Automotive Review: Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante

This soft-top superlative of the DB11 packs some serious heat

By George Kuruvilla

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Published: Thu 31 Aug 2023, 6:21 PM

While we debate who’s taking on the role of the next 007 in the forthcoming James Bond movies, there is little doubt as to which car the world’s most famous secret agent will be driving. It will surely be an Aston Martin. This marque, by association and its own credit, has become synonymous with style, speed, and sophistication.

But the world has moved on since the last time we drove an Aston and many things are demanded of vehicles these days, even sportscars. They must be digitally equipped and connected, must share a context with environmentalism, and be practical too. So, keeping this perspective, we explore how the million-dirham Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante, stacks up against its equals, besides being the best excuse to sport a tuxedo and play the gentleman.


Design & aesthetics

For those familiar with the automaker out of Gaydon, think of the DBS as a DB11 on steroids. For others, think of it as a muscular sportscar with typical grand tourer qualities like a sharp nose to cut through the wind, a long bonnet to house the front-mid engine, and rear-wheel drive, all of which culminate in bodywork that has the capacity to turn light particles into messengers of joy. And between the cascading lines are strategically placed cuts and creases that give it purposeful aerodynamics, like the hood vents, side strakes, etc. The fuselage finally tapers at the rear with strips of LEDs placed high over the blacked-out quad exhausts.

The ‘Superleggera’ Italian middle name indicates a weight reduction, courtesy of the extensive use of carbon fibre. But with a total weight of 1,863 kg (170kg over the coupe), it isn’t super light. Perhaps, the term ‘Superveloce’ was a better fit.


As for ‘Volante’, that is Aston speak for a convertible top, which here is an 8-layer retractable awning that turns this cosy cocoon to one with a sun-lit (or star-lit) ceiling in 14 seconds; or 16 seconds for the reverse. And unlike cabriolets of yesteryears, it takes away nothing from its coupe-like silhouette. If there is a gripe, it is the multi-spoke 21-inch wheels. They aren’t congruous with the bodywork.

The DBS is a work of art that kids would love to posterise. It also doubles as a mode of transportation for adults that is pageantry worthy. With the large sums you pay for it, rest assured that you will be both noticed and remembered as well.

The fancy concealed door handles are flush with the body, which helps reduce drag. The door opens, cleverly swinging slightly upwards to avoid curb contact, to reveal a well-executed cockpit. But with a ground clearance of just 90mm, it’s low-slung even for a hypercar.

The seats are two parts sporty, one part comfy, and all parts beautiful. They wrap around you and are ostentatiously styled. Must have taken hours for the leathersmiths to craft the panelling and complex myriad of stitches!

And while your backs get comfortable, your eyes and hand gravitate towards the switch gear and eccentricities within the cabin. After all rich folk pay to have things rare and different. The hexagonal-like steering wheel isn’t my favourite shape, but it’s unique, doesn’t block your line of sight, and its leather wrappings are soft. The digital instrument cluster is trifurcated, its markings are legible and open to customisation. The centre console, which seems to emerge out of layers of leather, houses the last gen Mercedes-Benz-sourced infotainment system. Its tiny 8.0-inch LCD has uninteresting graphics, but its menus can be controlled via a rotary control knob that works half decently to be fair (and even allows handwritten instructions and swiping). But in this digital age, it’s a bit like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Also, on the centre console sits individual transmission buttons as is the modern-day Aston tradition, and finicky touch buttons for the A/C.

Adding to the richness of the interior is the marbling effect of ‘Tamo Ash Dyed Open Pore’ wood trims and an electric sliding cover for the central cubby. However, there is a shortcoming in storage and seating capacity as well. Aston calls it a 2+2 but try getting two adults in the back comfortably!

Powertrain & performance

Under the clamshell bonnet, sits a twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12 pilfered from the DB11 uprated to produce a mind-bending output of 725 PS and 900 Nm of max. torque. Those numbers sound like they are either going to send something flying or break something very quickly! Luckily the mechanicals are tried and tested, and the massive torque is sent via a tougher-than-steel carbon-fibre propeller shaft. The result is a loudmouth motor that loves revs and promises speed.

Driving through the city, its size becomes apparent. At 4,715mm, it’s as long as a mid-size saloon, and at 2,145 mm, it’s about as wide as a truck. And do keep in mind that the hood is long, the pillars thick and the rear window constricting, so visibility isn’t ideal either. But somehow driving at slow speeds in the city and in short spaces like basements is made easy thanks to the power-assisted steering. Dropping the top improves things significantly.

But the fun begins when you gather the courage to stomp the gas pedal and let loose those 700-something horses, as we did to find out that it will do blistering 0 to 100 km/h runs, as quick as 3.6 seconds Aston claims. Yes, silent EVs and traction-rich 4WD vehicles of this price bracket can achieve sub-3 second sprints, but the DBS brings the noise and the drama that only a V12 RWD vehicle can achieve. This thing will frighten you from the dig. And in the real world, these sprints are over before they begin and these fractions matter less. Furthermore, the wave of torque keeps pushing you beyond the 160 km/h mark in 6.7 seconds and onwards to an incredible 340 km/h top speed, even with the top down.

To keep their celebrity or socialite clientele out of the obituary pages, they’ve uprated the brakes. The 410mm dia. rotors upfront and 360mm rear rotors manage precise braking, without being grabby.

And between the frame and wheels is a well-calibrated suspension — an independent double wishbone design upfront and a multi-link setup in the rear. The Adaptive Damping System also allows you to adjust cushioning on the fly through the driving modes, i.e., GT, Sport, and Sport+. You can choose to keep the chassis/ride compliant for everyday driving or responsive to help meet the apexes of the mountain twisties. In fact, it handles with such finesse, it’s hard to break the traction offered by the massively wide tyres unintentionally. And thankfully the technologies like dynamic torque vectoring, engage without negating the driving experience. The transmission, however, can bog down occasionally. The trick is to tug those big paddles manually.

The big V12 only manages an economy of around 14 l/100km even with the help of the stop/start system, while CO2 emissions are rated at 302 g/km. But considering the miles that Astons are driven on average, it isn’t a cause for concern even for Ms Thunberg.

Features & practicality

The usual concern with convertibles, besides cabin insulation, is turbulence. But luckily the manual wind deflector is an easy fix for keeping your hair in place and conversations audible. The other concern is baggage allowance, but the DBS’ boot easily accommodates a carry-on stroller and backpack. However, be mindful of what you carry.

From a technological perspective, hooking up one’s phone to the infotainment is quick, after which one can use Bluetooth to stream music through the thumping Bang & Olufsen audio system. As for the A/C, cooling is adequate, and the ventilated seats do come in handy.

Safety-wise, it comes equipped with rear seat ISOFIX points for child seats and with necessities like Blind Spot Detection, cruise control, park assist, and TPMS. But since the driver’s visibility isn’t the best and the rear camera has a low resolution, I’d avoid handing the keys to the valet. There is also a discreet, ‘quiet start’ feature that offers a muffled alternative to the rousing flare of revs.

Verdict

There are 725 reasons to get an Aston Martin DBS. It is essentially an aero-optimised cruise missile with seats that will blow past large sections of tarmac at an exceptional pace if the turbocharged V12 is let loose. But like most Astons, this isn’t just about speed. It has been styled with a verve that will tug at your heart’s strings, a feeling that is only amplified by the reverberations of the grunting, growling exhaust note, which is a symphony of sounds that can be orchestrated by your right foot.

The soft top gives you that much-desired visibility the rich club demands and an opportunity to enjoy the breeze, come winter. The dashboard design though has aged, the Merc-sourced infotainment is past its prime, the transmission is indecisive in auto, and it lacks a front-end lift mechanism, so you risk scratching its chin. But all is forgiven once you get behind the wheel of the DBS.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com



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