The DBS's tail can pitch at speed
Aston's latest supercar has glamour in spades – and it's not just a pretty face, says John Simister

Specifications

Price: £160,600

Engine: 5,935cc, V12 cylinders, 48 valves, 510bhp at 6,500rpm, 420lb ft at 5,750rpm

Transmission: six-speed, rear-mounted gearbox, rear-wheel drive

Performance: top speed 191mph, 0-62mph in 4.3sec

CO2: not yet quoted

In the end, I liked the Aston Martin Vanquish. The last car to emerge from the old Newport Pagnell factory had the rough edges smoothed over, and its slightly mad character was the more beguiling for it. Now, it has gone, and all new Aston Martins emerge from the hi-tech factory at Gaydon in greater numbers than ever before.

That's good, in many ways; Aston Martin has become the British-built bridge between the parts of the carscape occupied by Ferrari and by Porsche. But shouldn't there be another hard-edged supercar to assume the Vanquish's late-developing mantle?

Aston Martin says the DBS is not a Vanquish replacement. But it might just as well be. The DBS has an entirely different focus from the DB9, one of hard, dynamic edges, an engine that shouts for attention, a conglomeration of exotic materials from the racing world. James Bond drove a DBS (or an early facsimile of it) in Casino Royale, so it is not just the fastest Aston Martin road car ever – it's also one of the most glamorous.

The cynics would say the DBS is just a DB9 with a rather brash bodykit and some go-faster parts, but that would fail to justify a price of £160,000. Part of the original cynicism arose from the colour of the first DBS seen in public, a mercury-like silver that made the sculpting of the front valance and sills, and the air vents in the bonnet, look exaggerated and cheap. There was a metallic black DBS at the back of Aston Martin's stand in Frankfurt, though, and it looked a lot better.

And now I'm standing by an example in Almond Green, the colour worn by Aston Martin's racing cars for the last half-century. The 20in wheels are in dark metallic grey and the whole ensemble looks mean, menacing and magnificent. There's naked carbonfibre not only for the mirror struts and the rear aerodynamic diffuser, but also for the bonnet, front wings, boot lid, boot enclosure and door surrounds.

Those new wings are wider than the DB9's, to accommodate a wider wheel track. The body sits lower on the wheels, whose movements are controlled by new Bilstein adaptive dampers with five settings within two ranges, a soft(ish) one and a firm one. Carbon-ceramic brakes by Brembo make an appearance for the first time on a road-going Aston.

Inside, it's DB9 yet it isn't. There's no wood. The rear seats, always cramped, are seats no longer; the belts have gone, as have the cushions. Specially shaped luggage will be available soon.

The front seats are snug and shapely as standard, or firm, grippy and enveloping if you have the no-cost-option semi-racing seats. Shiny aluminium knobs and switches on a gloss-black console further set the DBS apart from the DB9.

And what's this? I'm holding a lump of glass and aluminium with various bits of electronickery inside. This, I learnt from the brochure, is called the Emotion Control Unit. I nearly choked on my afternoon tea.

The ECU replaces the usual glass starter button. Push it in and it glows red. Press further and a barrage of sound erupts as 510bhp prepares to make itself available. That's 60bhp more than the DB9 manages from the same 5.9-litre V12.

And joy! There's a proper six-speed manual gearbox with a solid aluminium knob. Off we go, dampers in soft mode, and it's all feeling a bit fidgety. Speed up, and sometimes the steering column shakes and even the dampers can't mask the shallowness of the Pirelli P Zero tyres' sidewalls.

Here's a stretch of open road: third gear, foot down... yes, that brings things more into focus. This engine is magnificent; it pulls with insistence from low speeds, with utter single-mindedness as the rev-counter approaches the limit. And yes, it sounds rather like those racing DBR9s. This is the sort of car in which you go out of your way to find a tunnel, so you can aurally let rip. And if people mind, then their Emotional Control Units need recalibration.

But I still feel daunted by the size, made worse by a slight rubberiness to the steering around the straight-ahead. I don't remember such a problem in Ferrari's hefty 599.

Next day, I meet the DBS again. Driven more assertively, it loses that uncertainty and shrinks a bit, and now I'm on a fine series of twists and the whole car has come alive. Never mind that it will reach 191mph given the chance; I'm more engaged by the way clutch, gearchange, brakes, accelerator and steering all blend together in a way they did not in the manual DB9.

Into a corner, feel the front wheels follow invisible slots like a slot-racer, feel the steering stay firm once loaded-up. Power through to the exit, feel the rear wheels just starting to edge out as I straighten. It's terrific, and far wieldier than I ever imagined it could be.

But there is a snag, and I don't mean the fuel thirst. Those dampers aren't quite right. In the softer mode, the tail can pitch at speed and set up a corkscrewing motion in a fast corner. Switch to firm, and the ride gets so jittery on poor roads that you fear for your spine.

Somewhere between these extremes lies a compromise for this otherwise wonderfully uncompromised car. Over to you, Aston engineers.

The rivals

Ferrari 430 Scuderia: £172,500

Has 510bhp from 4.3-litre, V8 engine; the fastest-ever roadgoing Ferrari. Awesome grip and gearshift speed.

Ferrari 599 Fiorano: £179,902

This mirrors DBS with a front-mounted V12, producing 611bhp from 5.0 litres. Is a little too wide, but still fabulous.

L'ghini Gallardo Superleggera: £150,990

Another lightweight derivative, this has a 5.0-litre V10 with 530bhp, four-wheel drive and an engine note like a F1 car's

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