Road Test: 2009 Aston Martin DBS
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2012.
By Calvin Kim of Road & Track
When you think of Aston Martin, what immediately comes to mind? Is it British design and engineering, superior craftsmanship and materials? Or maybe it's sports-car racing heritage and grand touring at their finest? Thanks to a long history, we know now that all Astons possess these attributes to a certain degree. But what about the new flagship road car, the DBS?
To answer that question, we need to know a little bit about the Aston Martin lineup. At the bottom is the V8 Vantage, then the DB9 and finally the DBS. Their differences lie in engine and size, but they are all fantastically competent real-world machines. Track days, commuting, touring, a night out on the town — they take it in stride. All three offer an ear-tingling exhaust note, responsive chassis feedback and a unique and sumptuous interior, each clothed in a body shape that's instantly recognizable. The DB9 even has rear seats!
"But a true sports car shouldn't have rear seats," you might interject. To a large degree, we'd agree with you. The DBR9 and DBRS9, the racing versions of the DB9 that won the GT1 class at Le Mans and other sports-car races, have no rear seats.
Therefore, the DBS.
Equipped with a 6.0-liter V-12 engine, the DBS produces 510 bhp at 6500 rpm. That's 40 more horsepower than the vaunted DB9, which is also V-12-powered. Interestingly, Aston notes the DBS actually produces less torque than the DB9; 420 lb.-ft. at 5750 rpm versus 443. Two tricks are used to increase power output: dual-path intake runners and reprofiled intake ports. When the engine screams to 5500 rpm, a secondary intake path opens up, allowing more air into the engine without sacrificing throttle crispness and torque at lower rpm. At full throttle, a bypass valve in the exhaust directs the spent gases to a different, less restrictive exit.
Like all Aston powerplants, the engine is built by hand in Cologne, Germany, and delivered to the factory in Gaydon, England. So good is the basic engine, in fact, that a modified version is what powers the DBR9 and DBRS9 race cars.
As befits a true sports car, the power from the all-aluminum engine is sent to the rear wheels through a manual transmission, but this one is mounted out back, right in front of the rear axle. This affords two benefits: more leg space for the driver and passenger and better weight distribution. With the transmission not in the middle of the chassis, the engine can be pushed back. Aston Martin considers the DBS a "mid-front engine" design, meaning the engine lies in front of the occupants, but behind the front axle.
A large, almost ungainly, metal shift knob operates the 6-speed gearbox. It looks somewhat unbalanced in the otherwise purposeful cabin, but serves to let everyone know that the driver is in charge of controlling the engine-to-wheel speed ratio in this vehicle, thank-you-very-much. In fact, this knob controls a transmission that shifts very easily and positively, with short and light throws. The clutch, though, was a bit vague in letting drivers know where the engagement range was.
Speaking of light, the chassis is made of multiple pieces of cast, extruded and pressed aluminum that are bonded together to form a lightweight and rigid structure, which is swathed in copious amounts of carbon fiber and aluminum. Carbon fiber is used liberally throughout the car, for both function and style. The driveshaft, door handles, front fascia, hood, door surrounds, diffuser, trunklid and trunk enclosure are all made of carbon fiber, while the rest of the bodyshell is aluminum. All told, it equals a car that weighs 3480 lb., giving it a very favorable power-to-weight ratio.
Keeping this high-tech chassis and body firmly planted to the road is a double-wishbone suspension setup at both ends. The suspension is tuned to provide anti-squat and anti-lift properties at the rear of the car and anti-dive at the front. This is all done via suspension geometry and is totally passive. The shock absorbers, on the other hand, are active. Called Adaptive Damping System (ADS), a computer takes numerous readings from throughout the car — such as throttle position, yaw, steering angle and speed — and adjusts the dampers to one of five settings. Normally this is all done automatically; ADS will dial in more or less stiffness without any driver intervention. Except for one condition: Press the button bearing a damper icon (at the bottom of the center stack), and ADS sets the dampers to track mode (maximum stiffness).
It would be pointless to have the suspension set to a mode optimized for aggressive track driving without the traction and stability control systems loosening the reins a bit. So the Dynamic Stability Control obliges by offering three modes; Regular, with DSC on; Track-mode with the limits of yaw and slip raised; and DSC off, leaving the driver in full control. While all of this slipping and sliding may sound like fun, keep in mind there are four, 20-in. Pirelli P Zero tires working to keep the car tracking true.
Braking is accomplished by enormous 15.7-in. carbon-ceramic matrix (CCM) rotors bound by 6-piston monobloc calipers up front and 14.2-in. CCM rotors bound by 4-piston calipers out back. Carbon-ceramic braking systems last longer, are fade resistant and weigh much less than cast-iron rotors and calipers. Aston Martin notes that the CCM package saves a little over 27 lb. of unsprung weight per corner.
All of this technology and mechanical sophistication is great, and we're happy to report that everything works perfectly. We took our test car on various tracks and roads and were impressed with how well the DBS performed no matter the situation. Solid steering feel and great brakes combined with a linear powerband gave all drivers great confidence. The ADS worked seamlessly. Ergonomically, the window switches are awkward to use and the parking brake lever, fuel-door release and seat adjuster switches aren't where you'd normally think to look. But we're not complaining. We call these things "character."
The pièce de résistance, though, would have to be the key. Instead of a simple wireless transponder, the key itself becomes part of the push-to-start button. There's even an electric traction motor to help guide it in and out! Putting the key into the slot, having the thing light up red, pushing the button and listening to the V-12 fire to life is a sublime ritual.
Then again, the whole car is a sublime ritual. There isn't enough space to describe the flowing lines of the body, so pictures will have to suffice. The integration of the various scoops, ridges and angles to cool various bits of the car as well as direct air for downforce is not only functional, but extremely pleasing to the eye. From the inset door pulls to the counterrotating speedo and tach needles, Aston Martin has relied on history, a sense of style and passion to give the DBS that extra special something to set it apart from other supercars. Technology and engineering — active damping, carbon-ceramic brakes and choice materials and execution — help to further make the storied marque relevant and desirable.