Review: Aston DB9 - Million Dollar DB


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Nicholas Frankl
Senior Editor

Aston Martin is on a roll. After decades of neglect, under-funding and compromised designs, the famous British marque has a clear direction, fresh vision and, most importantly of all, the financial backing to bring one of the most evocative brands back into the major sports and GT battle grounds and go head to head with the best of Italian and German exotica.

Thanks to the success of the Vanquish, or as ‘Q’ famously referred to it ‘The Vanish’ and to some extent the DB7 V12, Aston Martin has demonstrated to parent - and check writer - Ford that it has real potential in limited production sports and GT tourers. The

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Vanquish, and lately the Vanquish S, is the super-expensive pinnacle or ‘halo’ car for the brand, accessible to only those with $240,000+, not a problem for most Aston owners as 75% of them own at least six other vehicles. Now with the brand mystique and rave reviews as securely engraved in the minds of potential customers as the names of fortunate owners on their cars sillplates, Aston has set about replacing the rather outdated DB7 and introducing a new Vantage targeting the 911 owner.

The V12 450bhp DB9 is a clean sheet design, using the latest aluminum chassis and composite technology enabling the 2+2, front-engined coupe to weigh in at a mere 1800 kg / 3900lbs and giving the ‘9’ an impressive power-to-weight ratio of 263bhp / tonne. With a sub-5 second to 60mph time and a theoretical top speed of 180 mph / 300 KPH the DB9 is a serious performer.

Style and performance are the buzz words of the auto industry but few brands can really carry it off. With the Aston’s heritage and brand values, the DB9 already has a significant advantage and the resulting combination of power, agility, comfort, poise and a touch of British class is enough for me to believe this is one of the finest and most complete GT sports cars ever made and certainly a match for the current crop of competitors.

The exterior styling has many carry-over themes from what is now the Aston Martin ‘mold’. Chief designer Henrik Fisker has worked hard to

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produce a purposeful, unique and elegant shape, which while aggressive does not have the brutish stance of the Vanquish. Personally I would have incorporated some front driving lights into the design, as used so effectively in the V12 DB9, but until Aston releases a styling kit for owners we’ll have to make do with the air inlets instead. The rear of the car is very clean, the rear haunches look terrific both from inside and outside the car and the light cluster - a new signature design that will carry through to all new models - is simple, bold and effective.

Following a DB9 one can appreciate the ‘ooohs and ahhs’ from other drivers and passengers as they crane their necks to get a better view. I think the design will age well as it has a certain timeless grace to it, which with a little tweaking over time, will still look in shape in ten years.

Naturally, I’m more interested in driving the DB9 than looking at it. Aston’s clever marketing and communications wiz Christina Cheever managed to have each test vehicle personally engraved with the name of its driver, so for a few short hours I got to drive ‘my’ DB9. You sit low in the car, the seats are flat, almost race like, visibility is good and the handmade leather- and suede-lined cabin is spacious, with plenty of head room, at least for the two of you sitting in the front. Ahead of the driver is a clear instrument binnacle, which once you’ve adjusted the rake and reach steering wheel to it lowest position is nicely obscured from 80mph to 130mph. Fortunately the digital read out can still be seen, and the gear selector gauge peaks out above the top of the wheel.

As with the Vanquish, you don’t ‘start’ the DB9 but rather fire it up. After turning the ignition key, you reach across to the center binnacle and hit the ‘start engine’ button. I can only imagine how many owners have excited their dates by inviting them to hit

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that particular button. The starter whirls into action and the 6-litre twelve fires quickly and cleanly into life with a reassuringly expensive and crowd-pleasing burble. Select the D button or just click the right paddle into first, apply a little throttle and off you go. The 9 is a very easy car to drive. It doesn’t intimidate the driver, unless the mere thought of driving a $172,000 car in city traffic fills you with a sense of horror. All the input controls, except the brakes, are quite light and fall easily to hand. Up to speed on the highway out of picturesque San Diego, the mighty USS Carl Vinson and Ronald Reagan carriers moored menacingly off on the left of the harbor, their grey silhouettes reminding me of the turbine-like power that I’m currently in control of, as I join the I805 heading east and accelerate straight to 110mph without any effort on my or the car’s part.

Cruising at 90-120 on long, open, sweeping corners the ‘9’ is quiet and very stable. The gearbox is an absolute joy to use, very smooth with changes up and down the box hardly noticeable unless you’re changing down at speed into lower gears, which produces a beautiful blip of the throttle to match engine revs. The six-speed semi-automatic (a manual is on the way) isn’t as hair trigger sharp as say a Ferrari 430 or BMW M3, but then you wouldn’t want it to be. What is does do very well is mask any driver errors or indecision which previously would result in a lumpy change from any semi box. Switching into auto is as easy as hitting the big bold D button – it really is an effortlessly easy and rewarding way to drive.

The throaty twelve pulls strongly from all revs. Maximum torque of 420 ft-lb is achieved at a low 1500 rpm so the mid range pull is impressive and keeping up a constant 100mph uphill is easy. As we entered the deserted and beautifully rustic countryside, the recent rains having transformed the landscape into an almost Welsh Brecon Beacon-like oasis of budding wild life, I have chance to throw the car into some tight uphill 2nd and 3rd gear corners. The 9 responds well with the steering wheel communicating well what’s happening on the tarmac, and with the 19in wheels shod with Bridgestone potenza tires (front: 235/40 ZR19 rear: 275/35 ZR19) gripping tenaciously, the tight chassis allowing for controlled power

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delivery and pin point accuracy through out the corners. The car has a very sharp turn-in for what is essentially a GT, although the 9 clearly doesn’t have the same sports car handling as a Ferrari 430 or Porsche 911 S. I do not believe either one of those cars would have been able to pass me on any of the roads, the Aston is simply that fast and competent and this matched by excellent brakes equipped with both ABS and EBD that bite hard and drag the speed off like an arrester wire on one of the carrier flight decks.

Aston didn’t choose the easiest test route, but even at high speed on heavily undulating roads which would have upset a less well-sorted vehicle, the 9 stayed in shape, composed and handled it without any fuss, the suspension remaining very compliant with or without the sport setting engaged, which I found made a noticeable difference when pressing on into tight corners. Passing slower traffic is a simple right foot pressure operation in almost any gear unless you’re aiming for a very short space of opportunity, in which case 2nd and 3rd gear are perfect for blasting past anything impeding the V12 symphony. Two up the car is perfect. Room in the rear is tight, but I always think it’s better to have the option to squeeze a friend in for a quick trip, rather than offer them a taxi number.

The boot is big enough for ‘two sets of golf clubs’ Aston execs enthused, but only if you’re taking half your clubs I’d say! Either way there’s room for more stuff in the back seats. Getting to them isn’t very easy, not because of the head room but as a result of rather stupid lever positioning that is buried at the back of the front seats and means having to jam your whole arm behind the seat to locate it – women with long nails beware! Other complaints? I found the passenger seat less comfortable than the driver’s one, and the passenger leg room isn’t overly-generous either. There is also an annoying intrusion into the foot well by the accelerator peddle which makes it awkward to rest your right foot comfortably. Personally I’d miss Bluetooth, satellite radio and MP3 player interfaces, but maybe owners have enough of those in the other 6 cars.

The options list makes for amusing reading as nearly everything you get standard on a KIA is at least a $450 option on the Aston. These include satellite navigation, reversing sensors, cruise control, personalized sill plaques (not available on current KIA models I’m told), power-fold mirrors, heated front screen, tire pressure monitoring and a bright finish grille. With all these bits and the awesome Linn 950w stereo the test car was priced out at about $172,000, or a nice house as an admiring motorcyclist Lee advised. Aston Martin have done their homework; this is probably the best car they have ever produced in the history of the firm, and they have hundreds of orders already and hundreds more for the forthcoming, and my personal choice, Volante. Next year sees the introduction of the newly launched V8 Vantage, which I’m told is a hoot to drive and certainly looks fantastic. Now if I can only win myself a prize fight with a million dollar purse – maybe I can swap out of my Jaguar XKR convertible. Hmmm, hello Mr. Eastwood, are you there?

SPECS

Body
  • Two door coupe or convertible body style with 2+2 seating
  • Extruded aluminium bonded body structure
  • Aluminium and composite body panels
  • Extruded aluminium door side impact beams
  • Xenon gas discharge projector headlights (dipped beam), halogen projector headlights (main beam) with power wash
  • LED rear lights Engine
  • All alloy, quad overhead camshaft, 48-valve, 5935cc 60 V12
  • Mid-front mounted, rear wheel drive
  • Engine management system with Neural Net misfire detection system
  • Fully catalysed stainless steel exhaust system with active by-pass valves
  • Compression ratio 10.3:1
  • Maximum power 335 kW (450 bhp) at 6000 rpm
  • Maximum torque 570 Nm (420 lb ft) at 5000 rpm
  • Acceleration (Coupe manual) 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds
  • Acceleration (Coupe automatic) 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds 0-100 km/h in 5.1 seconds
  • Maximum speed 186 mph (300 km/h) Transmission
  • Rear mid-mounted 'Touchtronic 2' six-speed gearbox with electronic shift-by-wire control system
  • Rear mid-mounted six-speed manual gearbox
  • Limited slip differential
  • Final drive ratio 3.07:1 (auto) 3.54:1 (manual) Steering
  • Rack and pinion, Servotronic speed-sensitive power-assisted steering, 3.0 turns lock to lock Column tilt and reach adjustment Suspension
  • Front: Independent double aluminium wishbones incorporating anti-dive geometry, coil over aluminium monotube dampers and anti-roll bar
  • Rear: Independent double aluminium wishbones incorporating longitudinal control arms, coil over aluminium monotube dampers and anti-roll bar. Brakes
  • Radial-mounted four-piston monobloc calipers, Anti Lock Braking System (ABS),
  • Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA),
  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Traction Control
  • Front: Ventilated and grooved steel discs 355 mm diameter
  • Rear: Ventilated and grooved steel discs 330 mm diameter Wheels & Tyres
  • Lightweight aluminium alloy wheels
  • Front: 8.5J x 19
  • Rear: 9.5J x 19
  • Bridgestone tyres
  • Front: 235/40 ZR19
  • Rear: 275/35 ZR19 Interior
  • Full grain leather interior
  • Walnut facia trim
  • Driver and front passenger dual-stage air-bags
  • Front occupant side air-bags
  • Automatically deployed roll-over bars (Volante)
  • Ten-way electrically adjusted seats (including height, tilt and lumbar adjustment)
  • Heated rear screen
  • Automatic temperature control
  • Organic Electroluminescent (OEL) displays
  • Trip computer alarm and immobiliser
  • Remote-control central door locking and boot release
  • Battery disconnect switch
  • Battery conditioner
  • Tracker Horizon (UK only) In-Car Entertainment
  • Linn 128 W audio system with radio and six CD autochanger Dimensions
  • Length: 4710 mm
  • Width: 1875 mm
  • Height: (Coupe) 1270 mm
  • Kerb weight: (Coupe) 1710 kg (manual) 1800 kg (automatic)
  • Front track: 1570 mm
  • Rear track: 1560 mm
  • Turning circle: 11.5 m
  • Fuel tank capacity: 80 litres (17.6 Imp. galls. 22.0 US galls.) 95RON unleaded fuel only
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