““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Aston Martin DBS
Your smileage may differ, but in the eyes and ears of this beholder, no car packs quite the visual and sonic punch of the Aston Martin DBS. From its wide crouch, broad haunches and wraparound tail lights to the subtle flares, flows, channels and curves downwind from its hallmark pinched-corner grille, the DBS is a riveting spectacle from any angle.
On the day of delivery, the car tested looked shiny black in heavy rain falling from a leaden sky. Next day, the sun shone bright to reveal a galaxy of red metallic flecks, glinting like fragments of ruby set in transparent black and giving the paint a holographic depth. People who like cars stare at this one whether it's moving or stationary. Jaws drop before faces turn to smiles.
Beneath the hood is a 510-hp, 6.0-liter front mid-mounted V12 that sounds the way a dirty dozen should-to hell with socially sensitive muffling. Encircling the DBS and ricocheting back at the driver off the flanks of opposing traffic, its hard-charging noise is quite simply magnificent, thanks to four overhead cams, variable geometry in the intakes and active bypass valves that manipulate the exhaust-pipe acoustics. You'll detour to take this car through a tunnel.
With 50 percent more instruments in the bandstand, the Aston's noise is as distinctive and as cop-magnetic as that of the Ferrari F430's V8. At about 5500 rpm, some power-boosting inlet-geometry and outflow tweaking combines with the harmonics of the power pulses to produce veritable trumpet blasts out the twin tailpipes. At 6500 rpm in first, flicking the upshift paddle fixed on the steering column and lightly lifting the accelerator prompts the exhaust note to do a staccato trombone slide into second, spitting a fusillade of flinty decibels into the wake as the forward lunge gets its second wind, with four more winds in store to reach a book maximum speed of 191 mph.
Zero to 60 mph takes 4.3 seconds-not a blisteringly swift dash, but the V12 soundtrack and the dynamic feel of the car more than compensate for any laggard tenths of a second. This is an automobile that's driven to stir the soul as much as to move the cold, dead hands of a stopwatch. Pushed hard, the TouchTronic 2 six-speed SMG transmission-a new option for 2009 to augment the six-speed three-pedal true manual that had been the only choice on the DBS-shifts with an abruptness more in keeping with the marque's racing genes.
Since 2004, Aston Martin engines (V8s and V12s) have been built by 100 Aston Martin people in a dedicated engine plant in Cologne, Germany. Each car carries plaques announcing "Handbuilt in England," but (like BMW's Rolls-Royce and VW's Bentley) they all contain engines made in the land of obsessive engineering and legendary tolerances. Nobody's complaining.
This is not to say that English slouches slap together the bodywork as if in a bygone era. For a weight loss of about 66 pounds, carbon-fiber panels are used for the trunk enclosure, trunk lid, door openings surrounds, front fenders and hood. Aston Martin design director Marek Reichman notes that the material places no restrictions on form or shape and "allowed us to wrap bodywork around the 20-inch wheels and maintain the precise relationship between the wheel and the bodywork."
The new panel-making process also delivers what Aston Martin claims to be "an industry-best surface finish, thanks to a patented 'surface veil' process" that applies a 200-micron layer of epoxy and glass to the panel for a "Class A surface that is in line with Aston Martin's tradition of high-quality finishes." As noted earlier, the bodywork finish on the DBS tested was stunning and a testament to these claims.
The DBS derives great rigidity from a lightweight frame of pressed, extruded and cast aluminum parts bonded together. The "front mid-mounted engine" sits well back in the DBS, helping to place 85 percent of the car's weight within its wheel base for a low polar moment of inertia and great handling.
The DBS uses two valves to set the dampers to five positions, for instant adjustment of the car's ride and handling characteristics. Electronics determine the optimum damper settings by establishing the prevailing driving conditions and the demands the driver is placing on the car. The brains do this by monitoring throttle position, brake position, steering-wheel rotation and vehicle speed.
The DBS is Aston's first application of carbon ceramic brakes on a street-legal car. They work better than steel, and they are about 26 pounds lighter, reducing unsprung weight and rotational mass for even more capable suspension.
What else does nearly $300,000 buy? In addition to the usual high-end auto accoutrements, not an ignition key but instead an ECU ("Emotion Control Unit") made of stainless steel and glass crystal; a 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system; 2+2 or 2+0 seating (don't expect any human more than a few years out of the womb to suffer the back "seats"-stay with the standard 2+0 configuration so you and your traveling companion will gain some storage space behind you); a frosted crystal glass ashtray; and in the trunk an umbrella, made in England, not China.
Despite the obsession of the Aston Martin people tasked with machining and assembling the engine and making, prepping, sanding and painting the body, the car is still a machine and it isn't perfect. A stitch line in the A-pillar leather wavered just slightly on its journey down the left side of the windscreen, and the vanity mirrors in the sun visors gave a carnival reflection. I could live with those imperfections in this pinnacle powerhouse of a car.
Aston Martin DBS stats
Engine: V12, 6.0 liters, 48 valves
Engine output: 510 hp @ 6500 rpm; 420 lb-ft @ 5750 rpm
Transmission: six-speed, sequential manual
Weight: curb, 3,836 lb
Power loading: 7.52 lb/hp
Drag Cd: -
Top speed: 191 mph
Zero to 60 mph: 4.3 sec
Fuel capacity: 20.5 U.S. gal
City/highway (EPA): 12/18 mpg
Test average: 10.3 mpg
Test tires: Pirelli P Zero; Front: 245/35ZR20, Rear: 295/30ZR20
Standard retail price: $270,400
Price as tested: $276,260