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DB9 matched the emotion of a Ferrari but adds practicality and offers an experience unmatched for versatility and appeal

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If you want a V12 Aston Martin DB9 for the price of an average-mileage Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance, look no further than the used market.

Obviously they couldn’t be more different and, as a sage once said, buy a DB9 cheap, pay twice.

The Aston Martin DB9 matches the emotion offered by a Ferrari

Still, almost twice as powerful, three times as many cylinders, over a second quicker to 60mph and looks that will give you neck ache from turning back to admire it. As the 2035 ICE ban looms and new V12s drink in the last-chance saloon, a cheap DB9 is stupidly tempting – running costs aside, of course.

The 2+2 GT was launched in 2004 and bowed out in 2016, so even the youngest ones are quite old. It was the first Aston to be built at the company’s new Gaydon works.

In terms of modern manufacturing equipment and processes, the plant was a world away from Aston’s Bloxham factory, where the DB7, the DB9’s predecessor, had been built. Unfortunately, these advantages weren’t immediately felt.

Safety recalls for the new model were almost in double figures, and it wasn’t until 2006 that its electrical system, a major source of criticism, was upgraded. Also at this time, the front seats were redesigned and a Sport Pack was added to the already extensive options list.

Further improvements followed in 2009 when the DB9 gained more power (up from 450bhp to 470bhp), better-riding Bilstein dampers and a redesigned centre console.

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Two years later, the Sport Pack Plus was introduced, with adaptive damping.

The DB9 was again refreshed for 2013 when power rose higher still to 510bhp, the body was made lighter and stiffer and three-mode adaptive damping was added. In a last hurrah, the DB9 GT arrived in 2015 with 540bhp, black detailing and Aston’s new, touch-sensitive infotainment system.

Throughout the DB9’s life, buyers could choose between a six-speed ZF Touchtronic automatic with column-mounted paddles and a fruity blip accompanying downchanges or a beefy six-speed manual gearbox. An early automatic is fine, and in 2009 the improved Touchtronic 2 system arrived. 

The DB9 is certainly no track car, but that manual gearbox does add a welcome level of engagement. Better still, although there are very few manual DB9s around, they cost about the same as the autos.

The DB9 Volante convertible arrived a few months after the coupé. It has a stiffened chassis, slightly softer suspension and a fabric roof that takes around 17 seconds to fold. Today, it’s outnumbered roughly two to one by the coupé and, like for like, costs around £6000 more.

Some DB9 buyers went overboard with options. Today, condition, service history and provenance matter more than baubles and silly colours. The only exception we would make is the 2006 Sport Pack. It sharpens the handling and makes the DB9 that bit more involving.

Cramped in the front as well as in the rear and with pretty woeful ergonomics, a DB9 is a deeply flawed creature. However, you bought it for that badge, those looks and that engine - and, rain or shine, they will never disappoint.

Aston Martin DB9 common problems

Engine: It’s strong but can suffer from corrosion around the cylinder liner seal area. This is easily found by looking at the weepage holes along the side of the block.

Check for timing cover seal failure, too. Listen for a noisy valve train and check the oil level, because DB9s get through around 250ml every 1000 miles. Interrogate any warning lights with an Aston Martin fault reader.

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Gearbox: The Touchtronic auto is a reliable ’box, but make sure the changes are smooth. Also check for leaks around the gearbox oil cooler system and that the 2009 recall concerning Park mode – on some cars it didn’t engage properly – has been actioned. Another recall concerned the gearbox defaulting to neutral. On manual cars, the clutch will only last around 20,000 miles.

Steering and suspension: The DB9’s steering system has been the subject of three recalls, including one concerning incorrectly torqued front subframe bolts. Again, check they have been actioned. Other recalls concerned the rear subframe bushes and anti-roll bar bushes. The model is heavy, at 1760kg, and that strains bushes, springs and even wheels. Wishbone bolts can seize, which becomes a problem when adjusting the geometry.

Brakes: When engaged, the handbrake is floppy and can fool drivers into believing it has been released, resulting in scorched pads.

Chassis and body: Made from bonded aluminium and composites, it is strong and light but expensive to repair and paint and prone to corroding around the door handles and panel edges (look for bubbling). The nose is prone to stone chips; many owners have it painted.

Interior: Recalls again: the heated seats can overheat and even burn out, so check they have had the necessary modification. Electric window issues are usually due to faulty frame rubbers. Check for tears in the leather and headlining.

Service history: Rows of service stamps are fine, but you really want to see invoices to find out exactly what has been done.

DESIGN & STYLING

Aston Martin DB9 rear spoiler

The DB9 sits on Aston’s then new VH platform, (it stands for Vertical/Horizontal and refers to the platform’s almost infinite adaptability). The fact that the structure spawned one car with just two seats (the Aston Martin Vantage) and another with four doors (Rapide) proves the point well.

But versatile to a fault though the platform may have been, it also came with two problems: it was heavy and space inefficient. Despite using aluminium for both the platform and most of the body, even the coupé DB7 weighed 1785kg, which was about the same as a standard Jaguar XJ or Audi A8 limo at the time. 

The Aston's updated engine produces 510bhp and 457lb ft

Nor was the engine in exactly its first flush. It was first shown in 1996 under the bonnet of the Ford Indigo concept and was, in essence, two 3.0-litre Ford Duratec V6 motors joined together.

The first Aston Martin it powered was the DB7, and since then it was available in a bewildering variety of outputs and specifications in every production 12-cylinder Aston since. And it was still mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox in an era when you might expect eight speeds or a dual-clutch transmission.

Even so, the DB9 was not left undeveloped. It’s fitted with the AM10 version of the 5935cc V12C, which was tuned to provide 510bhp. That's not only 40bhp more than the previous DB9, but also 21bhp more than the Virage which it replaced.

The platform was also looked at, too, and while the DB9 didn’t benefit from the additional interior space and torsional rigidity of the carbonfibre reinforced structure introduced for the Vanquish flagship, it was still an impressive 20 percent stiffer.

On the chassis side, double wishbones were of course retained at each corner, but adaptive damping offering three modes, including one for track work, became standard, while carbon-ceramic brakes dropped unsprung weight by 12.5kg.

Visually, it’s remarkable how pure the car still looks given that its original Ian Callum design was modified pre-production by Henrik Fisker, and subsequently revised and made compliant with the latest pedestrian impact legislation by Marek Reichman.

INTERIOR

Aston Martin DB9 dashboard

Form or function? There was never any doubt which one of those roads the Aston Martin DB9 would choose to ply. It’s a credit to its original stylists that all these years later the remarkably little-changed interior still looks fresh and interesting. It was fully in keeping with the car’s substantial six-figure purchase price when new.

Every now and then, however, the cabin's ability to make your heart sing is rivalled only by its capacity to boil your blood. For beautiful though the cabin was, it’s an ergonomic joke.

Tall drivers will find legroom in the Aston restrictive

For instance, the driving position ensures that taller drivers will be simply unable to get comfortable behind the wheel. There’s inadequate rear seat movement and too limited adjustment to the steering wheel’s reach.

Meanwhile, the gorgeous dials turned out to be all but unreadable thanks to the diminutive point size of their lettering: were it not for a digital speed readout, you’d never normally know how fast you were going. 

The centre stack is more confusing still, with two displays providing information in such a bewildering and apparently haphazard fashion that you may end up electing to go uninformed. Buttons that were tiny and poorly labelled don’t help either. The Garmin-based navigation system is merely poor rather than unusable.

If you buy the Volante you’ll find the roof mechanism still works very well, reducing headroom by only a tiny amount relative to the coupé when raised, and stowing neatly and quickly behind the driver.

You don’t lose much boot space either. But when the coupé carried only 186 litres of luggage, the loss of a further 14 litres is felt more keenly than most.

Bear in mind also that whichever version you bought, it came with rear seats that, for almost all people almost all of the time, will prove entirely useless, save as for additional non-secure luggage storage.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Aston Martin DB9 cornering

Even with its 510bhp motor, the DB9 isn’t all that quick. It can hit 62mph in 4.6sec, about the same as an automatic base-level Porsche 911 which cost about half the money the Aston required. But the nature of that performance? Well, that remains something else again.

There’s still nothing to match the sound of a large capacity, normally aspirated V12 engine in full flight, and whatever little the DB9 lacks in pure punch, it more than makes up for in automotive theatre.

The Aston Martin's gearbox smacks of cost saving measures

Aston's engine is actually quite peaky. It develops maximum torque way up at 5500rpm, which is just 1000rpm below the point at which it makes peak power. However, while that might be irritating in a saloon, in an Aston Martin coupé it feels absolutely correct.

The urge builds as the revs approach the red line, creating a rising crescendo of mechanical music matched by very few cars of any price made anywhere in the world. Ageing and of humble origins though this engine may have been, it remains magnificent. Top speed is limited to 183mph.

If it was let down at all, it was by the retention of the same old XF six-speed automatic transmission. When the DB9 was new in 2003, this gearbox was state of the art, but rivals then came to offer either more ratios and a slicker shift or a proper dual-clutch transmission.

Aston Martin actually has such a gearbox and used it on the Vantage S, but it was thought not to fit the more gentle character of the DB9.

It seemed almost certain that, like other ZF customers, Aston Martin would in time switch from six gears to eight, but until then the transmission would remain a weak link and a slight but clearly sour note in an otherwise still sweet and memorable powertrain.

RIDE & HANDLING

Aston Martin DB9 cornering

Just as the engine’s appeal could be found in more subjective areas rather than simply statistically outgunning the opposition, so too can be said of the chassis.

The DB9 isn’t a car that grips like a mid-engined Ferrari or rides like a Rolls-Royce, but that’s the fate of all grand touring cars with a brief to straddle the disciplines of ride and handling and provide the best possible blend of the two. Or at least it should be.

The car's suspension is usually best left in normal mode

And with the DB9 at least, it was. Thanks in no small part to the tuning latitude provided by those electronic dampers, Aston Martin was able at last to fully exploit the talent that was clearly latent in the DB9’s chassis all along.

The Aston handles beautifully, which is not to say it cornered fast enough to pull your head off your shoulders. Grip is good but it was the balance of the car that was most memorable. All Astons built on VH architecture had favourable weight distributions thanks to the location of the gearbox over the rear axle, but the DB9 made the most of the advantage.

Its long wheelbase and considerable weight means the car was never going to feel truly agile, but it is accurate, poised and phenomenally progressive should you turn off the electronics and breach the limits of the Aston's tyres.

The Aston understeers just a little, while under power it flows into oversteer so predictably it was as if your right foot measured how far the back should step out of line: a certain pressure creates a corresponding amount of yaw which increased or decreased in precisely linear fashion depending on how much pressure you elect to keep on the throttle.

Selecting Sport mode stiffens the car somewhat, but the suspension's default mode is perfect for British back roads. Track mode appears to be something of a gimmick, but even if you’re not driving like you’ve just stolen it, there is always the steering to keep you informed and amused.

One positive attribute of Aston’s then lack of an overseeing parental authority is that an electric steering system likely to save you a couple of tanks of fuel over the lifetime of the car was not foisted upon it, so you can still enjoy not only the precision, weighing and linearity of the original steering system but also its feel.

Ride quality can be described as good enough, so long as you don’t get bored and begin fiddling with the damper settings. There is some pitter-patter on B-roads but no more than you’d expect from a car that remains inherently firmly sprung while riding on such wide, low-profile rubber.

More important was the now-excellent control of vertical body movements, limiting the kind of pitching and heaving motion that can make your passenger wonder why on earth he or she got into the car in the first place. 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Aston Martin DB9

The Aston's engine and other modifications brought an improvement in fuel consumption, although an overall combined figure of 19.8mpg isn’t likely to have the Friends of the Earth posting flowers through your letterbox.

The fact that this is accompanied by 333g/km of CO2 emissions wasn’t as financially prejudicial as it first seems, because it costs no more to tax than a car with an output of 265g/km.

A DB9 isn't going to be cheap to run but it's no worse than alternatives

But your first year tax disc would still cost four figures and every one thereafter a substantial amount. It also shows just how much further still the DB9’s consumption should improve before even thinking about worrying a lower category, and it's a void we didn’t imagine even an eight-speed gearbox with stop-start would come close to bridging. 

If you were buying new, depreciation was of the 'sharp intake of breath' variety, with cars losing around half their once considerable value in around four years. That said, you could buy a Bentley Continental GT Speed and be no better off. If you really wanted to cling to retained value, you would need to look at something like a Ferrari California to do it.

All Aston Martins were supplied with a standard three-year unlimited mileage warranty.

VERDICT

3.5 star Aston Martin DB9

We like the Aston Martin DB9 and always have, and there’s nothing that exposure to the new model does to change that. Indeed, one of the more interesting questions it posed is why one might have elected to spend so much more on the top-of-the-range Vanquish when the DB9 possessed so many of its talents, more progressive handling and arguably better looks.

Those sniffing around a Vanquish should ask themselves whether they wouldn’t really be more comfortable, better entertained and better off with a DB9, a Porsche Cayman S and a substantial chunk of change in the bank.

Aston has done some good work updating the DB9

However, and despite a round of enhancements, it provided no sense that it is in any way a new creation, but rather an old recipe sprinkled with some additional spiciness with which to inject some much-needed fresh interest and appeal.

So while we admired Aston’s ability to extend further still the lifetime of the DB9, relative to its rivals today it has to be said that it was a faint shadow of the car it was in 2003. Still, that does not mean it should be avoided. Subjectively, it still scored well with its looks and the manner with which it delivered its performance and handling.

It had, if you like, reverted to traditional Aston Martin strengths that had always spoken more to heart than head. State of the art it may no longer be, but desirable and exciting it continues to remain.

The owner’s view

Paul Jenner: “I’ve had my 2006-reg DB9 coupé for 10 years, during which time it’s covered 25,000 miles. It’s now done 62,000. It has a full Aston Martin history and would make a great first DB9 for someone. They would need to budget around £2000 a year to run it, not including fuel – I get 14-26mpg. Road tax is £590 and I pay around £400 to insure it on a low-mileage policy. Servicing is around £800 every 10,000 miles. Discs and pads, which you might need every 20,000 miles, cost around £2000. Tyres last well so at least you don’t need to worry about those too often.”

Aston Martin DB9 2004-2016 First drives