS, like the DBR9 and DB9, is built upon a lightweight, bonded aluminium chassis (as originally pioneered by Lotus) and, of course, that magnificent 6.0-litre V12 — each one hand-assembled at Aston Martin’s engine facility in Cologne. Mated to a six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed Touchtronic auto will be an option on the DBS by the end of this year), the V12’s power is transmitted to the rear wheels via a carbon-fibre propshaft.
From that point on, the DBS begins to take elements straight from the DBR9, the most noticeable exterior similarity being the car’s distinctive, bonnet air-intakes and a larger rear spoiler. Look closer and you see that the DBS is wider and lower than the DB9 by virtue of an increased front and rear track and larger wheels and tyres — all wrapped in curvaceous, carbon-fibre panels which drop the car’s overall weight down by 65kg when compared to the DB9. Combine the weight savings with an additional 30kW and the DBS will accelerate quicker than a Vanquish — although with a slower top speed.
Carbon-fibre also shows up on the DBS’ front splitter and rear diffuser — it even makes it into the plush, leather-lined cabin for the car’s oddly angular door pulls.
Under the skin there’s Aston Martin’s new Adaptive Damping System (ADS) that allows the car’s dampers to be set to five different positions to adjust ride and handling.
Damper settings are controlled by sensors which gauge how the car is being driven — the harder you drive the better it gets.
Along with the wider track of the DBR9, the DBS inherits another feature of the race-car — Carbon Ceramic Matrix (CCM) disc brakes. These, as well as the carbon fibre panels, are the area in which the DBS sheds weight — the fancy brakes being around 12.5kg lighter than conventional units. This, of course, also significantly reduces unsprung weight.
All the extra kit is very nice, but if it was wrapped up in an ugly body it wouldn’t be particularly desirable. In this respect, the DBS can hold its head up high — this car is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, especially when viewed from the front.
If more proof of the DBS’s good looks was required, we need to go no further than to observe the effect it had upon the younger female members of the Parkside team.
Normally they wouldn’t say more than a brief ‘hello’ to grizzled, grey-haired old fellas like me, but as I stood alongside the DBS everything changed — “Oooh, please, please can you take me for a ride in it?”
I knew I should have worn my tux!
Emotional Control Unit
To start the DBS, you take the Emotional Control Unit — Aston-speak for ignition key, it’s a jewel-like sapphire and stainless steel unit — and plug it into the matching slot on the car’s dashboard. Press the unit inwards and the Aston Martin logo on its outer edge lights up as the V12 springs into life with an angry exhaust bark.
After a quick check of the mirrors and controls, we nuzzled the Aston’s elegant snout onto the Great North Road and slipped into the stream of city traffic.
Threading our way through Grey Lynn, the DBS delivered its first surprise — for a car with such a prodigious performance potential, it’s an absolute pussycat! With a light clutch, smooth gear-change and effortless steering, the DBS is a doddle to drive in traffic and remarkably civilised — you cannot even hear the V12, just the occasional exhaust sound as the revs rise.
Half an hour later we were approaching the quieter roads of Franklin County — it was time to see what the DBS was really made of, and to turn off some of the ‘nanny’ electronic devices.
The car’s adaptive damping system was set to ‘Track’ mode — which resets the dampers to their firmest position and slightly lowers the car.
Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) was next — default mode allows you to maintain maximum traction; press the DSC button and hold it for two seconds and traction control will intervene at a higher threshold. Hold the button for four seconds and the traction control is completely disengaged.
For our first outing, we set the car to the intermediate position.
Now travelling at speed, the DBS was beginning to make some more noises — we still couldn’t hear the V12, but the exhaust note was much harder.
Interestingly, the best way to appreciate the sound of the DBS is not in the cabin — that’s too well insulated — but from the side of the road. No wonder lifestyle block owners were leaning over their farm gates as we howled past; they were experiencing the full fury of the V12.
Now we’re cooking!
Barrelling down a long straight and into the first serious corner, and it was time to give the car’s race-bred carbon ceramic disc brakes a good work-out. Into the entrance point of the corner, hard on the brakes. That was followed by a brief, heart-pumping moment as the car wriggled across the road under braking. Okay, the brakes are definitely not warm enough! I certainly didn’t want that to happen again — not in a borrowed, half-a-million dollar supercar.
Prudently, I trail-braked down the next straight, building up some heat into the exotic disc rotors. The reward was successively fewer wriggles on each of the next few corners and, with the driver’s side window wound down, we soon knew we were ‘cooking’ as the smell of hot brakes wafted through the open window.
With the brakes up to temperature, I tried another all-or-nothing corner — this time the retardation literally took my breath away. It was if we’d simply driven into a solid brick wall at speed — the stop was that instantaneous, leaving me having to get back onto the accelerator to actually approach the corner. The Aston’s brakes are, quite simply, amazing — even after a whole series of heavy braking they showed not even the slightest sign of fade. That was immensely reassuring. Aston may talk about lightweight construction, but this baby weighs nearly 2.5 times as much as my Lotus Elise — and, with four times more power on tap in the Aston, stopping the beast becomes an important issue. Even at the speeds we were travelling — and they’re definitely not printable — stopping was not a problem for the DBS.
Attack a narrow, twisty road — easy to find in New Zealand — and you also appreciate the DBS’s finely tuned chassis, not to mention its fearsomely expensive Pirelli P-Zero tyres — especially developed for this car. With so much grip available cornering speeds are more dependent upon the driver’s bottle than the car itself.
With the traction control on the intermediate setting, you can feel the Aston’s fat rear tyres scrabbling to get a hold on the tarmac, emitting the occasional chirp or puff of smoke as you power around a tight bend. In extremis, the DBS tends towards mild understeer. It’s all very predictable, so it’s not that hard to flick the car’s tail out under heavy cornering — unless you’ve set the traction control on ‘nanny’ mode.
Disengage traction control completely and you’d better make sure that your brain doesn’t disengage at the same time — things start to happen very quickly as almost 600Nm of torque tries manfully to unstick the car’s rear tyres; definitely not a wise choice for public road driving.
We don’t often get the chance to drive a $500,000 supercar, and when the opportunity does arise, it’s one we relish. However, it was soon time to return our Lightning Silver DBS to its rightful owner — the following day, our test-car would be on its way back to Australia.
As we joined up with the usual traffic pouring into Auckland, the DBS continued to carry on comfortably. I couldn’t help but recall a city drive in a 1971 DBS V8 many years ago, and that car’s incredibly heavy clutch, truck-like ZF gearbox and less than reliable fuel injection. The classic DBS absolutely hated traffic, the current DBS simply took it in its stride.
If I had to pick a car to drive from Auckland to Wellington, I’d choose this DBS — it may not be a sports car in the same sense as my Elise but, as with Astons of the past, it is still the absolute embodiment of the true grand touring car.
However, is the DBS worth a whacking $140,000-plus premium over the very similar, grand touring DB9?
The addition of adaptive damping, awesome carbon ceramic brakes and a more aggressive, DBR9-like body may be desirable — but their addition doesn’t come cheap. Most reviews I’ve read of the DBS invariably come to the conclusion that the DBS isn’t worth the extra money over the DB9 — but as the price level of both these cars is firmly fixed in fantasy land for most of us, I think the question is largely irrelevant.
Those with the necessary readies to fund a DB9 probably wouldn’t be straining that hard to come up with the extra for the DBS. And what happens when you’re sitting in your DB9 at the traffic lights and a DBS roars up alongside you? Just imagine how inadequate you’d feel!
I can’t afford either — but if I could, the reflected glory of the racing DBR9 would sway me inevitably towards the DBS.
And if that isn’t sufficiently persuasive — well, if it’s good enough for 007…
Click through to the next page for vehicle specifications.
Words and photography Allan Walton
2008 Aston Martin DBS – Specifications
Engine: All-alloy V12
Valves: dohc @ bank, 48-valves
Fuel system: Fuel injected
Max power: 380kW at 6500rpm
Max torque: 570Nm at 5750rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Body: Bonded aluminium chassis, aluminium, magnesium alloy and carbon-fibre body
F: independent by double wishbones coil springs, anti-roll bar and adaptive dampers
R: independent by double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar and adaptive dampers
Adaptive Damping System (ADS)
Brakes: Ventilated carbon ceramic discs
Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with Track mode, ABS, EBD and EBA, traction control
Rack and pinion, Servotronic speed-sensitive PAS
F: 8.5×20-inch alloy, Pirelli P Zero 245/35
R: 11×20-inch alloy, Pirelli P Zero 295/30
Width: 2060mm (inc. mirrors)
0-100kph: 4.3 secs
Max speed: 307kph (191mph)
Economy: Who cares?
NZ price: $500,000-plus dependent upon options