Driving the DBS is as pleasing as looking at it. The car isn't as quick as the Ferrari, but then, the 599 is a missile. The DBS hit 60 mph from rest in 4.3 seconds and traveled through the quarter-mile at 117 mph in 12.6 seconds, usefully quicker than the last DB9 we tested (0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, 13.2 seconds for the quarter). Top-gear performance was similar to the Ferrari's, thanks to the incredibly linear torque delivery, which was also responsible for tricky launch behavior. The brakes produced a 70-to-0-mph stopping distance of 158 feet, impressive in light of the dusty surface at the El Toro test facility. On the skidpad, the DBS recorded 0.97 g, which was marginally shaded by the Ferrari, but the DBS was faster and a lot easier to drive through the lane-change maneuver (68.1 mph versus 67.1). On a suitably large autocross course, we found the Aston to be more stable and just as entertaining as the Ferrari.
In the real world, the DBS is a sweetheart to drive. Despite the giant wheels and tires, the ride is composed and supple, although we wouldn't recommend the track mode in day-to-day driving unless you enjoy appointments with your chiropractor. The steering is linear and accurate, body roll is muted, and the handling is nicely predictable: mild understeer on corner entry, with power oversteer available when the stability system is switched off. Traction isn't as good as the Ferrari's, but we've rarely driven anything as hooked up on the street as the 599.
The transmission is pleasant enough to use, and the brakes are superb, actuated by a pedal that has almost perfect, linear feel. The exhaust note is deeper and gruffer than the Ferrari's, and the engine's power band both starts and ends earlier. Driving along in traffic at 55 mph in sixth gear is no problem.
We thought we were going to be disappointed by the DBS but were pleasantly surprised by how good it is -- and how much better it is than the DB9. In the end, we feel that the DBS is a more mature, more grown-up car that's just not as playful as the Ferrari. But then, it is nearly 30 percent cheaper ...
2009 Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano
First Place: Two-Car Libido Enhancer
Viewing the cars sitting side by side, bathed in early-morning desert light, we came to this shocking conclusion: Yes, the Ferrari has presence, but it's not exactly beautiful. Compared with styling house Pininfarina's best two-place, front-engined coupes for Ferrari -- the 365 GTB/4 Daytona, 275 GTB, 250GT SWB -- it looks derivative and, worst of all, bland from some angles, particularly the rear.
That's not the case inside, however, which is a truly special place: a bit more contrived than the Aston's interior but more luxurious and expensive-looking -- as it should be, bearing in mind the price differential. The leather is so buttery smooth that we suspect the donor cattle were massaged daily before meeting their end. Shiny carbon fiber (as noted, a combined 12 grand in options) swathes the cockpit, even adorning the upper part of the steering wheel. Aluminum accents are muted and sparingly used. All the minor controls feel terrific to the touch and act with mathematical precision. Carbon-fiber shift paddles fixed to the steering column are used to affect manual gearchanges, with the right-hand one for upshifts, the left side for downshifts. On the debit side, the navigation system is almost impossible to fathom, and manually tuning the radio requires a peek at the owner's manual.
The Ferrari is spectacularly fast. Zero to 60 mph takes just 3.3 seconds, with the standing quarter blowing by in 11.2 seconds at 131 mph. Now, call us cynical, but we think the car we tested was a ringer because the 599 was quicker off the mark than the Lamborghini LP640, which has a better power-to-weight ratio and the benefit of all-wheel drive. The Corvette Z06 is also slower despite its better pound-per-horsepower relationship. If Ferrari had slotted a 650-hp Enzo engine under the hood -- they are essentially the same -- that might explain the amazing performance.
In most regards, the Ferrari beat up on the Aston. It was faster from a standing start and in top gear, took six feet fewer to stop from 70 mph, and produced marginally more grip on the skidpad, at 0.98 g. The Aston's lane-change speed was a little better, and the DBS got better gas mileage. However, 11 mpg as opposed to 9 is about as desirable as being asked to choose whether you'd prefer to attend a concert by Phish or the Osmonds.
Back in the early days, a Ferrari was defined by its engine. While the company's ability to build a chassis has improved massively over the past 61 years, the power-plant is still a vital part of the car. There isn't much torque below 3000 rpm, but this isn't a problem because there's plenty of grunt all the way up to the 8400-rpm redline, making for an even wider power band than the Aston's. The engine note is higher pitched, more of an alto to the Aston's tenor, and it sounds glorious as the revs rise -- providing the occupants lower the windows because it's almost too well insulated with them raised.
The Ferrari loafs around town easily enough, with a firm yet well-controlled ride. The auto mode is still a little clunky, but it's hard to complain when you're stuck in L.A. traffic and the car is doing the work for you. Clear traffic, move into manual mode, and the F1 SuperFast tranny lives up to its name, unleashing shifts in microseconds.
On the track, the 599 demonstrated some unsanitary behavior that only fools or lunatics would discover on the road. In the lane change, when the car was transitioning fast one way to the next, it snapped into oversteer with the stability control disengaged. The tail would step out suddenly under power on the autocross circuit, too.
We never got it to repeat this behavior on the road simply because the traction is phenomenal, even if the driver takes some bravery pills and turns off the stability control. Steering that feels a little overeager on the track is a paragon on the street: light yet accurate and massively involving. On a twisting, challenging road, the Ferrari turns from GT to sports car. The brakes are sensational, the handling near neutral, its body control over broken pavement astonishing. On long, straight desert roads, it feels magnetically attached to the pavement, and one has little doubt that the 599 could cross continents in short order, speed limits willing.
The Aston is mighty fine, but the 599GTB is even better. It's a car produced by a company that's at the top of its game, and it's hard to find any weaknesses except for the price and the wayward on-limit handling. We went to California expecting the Ferrari to be brilliant, and it was even better than we could have imagined.