The understated British supercoupe. By Mike Monticello • Photos by Guy Spangenberg June 2004 Aston Martin knew that its all-new DB9 was going to have to be very, very good; after all, the DB7 it replaces has been the most successful Aston Martin ever, selling more than 7000 examples since production began in 1994. Ford-owned Aston Martin has a head of steam at the moment, coming off its best year to date with sales of almost 1600 cars in 2003, and the last thing they need is for the DB9 to slow the momentum. It shouldn’t, because it is a step forward in so many ways. At first Aston had considered reengineering the Vanquish chassis to suit both the DB9 and the upcoming small Aston, the AMV8, but that would have proven too complex and costly, especially with its hopes of becoming a three-model, 5000-car-per-year company. Instead, the new Vertical and Horizontal (VH) platform of the DB9 packs Vanquish technology into a dimensionally flexible structure, meaning that its length, wheelbase and tracks can be changed to suit multiple models. The DB9’s extruded aluminum frame is very light while also extremely rigid, with body panels made of either aluminum or lightweight composites. The steering column and door frames are magnesium, while the forged aluminum front and rear double-wishbone suspension continues the search for less weight, along with hollow anti-roll bars and aluminum-bodied dampers. The DB9 is slightly larger in all dimensions than the DB7, yet a weigh-in shows a relatively svelte 3968 lb., about 160 lb. lighter. The DB9’s quick-revving 48-valve 5.9-liter dohc V-12 is an absolute delight. Originally used in the DB7 Vantage and Vanquish, the DB9’s version has a revised crankshaft, new camshafts, revised intake and exhaust manifolds and a new engine-management system. It growls, rips and then positively shrieks its way to 450 bhp at 6800 rpm and 420 lb.-ft. of torque at 5000 rpm, down 10 bhp and up 20 lb.-ft. compared with the Vanquish. The DB9 will be launched with a 6-speed ZF automatic, with a 6-speed manual by Graziano available later. The ZF auto — with center console-mounted buttons for park, reverse, neutral and drive — is so good that Aston owners might think twice about waiting for the manual. In Sport mode it will neither shift up nor down unless you use a paddle, making perfect (and wonderful-sounding) blips on every manual downshift. The interior of the 2+2 DB9 (yes, the rear seats are still useless) is an improvement over both the DB7 and Vanquish. The upper part of the center console is formed from a single piece of wood, as is each piece on the doors; the rest of the cabin is trimmed with luxurious Bridge of Weir leather and aluminum. The seats provide excellent lateral support and comfort, and every material inside the Aston is first-rate; the milled aluminum instruments — replete with counterclockwise-rotating tachometer needle — are jewel-like. The DB9 continues the belief of Henrik Fisker, Aston Martin’s director of design, that an Aston Martin should be immediately recognizable. As such, its new shape is kind of DB7-meets-Vanquish. Our only fear is that it is getting harder to tell each Aston model apart. As for hustling this $165,000 (estimated) machine along the narrow, stone wall-lined two-lanes of southern France where Aston had its media launch...no problem, and tons of grins! The steering is well weighted and the car stays flat and secure, working better as speeds increase. The strong Brembo brakes have a wonderfully firm pedal feel. You sit very low in the DB9 and can’t see the extreme edges, but the car didn’t feel at all ungainly on the narrow roads. The only downside in the performance department is that the front end gives up grip too early through 1st- and 2nd-gear hairpins, although your right foot can change the attitude into oversteer in a heartbeat. This Aston Martin DB9 is a car to be cherished — inside, outside and, more than anything else, while driving it. Judge it as a supercar or sports car and you’ll be left looking for more hard-edged handling. But as a proper GT for moving two people cross-country with style, speed and — always — poise, the DB9 has few equals. It should reach the U.S. by May, followed in the fall by the Volante convertible version.