The DB9 has been with us a while but is maturing into the backbone around which the rest of the Aston Martin range is built. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the latest model.
Ten Second Review
Something magical has happened to the Aston Martin DB9. The latest car has changed in a number of ways. It gets a stiffer chassis, more power, carbon brakes, an updated interior and revised styling but the biggest change is that it's evolved into the cornerstone of the line-up insofar as you couldn't now imagine an Aston range without it.
It's hard to believe that the Aston Martin DB9 was launched in 2003. It's a car that still looks box fresh to this day. It was also a car that landed Aston Martin with one of the strangest kinds of problems. Prior to the DB9, Aston Martin was selling cars like the DB7, based on antediluvian Jaguar underpinnings. The DB9 moved the company into a new era of technical sophistication, its VH aluminium chassis bankrolled by Ford's seemingly limitless coffers. Ford panicked during the first signs of the recession in 2007 and sold Aston Martin to a consortium fronted by Prodrive. Since then, there have been a number of very good product development decisions and the latest DB9 follows this trend. The car has been sympathetically developed and updated in a really thorough manner. Yes, some of the changes are cosmetic, but there are proper engineering improvements that keep the car feeling as well as looking fresh. After the curious blip that was the Virage, the DB9 looks forward to several more years in its pomp.
This is no mere facelift. The DB9 gets the latest AM11 iteration of the classic 5935cc V12 engine. It's the same unit used in the V12 Vantage and a version of it is also plumbed under the bonnet of the latest Vanquish flagship. In that guise, it makes 565bhp but in order to give the range-topper a bit of clear air, this version packs 510bhp which is no small beer. It's 40bhp up on the old DB9 and 21bhp clear of the Virage that this car replaces. It really has some substance to it, getting to 62mph in just 4.6 seconds on the way to an electronically-limited top speed of 183mph. What's more, it might be the best-sounding engine for sale today, including the traditional supercar marques like Ferrari and Lamborghini. The DB9's role in the Aston Martin range is as a classic GT car but this version seems to have a sportier edge than before. The chassis is now 20 per cent more rigid and the addition of ceramic disk brakes reduce unsprung weight. Together, these combine to allow the suspension to work a good deal better than before, improving both ride and handling. Adaptive damping plays a significant part in this improvement. The driver can now choose between Normal, Sport and Track modes. I was a bit puzzled by the addition of the Track mode as it doesn't seem the DB9's natural habitat, but the switch between Normal and Sport brings a useful duality of personality to the car. A six-speed automatic gearbox is fitted as standard which now seems a little quaint compared to state of the art eight-ratio boxes, but with 619Nm of torque at your elbow it's hardly a big issue.
Design and Build
The DB9 got a mid-life facelift in at the end of 2010 with a Rapide-style front underbumper assembly and sharper-looking side skirts. Those staples of the mid-life facelift, lights, wheels and grille, were also modernised. The latest changes build upon this sharper look and Aston claims that 60 per cent of the body panelling has been revised. So what's changed? There's a more pronounced rear boot 'flip' to enhance the aerodynamics, bi-xenon headlights, a bigger lower front grille and splitter, zinc bonnet vents, pronounced side strakes and LED side repeaters, with all of these features available in either Coupe or Volante open top body styles. The interior of the car hasn't been ignored either, with a stunning leather welt feature created by sandwiching a narrow strip of leather between two opposing leather seat panels and fixed using precise stitching. Glass switches offer a really classy touch and there's even the option of lightweight seats. These are available when the 2+0 seating option is selected and use a state-of-the-art carbon fibre and Kevlar composite structure. The dash still looks fantastic but the ergonomics aren't quite as impressive, with fiddly minor controls and a lack of an integrated control system. The DB9's weakest point has probably been overlooked with this revision. Odd.
Market and Model
Prices have stepped up quite significantly from just over £120,000 to well over £130,000 for the Coupe. Still, this DB9 has two jobs to do; replace its predecessor and fill the gap left by the Virage. As well as more power, a better chassis and a higher quality interior finish, the level of standard equipment has improved as well. Twenty-inch alloy wheels are offered in a number of designs, automatic windscreen wipers are also a standard-fit feature, as are full-grain leather electrically adjustable Sports seats with side airbags and memory function. Satellite navigation, automatic temperature control, trip computer and Organic Electroluminescent (OEL) displays are standard fit items. The options list contains now includes a reversing camera integrated into the rear boot lid above the number plate, with the image visible on the LCD screen folding out of the centre stack. There are two Carbon Packs available - one exterior and one interior - the exterior pack comprising a carbon fibre front splitter and rear diffuser, carbon fibre mirror arms and caps, plus dark tailpipes with a graphitic finish. The interior pack offers a carbon fibre upper fascia, carbon fibre gear selector paddles and carbon fibre door pulls. Buyers may also opt for either Aston Martin wings or DB9 headrest embroidery. The headlining can be finished in leather, while the cant rail trim and header trim remain Alcantara-coloured.
Cost of Ownership
If you've managed to shinny up the greasy pole far enough to be able to afford an Aston Martin DB9, it's doubtful that you'll be overly concerned with the trifling matters of economy and emissions, but they mean a great deal to Aston Martin and here's why. The company needs to reduce the average CO2 output of the models across its range or face punitive EU fines. It's the reason for the launch of the Cygnet, the remodelled Toyota iQ city car. The latest DB9 makes a small contribution to this reduction, its emissions dropping from 345 to 333g/km. Fuel economy improves a tad too from 17.2 to 18.2mpg on the combined cycle. What may well prove more important to prospective customers are the residual values of the DB9. This extensive refresh of the car might well be underestimated by the market at large, who see the DB9 as something a little bit old-school in the face of fresher faces. Owners will probably be satisfied with the car they get but it's worth factoring in the resale values into the overall cost of ownership figure.
The latest changes don't just give the Aston Martin DB9 a new lease of life. They underscore the faith that the company has in this model which has become the fulcrum of their vehicle lin- up. It's easy to see how the DB9 could become Aston's iconic model in the same vein that the 911 is to Porsche and the SLS is to Mercedes. Yes, sportier models might be offered above and below it, but the DB9 is the serenity at the heart of modern Aston Martin. The changes to this latest car are welcome in making it quicker, more composed and better looking than ever. Yes, we'd have liked to have seen a slicker integrated control system and a more modern gearbox, but these aren't deal breakers. The DB9 remains the class of the field, with almost every other pretender falling some way short of its elegance and desirability. That doesn't look as if it's about to change any time soon.