Road Tests

RTotY 2: Aston Martin DBS

Time 4:09 pm, November 10, 2008

WE’RE 50 miles into a trip that will take us 10 hours from our Gosport HQ to Tenby in Wales via Caterham in Surrey. Problem is I’m already starting to feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t meant to be like this; the Aston Martin DBS is a £165k car – it shouldn’t be sending my backside to sleep.

Just 10 miles later the numbness has transformed into pain – my thighs feel like they’re being poked with hot needles. I need to stop. As we down double-shot Starbucks, it’s hard to admit a car you’ve wanted to drive all year is physically hurting you – but this one is.

We’re on our way to collect the Caterham in a two-car convoy up the traffic-free A3 towards London. Dan’s sat beside me in the DBS and although it probably looks obvious I’m not happy, I refuse to admit it. No matter how much fiddling with the electronic seat controls, the DBS is far from soothing, and I’m fidgeting like a schoolboy.

To make matters worse, it pains me to find fault with a car as incredibly beautiful as this. Pictures just don’t do the DBS justice. In the metal, the Aston is positively pedestrian-stopping (in the non-lethal sense).

Crowds gather whenever you park it up and these are admiring glances – not those of jealousy you’d get in a flash Ferrari. Classy and understated, Aston Martin’s like the DBS ooze exclusivity – just one of the reasons the model has a 12-month waiting list. And that’s despite the credit crunch…

You never quite get over the awesome looks either – all weekend every one of us can be caught staring longingly at it. The huge multi-spoke alloy wheels – diamond cut from a single block of aluminium – are works of art themselves. Everywhere you look there’s beauty; from the flares and bulges of the bodywork, to the cuts, grooves and huge bonnet air scoops. The DBS truly is automotive pornography.

I’d argue it is one of the best looking supercars available too; nothing quite comes close to matching its on-the-road presence – and when you’re spending £165k that’s exactly what you want. Well that, and stomach churning performance.

The Aston doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the latter. It all starts with the most glorious of exhaust notes. Slot home the key into the centre of the starter button, depress the clutch and wait – the electrics fire into life and then a Le Mans car bark from the twin pipes sets the hairs on the back of your neck on end. It’s a sharp, race-car like bark that turns heads like no Aston that’s gone before it.

The first real taste of the mighty V12 comes as we emerge from Cone City at Hindhead (just how long does it take to build a bleeding tunnel?). Joining the main carriageway on the downhill run to Guildford, I open the taps. The Evo X might be a match on the dash to 60mph, but as the speeds increase the Evo’s left lagging behind in a wake of dirty air.

The way the Aston piles on speed is incredible – it’s nuclear-like with an unending well of torque firing you at the horizon. That power is Class A-addictive, and when it’s matched with a sound only a British V12 can make, tanks of petrol have a habit of evaporating. Aston claims 11.7mpg on the urban cycle – we were lucky if we touched five all weekend.

We arrive at Caterham around lunchtime to pick up the R500. After the maker’s PR supremo Andy Noble’s had the chance to oggle the Aston, we’re talked through the yellow peril’s unique set-up and are soon back on the road.

As much as the Aston hurts, I can’t quite give up the keys just yet, so Dunc volunteers for the first stint in the R500. Dan slots into the Evo and we roll out in convoy onto the M25.

If there’s one thing that can make the capital’s concrete-covered orbital ring-road just a little more bearable it’s a quarter of a million pounds worth of metal. We’re soon moving through the traffic like a motorcade from an American spy movie. Swapping places in Olympic cycling team fashion, Dunc nails the Caterham to the front as we approach Heathrow.

Dropped into fourth, the car accelerates away and the sound pierces the Aston’s cabin. Caterham weren’t lying when they told us the R500 was devoid of baffles – Concorde would be quieter than this R500.

Joining the M4 for the long slog towards Wales gives me time to enjoy the DBS. The interior is wonderfully luxurious; leather wraps around pretty much every surface and the switchgear is of a different class to rivals here.

Most impressive of the lot is the Bang & Olufsen stereo system. Tweeters rise out of the dashboard like super fast-growing mushrooms and the sound the system produces is almost as incredible as that from the twin exhausts.

Concert rivalling aural pleasure and the ability to plug in an iPod mean I’m in a happy place for the monotonous motorway miles ahead.

Aston Martin has worked incredibly hard on the powerplant slotted in front of me. Producing a mighty 510bhp and 569Nm of torque, it can summon huge reserves of power in every one of its six gears. Acceleration is blistering and keeps the Caterham in its sights on the dash up the slip roads from the countless fuel stops we have to make. Despite its weight it’ll hit 60mph in 4.3s.

Like all good supercars should, this DBS comes with a six-speed manual box. Surprisingly light and positive, it’s a joy to use. Often manuals in powerful cars of this ilk can be intimidating, but the DBS offering is as easy to use as that you’d find in a family hatch.

The DBS really is an engineering masterpiece and when you dissect the spec sheet it’s quite clear to see where your money’s gone. It is by no means a body-kitted DB9 – it’s far more technologically advanced than that. The drive shaft is fashioned from carbon fibre; the bonnet and boot lid – again carbon fibre.

Even some of the body panels are made from the super lightweight material as the maker desperately tries to shed pounds.

You won’t be able to tell mind – normally when the material is painted you can still see the weave, but Aston Martin has patented a special polymer that lets them achieve a flawless finish. It takes 50 hours in the bodyshop to paint the chassis, but every one of those is worth it.

After crossing the Severn Bridge we hurtle away from the tollgates like boy racers dashing to a McDonald’s drive-thru. We lose Dan in the traffic and I’m left following Duncan in the Caterham as we hit a tunnel. Emitting a noise only the devil throwing up could rival, the R500 lets out a visceral wail that reverberates off the walls.

Coaches full of holiday makers and startled car drivers look around to see what’s waking the dead – most can’t even see the thing it’s so low. These are good times – and the experience puts a huge grin on my face that won’t be wiped off until Sunday (bad times…).

Once we’ve despatched the long motorway slog past Cardiff and Swansea we hit the A roads – stringing together one dual carriageway after another the three of us are testing our nerve on the wide roundabouts, stretching the trio’s legs as we accelerate away in a wail of noise. Wales is left in no doubt – we have arrived.

The Tarmac begins to snake left and right as we near our Haven Holiday destination at Lydstep Beach and, as is customary in this part of the world, the rain begins to fall.

Dunc seems to be enjoying the handful that is the R500, even if it is a bit hot and steamy with the roof in place, but the DBS is completely planted. With traction control fully engaged, I hit the sports suspension button and handling is transformed; it’s no longer a GT, but a thoroughbred ready for action.

Those last few clicks of our 339-mile day are made in the dark through thick Welsh forest, but they’re the most enjoyable. The DBS is working hard, but is completely composed, so unfailingly planted. This is one hell of a car and will take some beating – even if it does hurt my legs.

It’s raining heavily as we pull up outside the static Haven home we’ve been fortunate enough to be lent for the weekend, but we’re too tired to care about the damp. Cold beer, tall stories and an on-form Jonathan Ross (pre-Manuelgate) end the day – and the best bit? This is just the beginning. 



NEXT… Part 3: Caterham R500


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