The Aston Martin DB9: High-powered elegance, for a price

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by By TOM VOELK / Special to KING5.com

NWCN.com

Posted on August 27, 2009 at 10:35 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Driving Northwest: The exclusive Aston Martin DB9

Louis Vuitton luggage. Manolo Blahnik slingback heels. Aston Martin DB9. None of these things are essential in life. Plenty of us get by with a duffle bag, Chucks and a Mustang. Some can't even afford that. And yet products made of unobtanium exist, perhaps to taunt us. Or motivate.

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Odds are you will never own a DB9. The closest most ever get to an Aston Martin is watching a James Bond film. They are rare, partly because of cost. The starting price of a Volante (convertible in Aston-speak) is $199,000, which in some parts of America buys a great condo.

As a public service, I have agreed to drive one for a few days, to let you know if it's worth the trouble of ordering one up.

Trouble?

It's not like choosing a Camry folks. There's a dizzying array of custom paint colors and leather combinations. Just this will frighten the indecisive. Then there's the wood, choose type and finish. Decisions come down to the width, length and hue of the interior stitching. Oh and you need to tell them if you want the soft top Volante or fixed roof coupe. Then you wait while the folks in England put it together … especially for you.

Chances are the typical Aston buyer isn't content to twiddle their thumbs whilst delivery day ticks closer. The impatient (and patient alike) are invited to the factory in Gaydon, Warwickshire to see it being built. Meet the craftsmen. Have a spot of tea. When it's done, take the car that's been built especially to your specification for a spin on Aston's track. With a driving coach. Life is good.

What you get for 200K +

The envy of many around you that's for sure. A few people I've encountered have no idea what an Aston Martin is but they instinctually know it is very desirable. Let's start with performance. The DB9's 6.0-liter engine has three times the cylinders of a Honda Civic. The 12 of them (not a typo) produce 470 horsepower and a beautiful engine note that's up there with Beethoven's 5th. I would listen to this on my iPod. The structure is extruded aluminum as is the body, save for a few composite panels.

The 6-speed Touchtronic 2 automatic transmission is push button, like an old Dodge Dart, but better. There are paddle shifters on the steering wheel for manual gear changers. Other writers have criticized the buttons as cheesy. If so it's artisan Gruyere. Those bothered by it or preferring to row their own can opt for a 6-speed manual tranny. A sport mode alters the shift points and sharpens the throttle response. The suspension is not adjustable, surprising in a car at this price.

Fast? Do you even have to ask?

Zero-to-60 happens in a searing 4.6 seconds. Without even driving the car you can sense what you're about to read next: Yes, it is fast. Yes it handles heroically. Yes, it attracts attention. That's what cars like this do. Less expensive vehicles can achieve performance levels like this too, sometimes higher than the DB9. If you're looking for bang for your buck performance, buy a Nissan GT-R Mr. Boy Racer.

DB9s understated elegance is old money compared to say a Lamborghini's new wealth attitude. Its visual doesn't overpower the senses. Never bombastic, DB9 enhances but doesn't smother the owner's image. It's a car to be seen in. Fortunately it's comfortable enough to be a daily driver. So you can be seen. Often.

More leather than a Montana ranch

Open the doors and you'll find they cant upwards slightly to clear curbs. They also stay put at any position you leave them at. Neat trick. The interior is fully lined in leather, even places that have no business having it. That 12 cylinder is started with a key made of crystal. Don't lose it. Replacements go for 2 grand (like that matters to Richy Rich). There's a bit of theatre in pushing the key in and watching the lighting pulse red during ignition.

That 199K price makes the DB9 one of the world's most expensive iPod accessories. Yes, it has full integration, plus the Bang & Olufsen sound system is terrific. That said, I shut it down after evaluation to enjoy the engine growl. Not everything is perfect. With a knob interface that controls a somewhat cryptic interface, the navigation system is cumbersome. I never became fully comfortable with all the controls, but then again I only had the car for two days. Knobs and switches feel especially substantial because, well, they are.

You want useful? Buy a minivan.

With belts for four, a DB9 could be the perfect family vehicle … for circus contortionists. Certainly folks up front will have no problem at all in the exceptionally well contoured seats. Side bolstering keeps a driver planted firmly when attacking tight corners. Top down cabin wind is just right with a touch of breeze tousling that $200 hair cut.

The back? Come on. No one really expects this to be comfortable for adults, especially with the roof retracted. My 12-year-old boy fit in snugly. His wildly blowing hair, rowdy hoots and face of pure joy as we motored up I-5 with top down is one of my favorite memories this year. This is good work if you can get it.

No surprise an Aston Martin isn't exactly practical but the Volante boot (trunk to you Yankee) is pretty small. A few weeks ago I wedged two bundles of Kirkland brand bath tissue into a Mazda MX-5 Miata. If you want to close the lid on the Aston, it's heading home with just one pack. A conciliation? There's a very nice umbrella mounted back here. It's standard. That and the crystal ash tray were MIA. Dang. Could have been a nice souvenir.

An observation

I'm not a car snob. I honestly enjoy the engineering challenge of a well done economy car as much as the Aston Martin. That said, after tooling around in the DB9 Volante for a few days, you start looking at 5-Series BMWs and E Class Mercedes as if they were … dare I say, plain and common? How easy it is to get warm and comfortable in the lap of luxury. Of course handing the crystal key back to the Aston Martin folks is a bucket of ice cold reality. No one needs a car like this but I can understand the desire. Oh well, back to my 20 year old Miata ...

For buyers who love decisions, have a classic sense of style, and a swimming pool full of money, this Aston Martin may be for you. Other high-end performance cars may edge it out at the track, but on the street it's tough to match the high powered elegance of the DB9 Volante. If you have the means, they're waiting to tailor one just for you.

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