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Little more than a week after completing its bid for independence from Ford Motor Co., Aston Martin has a critical piece of its future.

Heavily influenced by the luxury marque’s motorsports program, the DBS, which goes into production in October, will become Aston’s new flagship superseding, though not formally replacing, the aging Vanquish supercar.

First seen in the recent James Bond film, “Casino Royale,” the DBS is a sleek two-seater derived from Aston’s surprisingly flexible VH platform. The lightweight chassis is used for virtually every product in the lineup, including the “entry-level” V8 Vantage, as well as the DB9 sports car, which the DBS is closely related to.

But the new coupe is about an inch lower and slightly wider, as well, with flaring wheel arches barely concealing its 20-inch wheels and P Zero Pirelli tires. The extra rubber is an advantage when you’re trying to plant the 510-horsepower bursting from the DBS’s 6.0-liter V-12. That’s a full 60 more than the DB9, and enough to launch the car from 0 to 60 in just 4.3 seconds, a full half-second faster than the brand’s former speed king, the Vanquish, and 0.6 seconds quicker than the DB9. Top speed is 191 mph.

To get the extra power, Aston lets the twelve-banger breath more freely, with new, computer-controlled valved air boxes that respond to rising engine speeds. With the DBS, the engine reaches peak power at 6500 rpm, compared to 5750 for the DB9. Torque tops out at 420 lb-ft at 5750 rpm. The new system will also provide aural satisfaction, with a louder, more track-like brap at top revs.

While the family resemblance is clear, there are notable difference between the DBS and DB9, including the new car’s 5-bar take on Aston’s classic grille. And the DBS boasts a larger under-bumper aperture to ram air into the engine. Additional ducts provide cooling for the car’s standard ceramic brakes.

Those are among the many features derived from Aston DBRS9 and DBR9 racers, a list also including the maker’s first serious use of exterior carbon fiber components. (Aston previously incorporated a composite driveline tunnel into the Vanquish.) These include the hood, wings, and air splitter up front, the sideview mirror mounts, and the rear diffuser.

The use of carbon fits the marque’s fundamental strategy: rather than directly engaging in a horsepower race with competitors such as Bentley or Porsche, Aston focuses on holding down weight to maximize performance. The new car weighs in at 3737 pounds, about 140 less than the DB9 and roughly 400 under the Vanquish.

The new car makes more extensive use of what marketing chief Bill Donnelly called more “intelligent” technology than ever seen on an Aston before. That includes not only the engine airflow system, but elements more immediately visible to the owner.

Aston abandons its traditional key for a high-styled keyless device that the company is calling an ECU, or as CEO Ulrich “Uli” Bez prefers, “an emotional control unit.” More than just functional, its electronics are enveloped in chrome and sapphire crystal.

While DBS puts a premium on performance, it also lavishes occupants in opulence, the cabin covered in semi-analyne leather, suede-like alcantara, chromed and carbon fiber trim. (Buyers may opt for traditional wood, as well.)

The two-seater gets an entirely new center stack, resolving some nagging complaints about design and ergonomics with the older DB9. Next-generation, hands-free Bluetooth phone technology and a hard-drive-based navigation system are standard features.

The DBS “becomes are new performance standard,” said Donnelly, though, “it doesn’t replace the Vanquish.” While the automaker has said nothing officially about the old flagship, insiders hint that a replacement could appear by 2010.

Though Aston isn’t targeting specific competitors, the latest Porsche 911 Turbo and Ferrari’s 599 will likely come to mind for potential buyers. Pricing will nudge well into Ferrari territory, likely “around $265,000,” according to Donnelly, though final figures won’t be confirmed until Aston’s press conference at the Frankfurt Motor Show, in September.

The automaker hopes to sell as many as 500 DBS clones annually, though Donnelly stressed that “We’ll respond to demand,” whatever the numbers. About a third of those are expected to come to the U.S. , where Aston’s demand has been steadily growing, in recent years.

The DBS is the first product formally launched under the stewardship of Aston’s new owners, a buyout team led by David Richards, CEO of Prodrive and Chairman of Aston Martin Racing, and two Kuwaiti banks. Their Primrose Cove Ltd. holding company paid $931 million for the British brand, though Ford maintains a minority stake in the company, which it saved from bankruptcy two decades ago.

Aston officials insist that there are no major changes in store under Primrose, which is no surprise to industry observers, considering Aston is currently enjoying its biggest success ever, with global sales at record levels and the balance sheet in the black for the first time in its history.

“If things were going wrong, there’d be radical changes,” suggested Donnelly. But for now, all appears to be moving in the right direction for Aston.

Of course, the ultra-luxury market is a challenging arena and one where change can occur rapidly and unexpectedly, so new products, such as the DBS, and perhaps a Vanquish replacement, are critical to maintain momentum.

29.8.2008 22:05:29
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