Aston Martin DB9 rear exterior

Aston Martin DB9 | Alternative Classics

Aston Martin DB9 | Alternative Classics

If you’re looking for a long-nosed GT car with jaw-dropping looks, V12 power and an ability to chew through miles quicker than a competitive eater swallows pizza, a Ferrari would be the obvious choice.

But what if we said you could have all the looks and most of the performance from a homegrown effort? Let’s take a look at the Aston Martin DB9.

The DB9 put the DB7 out of its misery in 2004 and immediately felt like a car from a new generation. Out went the DB7’s ancient steel construction, and in came a bonded aluminium body backed up by vast swathes of composites.

To say the DB7 was out of its depth was an understatement. It had faced off with cars like the Bentley Continental GT and Mercedes CL, models backed by German giants that made victory for even the DB9 a tall order. And that’s before we mention the Ferrari 575M Maranello and GTB Fiorano, cars that very much resided at the sportier end of the GT spectrum.

But while the DB9 struggled to match the dynamic qualities of the Italian competition, it took a clear win in one crucial area – looks. The Aston effortlessly blended its svelte lines with subtle hints of aggression in a way Aston’s current crop of GTs hasn’t been able to match. They’re arguably the single reason for buying a DB9, which is saying something because there’s plenty else to like.

Such as its V12 engine; in a time when even a basic Fiesta is turbocharged, the surging, turbine-smooth power delivery of the Aston’s 12-pot is a delight to experience, giving in-gear flexibility that makes even a modern boosted motor feel like an on-off switch. You’ll need a manual-equipped Aston to experience this character at its best, which is a shame because they’re scarce since most buyers opted to fit an automatic from new.

A decision which will be more understandable when you drive the DB9. It’s a GT in the classical sense, an iron fist in a velvet glove that cossets its occupants rather than pulverising their internals in the name of lap times like one of Ferrari’s scalpel-sharp offerings. Armed with this knowledge, it’s not a huge surprise to learn many DB9s are Volante dropheads.

The DB9 is a far sportier proposition than the Bentley or Mercedes, and Aston’s constant evolution meant the DB9 avoided obsoletion. Now a modern classic, the DB9’s blunt dynamics are much less of an issue, and with prices kicking off at around £30,000, it’s easy to see why this relatively rare GT’s charms seduce many.

On sale until 2016, Aston shifted around 16,500 DB9s before the DB11 replaced it. By contrast, Bentley has sold, on average, 5,000 Continental GTs in each generation since it first went on sale in 2002.

Aston Martin DB9: why buy one?

There’s no shortage of good reasons to buy an Aston Martin DB9, but chief among them is its stunningly good looks. So it might be a surprise to learn the DB9 differs from what it initially intended. The DB9’s AM305 design concept was a mid-engined V8 until CEO Ulrich Bez came along in 2000, proclaiming all Astons needed to be front-engined. Clearly, he felt the range-topper should only have V12 power, too.

As a result, the DB9’s acre-long bonnet was almost a prerequisite, but every other part of its design was also beautifully judged. The chrome grille and wing vents hark back to the DB4 and DB5, the wide arches give a flavour of the old V8 Coupe and original Vanquish, and the sleek rear end owes much to the still-pretty DB7. Given all these influences, the result was amazingly cohesive in a way the Ferrari 575 (or current Astons) have yet to manage entirely.

The DB9 can make another bold claim, too – its 5.9-litre V12 engine is unique to Aston, not a mildly retuned Mercedes lump as found in the current range.

From launch, it punched out 455PS (335kW) at 6,000rpm and 570Nm (420lb ft) of torque from 5,000rpm which, in a manually equipped car, was good for 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds and a 186mph top whack. Hardly slow, even by modern standards, and with no turbochargers to muffle the noise the V12 produced a throaty bark that was pure Aston Martin. Fuel economy of no better than 20mpg was less appealing.

The engine was revised in 2009 with a new head and a higher compression, increasing power to 477PS (351kW) and 600Nm (443lb ft) – that knocked a tenth of the 0-60mph time and brought the top speed up to 190mph. Major fettling followed in 2013, with everything from the block, head, throttle bodies, manifold and fuel pump revised, and variable valve timing. Power upped to 517PS (380kW) with a corresponding increase in performance.

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This evolution didn’t pass the Aston’s chassis by, but whichever iteration you’re considering, remember the DB9 was designed to be a grand tourer first and foremost.

Its cosseting ride makes it exceptionally long-legged, and its slow, muted steering doesn’t exhaust your hands with chatter. If you turn the stability control off, the long wheelbase is surprisingly balanced and forgiving. However, if you expect a driving experience hardwired to your soul, you will be disappointed.

The optional Sports Pack introduced in 2006 tightened things up considerably. Spring rates were increased by more than 50 per cent, shocks and roll bars were stiffened, and the car dropped 6mm. The pack’s five-spoke 19-inch wheels were the same size as standard but shed 1.5kg per wheel, and Aston replaced the composite undertray with an aluminium panel that served as a structural member of the car.

The 2009 facelift brought suspension upgrades that improved refinement and ride quality – a subtle hint to the DB9’s underlying purpose – while 2013 added adjustable dampers with three settings that included a ‘Track’ mode that was best avoided.

Remarkably little of the DB9’s interior changed over its 12-year life. In truth, it was always dated, but in a world awash with giant infotainment screens, the Aston’s jewel-like dials are delightfully analogue, and you can’t fault the quality of the leather that covers almost every interior surface.

What you can fault is the Aston’s tight cabin – a vast coupe like this should comfortably accommodate tall adults, but, depending on your body shape, that’s not always the case in the DB9. It’s less surprising that the back seat is cramped for anyone bar small children; it’s best used to supplement the 138-litre boot. If you’re after a roomy GT that the entire family can enjoy, you’ll be better off with the Mercedes CL.

Aston Martin DB9: problems to look out for?

Running an Aston Martin was never going to be cheap, and even a basic 10,000-mile service will cost around £1,200, covering oil and filter changes and new spark plugs.

Although generally considered tough, anecdotally, we’ve heard of more than one engine failure, which could be uneconomical to repair on older examples. Likewise, oil leaks and electrical faults are not unheard of.

A failed heater ECU can cause the front seats to smoulder – carrying a fire extinguisher is never a bad idea in a car like this – and the air-conditioning system is also known to cause issues, although it’s relatively easy to fix. Accelerator arms are also known to break, while a rattle from the front of the car suggests worn bushes, they can be replaced without buying a new subframe and anti-roll bars, though.

If you’re buying a Volante, check the roof mechanism works; it should rise and drop in 17 seconds. The multi-layer roof is also likely to show wear, and an aftermarket replacement will cost around £5,000.

How much to pay?

The potential for big bills does at least mean one thing – the DB9 is surprisingly affordable. The cheapest examples will set you back just £25,000 for an early 2004 car with less than 50,000 on the clock but more than five owners on the logbook. A car like this will likely have a patchy service history that will put many off.

A budget closer to £40,000 offers a far more attractive ownership proposition. We saw a one-owner car with less than 25,000 miles on the clock and in a fetching green finish going for £38,000.

Their rarity means you’ll pay closer to £50,000 for a manual car in similar condition. The best examples of the DB9 – late 2015 cars with a handful of miles and main-dealer warranty – will tip the scales at more than £100,000.

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