Walking 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.
Enter 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.
Alas, 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.
In 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.