2013 Aston Martin DB9 First Test
A beautifully flawed car
Having recently spent a bit more than a week and 1000 miles in Aston Martin's new-for-2013 DB9, I learned a few things. For example, I learned that it's mostly possible to fit a 6-foot, 2-inch, 190-pound man in the car's rear bucket seat, which is elegantly trimmed in nice-smelling leather. I also learned that after 1.3 miles in said rear seat, this man will profess that the idea to climb into the rather cramped, but nice-looking, space is the most unfortunate decision he's made in quite a while -- a realization later confirmed by a lingering pain in his left knee and a gait that most closely resembled Gene Wilder's first emergence from his chocolate factory in the original "Willy Wonka" movie, but without the advantage of a cane.
I learned other things, too. Such as that even in car-jaded Los Angeles, the 2013 DB9's new Virage-inspired styling turns a huge number of heads, including the heads of those you judgmentally might not expect to care. Even in its relatively understated Volcano Red hue, the Aston's redesigned headlights, fender vent, and new lip spoiler never failed to attract attention. The DB9's interior was similarly impressive, with gorgeous tan leather seats with red piping, dark red accent trim on the dash and doors, and an elegant gauge panel. A chrome Aston Martin pen, made by Lamy, is stashed in the lower center console, and though it looks it might be a cigarette lighter, it isn't. It's a potentially lucrative bet when you're squiring an inquisitive friend with a few dollars to wager.
The Aston seems to be particularly adept at traveling long stretches of somewhat winding, vacant road with comfort, speed, and poise. With its 5.9-liter V-12 engine treated to new cylinder heads and other improvements that bump horsepower to 510 and torque to 457 lb-ft (the latter figure is the same as the range-topping Vanquish), the DB9 scoots to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds on its way to a claimed top speed of 183 mph. The six-speed automatic gearbox is largely the same as before and is possibly the car's weakest point, offering adequate downshift speed, but slow upshifts unless the throttle is pinned to the floor. Despite that, the DB9 rockets along any stretch of road and does so with more compliance than ever before, thanks to the new standard adaptive suspension form the outgoing DBS. In fact, its quarter-mile acceleration and figure-eight time improve incrementally on the last DBS and Virage we've tested.
I was shocked to find how much fun such a large car could be heading up California's Hwy 58, a little stretch of road between Buttonwillow and Atascadero. Starting off tight and twisty as it climbs over a small mountain pass (indicated temperature, 31 degrees), the DB9's rear tires struggled for grip in the cold, damp conditions, but oh, what fun with predictable oversteer at relatively low speed, easily managed by steering and throttle. After a short decent, the road opens into empty valley with nary a car on the road, and it's here that the DB9 is in its element. Long sweepers and an occasional tight 90-degree bend are mixed with long straights and excellent visibility. This is grand touring at its finest, with a glorious V-12 shriek at high revs and a touch of crackle and pop on deceleration into corners. The brakes are tremendous (standard carbon-ceramic discs are fitted as standard now) and are quiet as can be. Leave the suspension in its softest mode and the compliance won't let the occasional surface imperfections throw the car off line.
Progress has definitely been made since the first DB9 rolled off the then-brand-new Gaydon assembly line in Warwickshire, England, but along with the gearbox, the navigation display and user interface both need work. It can be argued that in such a niche car with strong performance credentials, this is not a primary concern. But the Aston is as much about being modern, luxurious, and techy as it is about quarter-mile runs in 12 seconds and change. With that in mind, the decade-old graphic, outdated and incomplete maps, and overly simplistic interface could use an update -- frankly, aftermarket TomToms and Garmins look nicer and are easier to use. Plus, it takes a solid 10 minutes to figure out how to lower the nav screen the first time out.
As you might surmise, the Aston Martin DB9 is not a cheap car. With a base price of just over $185,000, you might be surprised at some of the car's few shortcomings. Or you might just wish that the rear seat was actually usable as such for distances of more than a mile (a parcel shelf is optional). But frankly, if there weren't a few silly points to the DB9, then it just wouldn't be an Aston Martin. And if you cared about things like functional navigation over an exhaust note that forces an involuntary smile, or seeing the Aston badge on the steering wheel in your peripheral vision while you're driving, then you should have bought the Bentley.
|2013 Aston Martin DB9|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$208,720|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||5.9L/510-hp/457-lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3890 lb (51/49%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||185.8 x 73.8 x 50.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.4 sec @ 115.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||100 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.97 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.5 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||13/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||259/177 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.28 lb/mile|