The Confusing World of Aston Martin
In the last two years, Aston Martin has offered six different models. They’re all rear-wheel drive. They all look the same. They all offer V12 engines with roughly 500 horsepower. And yet the most expensive one costs twice as much as the cheapest one.
If you’re confused, so are Aston dealers. The rich people who buy them aren’t, but that’s only because they arrive at the dealer, point to the one they want, and say “that one,” without regards to whether it’s a DB9, a Vanquish or a showroom alloy wheel display. Not that they could tell the difference anyway.
Fortunately, after two intensive months of Pontiff-emeritus style quiet reflection, I’m here to help you pick your way through the enormous mess that is Aston Martin’s current automotive lineup. And don’t worry: this isn’t just another post complaining about how they all look the same. Instead, I’m coming to you with real, hard facts, as you’ve come to expect after my post about the perfect first car.
A brief history
Let’s start with the basics. Ten years ago, and also twenty years ago, Aston made a car called the DB7. It was basically a Jaguar XK8 except, somehow, it had worse switchgear. The climate controls were from a Ford Mustang. The key fob was from a Ford Explorer. But the engine was from Aston itself, which practically guaranteed smooth operation for at least nine weeks after purchase.
Eventually, the DB7 was joined by a more modern car called the Vanquish, which is generally agreed to be the most beautiful car ever to use the Ford Focus’s turn signal stalks. Times were good. Everyone loved the Vanquish, except those who drove it, since its automatic transmission was designed to mimic the abilities of an 18-year-old who’s new to the stick shift. But who cares about jerky upshifts when it looks this good?
Following up the DB7
The trouble started in 2005, when it was time to replace the DB7. Aston debuted a car called the DB9, uncharacteristically skipping DB8 altogether because it was that good. And good it was: sleek styling. Beautiful presence. Rear-wheel drive. And a 6.0-liter V12 with nearly 500 horsepower under the hood.
There was just one problem: that car already existed. It was called the Vanquish. It also had sleek styling. It also had beautiful presence. It also had rear-wheel drive. And its 5.9-liter V12 produced 450 horsepower – just 20 shy of the DB9.
There was another problem, too: the cars looked similar. Not the same, mind you, but enough to get a few people asking questions. Namely, why does the more powerful DB9 cost $155,000, while the older, slower Vanquish costs $235,000? To rectify the situation, Aston quickly rushed a more powerful Vanquish to the market: the Vanquish S. It had 514 horses – 44 more than the DB9 – and alloy wheels with so many spokes that their function may have been solely to annoy car wash employees.
Enter the entry level
The Aston Martin range expanded again in 2006 with the arrival of a cheaper model called the V8 Vantage, which employed a unique strategy: not offering a 500-horsepower V12. It was priced from $110,000. That meant three Astons were now on sale: the V8 Vantage, the DB9 and the Vanquish, which – despite the new S model – was only being sold to the “I’ll have that one” crowd. And even then, at $10,000 under sticker.
The arrival of the Vantage brought more grumbles about styling. ‘The V8 Vantage looks too similar to the other two,’ people complained. Personally, I never understood that criticism. To me, the Vantage has some similar lines to the DB9, but the similarity ends with its overall proportions: the Vantage looks like the DB9’s baby brother. Or perhaps its offspring. Then again, I can tell apart a Sable and a Taurus, so my opinions on this topic may be in the minority.
A new flagship
By 2007, the only Vanquish units being sold were the result of “accidental” dealership fires, so Aston pulled the plug. This coincided with a new owner for the brand, which is the only way to explain the unusual decisions that have happened since.
In place of the DB9 came a new flagship, which Aston called the DBS, apparently because they were now too cool for numbers. And thus the confusion began. The DBS was based on the DB9. That meant it shared virtually everything, including the body panels. Indeed, exterior differences were slim. Clear tail lights to wow the Altezza crowd. A body kit. New wheels. Even for us Taurus/Sable spotters, it was a stretch.
Under the hood, the differences were even slimmer: both cars had V12s that displaced around six liters. The only advantage the DBS offered was 510 horsepower to the DB9’s 470.
I know what you’re thinking: so the DBS had a bodykit and 40 horses. What’s the big deal? Sounds like the Civic Si! Ah, yes. But while the Civic Si costs only $2,000 more than a Civic EX – or about 9 percent – the DBS was a full $100,000 more than the DB9. Even in Aston world, this is something like a 60 percent premium. For 40 horsepower and some Altezza tails.
What’s worse: people paid it. Because of the DBS’s use in Casino Royale, people lined up with money in hand to purchase the body-kitted DB9 as if it was actually worth the $265,000 Aston was charging. Unfortunately, this only encouraged Aston’s new owners to continue the madness.
It gets better before it gets worse
The 2010 model year finally brought in some new blood to the Aston world. That came in the form of the Rapide, a four-door sedan that still managed to look like all of the brand’s two door cars. Somehow, it also had about the same legroom. And, annoyingly, it had the same sixish-liter V12 that put out about 500 horsepower.
But at least it breathed new life into the Aston Martin lineup. Finally, one could again make the argument that the brand once again had three distinct models. Everyone was happy and all was right in the world, until…
Another DB9-based Aston debuts
If the DB9 and DBS weren’t bad enough, Aston decided in 2011 to add an entirely new model that somehow fell between them. Yes, that’s right: the DB9 is a four-seat, rear drive six-figure sports car with 470 horsepower; the DBS is a four-seat, rear drive six-figure sports car with 510 horsepower. And they needed something between them.
The in-between model was called the Virage, which used a bodykit that was also in between the DB9’s standard fare and the DBS’s full-on boy racer look. Pricing, too, was directly in the middle: the Virage started at $208,000. And what was under the hood of Aston’s newest “model?” You guessed it: a six-liter V12 producing about 500 horsepower.
Unfortunately, it got even worse. Now six years old, the V8 Vantage needed something to spice up its increasingly boring existence. So Aston created a new, more powerful version of the car. And how was that done? With – I swear this is true – a six-liter V12 producing 500 horsepower. Aston now claimed to offer five different models, each of which used the exact same engine. Sort of like Nissan and the VQ V6, actually. But at least the Murano and the 350Z never looked the same.
Fortunately, Aston seemed to realize the ridiculousness of their lineup quickly and pared down the offerings. For 2013, the DBS was sacked. So was the Virage. To make up for their loss, the DB9’s horsepower bumped to 510 without a corresponding price jump, pissing off everyone who spent $210,000 for a less powerful Virage just three months ago. Not that they’d be able to tell the difference anyway.
But Aston decided to give its DB9 platform one more shot: for 2013, the brand released yet another DB9-based sports car, this time resurrecting the Vanquish name that died after 2007. Styling remained highly similar to the DB9, though power is now up to 565hp. The price point? A whopping $280,000, or about $100,000 more than the DB9. Which, by the way, now costs the same as the V12 Vantage.
Confused yet? We all are. And it gets even worse: with the exception of the Rapide and the Vanquish, every one of the above models offered a convertible. Sometimes it was called Roadster. Sometimes Volante. It was always really expensive.
But for Aston owners, that’s the real allure. That, and being able to tell your neighbors you have “an Aston.” And with that kind of panache, who cares about silly details like the price and the model name?
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, roadtripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute laptime on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.
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