First Drive: 2005 Aston Martin DB9
Marvelous is as marvelous does.
By Ron Sessions
Photography by the author
2005 Aston Martin DB9
Base price $160,000 (MT est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, rwd, 2-door, 2+2-pass
Engine 5.9L/444-hp V-12, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
0-60 mph, sec 4.9 (mfr est)
On sale in U.S. Currently
A comedy routine by Billy Crystal revolved around a Fernando Lamas-like character who pursued perfection through vanity. "When you look mahvelous, darling, you are mahvelous," he exhorted. No student of "Saturday Night Live," Aston Martin chief executive Ulrich Bez enthuses, "The new DB9 drives as good as it looks."
When more stringent safety standards signaled the end of the line for the long-running DB7, the pressure was on to create a new gran turismo to meet those lofty standards. Henrik Fisker, Aston Martin design director, extols, "To design a GT car, you must start with the right proportions," although it must be noted that this design was initiated by the hand of Ian Callum, who also did the DB7.
There's no reinventing of the wheel going on here--just highly evolved Aston Martin cues such as a wide-mouth grille, meaty 19-inch wheels set in Coke-bottle-shaped fender flares, short overhangs, long dash-to-axle ratio, and a streamlined, set-back cabin. Swan-wing doors rise at a 12-degree angle when opened. Compared with the DB7, the new car's wheelbase is nearly six inches longer and the front track two inches wider.
There's also the sense that, in this world of robots and just-in-time manufacturing, the DB9 is a handbuilt car. You get the feeling a lot of white-coated technicians and artisans fussed over it to make it special for the buyer. Aston wants you to see this in details such as the one-piece chrome strip around the side window openings or the headlamps free of cutlines intersecting at the fenders. In the interior, too, instead of little strips of wood here and there, Aston uses large wood pieces (walnut, mahogany, or even bamboo) on the dash upper center stack and top edges of the doors. These are "structural," not just ornamental. There's a three-dimensional aluminum look for the floodlit instruments. Bridge of Weir does the leatherwork. A clear glass (not plastic) starter button on the dash center stack glows red when the ignition is on and turns blue when the engine has subsequently started.
At the same time, the DB9 benefits from access to parent Ford Motor Company's bank account, research labs, and tier-one suppliers. Jeremy Main, product-development director, explains that the structure of the new DB9 is composed entirely of aluminum extrusions and castings joined with polyurethane adhesive. That's right, it's glued together. Aston claims a stiff 27 Hz torsional-rigidity figure.
With the front-midship placement of the all-aluminum V-12 and the transmission moved to the rear axle, the DB9 enjoys an ideal 50/50 front/rear weight distribution. A full 85 percent of the car's mass is within the wheelbase. Main contends that, compared with the old DB7, the new car's polar moment is close to the driver's stomach. And the engine has been dropped down in the chassis to lower the center of gravity. Forged-aluminum control arms front and rear and aluminum coil-over shocks help reduce unsprung weight.
Open the magnesium-framed door, settle into the driver's seat (with more fore/aft travel now to accommodate up to a 6-foot, 3-inch corn-fed North American) and push that clear-glass engine start button. You'd never guess the all-aluminum DOHC 5.9-liter V-12 originally was developed for the DB7 from two lowly Ford Duratec 3.0-liter V-6 engines piggybacked end to end. The Aston 12 makes power the old-fashioned way, without variable valve timing or variable-length intake manifolds. A full 85 percent of the engine's torque is achieved at 1500 rpm. It has twin electronically controlled throttles and large-bore stainless-steel dual exhaust. When these pipes are moving air, the resulting sound is as delicious as anything Ferrari or Lamborghini has to offer.
A rigid aluminum torque tube connects the engine to the rear-mounted transaxle. The Touchtronic automatic transmission can be paddled up and down through the gears or left in Drive. Dash-mounted Park, Reverse, and Drive transmission buttons are reminiscent of early 1960s Chrysler products.
The driving beauty of the DB9 is its balance and responsiveness. The car corners nearly flat despite no active suspension system, yet manages a suitably luxurious ride quality even though it's perched on a thin veneer of 19-inch Bridgestone REO 50 Z-rated rubber. ZF speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering keeps the driver apprised of what those tires are dealing with. Large-diameter Brembo four-piston monobloc calipers and 14.0-inch front, 13.0-rear ventilated and grooved rotors scrub speed with a vengeance. The standard stability control isn't aggressive or intrusive as long as you feign obedience for the laws of physics.
Early on, Aston looked at ceramic brakes, active damping, and tubular control arms, but stuck to more cost-effective technologies. Exotic GT cars have to deliver some semblance of value for dollar even if the back seats in this 2+2 would be a tight fit for dwarfs and hobbits.
The DB9's beauty is clear to see, inside and out. It may be the highest-quality Aston Martin ever built; it exhibits jewellike attention to detail and combines high chassis technology and the cachet of a sonorous V-12 engine. Mahvelous. Simply mahvelous.