2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera is a gentleman’s GT with a dash of rum
Some might find it interesting that this most British of brands uses an Italian word like Superleggera (superlight) in the name of its car.
But the term, whatever the language, is appropriate given the carbon fibre and aluminium used in the body to keep down the weight of the DBS Superleggera, which succeeds the Vanquish S as Aston Martin's flagship grand tourer.
And in any case, the British firm doesn’t seem overly fussy about nationalistic purity given that the infotainment system and some of the cabin switchgear comes from Mercedes-Benz.
German collaboration aside, the DBS Superleggera has been suitably reskinned with an Aston Martin veneer inside its plush leather-and-suede cabin, including the trademark glass start-stop button.
This button awakens a V12 engine that is pure Aston Martin, unlike the brand’s V8 engines which are supplied by Mercedes-AMG.
The heart and soul of this car is a bespoke 5.2l twin-turbo that’s positioned as low and as far back in the bay as possible in order to optimise the centre of gravity and weight distribution.
Torque vectoring and a mechanical limited slip differential harness the power in the rear-wheel drive car through a rear-mounted eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. This is a grand tourer, but opting for rear wheel drive rather than taming the power with all-wheel drive makes it a very playful one.
The vehicle also features the same innovative Aeroblade aerodynamics first seen on the Aston Martin DB11, which works in concert with an F1-inspired double diffuser to generate 180kg of downforce at the vehicle’s 340km/h top speed.
With 533kW of thrust and 900Nm of torque (from just 1,800rpm!) going to the rear wheels, in the first two gears the engine output is muzzled to 75% to keep things sane, and it’s just as well.
Even with this leash the rear-wheel drive DBS starts to twitch sideways under full power when you let rip from a standing start, and the ESP light blinking in the display shows how hard the car is working to prevent the road being painted in expensive strips of rubber.
From third gear onwards, all the horses are on call and the shove is nothing short of explosive. Thrust the throttle in third and there’s another twitch as the turbo V12 vents its enthusiasm and sets the ESP light a blinking again.
The power certainly has a way of announcing itself, making this a very playful GT, especially when in its Sport and Sport Plus modes which set the throttle and transmission responses into angrier modes. Another button on the steering allows you to set the adaptive damping to one of three firmness settings.
The quartet of exhausts adopt a more vocal timbre in the sportier modes too, although it never gets completely primal in its war cry. It’s more of a gentlemanly “Tally ho! Shall we have a cup of tea, then?” With a dash of rum.
In standard mode the DBS is a pleasantly civilised car in normal driving, a smooth operator that, save for having to be extra careful over speedhumps due to its low ground clearance, makes a fairly happy commuter.
As for practicality, the boot isn’t a bad size for a sports car. Officially there are back seats but this is no family mobile, as even toddlers might complain about the lack of rear leg room. Better to use the rear seats for briefcases or other oddments.
Set loose on the open road, the DBS demolishes the 0-100km/h sprint in just 3.4 seconds and, perhaps more impressively sweeps from 80-160km/h in only 4.2 seconds. Whipping past long trucks is a quick, effortless formality.
The DBS isn’t a compact sports car but the Superleggera part of the equation makes it feel nimbler and more playful than the average grand tourer. It’s a very composed car in fast, long sweeps, but you always need to watch yourself on the exits of tight corner, where an overzealous throttle gets the tail wanting to wag. The stability control is very welcome in this instance, and it intervenes in a smooth, not annoyingly nannying way.
It’s a gentleman’s GT with a very playful streak indeed.
* The Aston Martin DBS Superleggera is priced at R5.8m and is available from Daytona.