Aston Martin DB9
Car & Driver
The V-12–powered DB9 is nearly as fast as the Vanquish, and a bunch cheaper.
BY PETER ROBINSON
Aston Martin's successor to the decade-old DB7 is a large enough step forward for the company that it's ignored the DB8 moniker, and gone straight to DB9 for its new two-plus-two is powered by a 450-hp V-12 and reportedly capable of 186 mph.
Apart from a substantially modified 5.9-liter V-12, the DB9 is as new as any car can be: It comes from a new factory with a new platform that's unique to Aston Martin; it has a new suspension, new gearboxes (for Aston Martin), and a new and bespoke interior. The all-new body is styled by Ian Callum, the same bloke responsible for the DB7 and Vanquish. The DB9's shape is a contemporary reworking of Aston's classic themes, and it's more elegant and less aggressive than that of the Vanquish. There was some debate, though. Henrik Fisker, Aston's design boss, mildly tweaked Callum's proposal after taking over in September 2001.
Whatever, this is another beautiful Aston Martin. The DB7 borrowed its basic underpinnings from the aging Jaguar XJS and scrounged what it could from Ford's parts bin (the interior door handles were from the Mazda Miata).
For the DB9, Ford's smallest and most prestigious brand has been allowed to create a new platform. Known internally as VH (“vertical/horizontal”), the bonded aluminum structure will be tailored to suit the future requirements of Aston's soon-to-be-three-model lineup. In summer 2005, Aston adds the Vantage V-8, a smaller two-seat 911 fighter to be built as a coupe and roadster. Eventually, too, the successor to the V-12 Vanquish will also use the VH platform.
Aston claims the DB9's bonded structure is 25 percent lighter than the DB7's and, with 20,650 pound-feet per degree, has double the torsional rigidity. “We don't know of any sports car that's better,” says Jeremy Main, Aston's head of product development and motorsport. The frame uses die-cast extruded and stamped components that are bonded or fixed by self-piercing rivets. Body panels, in either aluminum or composites, are fixed to the tub by adhesives. For the first time in a car, Aston uses ultrasonic welding for the upper and lower C-pillars, a technology that's claimed to be 90 percent stronger than conventional spot welding. To further reduce weight, the steering column, the inner door frames, and even the transmission paddles are made from magnesium. The luxurious coupe still tips the scales at 3800 pounds, but that's 150 pounds less than the DB7's heft. Aston says the VH platform doesn't share any parts with the bonded aluminum structure used for the Vanquish, which continues to be made in small numbers at Aston's old plant in Newport Pagnell, England.
To improve interior space, Aston has stretched the wheelbase to 108.3 inches, up 6.3 inches over the DB7, and reduced overhangs so that overall length is only marginally increased. A cabriolet version is expected to be unveiled at the Detroit show in January, about six months before sales of both body styles begin in the U.S.
For the DB9, Aston's rapidly growing engineering section—three years ago 20 engineers were employed full time; today there are 200—has tweaked the V-12 with new camshafts and inlet and exhaust manifolds to improve low-speed torque. All 450 horses arrive at 6000 rpm; peak torque of 420 pound-feet comes aboard at 5000 rpm, with 80 percent on tap at 1500 rpm. Unlike the V-12 Vanquish, with its electrohydraulic Magneti Marelli gearshift, the DB9 offers a choice between a conventional six-speed manual from Graziano, the Italian supplier to Ferrari and Lamborghini, and ZF's excellent six-speed 6HP26 automatic (used by BMW, Audi, and Jaguar) that allows the driver to operate in PRND or use steering-column-mounted paddles to shift manually. So efficient is the automatic that Aston claims 0 to 60 mph takes just 4.9 seconds, only 0.2 second slower than the manual. Both go 186 mph.
To help achieve Aston's target of 50/50 weight distribution, the gearbox is mounted at the rear and is driven via a carbon-fiber tail shaft within a cast aluminum torque tube, which connects the engine to the gearbox. Only the very front of the V-12 is ahead of the front-axle line. Main says that on the dry-sump Vantage V-8 the entire engine is behind the axle line, in a front-mid-engine position that further improves the weight distribution. Suspension is by forged aluminum unequal-length control arms, with an additional lateral control link at the rear. Even the nonadaptive dampers are aluminum bodied.
The DB9 is the first Aston to be assembled at the Ford Premier Automotive Group's Gaydon facility south of Coventry, shared with various Land Rover and Jaguar departments. Aston plans to build 1400 to 1500 DB9s a year. Add the 3000 to 3500 Vantage V-8s, and up to 300 Vanquishes, and you're looking at more than 5000 Astons a year. That's 1000 more cars than Ferrari builds and an incredible improvement over the 42 cars Aston built as recently as 1992.
Is there room for both the DB9 and Vanquish? Especially when the DB9 offers nearly identical performance (4.7 seconds versus 4.6 seconds to 60 mph), more interior room, superior finish, and, at about $150,000, a price that is a cool $85,000 less? Aston says there'll always be a market for the more exclusive Vanquish, which is now likely to get a significant power boost sometime in 2004.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....