Test Aston Martin DB9 (2014)

2014-07-15 Read: 1 320x

How we specced CAR's new Aston Martin DB9 long-termer - 30 April 2013

Has there ever been a more poignant year in which to run a long-term Aston Martin? The world’s coolest car company celebrates its 100th birthday this year, so can the DB9 – Aston’s oldest model – still cut it in 2013? We’ve got the next few months to find out…

It’s not the same DB9 that Aston launched in late 2003 though, as over the past decade it’s been constantly revised – including a hefty overhaul in 2010 – and then at the end of 2012 new pedestrian protection regulations forced a raft of changes to all of Aston’s V12-powered cars. That means the updated DB9 uses the latest ‘Gen4’ version of Aston’s VH aluminium platform, making the Coupe 20% stiffer than before; the 5.9-litre V12 is 8% more powerful and sits 19mm lower in the nose to meet those ped-pro regs; and there are Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes and three-stage adaptive dampers fitted as standard.

We’re going to take our DB9 to the Nürburgring 24hrs in late May where Aston will be racing a hydrogen-powered Rapide S, and it’s already registered for the culmination of the company’s centenary celebrations, a 1000-car parade through London in July. I’m sure it’ll be on duty at a few weddings too, but for now let’s reveal exactly how we’ve specced our new long-term Aston Martin. Here’s what we’ve ordered:

Aston Martin DB9: £131,995 OTR

Cobalt Blue metallic paint: £995

20-inch 10-spoke silver diamond-turned wheels: £2595

Exterior Carbon Pack: £5995 (front splitter, door mirrors and rear bumper in carbon, plus graphite coloured exhausts)

Interior Carbon Pack: £3495 (dashboard, door trim and gearshift paddles in carbon)

1000W Bang & Olufsen BeoSound system: £5495

Headrests embroidered with ‘DB9’ logo: £495

Total: £152,150

We could try and make excuses for the near-£10k spent on carbonfibre as both options are new to the revised DB9 as Aston chases the lucrative personalisation market, but frankly, when presented with the chance to spec a £130k V12-engined GT, can you honestly tell us you wouldn’t go to town? Either way, I’m sure you’ll agree Cobalt Blue is a stunning colour in which to paint what might already be the best-looking car on sale today. Our order is in, and we’re eagerly awaiting delivery…

Month one running an Aston Martin DB9: our Aston heads for the N24 in style

Gone are the days when Astons, Bentleys and the like were consummate continent-crossing GTs (blame high fuel costs) but on this occasion that didn’t stop designer Matthew Tarrant and I taking our newly arrived DB9 out to the recent Nürburgring 24hrs.

Why? Because not only was Aston was aiming for overall victory with its V12 Vantage GT3 and going for a world record with a hydrogen-powered Rapide, but it had chosen the infamous endurance race to unveil the glorious CC100 concept as part of its centenary celebrations, and then have it lead a pre-race parade (including our DB9) around the Nordschleife.

Besides our car there was company boss Dr Bez in the CC100, Sir Stirling Moss driving the DBR1 in which he won the 1959 Nürburgring 1000km, one Daniel Craig in the same DB5 that starred in Skyfall, and over 100 other Astons.

I’m lucky enough to have taken part in a similar parade in our long-term BMW 1-series M a few years back, so handed the DB9’s key over to Matt. It was only as we were pulling onto the circuit that he mentioned he’d never driven around the ‘Ring before. Thankfully he didn’t bin it, and we had a great time charging around the ‘Ring sandwiched between the roars of a rare V12 Vantage Roadster and a new Vanquish.

In the actual N24 race Aston’s V12 Vantage GT3 qualified second on the 200+ grid, soon took the lead, and was out in front when the race was red flagged six hours in due to heavy rain. Unfortunately it struggled in the wet conditions when the race restarted nearly ten hours later, and eventually finished tenth in the shortest ever Nürburgring 24hrs.

Best bit? As usual the atmosphere in the forest at night (at least before the race was cancelled). Many fans arrive nearly a week before the N24 starts, construct their own three-storey viewing platforms at the edge of the track, set up their own nightclubs deep in the thick woodland, and party hard until the chequered flag is waved. Nothing beats watching the race cars emerge from the gloom, blast past and off into the night, while you’re surrounded by the sights and smells of the crazy crowd. It’s nothing like Le Mans.

As for the DB9, I think we’re going to get on well. It’s got a small boot and even smaller back seats, so there’s not much room to accommodate all the luggage a 21st century man needs for a weekend away in the Eifel Mountains, but an Aston draws smiles and waves and appreciation like few other cars. Everybody loved it.

We’ll have more on the dynamic side of the DB9, and what it’s like to actually live with over the coming months, but for now there are a few faults to sort. For a start the fuel filler cap release only works around 50% of the time, and although Aston cunningly foresaw this problem and fitted an emergency release handle in the boot, that’s not faultless either.

That, and the in-built Garmin sat-nav system crashes and resets whenever you attempt to enter the name of a town or city. The postcode functionality works fine, but as Aston’s own Works showroom, service and restoration centre in Newport Parnell is mere minutes from my house, the DB9 is booked in for a visit ASAP. More soon…

Month two running an Aston Martin DB9: the DB9 heads to base for gremlin-fixing treatment

A quick update on our DB9. It’s been in to Aston’s own Works dealership in Newport Pagnell, and the diagnosis of the faulty Garmin sat-nav calls for a new control unit. It’s on order, and the new part should arrive in a week or so. And when we go back for it to be fitted I’ll get the sticking fuel filler cap looked at too – annoyingly I forgot to mention it during the visit.

As for Works, it’s in Aston’s old home of Newport Pagnell, where the previous Vanquish was built and where the company’s restoration centre remains. A complete refurbishment has just finished, and a huge wall of glass now separates the showroom from the service bays so you can watch the technicians working on your car while you wait. No slacking, now!

The glass isn’t 100% soundproof either, so every now and again you’re treated to the sound of a V8 or V12 barking into life. And with a £1m One-77 in the showroom next to the sofas, it’s not a bad place from which to wait. But we shouldn’t have been visiting in the first place…

Month two running an Aston Martin DB9: fixing our DB9's 'bespoke concerns'

Good news! The DB9’s faulty Garmin sat-nav has been fixed courtesy of a new control unit fitted under warranty by Aston’s Works dealership in Newport Pagnell. And credit to Works which installed the new ECU despite me turning up unannounced, and gave me a tour of the restoration centre while I waited.

Unfortunately the sticking fuel filler cap was on its best behaviour when the s ervice technicians checked it over so no problem could be found. But it seems I need a more positive outlook on Aston ownership: I’m informed by one of the salesmen that the cars don’t actually suffer from faults, but instead have ‘bespoke concerns’…

Month three running an Aston Martin DB9: the early factory visit and Welsh mountain thrash in our DB9

Presented with a new Aston Martin DB9, what would you do? Stare at it? Show it off to friends and family? Take it to see your girlfriend? Use it to get a new girlfriend? Or head for your favourite roads? After much staring we head for north Wales.

The M40, M42, M6 and M54 are dispatched with unruffled ease, the auto ’box left in D, the adaptive dampers in Normal, the Sport button untouched, the big engine hushed and only just nudging 3000rpm at a three-figure cruise. GT talents showcased? Tick.

But it’s the spectacular Snowdonia National Park that we want, where sublime B-roads wind up and down epic valleys, streak through thick forests and across rolling hills. There the sun is shining, there’s no traffic, and the only sounds are the gentle bleating of newborn lambs and the noise of a raucous 5.9-litre V12 echoing off the stone walls of the Llanberis Pass and treating the climbers high on the peaks above to every roar, every bark and every crackling downshift.

Is there a better way to get better acquainted with our latest long-termer? And has there ever been a more poignant year in which to run an Aston Martin? The world’s coolest car company celebrates its 100th birthday in 2013, so can its oldest model still cut it?

Don’t think it’s exactly the same DB9 that Aston launched in late 2003 though. It’s been constantly revised over the past ten years – including a hefty overhaul in 2010 – and at the end of last year new pedestrian protection regulations forced a raft of changes to all of Aston’s V12-powered cars. So the updated DB9 uses the latest ‘Gen4’ VH aluminium platform, making the coupe 20% stiffer than before; the 8% more powerful engine sits 19mm lower in the nose, to meet those ped-pro regs; and there are new standard-fit Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes and three-stage adaptive dampers.

But we can debate the DB9’s new dynamic qualities later. As we were lucky enough to collect KV13 EXG from Aston HQ and take a tour of the factory, let’s instead indulge in a few highlights from an experience few people are lucky enough to have. Since production of the Rapide was moved from Austria to the UK last summer, every Aston Martin is now hand-built at the company’s Gaydon base. There’s one line for the Rapide and Vantage, one for the Vanquish and DB9 – the rare V12 Zagato and One-77 are built in a separate facility next to the main factory – and only when each car is complete are the Aston Martin badges finally applied.

The DB9 makes up about 25% of production, and it takes around 220 man-hours to make each car, including 50 hours in the paintshop and 50 hours stitching and trimming the interior. Best bit? Watching a 5.9-litre V12 being mated to its magnesium torque tube and carbonfibre propshaft, which is in turn joined to the gearbox, then the differential, subframes and brakes, before this one enormous piece is finally fused with the rest of the car.

Back to north Wales, and knowing we journalists wouldn’t have the patience to obey any running-in procedures when presented with a 510bhp V12, there’s already just over 1000 miles on our DB9. So it’s straight towards 7000rpm in each gear. Press Sport and the long-travel throttle, which was giving gradual access to the power and protecting you from any untoward exuberance, is now much sharper and with a strong and sustained prod the DB9 really reveals how quick it is; the twin exhausts, surprisingly silent at low revs, now howl harder and louder at all the newborn lambs; and the gearshift mapping is more aggressive.

The six-speed transmission still can’t shift as swiftly as the newest eight-speeders, either up or down the gears, and the more expensive Vanquish or a £239k and 730bhp Ferrari F12 would doubtless leave it trailing. But the stiffer chassis means there’s a wonderful composed balance to the way the latest DB9 now flows down a road, and the accurate steering has none of the previous Aston grittiness. Great day, great car.

A few of the CAR team are already insisting that we have monthly, maybe even weekly gatherings at Rockingham, so they can bring along their Pandas and CR-Vs and Veloster Turbos and we can all try each other’s long-termers on track. As I said, quite a year to run an Aston.

Month four running an Aston Martin DB9: a case of unintended acceleration in our DB9

Oh, Aston, Aston, Aston. Why do you do this to us? You serve us the most beautiful car the planet has known, paint it in a colour so exquisite it makes grown men randomly assemble, equip it with a V12 that sounds like God clearing his throat, and then, and then…

It was in Sainsbury’s car park. I had recovered from the shame of spending five minutes at a petrol pump trying to unstick the errant fuel-filler cap. I was rolling gently into a vacant space, foot on the brake pedal, ready to perform a halt. And then the engine started revving. I pressed the brake harder, but the car wouldn’t stop moving forward. It was low-speed stuff, but I couldn’t stop the DB9. It was revving louder, moving forward. 

When you’re piloting a £150k car and the controls suddenly stop doing what they always do, of course you panic. Luckily, when you park an Aston you do so away from other cars, so there was nobody to hit. But there was a wall. I collected myself, stood on the brake, hit Neutral and recovered control. Nobody else has reported a problem and it hasn’t recurred. So, what happened?

Month five running an Aston Martin DB9: fuel filler cap woes mar the DB9

Could there be a better way to look foolish? The DB9 draws attention – deservedly so – thanks to its beautiful body, but sometimes you don’t want anyone to see you. 
Sitting in a petrol station next to the pump, fuel-filler release not responding, I knew that the emergency release would make this only a blip on the smooth moves I was attempting to portray to onlookers. Then the emergency release came off in my hand. Range to empty: six miles; distance to office: 84 miles.

Most test cars have a big sticker somewhere with a phone number for what Aston calls ‘bespoke concerns’. Not the DB9. So I called its custodian Ben Pulman. His response? Laughter, before suggesting: ‘Try to get a member of the public to help you open the fuel-filler on your £150,000 supercar’.  Not what the chequebook ordered.

I managed to get the filler open on my own by prodding the button repeatedly – only to find that it then wouldn’t shut. So for the rest of the weekend, in which I enjoyed the V12’s shriek out of corners and fantastic pull, I had other drivers signalling to me that I’d left the fuel cap open. Upon climbing out, rain began falling, so I grabbed the Aston umbrella from the boot – and then the handle fell off. I felt like a right fool using both.

Month six running an Aston Martin DB9: Ben celebrates Aston's centenary

Somehow I don't think my 100th birthday will be quite as grand as Aston Martin’s. For its centenary celebrations the Royal household granted Aston permission to hold a huge party in a Royal park, and hundreds of loyal owners and thousands of enthusiastic fans turned up to revel with this great British brand; come 2085 I’ll be lucky if there’s a kindly nurse to mash my cake into a paste.
That lonely thought aside, this is why we’re running a DB9. Aston celebrates a glorious centenary in 2013, and besides experiencing the highs and lows of running a V12-engined GT, an extravaganza within sight of Kensington Palace is the highlight of its anniversary year. The Duchess of Cambridge wasn’t disturbed, having cleared out to give birth to a boy named after Hugh Laurie’s bumbling prince from Blackadder the Third, and with the party open and free to everyone, much fun was had by all.

Aston amassed an incredible collection of vehicles for the event, including a 100-strong display charting its history (from the oldest surviving Aston, a 1922 A3, to the latest CC100 speedster concept), plus iconic racers, a selection of 007’s company cars, three lovely Bertone Jets, and two Zagatos created specially for the centenary celebrations.

Add in the 400-odd cars driven to Kensington Gardens by owners (including a One-77 that led an Aston convoy across Europe, plus our own DB9) and there were around 550 vehicles on display. A few seemed to have missed the theme of the event (we arrived in the owners’ parking area at the same time as an Audi R8; perhaps his Aston suffered a ‘bespoke concern’ en-route?) but interlopers notwithstanding, this was still the largest ever gathering of Astons in the company’s 100-year history. Total value: around £1 billion…

Personal highlights? Plenty, from the dinky ‘Atom’ and the rightly iconic DBR1 and DB4 GT Zagato, via the bonkers one-off Bulldog 4 supercar, to the brutish Vantage V600 and DB7 V12 Vantage I adored when growing up. Not everyone appreciated the chunky shape of the Vantage and the earlier Virage, or the angular Lagonda saloon, but the only real horror was a Toyota masquerading as an Aston supermini and awkwardly placed between a One-77 and V12 Zagato in the timeline exhibition. Worse still, there was a second Cygnet on display alongside the rest of Aston’s current range. If the company survives for another 100 years, let’s hope it’s given the same treatment as Leon Trotsky and airbrushed out of history.

On such a momentous day it was a genuine treat to have an Aston key in my pocket, but aside from limited access to the race cars, nothing was off-limits to the 50,000+ members of the public who turned up either. The collection of James Bond cars was particularly popular, even if the crumpled state of the DBSs from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace proved 007 isn’t a particularly careful custodian, but even unheard-of early Astons attracted deep crowds. With white picket fences keeping the masses back from priceless one-offs, and a few sunburnt bodies too prominently on display, it was a proper British day out.

The DB9’s been on duty elsewhere this month, too. Straight from Kensington Gardens it took me to Pembrokeshire for a family holiday (yes, I go to Wales for work and for a break from work) so I apologise to the quiet village of Amroth, which was treated to the raucous crackle of a 5.9-litre V12 each time my mother insisted upon going for a drive when the barbecue was warming up. And the Aston proved a hit with her father, who refuses a visit unless I’m in something suitably flash – I was once laughed away when proffering a Mitsubishi Lancer.

Seeing them react and interact with the DB9, and the enthusiasm and excitement of the Kensington Garden crowd, puts life with an Aston into perspective. It’s had its faults (the sticky fuel filler cap has finally been fixed courtesy of a new release mechanism and new solenoid installed under warranty) and some new ones have appeared recently as well (a ‘Gear Shift Paddles Disabled’ warning flashed up briefly, and a piece of velocroed-on door trim fell off when I was having it washed ahead of the centenary celebrations) but for the past month or so none of that’s seemed to matter.

Our Cobalt Blue DB9 is utterly gorgeous, sounds thunderously incredible, and there are few better feelings than having the heavy glass key in your hand and being able to say ‘Shall we take the Aston?’ There’s no hatred for this great British brand, and the public’s affection for it isn’t simple admiration either, more unqualified love. Warts and all, after 100 years it’s better Aston’s here than not, right? Happy Birthday.

Month 7 running an Aston Martin DB9: the DB9 as a people-carrier

The Goodwood Festival of Speed is always a good excuse to get your favourite car out of the garage and get all the oils warmed up. A friend of mine has just bought a 911 3.2 Targa, and he decided Goodwood was a great excuse to go for a long blast; I decided it was a great excuse to borrow the DB9. First, we had to decide if Roo, my 13-year-old son, would actually fit in the Aston’s tiny ‘plus two’ rear seats. We went for a spin a week before the event, and in a rush of enthusiasm for the V12 and the leather Roo said: ‘Yes, yes, it’s fine!’

So the day came, my friend pulled up outside my house in his burbling 911 at 6am, and off we set for Chichester, four hours away. It took about 20 minutes for Roo to start complaining: ‘It’s too small, I’m uncomfortable, I feel claustrophobic’. By the time we got to Goodwood, Roo had lost most of the feeling in his lower body. All I can say is the DB9 can carry four people, but only if two of them are under 5ft tall… and your journey takes less than 18 minutes.

Still, I enjoyed it.

Month 8 running an Aston Martin DB9: Anthony compares the Aston to his Mazda 6 long-termer

Why is it, pray, that only the leather-upholstered interiors of wallet-meltingly pricey cars actually smell of leather?

It takes seven Bridge of Weir hides to trim the cabin of a DB9. And, it being a five-seater rather than mere 2+Douglas Bader, I can’t imagine it takes many less to deck the halls of a Mazda 6 Tourer. Yet, even before toddler guff and unsavoury dog by-products overran the olfactory airwaves, the latter has never wafted so much as a whiff of leather. Whereas, despite being relentlessly occupied and, doubtless, subjected to regular bouts of exceedingly fast food, the former still positively reeks.

Surely, a cow is a cow, whichever way you cut it, um, up. So I can’t imagine there’s an enormous difference between a hide sourced from an animal which had a double-barrelled name, slept in a four-poster bed and was allowed to choose its last meal, and one covertly exchanged for a crafty fiver round the back of the McDonald’s plant. You’d think a cow destined to become a Big Mac would, if anything, develop a thicker skin.

I can only assume, then, that one bonus of spending some £122,085 more on an Aston than a Mazda estate is the benefit of a somewhat more sophisticated tanning process.

All of which made me wonder whether it is actually possible to find any points of parity whatsoever between two such disparate – and indeed disparately priced – machines…

Well, each is, to my eye, the most handsome example of its own genre. However, while successive generations of Madza 6 grow ever-better looking, I’m not sure the reverse isn’t happening to the DB9.

Let’s face it, the only ocular glitch on Callum’s otherwise flawlessly pretty 2003 original is LED tail-light clusters resembling a glove puppet returning a library book; an unwelcome Fisker addition after the former had fled to pastures new.

With 60% new body panels, in-yer-face splitter and skirts, and a ski jump mounted on the boot lid, however, the latest DB9 variant seems intent on replacing understated elegance with the unsubtleties of unalloyed rage. Still looks terrific, of course; credit to the purity of the original design and the best grille in the business that it can endure such a felt-tip pasting and remain, largely, serene.

On board, one might smell better than the other, but both cars just fail to live up to the promise of their exteriors. The Mazda is tidy, well organised and comfortable enough, but rather lacking in joy. If only the weird burgundy dash trim matched the white bodywork.

Still, at least you can read the Mazda’s instruments and switchgear, which remains a wilfully unresolved issue in the DB9. And, despite pleasingly robust architecture, that’s not the only Gaydon glitch still crying out for a ha’porth of tar. For instance; residual Ford switchgear – fundamentally unacceptable on a car of this price; the stitched leather capping to the instrument binnacle – best reserved for corralling dreadlocks and, of course, ‘bespoke concerns’. Sorry; however charmingly couched, a fault is a fault, especially at £152,150 a pop.

Both cars sport flappy paddles. There’s a distinct correlation between paddle size and intent these days. Something of a size aping the logo trapped in a searchlight beam above Gotham City demands attention. Mazda 6 paddles, by contrast, are the size of chinchilla ears, and equally hard to get hold of. I played with them for a bit, but now leave alone.

The instant you fire up the DB9, ‘bespoke concerns’ become unspoken. Combining that uniquely Aston Tom-Jones-bending-over-to-pick-up-the-soap-in-Strangeways-shower-block soundtrack with a stiffer chassis, better steering and ever more power, it is gloriously involving. At its best, it settles effortlessly into an addictive cross-country lope entirely in keeping with Aston’s Gran Turismo pedigree, and on a sweeping A-road constant monitoring of the speedo is needed to keep actual velocity and speed limit even vaguely within, oh dear, 60mph of each other.

As Ben W has discovered, the Mazda’s grand touring credentials are not to be sniffed at either, despite a slightly over-tough, Aston-esque ride quality. Indeed, when it comes to swapping it back for his Duster, the words ‘stone’ and ‘blood’ leap to mind.

Month 9 running an Aston Martin DB9: meeting the Vanquish and F12 Berlinetta

My first taste of the latest DB9 came early in 2013. That car was fitted with winter tyres and I’d recently driven the Vanquish – Aston’s DB9-based halo – so while impressed, I was underwhelmed. The DB9 felt sluggish in comparison, the steering wasn’t as feelsome, the chassis didn’t have as much bite and there was less room inside – the Vanquish’s carbon bodyshell allowed Aston to free up space and shed weight. If I were in the market for a V12 Brit GT, I decided, I’d do all I could to upgrade from £133k DB9 to £191k Vanquish.

Then our long-term DB9 landed. Unlike that first test car, it was wearing regular rubber, and I hadn’t driven the Vanquish for ages. I cruised about enjoying the popcorn crispness of the V12’s exhaust note, the soothing ride quality and the sense of occasion. But the steering still felt too mute and, while snappy enough, the performance wasn’t anything special – a 911 Carrera S would obliterate it. Then one evening I switched the traction control off and took the long way home. It’s a road that rises, falls and curls across country, and the chassis certainly felt perkier on the summer tyres than it had before. Start taking liberties and you realise how beautifully balanced the DB9 is, edging up to and sneaking past its limits in one long linear sweep, quilting opposite-lock idiocy in a graceful, majestic calm.

I was smitten, but I’d still want a Vanquish. The grass is always greener, though, right? And if you were eyeing a Vanquish, you’d fancy a £240k Ferrari F12. The noise, performance, handling and gearbox – all are better with the Ferrari, which would slap away the DB9 like Luca slapping away Felipe for Kimi. But Massa’s still one of the world’s best drivers. And he’s a lot cheaper too.

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Photo gallery - Aston Martin DB9 Coupe (Gen4)

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Aston Martin DB9 Carbon Black and Carbon White Editions

Aston Martin have two world premieres at the Geneva Motor Show 2014, the V8 Vantage N430 and the Aston Martin DB9 Carbon Black and Carbon White Editions. We took a look at the later, itself a special edition version of the DB9 with much carbon fibre goodness added to the package!

Both special edition Aston Martin DB9 Carbon Black and Carbon White Edition continue a tradition started by the Aston ...

Aston Martin DB9 & Volante

Aston Martin DB9

The Aston Martin DB9, the first car to be produced at the company's modern and recently completed facility in Gaydon, Warwickshire, made world debut at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show on Tuesday, 9th September. The innovative DB9 heralds an exciting new era for Aston Martin as it reflects the direction that the company is now taking with all future models.

Using a radical new alum...

Aston Martin DB9 development and design

The DB9 was designed by Ian Callum and Henrik Fisker, and was first revealed at the 2003 Frankfurt Auto Show. The moniker "DB" stems from the initials of David Brown, the owner of Aston Martin for a significant part of its history. Despite being the successor of the DB7, Aston Martin did not call the car the DB8 due to fears that the name would suggest that the car was equipped with only a V8 engi...

Aston Martin Cosworth

This is an article about the engine Aston Martin Cosworth