“When I arrived at Aston Martin, we made Russian dolls,” admits Marek Reichman, the company’s design boss. You won’t find me arguing: until recently, average Joe would have had as much chance of telling which Aston is which as I have of naming each of the Kardashians. Incidentally, not long ago I thought a Kardashian was something from Star Trek.
Now though, Aston Martin has dramatically swung the other way. When ex-Nissan man Andy Palmer took the helm in 2014, he insisted this ‘cookie-cutter’ practice would come to an end, wanting so much distinction that even his then 75-year-old mother could walk into an Aston Martin showroom and point out which one is the DB, which one is the Vantage and which one is the Vanquish. Except it’s no longer the Vanquish: the car’s replacement is called DBS.
It’s the latest piece in Aston Martin’s reinvention puzzle, reviving a name last used in 2012 but with the word ’Superleggera’ slapped on the end. Why? Because Italian firm Touring Superleggera used to make the bodies for the DB4, 5 and 6, and because the new DBS is clad in lightweight carbon fibre panels.
And what dramatic looking parts they are. The DBS is muscular. It has presence. It’s daring. It’s maybe, just maybe a little too much in places, but I quite like that. Most importantly, it has its own visual distinction. Granted, in terms of styling it’s not as big a departure from the DB11 - the car that kicked off Aston’s rebirth - as the Vantage, but as another GT car, the link was always going to be a bit stronger. Regardless, I don’t think Mrs Palmer will have any trouble identifying it.
It sounds angrier on start-up than a DB11 too, with its V12 hooked up to a new quad-exhaust system. But as far as mechanical changes to the 5.2-litre lump go, there are none: all it needed was an ECU tweak to raise the output from 600bhp to a steely 715bhp. Peak torque meanwhile is 664lb ft (arriving at just 1800rpm), enough to necessitate the fitting of ZF’s sturdier HP 95 eight-speed automatic gearbox to prevent cogs being eaten for breakfast.
0-62mph takes 3.4 seconds, which doesn’t really tell the full story. Even a BMW M5 can do the benchmark sprint in that time, now, but an M5 doesn’t feel anything like as violent as this thing when it comes to in-gear acceleration. A better figure to go by is 50-100mph, something the DBS will do in 4.2 seconds in fourth gear. That’s a second quicker than the more powerful but less torquey Ferrari 812 Superfast manages, Aston is mighty keen to point out.
On the first full throttle application, you’ll be pinned back into the Superleggera’s sumptuous leather chairs with impressive force, unaware that the full rage of the V12 hasn’t yet been deployed. Why? Because turbo lag. There isn’t a huge amount of it, but just enough to make that 664lb ft boot up the arse all the more dramatic.
It can catch you off guard while you’re trying to choose the right amount of throttle for a corner exit, but it rarely matters, as there’s so much traction from those 305mm rear Pirelli P Zero boots. So long as its dry, you won’t often see the traction control light flickering. Switching to ESP Track meanwhile introduces a satisfying amount of rear-end movement while still giving you a decent safety net. Before we had a chance to turn everything off at the launch in Germany, it, unfortunately, started raining. And in the wet, the back wants to break loose at the slightest throttle application even with everything on, but that’s hardly surprising given the firepower on offer.
But the tremendous rear-end grip and traction isn’t the most striking thing about the way the DBS drives. Nope, that’d be how much more focused it feels than the old Vanquish. Even in its revised ’S’ form, it was really just a DB9 Plus, but its replacement is a very different beast indeed.
The weighty steering is incredibly aggressive off-centre even in the base GT mode, becoming incrementally sharper in Sport and Sport+. It’s borderline nervous, but crucially, it doesn’t write cheques the chassis can’t cash: the front-end is so damn good on this thing.
That V12 is a weighty bastard, tipping the scales at 100kg more than the 4.0-litre V8 Aston Martin borrows from Mercedes-AMG, but you’d never know it. It’s partly down to trick adaptive dampers, which vary the stiffness at each corner depending on how much steering angle you have on, which makes the turn-in crisper. On the subject of the suspension, body control is rarely anything less than stellar, although I suspect back on UK-spec roads (read: diabolical), you might want to turn the chassis ‘down’ to GT mode, which is still pretty taut anyway.
My only real bugbears about the way this thing drives are the brakes being tricky to modulate (the top bit of pedal travel doesn’t do much, and just below that proceedings take a grabby turn), and the eight-speed ‘box sometimes being reluctant on downshifts. But these are minor complaints.
I’m less inclined to be as forgiving about the interior. Yes, a lot of it is very, very nice - the quilted leatherwork is especially lovely - but the centre console is a mess of buttons, and a lot of the Mercedes-borrowed tech is taken from the previous-generation box of bits and isn’t brilliantly integrated. Just look at the awkward placing of the trackpad over the rotary controller, and you’ll see what I mean.
Most of the steering wheel-mounted buttons need a reasonable amount of force applied before anything happens, meaning that, to start with, you often find yourself pressing things twice. The last time I complained this much about the cabin of an expensive super GT was… when I drove the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso, actually, which shares quite a bit of its interior with the 812. In those cars, you overlook these - admittedly annoying - foibles because of the sensational machines they are underneath. And so it is with the DBS Superleggera.
Yes, it’s more savage than the old Vanquish, but somehow it’s actually better as a grand tourer. It has a duality to it that doesn’t make sense. It’s a juggling act that defies the laws of physics. It’s a GT that does a remarkable supercar impression. And if you don’t want one, I think there might be something wrong with you.