Be James Bond at 191 mph With a 510-hp V12 under the hood, the landscape tends to blur a bit. By Alistair Weaver, Contributor Date posted: 10-18-2007 510-hp 5.9-liter V12 - Six-speed manual transmission - Carbon-fiber body panels - 191-mph top speed Low, sleek and yet self-consciously aggressive, the 2008 Aston Martin DBS is the ultimate expression of the contemporary Aston Martin. With the farewell to the hand-built Vanquish last summer, the DBS has become the corporate face of a newly independent Aston Martin. Sold earlier this year by its former parent Ford to an investment group fronted by David Richards, the chief executive of Prodrive, Aston Martin will now have to make its own way in a world where Audi, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and a clutch of small independent companies are all fighting for the attention of the new group of millionaires across the globe. The 2008 Aston Martin DBS is the car that Aston CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez describes as "thunder and lightning." Aston Martin must achieve the prestige of Ferrari to survive as an influential manufacturer of sports cars, and that means the DBS must measure up against the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano. A Surprising Start The DBS is unquestionably a dramatic piece, but has some of the DB9's elegance been lost? For the DBS, Aston Martin presents you with a plastic controller topped with a crystal, described as an ECU — Emotion Control Unit. (Well, it'll be stainless steel and a sapphire if you actually pay the $265,000.) It slots into the center of the starter button, which then glows warmly red as the 5,935cc V12 comes to life. This is the same Ford-designed engine featured in the DB9, still assembled by hand in Cologne, Germany. It's been slightly revised for the DBS, and the changes include a taller 10.9:1 compression ratio and a bypass valve in the intake track that opens at 5,500 rpm to admit more air into the engine at peak rpm. The upshot of this is a 60-horsepower hike in power from the DB9's 450-hp calibration to 510 hp at 6,500 rpm. The torque output remains unchanged at 420 pound-feet, available at 5,750 rpm. The deep, rich tone from the V12 engine is instantly familiar, now a signature of Aston Martin. Reach out for the shift lever of the six-speed manual transmission (an automated sequential manual will be available later), and slot into 1st gear. The shift action is heavy, as you would expect from a rear-mounted transaxle required to process so much power, yet it's precise and manageable, while the clutch action is light and linear. The DBS might be powerful, but it's not intimidating. This is a surprise. Since the DBS's first appearance in Casino Royale, the 2006 James Bond film, and then its official unveiling at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance, Dr. Bez has been telling anyone who'll listen that the DBS would be a raw-edged road racer. But you'd never believe it after driving this car, as the use of an active suspension with five-way electronically adjustable dampers delivers a low-speed ride that's dramatically better than that of a DB9. Aston's engineers also quietly admit that they've learned a lot about filtering out unwanted road noise in the marque's all-aluminum chassis, so it's no wonder the DBS improves so much on the DB9. Delving Deeper The old-fashioned key has been replaced with this crystal ECU — Emotion Control Unit. Aston has indulged in some weight-conscious engineering for the DBS. The trunk lid, hood and front fenders are now made from carbon fiber, helping the DBS shave some 176 pounds from the bonded all-aluminum body structure it shares with the DB9, so now it weighs 3,737 pounds. A shorter final-drive ratio of 3.71:1 also accentuates the feeling of speed built into the DBS. If you look at the raw performance numbers recorded by Aston Martin, the DBS falls a long way short of the Ferrari 599. Whereas the DBS cracks 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.3 seconds on the way to a top speed of 191 mph, the 611-hp Ferrari manages 3.7 seconds to the same benchmark and a top speed of 205 mph. But this is rather like saying that one Bond girl is marginally prettier than another. In the real world, the DBS feels hugely rapid. Helped by all that torque, the Aston pulls cleanly from very low rpm — 30 mph in 6th gear is no problem — before the revs build with a crescendo of increasing ferocity, making a subtle change in pitch as the bypass intake performs its trick at 5,500 rpm. The rush of power is so smooth and so linear that it's easy to find yourself hitting the rev limiter at 6,800 rpm. Aston collaborated with Brembo to develop a brake system with ceramic rotors for the DBS. The front rotors measure 15.7 inches and have six-pot calipers, and the 14.2-inch rear rotors use four-pot calipers. The use of the lightweight rotors reduces weight by 26.5 pounds, and they work exceptionally well, providing strong, consistent performance with a pleasing amount of feel. Getting the Bends The 5.9-liter V12 is shared with the DB9 but has been tuned to deliver 510 horsepower. The DBS achieves that neat trick of feeling smaller and nimbler the harder you push it. The steering is much better than a DB9's. It's lighter, more precise and more communicative, allowing you to place the car with greater confidence. Our only criticism is a rattle through the steering column that afflicted all the test cars we tried. The electronic damper system is controlled by a switch on the center console and offers both Normal and Track modes. The car will then automatically select an appropriate setting from within these parameters. As a result, the DBS can combine a supple low-speed ride with aggressive damping on smooth high-speed surfaces. It works well, but the settings sometimes feel too different, so you end up fidgeting between a setup that's marginally too soft and one that's uncomfortably firm. Might an interim Sport setting solve this problem? This criticism, though, should not be overstated. The DBS deserves its place in the supercar club. The Aesthetics Given the right circumstances, 191 mph is within reach. In many ways, the DBS's appearance is proving its most controversial aspect. According to Marek Reichmann, the car's designer, "The DBS is the evolution of the DB9 into a true performance car. It's like taking an athlete who's already good at what they do and sticking them in the gym for even longer, getting them really toned. It's about conveying the passion of power." To convey this passion, Reichmann has lowered and widened the DB9's silhouette and added all manner of swoops, scoops and slashes, including a large rear aero diffuser. Most, no doubt, have an aerodynamic benefit and they give the car a more aggressive attitude, but the overall effect has — whisper it — a whiff of the aftermarket. You can't help thinking this is how an upmarket tuner might have reinterpreted the DB9. For a company that has stated its desire to make art cars with an understated elegance, the DBS is a surprising volte-face. Within the cabin, the swooping curves of the fascia are instantly familiar from the V8 Vantage and DB9, but the switchgear on the center console is new. Simple rotary knobs, silver buttons and a joystick replace the chaotic control ergonomics of the DB9, although the multifarious buttons still require some acclimatization before you know what they're about. In Europe, customers are offered handsome and immensely comfortable sport seats made from carbon fiber that weigh 10 pounds less than the standard items. But they can't accommodate an occupant sensor and therefore fall afoul of U.S. airbag regulations. Instead, North America must make do with the standard chairs, which are bulky enough to consume precious cabin space, especially for tall drivers. The DBS is designed strictly for two, with the cubbies behind the front seats supplementing the useful trunk. If you want to increase the car's practicality further, you can even order a bespoke saddle that straddles the transmission tunnel and houses all manner of modern detritus. Nice. Up to the Challenge? The basic cabin architecture is shared with the DB9 and V8 Vantage, but the center console has been revised. About a thousand or so people have preordered the $265,000 2008 Aston Martin DBS, so it's already a success, a measure of the dramatic increase in sales the company has experienced over the last few years. The DBS is also the best car that Aston Martin makes (alongside the V8 Vantage, of course): intriguing, capable and charismatic. This augurs well for the company's future. But the question lies in just how far the present Aston Martin formula can take the company in its bid for ongoing desirability against companies like Ferrari. The 2008 Aston Martin DBS is some kind of high-water mark in the company's fortunes so far, yet we'll all be watching to see if the company can continue its remarkable resurgence without the financial support of Ford. The DBS has lots of visual drama, but it might seem a little overheated. First Impressions: Charismatic and capable, the DBS is both faster and more refined than a DB9.