Wednesday

2008 Aston Martin DB9 review

I recently priced a Ferrari 599 GTB at $330,000 base. I love Ferrari, but that is getting steep for a GT car. A new Bentley Continental GT will start at $180,000, but can quickly be optioned to $210,000. A Mercedes CL65 AMG? MSRP over $200,000. With numbers like this in the exotic market these days, one has the right to ask ‘what am I getting for my money?’ In many cases, not as much as you’d like. I drove the Bentley with almost no thrill at all, and I could move the interior panels of the CL with a modest push of my hand. A common answer to the ‘what do you get’ question is this: “you get the exclusivity of owning the *insert name of car here*" – an answer I actually received some time ago from a Mercedes dealer. It is a disappointing and shallow answer, especially when a Subaru STI Limited is technically more “exclusive” than all of the afore-mentioned cars. So when I saw the Aston Martin DB9 with a starting price of $170,000, I naturally, and anxiously, asked this question again.

Attention to detail has characterized Aston Martin for some time. If you ever get a chance, take a visit to a dealer. The building itself may not look spectacular, but it is built with the care and attention akin to Mies Van der Rohe. Take your magnifying glass and look at the seams of the stone, then follow the lines to the breaks of the glass doors, then across the building to the cabinet breaks in the courtesy bar and out the stone wall on the other side. And along the way, notice how the grain of the marble bookmatches with its neighbors. Now imagine this attention to detail in the car. If you buy an Aston Martin, make sure your garage has been designed by a world-class architect and built by the most caring craftsman of the industry. Anything less and your new Aston Martin will look out of place.

The car remains strikingly beautiful – a fact that I have never seen disputed. In fact some have said the DB9 was designed by Venus herself and Jeremy Clarkson once (vulgarly) referred to it as “looking at pornography.” Without dwelling too much on the car’s appearance, consider some examples. The lines and unique Aston Martin design queues speak for themselves, and as much fun as the Volante was to drive, I would likely buy the coupe to maintain every curve and feature intended for the car (to the Volante’s credit, the seamless appearance of the car with the top down attest to its own unique beauty). And since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, anyone can pick his favorite color and Aston Martin will graciously match it for your car. The body panels meld perfectly together and testify to the one machine that touches this car during construction – an adhesive machine that ensures that an even application of glue. The front grill has 5 polished aluminum bars, not the plastic you’ll find on the Bentley coupe and even the most recent Maserati Quattroporte. The doors open at a slight upward angle in order to clear the curbs you park next to (a form named “swan-wing” by Aston Martin – perhaps “gull-wing” is just plain not sophisticated).
But even the open doors add to the DB9’s inherent beauty. And since they are designed to hold any position while open, you can set them in any configuration to get the perfect photo op – a pastime that even owners may want to engage in. Inside you see the peculiarities that come from a single builder – every inch of the interior is constructed by one person. The leather lays a little different, the stitching pattern varies slightly; the inside is in a word, unique. And ever mindful of the details, even the pin to hold the sun visor in place is crafted aluminum.

Open the hood and, in case you ever forget what power you have at your disposal, a massive “6.0 V12” badge greets you on the engine block. You also see evidence of the car’s frame in the form of a massive aluminum strut bar. The DB9 is the second stiffest car currently in production, topped only by its sister, the V8 Vantage. Though the massive hood is aluminum, as are the other panels, no amount of shaking or jostling on the road will compromise the DB9’s integrity, no proverbial hair will ever get out of place. And oh yes, the welds that wrap the aluminum under the hood have been machined smooth and painted to match the exterior – the underside of the hood is just as pretty as the top.

As much fun as the car is to look at, the DB9 experience has not even begun. Insert the key and press the Engine Start button. The V12 flares to life with a sonorous blast that seems to have been artificially built in to the car. Idle conversation stops and you begin to understand the Aston’s true purpose – to excite the mind and soul. Excitement comes in a few flavors in the DB9 and immediately caters to whatever mood you happen to be in. For the Sunday drive, press the button labeled “D” at the top of the console and let the car do the work for you (yes, no odd levers that you push and pull through a labyrinth path through R, then N, then D, 3, 2, 1…). Or if you’d like a more engaging drive, the paddle shifters of the Touchtronic 2 transmission are as sharp and engaging as most standard shifters – call them anything but an automatic transmission.

Driving down the road, you command the same attention as you would in any European exotic. And though other drivers were looking at me, I really wasn’t concerned with them – I was out for a drive. And oddly enough, I was out for a leisurely drive. The DB9 will graciously give you the same pleasant experience in city traffic as it will on a track. You feel great cruising at 30 mph with every other reasonably-priced car on the road. Then when you come to your senses and remember you are driving an Aston Martin DB9 (“6.0 V12” badge under the hood), pull the paddle at your left hand once (or twice) and be gone from the reasonably-priced cars. (And this is the one big justification for the Volante – what the DB9 loses in its top lines it gains in an equally beautiful and ever-present roar from the hood). With upwards of 470bhp and 443 lb/ft of torque, along with the grace and skill of an expert dancer, the DB9 bounds from all but the most exotic competition, definitely heard, but never to be seen again.

Put the car into a curve and you once again feel perfection in the form of a 50:50 weight distribution, bolstered by the unique VH aluminum frame. And since 85% of the car’s weight lies between the two axles, you will not be looking forward to any surprises putting a 3900lb vehicle into a hairpin.
A myriad of other technological fancies further guarantee stability and tight handling whether you are negotiating a turnaround on your suburban boulevard, or the Alps.

The most impressive realization I took from the drive is that the DB9 is capable of the most comfortable touring and the most exciting performance driving that most people are capable of doing on the road. More than that, you can switch between the two extremes at any time in any place and the Aston will not skip a beat. Imagine an orchestra capable of the most moving classical performance being able to immediately pick up their electric guitars and perform an equally brilliant Led Zeppelin concert. That is what the Aston Martin can do, and it does it oh so well.

So what doesn’t the DB9 do? It won’t save you on gas with a hefty 11mpg city, 21 gallon tank, and the driver’s undoubtedly heavy foot. It won’t hold 4 adults comfortably for any period of time. And it most definitely will not disappoint. So back to my original question: what do you get for your $170,000? A badge? Yes. The exclusivity? Yes. But you also get what has for decades defined the badge and the exclusivity – an uncompromising attention to detail that caters to the most critical eye and the most demanding driver. The DB9 is as close to ‘perfect’ as I have yet experienced in an automobile. In short, you get what you pay for.

Photos property of Aston Martin

4 comments:

Chris said...

I have to agree with Boz on this review. Looking at the car in pictures or reading about it simply doesn't convey the full weight of the impression that the DB9 will make on you. He had far more seat time in this model than I did, so there's nothing on that front for me to add. Like mentioned the DB9 does not disappoint.

Now, I am a diehard sports car guy. I love driving hard and fast, not too much unlike anybody reading Melted Rubber. And that's the bulk of what I focus on in my reviews - road performance. In reviewing the DB9 though, I was equally intrigued by all of the other superlatives that it offers. What cannot be emphasized enough in Boz's review is the attention to detail and the quality craftsmanship that goes in to the construction of a DB9. Examine it closely - in person - and you can't help but be amazed at the care that the craftsman put in assembling this rolling work of art, even in places that you would rightly expect them to cut corners. At the same time, it's not "perfect" - but the (very) slight irregularities that could only come from being truly handcrafted only add to the charm of the DB9. The result is that the DB9 is truly stunning - an exotic car in every sense. It's an exotic that makes other rare cars seem tame or underdone by comparison.

Or more to the point, inadequate.

I have to say that I was surprised by how much I liked the DB9. It wouldn't normally be the type of car I'd expect to be interested in. I've had the privilege of getting in a lot of special cars so I can compare them from firsthand experience. Oddly enough, many of the cars I dreamed of owning fall short in reality. Too often they prove to be too much of *this* or too little of *that*. But not the DB9. When you're in it, it's like being transported somewhere else. It not only satisfies all of your driving expectations, it also has that rare quality of making YOU feel special too. You're not just driving a fancy nameplate because you couldn't find anything else to spend your money on. No, the experience involves all of your senses, never letting you forget that you're piloting something special and at the same time making you feel like you're the only person in the world that matters. As Boz mentions, it'll transform personalities on demand to suit whatever driving mood strikes you. It's one of the rare cars that I would put in my own garage even if I was of unlimited means. It's that good.

Marc said...

Honestly, I have to say I think the CL 65 AMG is worst of all the cars you have driven. The price is steep, but I guess that the CL600 looks a lot nicer, and if a gas-guzzling V12 doesn't really fit the bill, then I guess I would go with the CL550 with 4-matic, and go with the exclusive Designo Interior that they offer.

Chris said...

Hi Marc,

Yes the Deigno interior is utterly sweet.

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