The Italian Graziano six-speed manual transmission and the ZF six-speed automatic are mounted at the rear, driven by a carbon-fiber driveshaft running at crankshaft speed and mounted inside a huge cast-aluminum torque tube that serves as the structural spine of the car. The ZF is a second-generation drive-by-wire transmission, operated by large, round PRND buttons set in the dashboard. On the right roads, at the right time, the driver can use the magnesium shifter paddles mounted onto the back side of the steering wheel for manual-mode driving, and there is no clutch assembly like some manumatics have. This one has a torque converter, and it shifts like lightning, up or down, helped by a drivetrain with a whole lot less rotational inertia than those in most high-performance cars.
This drop-dead gorgeous DB9 is the spiritual and sequential successor to Aston Martin's best-selling car ever, the DB7. As such, it represents the best that Aston Martin can do with current technology, and with help from its corporate cousins at Ford, Mazda and Volvo.
The slick, sleek, sexy DB9 is a car Aston Martin CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez characterizes as a cross between a sports car and a grand touring car but definitely not a supercar. The supercar in this house is the limited-production Vanquish, of which only about 300 a year are built.
Bez said, "It doesn't matter whether the car will go from 0 to 60 in 4.9 sec. or 4.7 sec. It doesn't matter that it will go 185 miles an hour. What matters is that it is a beautiful high-performance car that you can drive every day to work, or take on a long tour to anywhere."
Dr. B, you are absolutely right! For the record, the DB9 will indeed rush from stopped to 60 mph in 4.9 sec., from stopped to 100 mph in 10.5 sec., do a 50-to-70-mph punch in 2.3 sec., and top out at 186 mph.
The DB9 is the first Aston Martin ever to be designed, engineered, proved out and virtually crash-tested using the latest in computer-aided design, engineering and manufacturing. All of its crash tests and aero studies were performed at the Volvo crash lab in Sweden. Ford and Mazda also participated directly in its development. In terms of up-front costs, this is the biggest program in the company's history by far, requiring the build of 53 prototypes, 25 for crash testing and 38 for testing in labs, on jigs and on the road to the tune of one million accumulated road miles. And they did it all, from start to finish, in 38 months, a speed that Aston Martin simply wasn't used to before this.
The striking DB9 body was designed by Aston Martin's Danish chief designer, Henrik Fisker, to have as few parts, pieces, cutlines, shutlines and openings as possible. There are no separate front and rear bumpers as such, and absolutely everything fits together into an organic sports car. It's not tiny, either, at 185 in. long, on a 107.8-in. wheelbase-5.8 in. longer than the DB7's, for more interior room and more stable handling. At 73.8 in., it's almost 2 in. wider than a DB7. While it has a rather high drag coefficient of 0.34 (for reference, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan generates a 0.29), the body, which was developed in a Formula One rolling-road wind tunnel, generates almost no front or rear lift at high speeds, making it remarkably stable.
The DB9 is built in a brand-new factory, and built like no other mass-produced sports car, using a combination of aluminum stampings, aluminum extrusions, aluminum castings and magnesium castings to make it one of the lightest cars in its class at a mere 1,710kg or 3,762 lb (some credit is certainly due to Lotus Engineering, which pioneered many of these construction techniques on the Vanquish supercar and helped Aston Martin carry them forward into the DB9 program). The DB9 is 25% lighter than the DB7, twice as stiff and twice as strong. Engineering boss Jeremy Main said, "We could bolt a Jaguar Formula One car on top of the DB9, and it would still weigh less than the Bentley Continental!"
The DB9 uses a combination of composite fenders and decklid, an all-aluminum body and hood and an aluminum frame, some of which is joined using a world-first ultrasonic welding process, which yields no heat and uses only 5% of the energy of electric welders.
The DB9 will be powered by a double-overhead-cam 48-valve 60-degree V12, an engine originally developed from two conjoined Ford Duratec 3.0-liter V6 engines for the little Mondeo sedan. In the DB9, it will be rated at 450 bhp at 6000 rpm and 420 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm, nowhere near the top of the horsepower heap.But every horse runs hard, and the power is made without variable valve timing or variable intake tracts. The V12 makes 85% of peak torque at only 1500 rpm, so you don't have to wring its neck to get very serious acceleration, but it sure is fun to wind the tach around to 7000 rpm, well above the recommended redline. Aston Martin says the six-speed manual DB9 will do 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 sec., and the automatic will do the same run in 5.1 sec. I say it feels, and sounds, even quicker than that.
Mounting the transmissions at the rear with the differential yields the perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution for race-car handling prowess in this relatively lightweight package. The transaxle final drive ratios will be 3.15:1 for the automatic and 3.54:1 for the manual.
Like a handful of other manumatic transmissions, the ZF Touchtronic 2 blips the throttle automatically between gears when you pull the left paddle for a downshift, so the car doesn't break traction at a critical moment. Full-throttle upshifts are likewise computer-matched to the engine, which features the world's first neural network to detect and correct misfiring.
The suspension underneath the DB9 is a combination of Dynamic Suspension coil/shock units, upper and lower control arms, the front steered by ZF Servotronic speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering. The DB9 uses new, radially grooved aluminum-caliper 14-in. Brembo four-piston disc brakes front and 13-in. Brembo rear brakes, in a chassis fitted with ABS, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, dynamic stability control (for the first time on any Aston Martin) and traction control. Aston Martin states the electronic driving aids were designed from the beginning to help right the car in an emergency situation but not to interfere when you're just out there driving around and having fun, so the interventions don't show up very often even in, shall I say, spirited driving.
There will be several Speedline wheels to choose from, all mounting Bridgestone's brand-new RE050 high-performance tires, P235/40ZR-19 front and P275/35ZR-19 rears.
The DB9 exterior is designed to reflect all of the time-honored DB design cues dating back to the DB4 of the 1950s, and it is perhaps the most beautiful of all the DB series so far. Beautiful, but not brutish. From its covered multi-element clear-lens headlamps, to the trademark fish-mouth grille opening, to the lines that converge at the rear end of the car, this is a thoroughbred sports car that simply doesn't have a bad angle. The camera, and the human eye, worship this shape.
The only detail I don't care for is the extra piece of chrome trim at the trailing edge of the DB9's front fender vents, pasted onto the door skin, as it is on the Vanquish. I just think this is a fussy detail that could have been left off to great effect. But the rest of the car is heartrendingly, beautifully minimalist, purposeful as a 9-lb hammer, smooth as velvet, and ready to kick some serious ass. Each DB9 gets 50 hours' worth of painting, 25 hours of prep and 25 hours to lay on nine coats of paint.
The delicious leather, chrome and wood interior features Bridge of Weir leather in 20 colors and three different woods-walnut, mahogany and bamboo-in an instrument panel that Fisker said has the biggest single piece of wood in the industry. As far as the DB9 being a 2+2, that must be Aston Martin's idea of a joke, because the only thing you can put on the back seats is a briefcase or a purse or a small package. Legroom is effectively zero back there. The front seats are a different story, built to accommodate a 97th-percentile man, which means about 6 ft 4 in. tall, and they are very, very comfortable, with huge upper and lower wings on them, like racing seats, to keep you in place. What's more, the power seat buttons are on the sides of the console, not on the outboard side of the seat-very easy to find and use.
The panorama that stretches out before anyone in the driver's seat includes massive amounts of stitched leather on the dashboard, instrument panel, doors, console surround and headliner. The instrument faces appear as though they were milled from aluminum bar stock, made to look very much three-dimensional and illuminated in yellow by a new technology from Pioneer called Organic Electroluminescent or OEL. The center stack contains a pop-up navigation screen, two large center air vents, the transmission shift buttons, an analog clock matching the speedo and tach design, the entertainment system, and HVAC controls in a combination of wood and brushed aluminum. Gorgeous. What's behind it all and makes the electronic systems work is a new Volvo Volcano software protocol and a wiring harness from the Volvo S80, modified for the DB9.
Electronics include an optional 960-watt Linn six-CD stereo system and a new Motorola four-band phone, the very first application for this phone in any automobile. Other options include an alarm and immobilizer system, navigation, cruise control and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
After salivating over the DB9 for close to six months, I finally got my chance behind the wheel at the five-star Domaine du Chateau de St. Martin, in the hills north of the French Riviera, only a few miles from the Nice airport, but a world away from the hustle and bustle. My test car was a metallic silver one with the light bamboo interior trim and black leather seats, satellite DVD navigation, the optional Linn sound system and the manumatic transmission. Armed with a map, a route book and a trusted navigator, I turned left out of the chateau and into sports car Fantasyland, a set of roads that would make Carroll Shelby weep.
When you point your right foot out toward the horizon, the DB9 does everything in its power to bring that horizon right into your lap, lunging forward in first gear and then it REALLY gets going. The manumatic paddles, right for upshifts and left for downshifts, are far more fun to use than the big, round D button, so I used them all day long, running the engine up to 7000 rpm, way past the top of its torque curve, just to listen to the music. A paragon of smoothness, this V12, with enough punch to satisfy anyone currently living inside the lunatic fringe.
The roads we traveled were so narrow, so twisty and so populated with those wacky Frenchmen that I wanted to keep my hands on the wheel and my left foot poised above the brake pedal at all times, seldom getting above third gear, which was all right with me. Time and again I was faced with a steep downhill hairpin followed instantly by a steep uphill hairpin, and the DB9's combination of low-down power, race-quality brakes and amazingly precise steering made the driving process a joy.
This car's somewhat hefty steering effort, mathematically precise steering gain, and 50/50 weight balance on the big Bridgestone RE050 tires made it the most satisfying all-around luxury sports car I've ever driven. Chief engineer Jeremy Main said that the entire car layout was designed to have 85% of the car's mass inside the wheelbase, and the yaw center in exactly the right place, right at the driver's stomach. This delivers the most accurate handling and the greatest driver perception of that accurate handling, and it apparently worked very well, at least on my stomach.
The DB9, bristling with a unique combination of beauty, technology and performance, will come to the United States at a price in the range of $155,000 for the six-speed manual coupe, $168,000 for the Volante convertible. The Touchtronic 2 six-speed manumatic transmission option will add about $6,000 to the price, and about a million dollars' worth of driving enjoyment.
Coming From Newport PagnellAston Martin's future will see the Bloxham plant shut down and Vanquish supercar production moved to Newport Pagnell, which is also the headquarters for Works Service, the vintage car parts and service arm.
Next year, the company will add a third product, the AM V8, a shorter, lighter, sportier model to be priced in the $100,000 range. Dr. Bez said production will be about 3,000 DB9s per year, about 2,000 V8s per year, and about 300 Vanquishes, with the Vanquish due for a complete overhaul in the near future to reflect an even more powerful engine and an even more masculine, muscular exterior design. -JM
Aston Martin Returns...To Sports Car RacingAston Martin will also return to racing during 2004, after a long, long layoff. The last corporate race car, the Nimrod, ran unsuccessfully in FIA Group C prototype sports car competition, and the last major win was at Le Mans in 1959, leading to the sports car title that year. The logic is that the company should go after its direct competitors, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche, on the track as well as in the showroom.
The company has created Aston Martin Racing to look after that program and will use its DB9s for production-based world sports car racing in the FIA GT championship. The racing program will be overseen by AM chief engineer Jeremy Main and run in conjunction with Prodrive. Prodrive will design and develop the cars and campaign them at the races. Design of the Aston Martin DB9 race car has already begun, with an eye toward racing the first car before the end of 2004. -JM