We take the famously powerful muscle car for a thrilling spin
We put the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera through its paces in rural Germany
A rumbling growl permeates the serene German countryside of Berschtegarden. There’s a constant crackling hum and buzzing along the usually quiet roads. An explosive roar of power accompanies the occasional rip of 12 cylinders.
The peaceful locals here, used to an easy pace of life in an agricultural outpost deep in the Bavarian Alps between Germany and Austria, stop what they’re doing. They stare. They point. And they exult in wonder. Interrupted by the noise they put down their tools, clonk unfinished steins onto roadside bench tops and peer inquisitively from behind floral-strewn windows.
For the two days I’m driving through rural Germany, this is the effect the 2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera has on everyone seeing it for the first time. Awe and wonder follow the 10-strong convoy sweeping through the deep vales of the countryside. And you can expect that reaction to continue long after it’s released towards the end of this year.
Imagine, then, how it feels to be behind the wheel of Aston’s newest supercar, in control of the V12 supercar that turns heads like few others.
The engineering is sublime. Handling is a dream. Design cues are worth marvelling over time and again. And driving the Superleggera is one of the greatest thrills you can sober.
Aside from the immediate impression of the look and feel of the car, this is far from just another competitor in the supercar market. The DBS Superleggera symbolises a comeback and a new era for the marque always part of the automotive lifestyle zeitgeist because of its inextricable links with that most-famous fictional British spy.
It’s no secret that the Aston Martin brand underwent something of a gloomy phase in the late-1990s to early-2000s under Ford ownership. In the early-’90s Aston Martin was making just 50 cars a year.
Under Ford, production jumped drastically to 7,000 vehicles annually, and the once-beloved bespoke Aston Martin quality became more like cookie-cutter cars, in true roll-’em-out Ford-production style. The process led to a confused client base that began to feel that all Astons looked the same.
Since a British-Kuwaiti consortium of owners acquired the marque in 2007, it’s been a long road back to reclaiming its identity. Andy Palmer took the reins in 2014, and the 55-year-old CEO has affected something of a revolution in Gaydon, Warwickshire.
Within Aston Martin circles, one of Palmer’s refrains has become famous and is regularly espoused by anyone associated with the marque as an example of where Palmer wants to take the once-revered British manufacturer: “I want my blind grandmother to be able to tell the difference between our cars just by looking at them.”
Hyperbolic rhetoric and pedantry aside, the point was clear: no more cookie-cutter cars, no more bland sports vehicles.
It’s no wonder, then, that the muscular lines and standout design of the Superleggera are so poignant. From the gloomy tunnels of the generic-looking DB models rolled out during the Ford-era, with parts from lesser brands adorning the vehicles inside and out, Aston Martin has emerged brighter, bolder and more distinctive than before.
“The deconstruction of the DB9 to the DB11 was very much a deconstruction of where we were as a company, and where we were with our design language,” Julian Nunn, lead exterior designer at Aston Martin, tells Debonair at the Superleggera launch in Germany.
“We’ve effectively cut the car in two by creating a separate cabin, made it more tuneable and more accessible. And our design language now is a lot tauter and a lot straighter. We’ve created something that’s much like a bespoke fitted suit.
“Now, with the Superleggera we’ve kept that elegance, but this has allowed us to be much more aggressive in our design and we’ve got the muscular surfaces back that everyone loved in the original DB5s and 6s.
“And although this is a very feminine chassis, it allows us to be more muscular on the front end,” he says pointing to the sumptuous lines of a parked Superleggera, its red carbon fibre gloss glimmering and refracting the midday sun.
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Much of Aston’s concept cars filter through into the Superleggera’s design. The powerful nostrils echo the Vulcan. Elements here and there are throwbacks to the Valkyrie. The big mouth with its carbon front splitter and the sidestrokes that suck the air out of the wheel arch are all part of an aggressive, racy aesthetic Aston is consciously putting together.
It’s also one Aston’s widest cars at 2,146mm — 20mm wider than the DB11. And the haunches that jut out of the extruded aluminium body evoke a speedy Red Arrow zooming through the ether.
But much of the car’s beauty stems from the golden ratio: one-third to two-thirds, which is present everywhere. The front end is one-third to the cabin’s two thirds. The horizon line also splits the car: two-thirds at the bottom, one-third above. The front is emphasised with its large surface area that moves gradually upwards, providing a high point that then falls gently away — effectively moving the eye along the car in the same way a symphony scales up for its crescendo and down for its diminuendo.
All of which harmonises into producing something that feels like you’re always pushing forwards, the power of the car at the front, imploring the driver to keep going in that direction.
But it’s not solely aesthetics that make you feel like you’re being pushed forwards, of course. The impressive V12 5.2-litre bi-turbo engine also has something to do with the racy aggression of the car. The option between GT, Sports and Sports+ mode is the sort of detail on a supercar that’s not just bell and whistle — it’s essential to the car’s performance. The hum, crackle and growl that pervade the landscape as we drive along mountainous roads finds its origin in the Sports+ mode.
In GT mode, the dash wears a calm black-and-grey digital display. Flick it into Sports, and the speedo flashes red accent while the engine gets noticeably angrier behind you. But it becomes an animal in Sports+ mode — the dash transforms into an all-over red devil. Dials and details all wear an angry red, spurring you on to overtake anyone ahead of you. Four, five, six vehicles — no problem. By the time you’ve considered whether overtaking is an option, you’ve done it. And in the time you read that last sentence the Superleggera has gone from 80km/h to 180km/h. But with a top speed of 339km/h, this is just the car having a little bit of fun.
The acceleration is visceral and thrilling. As well as being thrown back in your seat as you press the throttle, you can feel each and every sinew of this muscular vehicle tensing, working in harmony to devour the road. You might feel slightly obnoxious as the engine begins to roar, but then you remember you’re in an Aston, and the noise and speed seem just fine. So you push harder, faster, further and revel in every split second of feeling that power pushing you on.
Aside from the stunning natural scenery of the undulating Berchtesgaden plains and the jagged mountainous backdrop where it feels like Julie Andrews will appear at any time to tell you the hills are alive, this is the perfect spot to put the Superleggera through its paces — occasional open straights are heavily interlaced and linked with many a winding road, which give the Aston team a chance to really showcase the supreme handling of their latest creation. Equipped with noise-cancelling foam in the 21” Pirelli P Zero tyres, this car’s electric power assisted steering rack almost pulls you into the apex of each turn before releasing you to accelerate away.
There are two sides to the Superleggera. By day, as you calmly navigate the curves and bends of the winding roads, it’s the refined gentleman. But when the sun goes down, the sky darkens, the snarling panther-esque LED lights glare out and the red mist descends on the dash, it’s the Superleggera’s alter ego’s turn to take control. If only there were a fitting superhero analogy to compare it to.
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