“Hmmm. It’s black. Lighting black cars for photos is a bit of a pain.” That’s the thought process that made me want to slap myself and get a reality check. I’m at Aston Martin’s headquarters in Gaydon, for God’s sake. There’s a stunning Aston Martin DB9 GT sat in front of me, and I’ve just been handed the strange little rectangular glass object that’s the key. For almost anyone this is a big deal, but for me, it’s especially significant. To find out why, we have to go back to 2004.
This was the year I passed my driving test. The year I entered the driving world with a crummy Peugeot 306 XS with its 90bhp of 1.6-litre brawn. And the year the Aston Martin DB9 appeared.
Sure, the DB7 that came before it was a pretty thing, but the 7 was known to be rather flawed, and was still resting on an ancient Jaguar XJS platform. The DB9 on the other hand was fresh and modern, underpinned by Aston’s then very new ‘VH’ aluminium architecture. What interested me most as an impressionable 17-year-old, though, was the way it sounded, and the way it looked. Here was a car with perfect and otherworldly coupe proportions, plus an interior you’d happily trade for your house, if it were a little less compact in there.
I made a promise to myself that one day, I’d buy a DB9. “Whatever it takes”, I thought. Fast forward to the present, and I’ve not managed it just yet. But, the DB9 is still on sale, and there’s a new ‘last hurrah’ GT model to test out, so that’s why I now have the keys to one for the weekend.
It’s not ownership, but hey, it’s close enough for now, and as far as weekends go, it doesn’t get much better than spending one with an Aston Martin. But what if I end up hating the car? The DB9 was - and still is - a motoring hero of mine, and since the car has been on sale a lot longer than it should have been (it’ll be replaced by the DB11 soon), there’s the risk I’ll find a lot to dislike. A risk that this’ll be a hero I’ll regret meeting.
It takes a couple of prods to figure out the door handle (you push in the side furthest away from the keyhole then pull the other side, in case you’re wondering), after which I gently pull open the particularly sizeable driver’s door, and make myself at home on the absurdly comfortable new leather seats the GT comes with. The centre console impresses me less: it’s new to the DB9 - borrowed from the Vanquish - but it’s clad in that piano black plastic stuff I so loathe, and littered with touch-sensitive buttons that aren’t particularly touch-sensitive.
I insert the key - or Emotional Control Unit as it’s known - into the slot in the middle of the centre console, and the 5.9-litre, naturally-aspirated V12 wakes with a conspicuous but well mannered growl, settling to a surprisingly quiet idle. Drive is selected with the press of a big, round button just under the vents, and as I lift off the brake pedal, the DB9 GT gets moving with an eagerness I’m not expecting.
As I leave Aston Martin’s Bond villain lair-like HQ, I get another taste of something I’m not so keen on: cheap, flimsy-feeling indicator and windscreen wiper stalks. That might sound like I’m nit-picking, but come on, a £140,000 car shouldn’t have switchgear that feels like it’d be more at home in a Ford Fiesta.
Fortunately, the slip lane of the M40 - the road that’ll take me to my weekend playground in the Brecon Beacons in Wales - is in front of me, and I get my first chance to sample that big 12-pot up front. As I put a healthy amount of pressure on the lovely weighted throttle pedal, there’s a very brief moment of confusion at the near-silence. But as the RPM builds, a flap in the exhaust opens. This brings with it noise. By noise, I mean the sonorous howl of 12 cylinders erupting just in front of the dashboard. Good. Sadly, my fun is curtailed by Friday evening traffic - I’ll have to bide my time.
"Unrestrained by traffic, I can let the rev counter frantically spin around in its quirky anticlockwise fashion up to the V12’s singing 6750rpm peak power mark"
What follows isn’t the most exciting drive I’ve ever had, but a chance to find out what the DB9’s grand touring credentials are like, and every now and then, I’m getting little hints as to what this car is about. The steering feeling wonderfully accurate and reassuringly heavy around roundabouts. The power delivery being beautifully smooth every time I accelerate back up to the national speed limit. Oh, and the exhaust pipes playing one of the best ‘arrangements’ of the song of my people through every tunnel I explode through. I simply can’t wait to get it on good roads to find out how all of this comes together.
The next morning I find myself glancing at the DB9’s clock as I punch the sport mode button. It’s day one of our filming and photo session, and I’ve had to take a sizeable detour due to a closed road forcing me onto a dual carriageway I didn’t want to be on. I know we’re fighting a losing battle with this December day’s limited light, so the last thing I want to be doing when meeting up with our videographer and drone pilot for the weekend is turn up late. Since I have time to make up, this gives me the perfect opportunity to finally see what the DB9 GT is like when you’re giving it what for. The answer? Jolly good.
I’d noticed on the way down to Wales that the DB9 rides rather firmly, but right now I’m more than happy to lose a little comfort for how the car feels out here. It’s intended to sit somewhere between a sports car and a grand tourer, this, and that’s a job it does very well, albeit being slightly closer to the sporty side of things. Fine by me.
Unrestrained by traffic, I can let the rev counter frantically spin around in its quirky anticlockwise fashion up to the V12’s singing 6750rpm peak power mark, with one of the best soundtracks in the business thundering out of the tailpipes behind me.
Thanks to a software tweak this is the most powerful DB9 yet, with 540bhp and 457lb ft of torque carrying you from 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds, and on to a top speed of 186mph. Does it feel like it has that much poke? Not especially thanks to a very linear power delivery, but this shouldn’t feel bonkers quick: it should be brisk, for when sir feels in the mood. Anything else would be ungentlemanly.
Flimsy indicator stalks and lacklustre interior trim are pushed back into the far recesses of my brain as I tackle ever tightening corners, because all I can do right now is revel in the DB9’s fantastic steering. The day before I’d had an inkling that it was a sweet setup, but there’s no doubt in my mind now: this well-weighted, sharp and feelsome steering is just about the best of any new car right now.
As I delve deeper into the Brecon Beacons, the roads become ever more bendy, while the Aston just gets better and better. There’s a real balance and poise to the thing, with damping that’s just about as supple as you want, with enough stiffness to push on with little in the way of roll. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this nimble, since it’s a big old 1700kg+ coupe. Grips well, too: even as the rain starts to come down, the back end is relatively untroubled by the soaked tarmac and you can always get the power down without the rear boots stepping out in anger.
One thing is bugging me a little though, and that’s the six-speed ZF automatic transmission. I’ve taken control of the gearbox using the column-mounted paddles (I’d prefer them on the steering wheel, but it’s not a huge issue), but the shifts just feel lethargic. It’s telling that the Vanquish manages the 0-62mph sprint in 0.7sec quicker than the DB9 despite having only 28bhp more and not a whole lot less weight: a lot of it is down to the eight-speed ZF ‘box, something I wish the DB9 had.
I can live with that, though, just as I can live with all the Aston’s other foibles. Few cars have so much character, and nothing looks quite so breathtaking.
I’m nearing the meet point, with the V12 blaring out its tune, rolling over the Welsh hills and no doubt pissing off every rambler in a half-mile radius. But they should enjoy that noise; this is an engine with an expiry date, after all.
It first appeared in the DB7 Vantage way back in 1999, with a design derived from a pair of humble Ford Duratec V6s. Time and expectations for higher fuel economy and lower emissions have effectively led to the demise of this big 12-pot; in the incoming DB11 and other next-gen Astons, a 5.2-litre, twin-turbo V12 will be used instead. So, this drive isn’t just a way of saying goodbye to the DB9, it’s also about bidding farewell to its engine.
"We have a tricky couple of days ahead, but all that matters to me is that I'll get to spend the whole lot driving an Aston Martin DB9"
There’s just a mile or so to go now, and I’m pondering if this is the sporty GT car I’d buy if I happened to have £140,000 stuffed down the back of the sofa. You know what? It might just have to be the Aston. I could buy a much newer, better engineered tourer like the Mercedes-AMG S63 coupe or a Bentley Continental GT V8, but neither have the class, the feel-good factor or the drop-dead gorgeous looks of the DB9 GT. And neither makes me wonder how much I can sell my organs for on the black market.
I pull up in a gravel-filled lay-by - carefully looking out for pot holes that might harm the GT’s 20-inch rims in the process - to find our video guy taking shelter from the rapidly deteriorating weather. We have a tricky couple of days of shooting ahead with 60mph winds and lashings of rain, but all that matters to me is that I’ll get to spend the whole lot driving an Aston Martin DB9. It’s been my motoring hero for years, and this encounter hasn’t changed my mind one bit.