Teamspeed First Drive: 2013 Aston Martin DB9 Volante
Top-down motoring in Aston's all new DB9, is it just a revamped Virage or something more? Text by CJ Hubbard - Teamspeed Contributing Editor What is it?
2013 model year version of the Aston Martin DB9 Volante Why should I care?
It might look like a Virage Volante, but there’s a new 517hp V12 and a whole host of changes beneath the surface. Beauty’s more than skin deep with this one. How fast and how much?
517hp @ 6,500rpm, 457lb ft @ 5,500rpm 0-62mph 4.6 secs, V-max 183mph MRSP $200,200
It’s an unavoidable truth: the Aston Martin DB9 is now eight years old. Revamped for 2013 it may be, but how many of you are wondering exactly why it isn’t on its way to that great cold junkyard in the sky already? I mean, it’s still gorgeous, but even the good looking go out of date sometime, right?
Appearances can be deceptive. In this case it looks like Aston Martin has simply draped the regular DB9 in bodywork left over from the recently deceased Virage. And indeed – almost all of the outside (and the inside) is Virage derived. But delve deeper, and underneath this new car is really rather different.
While the bonded aluminum construction is fundamentally faithful to the original, it’s not actually the same. Like the new Vanquish, the 2013 DB9 is based on the fourth generation of Aston’s “Vertical Horizontal Architecture” rather than the first – that’s four generations in just eight years. So much for being over the hill.
As a result the Volante is 30% stiffer than the one it replaces. At the same time, a new frontal crash structure means the 6.0-litre V12 sits 19mm lower in the chassis, reducing the center of gravity. That engine’s undergone a few changes, too…
Old school rules
Take the new block. And the new crank. And the new throttle bodies, the new “big wing” intake manifold, new hollow camshafts, machined combustion chambers, bigger intake valves. And the new heads, complete with dual variable valve timing. That’s right, it’s a detuned version of the AM11 unit from the Vanquish. If you can call 517hp ‘detuned’.
To cope with this, Aston has also upgraded the DB9 with a bigger ducktail spoiler, new three-way adaptive damping and standard carbon-ceramic brakes. I’m going to jump ahead of myself here and say those brakes are amongst the very best of their kind I’ve ever experienced. Not so much for the unrelenting stopping power – that’s a given – but for the total lack of low-speed anxiety that plagues too many rival set-ups. The hardware is Brembo, the effort is Aston’s. They do extremely well.
Which is good news, because although max torque only rises slightly, and continues to peak at a heady 5,500rpm, it’s now spread more thickly across the entire rev range. Together with the latest calibration for the six-speed automatic transmission this means effortless, decisive performance – without any of the stop-start grumble and shunt you get from some dual-clutch alternatives. Old school rules, it seems.
Watch out grandma
But it was always going to be fast. Slot that crazy glass and chrome ‘key’ into the center of the dash, and the DB9 fires into life with a whirr of starter motor and a grandma-flattening whomp from the exhaust; what immediately impresses as you move away, however, is the tremendous sense of composure. This is not a teeth chattering sports car, this is a grand tourer. It feels utterly at ease.
Pick up the pace, and though the slight rubberiness in the steering quickly disappears, the Aston risks coming across as weirdly ordinary. The V12 settles swiftly into the background, the suspension soaks up any unpleasantness and the direction changes are neat but almost languorous.
Lumps and bumps nibble at your hands through the wheel rim, and thump beneath those 20-inch alloys, yet the DB9 rises above it all, serenely. A sensation that’s particularly remarkable in the Volante. The notion of covering big distances in this car arrives in your head like a gently brightening bulb – it would be so easy to just keep driving and driving.
That’s stage one. Stage two, you press the Sport button. Hello horizon.
DB9, destroyer of continents
The Sport button dominates the drivetrain. It amplifies the throttle map, slips the gearbox some whiz and pokes the exhaust with a stick. Everything becomes more urgent, instantly. And louder. Instead of a satisfying swell, the engine now lunges like a tiger felling its lunch. Every downshift, a swaggering blast from the tailpipes. Time to get intimate with the paddleshifters.
Sport’s surging mid-range and the suave gearbox compound the DB9 as a casual continental destroyer. But be in no doubt – flatten the throttle and it will do ferocious violence on approach to redline. At which point you’ll realize the overly fussy (my humble opinion) back-to-front tacho isn’t actually marked with one, and, oh yeah, in manual mode the transmission will happily head-butt the limiter.
Grab an upshift, repeat – the V12 wail is absolutely glorious. Except by now you’ll probably be closing in on a corner. Praise be for those mighty, mighty carbon stoppers. Seriously, this thing is fast, but it’s the brakes that give you the confidence to explore this potential.
On to stage three. The suspension.
The real Aston Martin
The normal damper mode is fine. Comfortable. A touch wallowy, but it’s adaptive, so responsive nonetheless.
But that’s irrelevant, since the Sport setting is exceptional. A tangible escalation in control, like a line snapped taut, it layers more weight into the steering and resists the rolling forces in the turns with the air of a boundless rogue. Yet, rough surfaces remain smothered, mid-turn bumps a non-issue, and you can blat freeways in comfort that’s now minus the ordinariness and float.
Combine Sport and Sport, and you get a car that is cool, calm and collected in every expression of its agility, but one that moves with fearsome conviction. And it’s deeply polished, too, not just surface lustre – the French mountain launch route by rights ought to be too narrow for such a big car, but the Aston’s reactions are so beautifully measured that it refuses to intimidate. Ever.
So you press on. The light in your head? It’s flashing – real DB9 alert.
Which explains why Aston has included a setting lock. Whenever you restart this car, it remains primed exactly as you left it – the DB9 knows how it wants to be driven. Rumor is the normal powertrain mode only exists to optimize emissions for European tax reasons, anyway…
If you’re hungry for more, there is also a Track damper mode. Accessed with a longer hold of the button, this is remarkably road capable when the going’s smooth, nervy enough to make you circumspect when it’s not. The Dynamic Stability Control also offers on, Sport and altogether off. Fair enough.
But however you drive the new DB9, it’s the way it always operates so cohesively that truly compels. There are faster cars, more flamboyant cars, cars that are sharper in the extreme, and – dare I say it ¬– fresher designs as well. Yet few rivals manage to deliver such a breadth of talent while maintaining such all-encompassing composure. The new DB9 is a lovely, lovely machine – and that heavenly junkyard is justifiably distant yet.