Republished: 02/01/2010 (Original Date: 01/28/2010)
James Riswick, Automotive Editor
The dormant DBS fires alive, its vicious 510-horse V12 awakening with a sharp blip and a mighty roar like the crack of a whip inciting an avalanche. Your heart skips a beat, your grin widens, you start humming "Rule Britannia." If this ever got old, it would be time to sell everything off and pursue a higher calling.
Yet the 2008 Aston Martin DBS story begins a few seconds earlier than this glorious ignition. For most cars, the key is an afterthought, but experiencing the DBS truly begins with its key. Actually, it's not really a key at all. Aston calls it the "Emotion Control Unit," a weighty item the size of most other key fobs and adorned in stainless steel and piano black trim, topped by polished sapphire crystal. The car comes with one; an extra will set you back $1,510. The driver slides this key, er, Emotion Control Unit into its round slot -- also crafted in crystal -- below the center air vents, depresses it for 2 seconds and then, blip-roar.
In any other car, any other brand, the ECU could be shaken off as an annoying frivolity inferior to increasingly popular keyless ignition/entry systems that allow you to leave the key fob in your pocket or purse. But that's rational practicality talking, and there's little room for that when discussing the Aston Martin DBS. Buying one of these stunning, visceral performance cars is an emotional affair. If you're not taken in by its DB9-on-steroids styling, legendary British brand appeal (including its Bond connection) and that knee-weakening engine, forget it. Buy a regular DB9 or a Ferrari or a Lamborghini or whatever personal watercraft costs $260 large.
Like most exotics, the 2008 Aston Martin DBS is an automobile like no other -- right down to its key.
As with much of the car, the DBS engine -- a 6.0-liter V12 pumped up to 510 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque -- is derived from the DB9. Burdened by less weight than the DB9, this V12 produces better acceleration (Aston estimates a 0-60-mph sprint of 4.3 seconds) and with a generous dose of throttle can give the impression of riding atop a Tomahawk cruise missile. Yet all this power is easily kept at bay around town. Throttle response is never jumpy despite there being so much low-end thrust available, while those luscious engine and exhaust noises remain civilized unless dutifully called upon.
Civility is actually a perfect word to describe how the DBS sets itself apart from other exotics. The six-speed manual found on our test car is the only transmission available, yet its clutch is light and has a relatively short travel. Aside from a rather nebulous 1st-gear engagement point, the DBS's transmission proved to be as easy to drive in stop-and-go Dallas traffic as a V6-powered sedan. When driven aggressively, the clutch is also spot-on, while the chunky aluminum-topped shifter snick-snicks through its gates with precision.
Like the iconic British spy who drives one, the DBS offers a pretense of civility, but it's important never to forget that there's a brutal tough guy lurking beneath the surface. With that much power channeled to the rear wheels of a relatively lightweight car, it's not difficult to institute a midcorner slide or erase the tires in a plume of white smoke. The steering isn't as communicative as we'd like and lacks the weight and feel of other exotics, meaning that it doesn't breed the type of supreme confidence that experienced and novice drivers alike would appreciate. This is a level of minute degrees, however, as the DBS still takes to high-speed corners with authority.
Supercars are famous for having punishing rides, ear-assaulting noise levels and cabins friendly only to those shorter than 6 feet. Driving from Chicago to Atlanta in one would be regarded as an act of pure folly. Not so with the 2008 Aston Martin DBS, which once again, has the keen ability to provide civil transportation while at the same time facilitating spurts of unadulterated driving hooliganism. Although certainly on the firm side, the adjustable suspension's standard (versus Track) mode should be compliant enough for most folks. Over a 250-mile journey on rough-and-tumble rural roads around Dallas, the DBS never caused backs to ache or brains to be sloshed around over the numerous jiggles and jolts. The sport seats provide plenty of lateral support around corners, but they also nestle occupants with their ample cushioning and supple leather/Alcantara trim.
Despite its low-slung roof line, the DBS provides impressive headroom, even for a 6-foot-3 driver, and good visibility on par with that offered by an Audi TT. Legroom is also impressive, with the eight-way power driver seat providing a wide range of adjustment. Sadly, the passenger seat does not adjust for height, which can make it difficult to find a comfortable position.
With low-profile tires, the DBS exhibits a fair share of road noise over imperfect pavement, requiring frequent workouts of the premium stereo system. As such, it certainly couldn't be described as comparable to a luxury-oriented GT coupe, so if that's what you're looking for, may we kindly suggest a Bentley for your British motoring pleasure.
Although the interior is a near clone of the DB9 and V8 Vantage, the DBS features Aston Martin's next generation of controls. Chrome buttons and white lettering contrast with piano black trim to create an easily deciphered interface complemented by a smart climate/audio display borrowed from Volvo. However, some of these buttons can be hard to reach when the bulky shifter is in 3rd or 5th gear -- especially the multipurpose knob that controls the hard drive navigation system, whose LCD screen flips up from the dash top. We could also live without the gauge design, which despite looking quite snazzy, isn't particularly user-friendly. The tachometer rotates in the wrong direction and the speedometer features tiny numbers, with 0-80 mph annoyingly residing at the bottom from 5 to 8 o'clock. The cupholders are also next to useless, and get in the way of shifting.
Unlike the DB9, the 2008 Aston Martin DBS has seats for only two, with the rear portion of the cabin devoted to a pair of parcel shelves capable of accommodating some small luggage or shopping bags. The 9-cubic-foot trunk could fit a pair of standard-size roller suitcases or a golf bag in a pinch, although longer clubs may need to be removed.
Design/Fit and Finish
The interior of the DBS is simply stunning and impeccably hand-built. Nearly every inch is swathed in leather, Alcantara and subtle accent trim of aluminum, carbon fiber and piano black. Although initial DBS models will only be available in all-black or black-gray interior colors, our test car featured the striking red hue that will be available later in 2008. Our car also had the optional piano black dash top trim, which is certainly a visual upgrade over the standard alloy. Like all Aston Martins, the DBS is made to order, although there are fewer customization choices available.
Who should consider this vehicle
There are really only two questions to ask yourself if you're considering the purchase of a 2008 Aston Martin DBS: Are you in love with it and do you have the cash? Inevitably, practical matters like long-distance comfort and trunk space mean very little, considering potential customers will certainly have one or more additional vehicles in their garages.
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