The DB9 is showing its age, but its latest edition is still special, says Kevin Hackett.
Road test: 2014 Aston Martin DB9 Carbon Edition
It’s easy to criticise Aston Martin for all sorts of reasons. While its rivals busy themselves launching a never-ending stream of entirely new models, Aston has stuck with basically the same range for years, with each model more or less a derivative of the car you see here. The DB9 has been with us for an entire decade now and, so cry Aston’s detractors, it’s way past its sell-by date. It’s high time, they spout, for an entirely new car with an entirely new look and chassis architecture.
But is that a statement of fact or based on prejudice? I’m not sure, but, on the basis of my four days spent behind the wheel of this special-edition DB9, there isn’t much wrong with it. Mechanically, it’s the same as any new DB9, the differences being cosmetic. Called the Carbon Edition, it’s available in either metallic black or white, with – as the name suggests – a smattering of carbon fibre addenda that gives it a meaner and moodier presence. Aside from the radiator grille, there’s no brightwork anywhere, everything having been blacked out or formed from carbon fibre.
Visually, it’s either a big hit or miss, depending on how much you like the dark side. And that blackness continues through the entire car, with a cabin trimmed in black leather and all the usual controls that are brushed metal have been suitably colour coded. Some red detailing breaks up the sombre tone, but it’s impossible to escape that carbon fetishism – even the centre stack is trimmed in it. As much as I admire this material for all it affords, I can’t help feeling its time as a trim choice has been and gone.
Like Porsche with its seemingly unkillable 911, Aston Martin has refined the DB9 almost beyond recognition compared to the model launched in 2004. The interior trim is possibly the only thing that’s really showing its age, with its silly and confusing switchgear, dated digital displays and a satnav that’s better than it used to be, but still not brilliant. Its air-conditioning system is outclassed by even a Nissan Tiida’s, too, and I cannot help but feel that if Aston could just stretch to a radical redesign inside the car, it would breathe new life into a car that is otherwise truly excellent.
The exterior looks aren’t as perfectly beautiful as they used to be, with the nose section, in particular, losing some of its previous elegance. From the side and rear it’s spectacularly good-looking, though, and it evidently still captivates onlookers with one or two almost sideswiping me as they struggle with steering and taking mobile-phone photos at the same time.
On the open road, however, is where its gradual evolution makes itself manifest. The glorious, naturally aspirated V12 still delivers plenty of punch and sounds as epic as ever, although it definitely deserves a more advanced transmission. The six-speed auto just can’t compete with the twin-clutch units on offer practically everywhere else when it comes to shift times or a sense of driver involvement. It doesn’t need more speeds, it just needs to make you feel more excited when you’re shifting it through the ratios. Drive a Jaguar F-Type back-to-back with this and you’ll wonder why Aston hasn’t managed to make its auto more stimulating.
Not that it spoils the experiences on offer. Because, once you’re on the right kind of roads, the DB9 shines brilliantly. The canyons that carve through the jagged mountains in the Hatta region are blessed with some of this country’s finest ribbons of tarmac, with plenty of sweeping bends where you can really get a feel for a car’s structural integrity. The DB9 feels taut and stiff but never harsh, exhibiting no flex from its chassis. It grips and goes, with its three-stage adaptive damping making for a beautifully fluid and entirely composed cross-country thrash, while that engine’s glorious symphony is properly liberated thanks to the transmission only changing gear when you want it to (once you’ve taken charge with the steering-wheel paddles).
Drive it like this and it still feels utterly modern – light years ahead of the DB9 that came in for criticism from all corners 10 years ago – and provides plenty of compelling arguments for considering it as a purchase. Bentley’s Continental V8 S is probably its closest rival, but, as undeniably great as that car is, it doesn’t feel as lithe and nimble as the current DB9 when you’re really on it. And, lest we forget, the Bentley has stayed looking the same inside and out for even longer than this.
Aston Martin has recently announced a Dh3 billion investment in its facilities, which will fund a range of all-new cars. It’s about time. But, as it stands, the DB9 is a distillation of all that’s great about this wondrous brand. With a new cabin design and a better gearbox, this car could soldier on for another decade without any complaints from me.
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