2008 Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano and 2008 Aston Martin DBS - Running Scared

Don Sherman
Mark Bramley

Those wishing to enter the DBS's cockpit must first pass an admissions test. The door's outer edge rises as it opens, an Aston Martin eccentricity supposedly aimed at avoiding curb strikes. Some scrunching is necessary to clear the high sill, tall seat bolsters, and rakish roofline. The interior mood created by pinched window openings and a high center spine is slightly foreboding.

The more serious annoyances come next. The tach, as beautifully marked as an expensive Swiss timepiece, spins counterclockwise and lacks a redline. The handful of polished aluminum that tops the shift lever demands a strong wrist and a sensitive touch with just enough force to find the first-gear gate, but not so much that you bumble into reverse.

Then there's the ignition key, which looks and feels like a small cell phone. What Aston calls an "emotion control unit" (ECU) seems more like a tool of the devil. It will jam in its receiver if you accidentally stick it in backward, and it'll fracture a fingernail if you're not careful pressing it home. But the greatest nuisance is that the official starting procedure will cue the company's "Power Beauty Soul" gauge-cluster fanfare but not necessarily a whir of the starter and the vroom of twelve cylinders. If bank heists are your business, steer clear of the DBS.

By comparison, the Ferrari greets its driver with sincere hugs. Thanks to lower sills and a higher roofline, entry is a snap. The two 599s we drove on successive days were both equipped with the popular F1-SuperFast sequential-manual transmission, which clears the office of clutch-pedal and shift-lever distractions. Light-hued interior trim and ample glass impart a cheery interior ambience. But the warmest welcome comes from Ferrari's colorful analog and electronic display cluster, which sports a 10,000-rpm tachometer, a 360-kph (224-mph) speedometer, and a lovely drawing of the engine replaced by secondary gauges upon the completion of system checks. Another endearing touch is the optional carbon-fiber steering wheel that sequentially flashes five warning lamps as you crowd the 8200-rpm redline.

These animals both start with a ferocious howl thanks to their two-mode mufflers. The stirring garage voice, which confirms that your money was well-spent, lasts a few seconds until valves in the mufflers close to route exhaust through a quieter but more restrictive path. The jungle throats return on the road when an appropriate combination of rpm (high) and throttle setting (heavy) is met.

One of our most enjoyable experiences was serenading Italian tunnels with three distinct twelve-cylinder exhaust ensembles. The Aston's aria reflects fine breeding and professional voice training. A Ferrari 599 equipped with a sport exhaust system - the first of two cars we sampled - is capable of inflicting auditory pain on small animals miles away and is, we feel, too passionate for everyday use. (Ferrari doesn't offer it in America.) The standard Ferrari system is nicely subdued until its muffler valves snap open, at which time the raspy tenor solo is more entertaining than a front-row seat at the Met. The raspiness comes from unequal firing intervals, attributable to this engine's 65-degree V-angle.

Motoring out of Maranello with the red homeboy and his platinum playmate caused our hearts to swell with anticipation, but the moment we flicked left off the busy S12 main road on our way to Sestola, we knew we'd entered heaven's gate. It took no more than three bends for revelation number one to register: these heavyweights love attacking roads that wriggle. Both the Aston and the Ferrari shift from polished grand tourers to rat racers the instant lower gears, mashed throttles, and tighter steering angles are applied.

Any trepidation we had about whipping the right-hand-drive Aston down narrow back roads evaporated. Racing genes, baked into the DBS's soul by recent Le Mans GT1 achievements, are eager to serve. The steering is quick, tight, and so rich in road feel that the mere touch of tire to paint stripe sends a notice to your palms. Hints of understeer, registered during aggressive turn-in, melt away as soon as the throttle is engaged while exiting the corner. Quickly working the shifter between second and third became a natural act, even with the left arm in service. The only right-hand-drive handicap we noticed was a stunted dead pedal, the result of cramming the foot rest next to the transmission tunnel. That's what the Brits get for driving on the wrong side.

Although the DBS is the first roadgoing Aston Martin to benefit from carbon-ceramic technology, the brake system's linearity and predictability are beyond reproach. We dived in deep and braked late with no fear that these binders would put us at risk. The harder we leaned on them, the more forcefully they jettisoned unwanted momentum. There wasn't a trace of fade, and the middle pedal remained a trusted ally throughout our test.

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