High above the town of Berchtesgaden, the Bavarian Alps survey lush valleys, rolling hills, and natural lakes. Upon one such peak, Hitler’s regime spent the equivalent of $150 million constructing an advanced base for social and government meetings. The same compound now serves beer, pastries, and some dark history to thousands of visitors each year. To the East, Rossfeld Panorama Strasse affords a 360-degree view of South Germany and the bordering Austria. Anywhere you look is a breathtaking scene, but today, visitors seem preoccupied with a British sports car.
Crimson paint, black wheels, and bulging fenders peek through the mob of onlookers. A bit of detective work pieces together scattered badges to reveal the model in question — Aston Martin’s DBS Superleggera. Successor to the venerated Vanquish, the DBS nameplate (introduced in 1967) once again adorns Aston’s flagship coupe. The second part of the Super Grand Tourer (GT)’s name is equally steeped in history. It was Touring of Milan that styled the iconic DB4 in 1958 and utilized its super light or “Superleggera” body construction methods.
The 2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera is antiquated only in name, however. Its striking sheet metal hides advanced aerodynamics, a torque-vectoring drivetrain, and a forced-induction powertrain to rival any contemporary supercar. The latest DBS ($308,081) faces off against Ferrari’s 812 Superfast ($315,000) and, less directly, McLaren’s 720S ($288,845) as an ultra-exclusive blend of power and comfort. Let’s see how it measures up.
Those shopping Super GTs for their interior technology are begging for disappointment. Ferrari may hold a slight edge with its FCA-derived interface, but the Superfast, DBS, and 720S all struggle to deliver convenience and cleverness with their infotainment systems. In the case of the DBS, we have Mercedes-Benz’s now-retired electronic architecture powering a fully digital driver display and 8.0-inch center screen. Highlights include a surround view camera system, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, navigation, and Wi-Fi. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are neither standard tools nor available extras.
Working through Aston’s non touch-responsive infotainment via the console-mounted controller is a mild chore, but manageable with a bit of practice. Haptic glass buttons on the center console and programmable shortcuts cut down on the guesswork somewhat. Adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and automated emergency braking must contradict the essence of a Super GT, because Aston doesn’t bother with such driver aids.
In truth, none of this matters much. The DBS Superleggera’s exquisite cabin simply overshadows each of its technological missteps. The essentials are here — a Bang & Olufsen surround sound system, keyless entry, heated and ventilated seats, and parking assist features — but more sophisticated goodies would only distract from the cabin’s grandeur.
The Vanquish S was cherished not just for its provocative form; its 6.0-liter naturally aspirated V12 pulsed the air with sweet song and rocketed the coupe forward with ease. Alas, the time of powertrain purity is over and even the illustrious DB line must solicit the help of forced induction to boost performance – efficiently.
Under the carbon fiber clamshell of the DBS Superleggera resides a reworked version of the DB11’s 5.2-liter twin-turbocharged V12. On tap is 715 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque — a bonkers 135 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque more than the outgoing Vanquish S and 85 more ponies than the hottest DB11. The bump in output is owed to an increase of peak boost (4.4 psi more than the DB11 AMR) and improved cooling. Aston also shortened the DB11’s final drive ratio to match the Vantage’s 2.93:1, giving the car more urgency.
Power is routed to the rear wheels via ZF’s latest eight-speed automatic transmission and a torque-vectoring differential. Pirelli P Zero tires (265-section fronts, 305-section rears) and a torque-limited first and second gear assure traction from a dig, ushering the 3,725-pound DBS to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. Though the Superleggera lags behind its rivals in initial acceleration, its mid-range pull is formidable and its top speed matches the 812 Superfast’s 211 mph. Should you find yourself nearing V-Max, you’ll also appreciate the flagship’s 400 pounds of combined downforce.
Numbers tell us the DBS Superleggera builds considerably on the Vanquish S’ performance, but how’s the sensory experience? We were a bit disappointed in the DB11 V12’s muted exhaust note and hoped for more from the ultimate Aston. That’s precisely what they’ve given us — more noise, more fury. The quad port exhaust is approximately 10 decibels louder than the DB11 and draws a richer tone from the engine. Inside the cabin, passengers perceive minimal road and wind noise, shifting focus to either the conversation or 12-cylinder sonnet.
Aston Martin’s flagship coupe borrows its bushing-damped front end from the Vantage and retains the isolated rear sub-frame from the DB11. The hybridized chassis allows fewer degrees of roll than the DB11 while maintaining the supple ride quality expected of a Grand Tourer. Tightly winding mountain roads put the DBS Superleggera’s dynamics on full display, revealing the stability and responsive steering expected of a much lighter sports car. As the route straightens, a heap of torque surges us into the next township.
Blistering performance and a sonorous exhaust note can be replicated, but exquisite design is the unmatched expression of an Aston. It’s a shame the DBS Superleggera must follow in the footsteps of the Vanquish S — the most beautiful car of the 21st century — because it’s really rather striking. A gaping black-mesh grille and jutting front lip spoiler exude power; curlicue air ducts extend like wings from black-finished 21-inch wheels; flared haunches emphasize the inward-tapering roofline; pencil-thin LED tail lamps connect above a chrome Aston Martin badge.
The DBS Superleggera’s physique is more muscular than both the DB11 and Vanquish, a letdown only by its slight forfeiture of effortless style. In lieu of a gaudy spoiler or chasmal air channels, the flagship integrates aerodynamics within its sculpted bodywork. A larger rear diffuser, broader wheel arch outlets, rocker panel air passageway, and carbon fiber lip spoiler improve upon the DB11’s aero features. To honor its namesake, the “Superlight” substitutes carbon fiber for certain aluminum components to shave a total of 154 pounds from the DB11 AMR body.
Inside, the DBS lavishes the DB11’s already luxurious cabin with unique trims and details. Every bit of leather found in the cabin is sourced from Scotland, where longhaired cattle produce perfect hides free of barbed-wire nicks or mosquito bites. Such quality liberates Aston Martin from coating the leather in plastic or other materials that would otherwise diminish the natural texture or smell. The same factory worker hand-sows each pair of seats to assure proportionate lines. Unique patterns on the Sport Plus seats and headliner dazzle as much as the coupe’s sultry exterior.
The DBS’ gauge cluster housing is particularly cool, with winglets that extend toward the driver to channel his or her attention. A hexagonal steering wheel (with a flat top and bottom) leads a pair of slender shifter paddles. Carbon fiber inserts for the console and door panels intertwine sporty expressions with the luxury overtones. To the lucky few taking delivery of a Superleggera this Fall, we recommend spending some quality time inspecting the cabin. Opulence such as this deserves careful appreciation.
The 700 horsepower club is growing all the time, but direct rivals to Aston Martin’s latest form a much smaller group. Chances are, if you’re shopping the DBS Superleggera, you’re also considering Ferrari’s 812 Superfast. These two “supers” offer unique approaches to the same requirements: long-haul comfort and enough power to smoke most anything encountered between points A and B. At a loftier starting figure, the Ferrari boasts more power (789 hp), less torque (530 lb-ft), and a quicker 0-60 time (2.9 seconds) than the Aston. While the Superfast is objectively the quicker car, it lacks the curb appeal and comfort of the Superleggera, putting it at a disadvantage in this class.
Automakers routinely re-write the book on performance luxury vehicles. Exquisiteness of craftsmanship, potency of powertrains, and breadth of dynamics improve with each new model. Some things never seem to change, however. Aston Martin continues to design some of the most elegant vehicles on the road, cars with vibrancy and allure. With enhancements across the board, the DBS Superleggera is a worthy successor to the Vanquish S and an attractive alternative to the Ferrari 812 Superfast. It’s not that we expected less of an Aston Martin, but now we can’t imagine more from a GT.