By on June 14, 2006

front_10.jpgWalking up to the Aston Martin DB9, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to drive it or sleep with it.   If running your hand over the DB’s sculptured haunches and taut lines doesn’t give you a warm feeling in your nether regions, you should surrender your pistonhead privileges at the door.  Very few inanimate objects attain this level of beauty; those that do either rock your world or break your heart, or, as in this case, both.    

Eventually, I stopped stalking the DB9 and went to open the door. This requires a patient, concerted effort; the doors are operated via a cantilevered handle imbedded in the sheet metal.  You push in to make the door handle to pop out.  The portals are perfectly balanced. Their swan-like upward arcing motion stops anywhere you choose in its cycle.  Aston hasn’t offered this level of engineering precision or attention to detail since, um, ever. 

50.jpgEnter the cabin and the aroma of fine leather and natural wood overwhelms your brain’s olfactory center.  Again, running your hand over everything is a subconscious response.  Although there’s lots of room forward and back, the seats only offer a narrow slot between the high bolsters for your bottom, so anything from short and skinny to tall and skinny works just fine.  The leather is hand-fitted and feels very plush, thick and warming.  In fact, the longer your sits in them at anything above room temperature, the more you wish for perforations and active ventilation.  

The DB9’s interior is perfectly plush, but the lighter-colored suede headliner is the only bright note in an otherwise dark carcoon.  Rear visibility comes straight from the “What is behind me is not important” school of gumball racing, and makes the electronic parking assistance beeper a mandatory annoyance.  The DB9’s gigantic blind spots also necessitate Volvo’s latest high-tech electronic lane change assistance and warning system, which is unfortunately unavailable. 

To start the DB9, you fit the plastic key into the ignition and turn.  Nothing.  Oh right.  Put your foot on the brake, push the dash-mounted crystal “power” button and the twelve-pot powerplant rumbles to life.  It’s all very dramatic, but couldn’t Aston just borrow a keyless entry system from Toyota.  A little message appears on the dashboard display: “Power, Beauty, Soul!”  If the DB9 conformed to the UK’s truth in advertising laws, it would’ve read: “Ponderous, Expensive, Fragile!” I should have revved the motor a few times, switched off the car, got out and stared at it some more.  

20.jpgAlas, I drove it.  For a two-seater holstering a V12 this menacing sounding, forward thrust is distinctly lacking.  (Two tons of dead weight can do that to a car.)  On the positive side, the DB9’s automatic transmission is both flexible and responsive.  Downshifting via the large aluminum paddles is a pleasure; leaving things to the computer is almost as satisfying.  Hang on.  Why does that Subaru keep leaving me at the lights?  I need to flog the old girl a bit harder– which seems a bit churlish.  I should be able to simply outwaft the bastard.  

At the first corner, I instantly regret my excess speed. The brakes are hard in their initial application, not unlike a Porsche 911 but the DB9’s wooden feel remains, sapping confidence.  Turn-in is as flaccid as a dead flounder.  Steering is vague, heavy and unpleasant; it’s as if there’s a gyroscope biasing the DB9 toward a straight line.  Not to put too fine a point on it, cornering is something of a chore.  Equilibrium is only restored when the road unwinds again.  Driving the gentlemanly Aston requires a strange sort of rhythm: straights good, stopping bad; smooth roads good, corners bad; exhaust note good, stop light bad.   

1002.jpgIn light of the DB9’s unremarkable handling, the harsh ride quality is completely unacceptable. As is the incredibly expensive Linn 950 watt stereo: an incessant buzzing sound emanating from one of the rear speakers destroys all hope of suitable bass response.  And I scoffed that a trickle charger was part of the standard kit until a few days rest drained the battery.  An inattentive Aston owner must then learn to remove the rear seats to access the battery thoughtlessly sealed inside the trunk by the electric lock.  

The DB9’s driving dynamics are a disaster.  Luckily, the Aston has carisma.  No doubt: emerging from an Aston Martin DB9 tells the world that its driver is a serious player (not playa).  All you have to do to maintain the fiction is not tell anyone there are plenty of lesser (i.e. dramatically cheaper) cars that go faster, handle better and are more fun to drive.  I drive an Aston Martin, so do yourself a favor and buzz off Mate.  Charmed?  Not quite.

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8 Comments on “Aston Martin DB9 Volante Review...”

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Well said! Definitely light on low-mid range power, unacceptable for a GT at this price point no matter how visually-stunning the package is. The siamesed Duratec V6s need AMG’s forced induction magic in the worst way.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Jeez, when I read something like this, I wonder how ill-tuned my butt is. I’ve spent lots of time in DB9s and never noticed its slow acceleration, poor braking or unremarkable handling, but that could be me. Still, I wonder why Jay had so much trouble with that Subaru at the stoplights. If it indeed was a WRX, a DB9 is faster to 60 (by a tenth of a second) and to the end of the quarter (by two-tenths). If it was any other Subaru, Shoemaker must have really been baggin’ it. (Yes, I understand that Jay is writing that he “should have flogged the old girl a bit harder,” but just shut up and do it, report back.)

    As for braking, at 168 feet from 70 to 0, the DB9 is better than most cars, better than any non-AMG Mercedes, all the V Cadillacs excent the CTS-V (one foot shorter) and better than a 911 Turbo Cab, etc. etc. etc.

    Can it truly be that “the driving dynamics are a disaster” if the car is the basis of one of the world’s most successful GT racecars? Hard to imagine, though yes, I do understand the difference between a production road car and a purpose-built full-race version. But I can’t easily think of another car that’s “a disaster” that was converted into a world-class competition car.

    Oh, wait. The Monte Carle.

    Stephan Wilkinson

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    Stephan, perhaps your experiences with the DB9 are with the coupe rather than Volante, which offers a more focused drive. I found the Volante even heavier than the coupe with a reluctance to repond to the whip. I believe that cars of this ilk should not have to sweat to best lesser foes. Maybe I am too immature for cars like this anyway and should stick to my GTI. I would like to thank the CHP for confirming the accuracy of the speedometer on my GTI yesterday- I had thought it must be optimistic and that I could not be driving 90 mph everywhere, like I had been doing.

  • avatar

    I found the Vanquish to be one of those nominal sports cars you sit “on” rather than “in.” It reminded me of the S55: extremely fast, tremendously capable and predictable in the corners, but absolutely no fun to thrash. The compensation was endless thrust, a NASCAR soundtrack (with an English accent) and a smooth ride. Without that…

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    The Vanquish is, of course, a substantially different car than a DB9.

    I spent a week with a Vanquish S, and the best part of the trip (through the Rio Grande Valley for Condescending Traveler) was that at one point, my co-driver and I were stopped by a baby-faced Texas Highway Patrolboy who was shocked, SHOCKED that my co-driver (fortunately) was doing all of 85 on a two-lane highway in the midlde of fucking nowhere. We hadn’t seen a car in half an hour. Yet the valiant lawman never noticed that our sole “license plate” was a chrome-and-black placque that read, “Los Angeles Auto Show Vanquish S.”


  • avatar

    I was invited to the North-American unveiling of Jagars new coupe, this past New York Auto show. The car looks like the poor country relative of the DB9.

    I was dismayed at the body panel gaps for a 2007 Jag production car. I started to doubt the whole aluminium body panel fit and finish until I meandered to Audi…….

    I am glad to see AM got it right virtually from every angle with the DB9. As for the performance, inching from Manhattan to Gilgo Beach(LI) is a moot point. The creature comforts are overwhelmingly beautiful.


  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    And of course, I am the only human on earth who looks at the rear of the DB9 and shouts, “Chrysler Concorde!!”

  • avatar

    I own an ’06 DB9 coupe. I can’t speak for the Volante but can say that while the DB9 is not the perfect drive, it’s still an absolute delight. People have told me it’s one of the most beautiful cars they’ve ever seen and I agree. Mr. Shoemaker’s review of the Aston Martin smacks of someone who spends more time wrting about cars than he does actually driving them. Go back to your Subaru Jay; it seems a more fitting ride for a man who clearly knows little about fine motor cars.

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