Sometimes, a car just takes your breath away — in every
It’s even better if this experience is totally unexpected.
This happened recently with our transportation team when we checked out an Aston Martin DB9 for a few days. The DB9 isn’t exactly a new car — it’s been around since 2003. The formula for this grand tourer is quite simple and involves two parts. Part one is a gigantic V12 engine stuffed under the hood. Part two is an abundance of suave, British tailoring.
Because what we have in the DB9 is effectively an English Corvette, minus the bone-crunching redneck Vette associations — they have been replaced with the requisite infusion of James Bond, which makes sense as Mr. Bond has always been an Aston man.
Honestly, we weren’t expected to be so thoroughly captivated by the DB9. With “only” 510 horsepower, it’s left in the dust, on paper, by numerous competitors these days. But 500-plus horsepower can be a mere number; it’s in the way that you use it, to borrow a line from a famous English guitarist.
And the DB9 uses all its horsepower to perfection. All while looking so, so, good. I’ve had a lot of sexy cars in my driveway, but the $200,000 DB9, in a striking red paint job, stopped more than a few folks in their tracks as they strolled by.
Photos by Hollis Johnson.
The DB9 was designed by Henrik Fisker, and although its debt to the classic Jaguar E-Type is obvious, in red this car has more curb appeal than should be legal.
What does it look like when every angle, swoop, line, and curve on a car is right? It looks like the DB9. More recent examples of this genre -- the 2+2 GT coupe -- can come off as burly and over-muscled. But not the DB9. A believe me, it's very hard to be this gorgeous without expending seemingly any effort.
The front-end proportions are completely in balance: headlights, hood width, grille, aerodynamics. The Aston badge is also refreshingly modest. This all enables you to focus on the best feature of the car's hood, which is how looooonnnggg it is. This is a hood that announces a car with a forceful fanfare that never threatens to go out of tune.
And the modest Aston Martin badge from the front is perfectly echoed below the trunk line. What the DB9 reminds you is that the various elements that make up a car's design are an industrial combination of sculpture, graphic arts, and something else: a tricky-to-capture third quality of equilibrium, with everything working in unison to stir the soul in ways that more arrogant riffs can't. This design ethos was prevalent in the early 2000s, when the DB9 hit the scene. Over the course of more than a decade, it's been left behind as high-performance cars have engaged in a sort of arms race of arrogance when it comes to their looks. The idea is to demand attention rather that earn it. The DB9 reminds us which is more satisfying.
It really does blow you away with subtle magic. You can't really call it provocative or bold. But it is glorious in execution. You could say that Jaguars are the most English of cars, but this Aston is what I think an automotive calling card from that island should be all about. Even that dash of stylish venting on the fender is well placed. And study that quietly flexed rear haunch. The beltline is high, but it doesn't make the hood seem chopped. And even the long hood doesn't come off as as too long.
Because the DB9's design is over a decade old at this point, it's mercifully exempt from many of the more extraneous styling flourishes that have beset the auto industry more recently. The headlights don't lack drama, but they do lack a lot fussy, jewel-like elements. Form follows function -- and the function is to light the road ahead.
This. Is. It. The DB9's motor shares with the car's design a whispering confidence. Except when you enjoy a few 5th-to-3rd-gear drop-downs at freeway velocities, in which case the DB9 starts to show how very much it has in common with the Corvette Stingray and the Z06. OK, we'll grant you that a new DB9 is $100,000 more than the Vettes. But it's also $100,000 more fashionable (although there's no question that if you want your horsepower at a ridiculous bargain price, the Z06's 650 hp is the way to go).
Hey look! At the other end of the car, there's a reasonably sized truck. The DB9's 2+2 configuration makes it a very valid alternative to a two-seater: fun to drive, and fun to drive on a weekend getaway with your most chic driving companion.
In some respects, the DB9's justified pride in its place of origin, craftsmanship, and super-cool identity is too low-key. You can barely read this plaque!
In a word, exquisite. Every car that's a pleasure to drive is a pleasure to drive for its own, distinct reasons. The DB9 is one of those cars that can almost do it all. Is it tossable, like a Mazda Miata Mx-5 or a Porsche 911? Not really. The V12 removes that prospect. But the DB9 gives you the feeling while cruising on the freeway that you could just go and go and go (although the way it guzzles fuel -- 19 mpg at its most efficient -- wouldn't really allow that). On curving roadways off the beaten interstate path, the DB9 has a smooth and well-mannered aspect that nevertheless holds some stomp in reserve.
The rear end also feels pretty dynamic. The horsepower converts impressively into torque, and if you let it go, you'll experience some gently harrowing slip. This is not something you want to get crazy with on public roads. But on a track, it would be just what the doctor ordered, if getting a bit sideways was the prescription.
BI's Transportation Reporter, Ben Zhang, and I took the DB9 on an extended jaunt, and Ben was so impressed that after I took the wheel, he started looking for used DB9s on the Internet. We found a few for around $50,000.
That was a revelation. True, the car is getting on in years -- but the design is pretty timeless. There are Ferraris and Jaguars that go for hundreds of thousands new, and the DB9 100% gives them a run for their money.
So do the maths. A lot of older DB9s probably weren't driven that much, so low-mileage examples are out there. 'What a brilliant deal!' we thought.
If BI were to have a house car, we decided that a used DB9 would be it. A quick AutoTrader search found an '05 in Tampa for under $50K, with a mere 23,000 miles on the odometer.
The interior of the DB9 is, to be fair, a deeply masculine environment. Business casual won't fly in here. You need a suit that starts at $1,000 to properly bond (pun intended). Don't even think about cheap sunglasses. If you're wearing an Apple Watch, take it off. Bond fans will break out their Omega Seamasters, but a better choice would be something from IWC, with a leather strap.
The gauges are rimmed with brushed metal, the steering wheel is covered in race-car-worthy suede, and the ample leather upholstery gets some snazzy red top-sitching. This is a snug car -- not much room to sprawl. But it's English, so it demands good posture; it doesn't cuddle you, it's keeps you focused on the task at hand. That's both hands. You would never throw an arm over the wheel in this ride, as you might in a muscle car.
You also ssssslide into this car. It really is like slipping on beautifully cut suit jacket. You adjust your cufflinks. Then you start the beast using a crystal key. And you start to feel as if you might rule some small, swiftly moving part of the world, for a few hours.
Push-button shifting flanks the ignition port. Otherwise, it's easy-to-use knobs and buttons. A throwback, but a lot a luxury cars are coming back to this, if they haven't started to replace everything with large touchscreens, à la Tesla.
More 'barely there' branding. But then again, you don't need pugnacious reminders that you're tooling around in a fine automobile.
It isn't always easy to describe why a car makes a lasting impression. In my experience, its usually a gathering of factors that on their own can be remarkable, but that when assembled with some poetry yield a whole that, to use a justified cliché, far outweighs the sum of its parts.
The DB9 is that kind of car. It's a machine that you want to subject to a loving, and often lustful, gaze. That you want to take care of and drive hard. You want to get deep with this set of wheels. You want to commit.
It wasn't that we didn't want to give it back (even though we didn't want to give it back). We wanted to have one of our very own.
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