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Aston Martin desert run
We take $170,000 DB9 supercar out for a fast drive in the California desert.
April 15, 2005: 11:35 AM EDT
By Lawrence Ulrich, Money Magazine
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San Diego (CNN/Money) - It was a blatant ego-massage from the Aston Martin public relations department. As if an invitation to drive the new Aston Martin DB9 wasn't enough, my test model bore its driver's name on a doorsill plaque -- my name etched in gleaming stainless steel on a $171,534 sports car.

A classy touch, especially since my idea of luxury personalization involves hand-crumpled burrito wrappers. But for the real owner of this supercar, whose nameplate would literally screw over my fantasy version, it's all par for the private course.

Certainly, the exclusive air of England's Aston Martin -- never mind that it's Sir William Ford of Motown calling the financial shots -- is a big reason that a handful of owners will part with a royal ransom to own one.

For more photos and details of the Aston Martin DB9 click here.

As early as 1993, a moribund Aston Martin produced just 42 cars. But from a new plant in Gaydon, England, they've sold a record 500 DB9s in North America alone since December. With a DB9 Volante convertible now on sale, and its Porsche-fighting V-8 Vantage debuting here in 2006, Aston foresees 5,000 sales worldwide.

It's the DB series, initialed after late company owner David Brown, that Aston fans love most. It includes the DB5 that Sean Connery's 007 drove in 1964's "Goldfinger," the first of many Astons to satisfy Bond's discerning eye.

Like its predecessors, the DB9 is a classic GT, or Grand Tourer: The well-bred offspring of a sports and luxury car, with power, elegance and long-haul comfort. But this time, Aston sought to move the needle more toward pure performance.

Did they succeed? That depends on your definition of a sports car.

On an all-day joust through the desert east of San Diego, we formed a rare convoy of Astons. One fact is inarguable: From its catlike silhouette to its come-hither haunches, the DB9 is one of the world's most beautiful cars.

In roominess and appointments, the cockpit is a huge leap over the DB7's, which resembled a leftover plate of Jaguar stuff. It's rich and modern, yet pointedly avoids the technological overkill that afflicts many expensive cars.

"Swan-wing" doors pivot slightly upward to clear curbs, avoiding scratching paint that took 25 meticulous hours to hand-apply. Altogether, the DB9 requires about 200 hours to assemble with most of the work done by human hands. The benefit of this, when a mass-produced Lexus beats most any car in reliability and build quality, is an open question.

While the front is plenty roomy, the rear sports a pair of vestigial seats that even circus children would find tight. Owners can skip the four-seat pretense and opt for a more practical parcel shelf, instead.

The style is bespoke, naturally, with nearly two dozen finely wrought choices in exterior colors and cabin leathers. A sleek wood waterfall console comes in bamboo if you prefer.

Two quibbles: Console controls feature small, hard-to-manage buttons. And faux-metal plastic on the center stack is a letdown -- why not match the magnesium paddle shifters and other metal pieces?

Considering the price tag, paying $450 extra for heated seats would leave my buns feeling more chapped than toasty-warm. Other options include $450 each for cruise control, power-folding mirrors and a rear-parking sensor, $4,545 for a surprisingly thin-sounding premium audio unit and $2,655 for a navigation system.

The DB9 weighs 3,960 pounds, hundreds less than many competitors. Its lovely aluminum skin is matched by a lightweight aluminum chassis that helps deliver near 50/50 weight distribution.

Mate such reasonable mass to a 450-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-12, and you're moving smartly: 0-60 mph in a swift 4.7 seconds with the six-speed manual; or 4.9 with the six-speed automatic transmission.

The V12's deep well of torque -- 425 pound-feet -- makes for deceptively sweet power at any rpm range. The car piped out a refined exhaust note all the way up to 150 miles per hour. Aston says it'll top out at 186, but I didn't take the concert quite that far.

Shifts are buttery and amazingly swift for an automatic, fired through a pair of steering-wheel paddles. That said, the transmission can't manage gears as quickly as the clutchless manual boxes found in Ferraris, or, for that matter, BMWs and Audis.

The Aston displays more body roll and pitch than some sports cars, but the payback is a sumptuous ride that's welcome on interstate excursions.

Elegant 19-inch wheels and Bridgestone tires deliver impeccable grip. Powerful ABS brakes feature big 14-inch, twin-caliper discs up front, along with electronics to distribute braking forces and assist in panic stops.

While on-center steering feel was terrific, the steering seemed artificially heavy and a bit isolated, making it hard to judge cornering forces when speeds increased and the roads got twisty. The result was regular mid-corner corrections and some tentativeness entering bends.

Bottom line, the DB9 has dialed up the sport. But its essential nature remains that of a luxury GT. Its ideal pursuit is inhaling mile markers between four-star resorts, not lapping a grimy road course.

The Aston Martin DB9 impresses with its beauty, bearing and effortless performance. It can impress a stopwatch, too, but mainly it's got better things to do.

For more photos and details of the Aston Martin DB9 click here.  Top of page

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