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Aston Martin DB9
The roundabout route pays off.

By Ian Norris • Photos by Stephane Foulon

Podington, U.K. — R&T Executive Editor Douglas Kott, over to do the numbers on the Aston Martin DB9, smiled as we unloaded our luggage from the Aston and the Jaguar XK8 photo chase car. "This sure is the land of the roundabout!" he remarked. We'd just driven the 60-odd miles from Aston's new headquarters at Gaydon to our overnight hotel. I'd driven the Aston and Doug had followed me as I obeyed the rather stern instructions of the lady who spoke for the Aston's navigation system. It was true that her most-often-used phrase was "at the next roundabout," followed by an instruction as to which exit to take.
Living in Britain, you tend to take roundabouts — I guess you call them traffic circles — for granted. Surprisingly, they are an American invention; the first was set up in 1903, at Columbus Circle in New York, but we Brits have taken them to our bosom. There's a series of three right outside Gaydon, and Newport Pagnell, Aston's spiritual home, is close to the town of Milton Keynes, which has more roundabouts than any other place in Britain.

It's not surprising, therefore, that Astons excel in the job of negotiating them. They used to say that the local topography influenced the characteristics of cars. Prewar Austins would climb hills with ease because Lord Austin would not approve any car that would not sail up the steep Rose Hill, a mile or so from the factory, in top gear. Similarly, Morrises cruised easily at 60 mph because William Morris wanted a car that would be at home on the flat open roads around Oxford.

Well, it's still true. An Aston Martin is built to tame roundabouts, and the DB9 does it wonderfully. But that's not just of value to those who drive in Britain; the roundabout requires attributes that are universally valued. Remember that in Britain you can meet one on any open road, which means you may approach at 70 mph or more. That means gentle braking to shed some speed while you check whether the road is clear. If it isn't, you're going to have to brake hard, often to a standstill, while the other vehicle clears your entry. So good brakes are part of the equation. If the roundabout's clear, you're going to drop down a gear to help the brakes before you accelerate through. So good gearshifts are a second element. If you're enjoying yourself, you will want to hit the clipping points that mark the best line exactly — add precise steering to the mix.

With all this braking, accelerating and changing direction going on, you want suspension that keeps the car flat and isn't flummoxed when you apply the throttle to accelerate out, upshift, and get back up to cruising speed as quickly as possible. In roughly 100 yards, you've sampled most of what makes a car work well, and on a 60-mile journey in certain parts of Britain you will probably do it more times than you would in an entire coast-to-coast trip in the U.S.

But even if you don't do roundabouts, be glad that Aston's engineers and test drivers do, for those daily trips around the traffic circles have helped make the DB9 a superb road car. The engine might be the product of some clever cutting and pasting of less exotic powerplants by Ford's engine designers, but it behaves like a classic V-12 should: 450 horsepower from 5935 cc takes the car from zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds and on to 13.2 sec. and 110.0 mph for the standing quarter mile.

The weight distribution of the DB9, with its front engine and rear-mounted gearbox, must have helped it snick through the cones we set out on Santa Pod's wide and windy drag strip for the standard R&T slalom test. Doug completed it at 65.5 mph, which was, as he said, "pretty impressive for a 3900-lb., fairly wide car." The car certainly feels well balanced on the road, helped by the rigidity of the advanced construction Aston now uses for all its products. This combines an underpinning in aluminum and carbon-fiber with aluminum and composite body panels, resulting in a light and extremely stiff structure.

Settle into the comfortable and supporting driver's seat, start the engine, and the sound is a hint of what's to come. There's a bark as the engine fires, but it's there only to let you know the V-12 is ready to play. Take off gently and it's smoothness itself, but hit the throttle pedal in earnest and the bark returns. During the acceleration runs, the sound was continuous and far from restrained. However, out on the road the exhaust sent its message only when one changed down to power through a corner — or a roundabout. The rest of the time it was quiet enough to allow normal conversation at any time.

Shifting gears was quick and easy using the column-mounted paddles, but most drivers will probably spend the majority of their time in automatic. Unusually, there is no shift lever in the car's central console; Park, Drive, Neutral and Reverse are selected through four buttons mounted in the center console, level with the instruments. They are conveniently placed, but not the best solution ergonomically. Naturally, there's a Sport mode for those occasions when upshifts need to be delayed for extra acceleration.

The brakes — 14.0-in. rotors at the front and 13.0-in. at the rear — were excellent on the road and held up well during testing. Despite a series of stops from 80 mph, there were no nasty smells and the pedal felt fine. Handling was precise, the suspension feeling hard but not harsh. It was commendably smooth on the freeway, cruising easily at the 85 to 90 mph that is the average speed on British motorways. On country roads it just flows, with its roundabout breeding keeping it flat through corners.

In appearance, the car that succeeds the DB7 has a hard act to follow, for Ian Callum's design is universally acknowledged as a modern classic. Congratulations, then, to Aston's Director of Design Henrik Fisker and to Sarah Maynard, who was responsible for the DB9's interior. From the outside, there's a natural family resemblance to the DB7, but it has been fine-tuned. The design is smooth, clean, sophisticated — if (it's cliché time, folks) the Vanquish is a cutlass, the DB7 is a scimitar, the DB9 is a rapier — and the old V8s were battle-axes. There are no angles from which this car does not look good, and the rear haunches, whether seen from outside or in your mirrors, are exquisite.
Inside, the DB9 is superb. It's modern and clean, using traditional wood and leather but in a fresh new way. The center console sweeps down from the windshield unlike any other car, a design feature that is emphasized by use of semi-matte rather than highly-polished walnut. The same wood finish is used on the door-cappings and it's a style others will copy. The gray and silver instruments are jewel-like, superb pieces of detail design that can only be described as intricate simplicity, looking good in daylight and even better at night. Digital readouts in the main dials show miscellaneous information in the speedo and an admirably clear readout of actual speed in the rev counter.

The car isn't perfect — the transmission controls are awkward and too widely spread, and Aston has followed the current performance-car trend of employing a separate starter button. When will the industry realize that we abandoned starter buttons because just turning the key is much more convenient? The dash buttons for radio and navigation suffer from too much design — white lettering on a silver background is hard to read — and some of the minor controls, such as the fuel-filler release, are hidden away in awkward places.

But this is all nitpicking. This is a car that is a pleasure to drive and a never-ending joy to look at. I don't know a better argument for having a glass wall to your garage than the fact that there is a DB9 inside.

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