Aston Martin celebrates its 100th anniversary with a radical one-off concept car
Aston Martin DB9 review (2013 onwards)
What: Aston Martin DB9
Where: Nice, France
Date: October 2012
Key rivals: Bentley Continental GTC, BMW M6, Ferrari California, Maserati GranTurismo, Maserati GranCabrio, Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG
It's still gorgeous, but don't let the looks deceive you - this is much more than just another DB9 update. Everything from the engine to the aluminium underneath has been extensively overhauled, and the result is an enormously accomplished high performance Grand Tourer.
We like: Awesome sound and performance from new V12, exceptional ride / handling balance from new adaptive suspension, brilliant carbon brakes, still gorgeous
We don't like: Having to explain how new it actually is...
Like us, you may be guilty of assuming the Aston Martin DB9 is old hat. Not only does the original date from 2004, its most overtly potent variation - the Bond-spec DBS - has just been replaced by the new Vanquish, while the sultry Virage variant has been dropped. Prompting rumours it was a flop.
All of which makes you wonder: exactly why has Aston bothered to update the 'ordinary' - and presumed aged - DB9 for the 2013 model year? So before we have the firm's lawyers on the phone (or even, heaven forbid, boss Dr Ulrich Bez himself), we'd better set the record straight.
This is a far more comprehensive update than it looks. Known internally as AM113 - distinct from the previous version, AM112 - it's actually based on the fourth generation evolution of Aston's "Vertical Horizontal Architecture". Which is decidedly different to the original that debuted back in '04.
Amongst the changes, there's a clever new pedestrian hugging crash structure at the front and the engine is now 19mm lower in the chassis. Promising for the handling, as well as good for the health of any heads that happen to come into contact with the bonnet.
It inherits the sexy visuals of the Virage
That engine is easily overlooked, too, being the same 6.0-litre V12 configuration as before. Except, it features a new block, new crank, new throttle bodies, new "big wing" intake manifold design, new hollow camshafts, machined combustion chambers, bigger intake valves, and new dual variable valve timing heads.
You get the picture. It's not the same engine at all. Rather, it's a detuned version of the new AM11 unit that warps time in the Vanquish. And by detuned we mean this DB9 produces 517hp - in other words, more than even the DBS. It is smoking fast.
On top of this, the new DB9 gets three-stage adaptive damping, a Sport mode, and it inherits the sexy visuals of the Virage almost wholesale; the only difference is the rear decklid (now made from carbonfibre) and the rear ducktail spoiler - which is bigger here to stabilise the increase in performance.
And no, the Virage wasn't a flop; Aston planned to build a 1,000 - and exceeded that target by over 10%. This is the new DB9. Prepare to want one. We do.
So... that new V12, then. As per familiar Aston form, even the starting procedure is a drama. Grab the 'key' - an artful wedge of glass and chrome - press it into the slot in the middle of the dashboard, and hold.
There's a churning whirr from the starter motor, then 6.0-litres bursts into life with a bark that'll silence the neighbourhood Rottweiler. This is a statement of intent that's hard to ignore - especially if you're in the open-top Volante.
Yet with all the systems set to normal, it seems an empty gesture initially. Take up from the revised six-speed automatic gearbox is smooth and fuss free, the steering light, maybe even a touch rubbery around the straight ahead, and the engine sweetly responsive rather than massively urgent.
This is not so much lulling you into a false sense of security as allowing you the opportunity to relax. Driven this way, the DB9 seems almost ordinary - comfortable, refined, easily capable of crushing continents beneath those 20-inch wheels. That you'll be able to smash big distances in this car is a certainty.
It cocks its head and says: 'you wanna?'
Prod the Sport button, though, and immediately the engine cocks its head and says: 'you wanna?' The throttle map amps up and the Aston surges forward, just a little. Suddenly there's more sound, spitting through an exhaust system artfully tuned to make the most of every expelled hydrocarbon.
Grab the left-hand paddle for a downshift and the revs burst to match the engine speed to the ratio, in a process that's now just that bit snappier. Play with this for a while, and you'll quickly discover a manual mode that wants to give you everything. And it does. Now the DB9 is alive.
Peak torque is only increased ever so slightly over the old car, but the muscular stuff is spread more thickly throughout the motor's range - meaning there's more go, more of the time. As a result, you don't really have to fully extend this Aston to make it feel like you're getting value for money.
That's proper Grand Touring performance. But even so, clamp the throttle to floor, unleash all 517 ponies, and the DB9 snarls and crackles and turns into something utterly ferocious.
Ride and handling
Once you're really moving, the depth and breadth of the DB9's new character begins to reveal itself. The adaptive damping has enough scope to cope even in the standard mode, but crank the chassis to Sport and the composure increases without any real damage to the ride quality.
In fact, this setting is exceptional. You'll hear pot holes more than you feel them, and should the wheels encounter something the suspension can't quite sooth away the big Aston is rarely genuinely jarring. That word composure presents itself again, instantly, endearingly.
Sucking down great gobfulls of air
Combined with the Sport powertrain mode it makes you want to drive and drive - the engine sucking down great gobfulls of air and hammering at the horizon, while stiffening the suspension not only keeps the corners flat it also layers extra weight into the steering. Feedback and balance closing on the ideal.
This is the real DB9: taut, fit - yet rarely foreboding. It's no wonder Aston has installed a setting lock, so you no longer have to go through a tedious button-poking regime every time you re-ignite it. The car remembers how it wants you to drive.
There's more. Keep that digit on the damper button a shade longer and you'll access the Track mode. Harder, to the point where mid-corner bumps begin praying on the more imaginative areas of your mind, but never entirely uncompromising. On the right road, it makes the DB9 faster still.
That "gen four" bonded aluminium structure is the vital silent partner here. With changes that range from the very profile of the aluminium extrusions at its core to the heavy duty triangulated strut brace under the bonnet, the coupe is 20% more rigid than before, an improvement that rises to 30% for the Volante.
As with the outside, the new DB9 adopts much of the Virage on the inside. It's tough to take serious issue with the way it looks and feels, what with the seven grades of leather and the slinky secondary controls. But there are doubtless existing Aston customers who were hoping for something genuinely new here.
Anyone after bells and whistles is also going to be disappointed. Aside from an optional Bang & Olufsen stereo and the adoption of automatic lights and wipers (apparently some customers no longer know there's a switch for this kind of thing...), the DB9 is pleasantly free from electronic fripperies.
Possibly this is because Aston can't afford the development costs of successfully integrating them, but Dr Bez says it's his desire to avoid adding unnecessary weight and complication to the car. If it doesn't actually enhance the driving experience, he doesn't want it. We have to agree.
Economy and safety
The best we can say about the V12 in terms of economy is that at a quoted 19.8mpg with 333g/km CO2 it is better than before. Achieving such official stats is what the non-Sport mode is really for. But there's no direct injection, energy recuperation or stop-start here. Dr Bez's opinion on hybrids is unrepeatable.
The safety situation makes for much more positive reading, starting with the standard fit carbon-ceramic brakes. These are, quite simply, brilliant. There's none of the low-speed uneasiness you get with some rival setups, they offer huge, unrelenting stopping power, a longer service life and lower weight. Win.
Similarly the elegance of engineering a pedestrian impact solution that avoids supplementary pyrotechnics to save weight and prevent compromising the DB9's looks should only be applauded. The trick to this is a new, patent-pending "keystone" grille structure and cleverly thinned hard-impact areas.
Finally, as befits a truly sporting GT car, the Dynamic Stability Control includes a slippy-slidey Sport setting; the brave can also kill it completely.
The MSN Cars verdict
This is the best Aston Martin DB9 ever - and by some margin. This in turn makes it a truly great Grand Touring car; dismissing huge distances with ease, effortlessly fast in all circumstances, absolutely savage when required.
It offers everything you really need, and nothing that you don't. It looks undeniably fabulous - something not everyone will say about the rivals - and it exudes the kind of class that draws compliments rather than distain. The new DB9 feels honed, immensely capable. Complete.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: 6.0 V12 (AM11)
Engines, diesel: n/a
Power, hp: 517 @ 6,500rpm
Torque, lb ft: 457 @ 5,500rpm
0-62mph, secs: 4.6
Top speed, mph: 183
Mpg combined: 19.8
CO2, tax: 333g/km, 35%
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