Last week while reviewing the Maserati Quattroporte Sport I made a bold claim. That if you left an Aston Martin DB9 alone for a few days its battery would become bored and die. This has made me feel guilty all week. Many people have told me that their DB9s refused to start after only a few days of inactivity, but being a proper journalist, schooled in the need for accuracy and proof, I felt it would be better to have first-hand experience of this phenomenon. So I devised a cunning plan.
I would borrow an Aston Martin press demonstrator that I would not use for a week. Then, when the man came to pick it up again, we’d see if it started. Brilliant. The first road test where the car wouldn’t go on the road at all.
Sadly, while I may have been schooled in the need for accuracy and proof, and while I like to think I’m a proper journalist, I’m still only nine years old. So the test lasted only three days before I thought “sod this for a game of soldiers” and went for a damn good thrash.
I’m sorry, but having a DB9 on the drive and not driving it is a bit like having Keira Knightley in your bed and sleeping on the couch. If you’ve got even half a scrotum it’s not going to happen.
This, then, is what I have to say to those who claim their DB9 won’t start after a couple of days. What is it that you were doing that was more fun than being in it? No really. Unless your job is to be the fly on the wall in a Hooters changing room, I can’t imagine that you have much of an answer.
My job this week is to review the new Lexus 350 Something Or Other. It’s been outside all week, sticking pins in my conscience every time I walked past it and climbed, once more, into the Aston. Unprofessional, I know. But the DB9 does that to you. It assaults your heartstrings with a soothing balm of warm mango juice.
The only consolation is that unlike the previous examples I’ve tested, all of which had a paddle shift auto box, this one had a lever sticking out of the floor. It was a manual.
It’s not a very good manual, if I’m honest; it’s heavy and cumbersome and feels like it may have come from a combine harvester. And it’s attached to the engine via a clutch that has 3ft of travel and a bite zone that has the exact same width as an ant’s front left leg. You stall this car more often than you don’t.
But when you don’t, I have to say it’s a joy. Having the gears and the clutch means you have total control over the revs and how far through the bonnet you could jettison all those valves. There’s no Blair-matic computer overlord.
I even got it into my head that the new(ish) gearbox had somehow improved the turn-in as well, and the steering. But then, using an old-fashioned journalistic technique called “picking up the phone”, I discovered my test car was fitted with a £2,495 sports pack.
Hmmm. Fitting a “sports” pack to a 6 litre V12 GT car. Isn’t that a bit like fitting a “pretty” pack to the aforementioned Ms Knightley? A bit pointless.
What you get for your £2,500 is altered steering, uprated springs and a softer front antiroll bar. And what this means is a harder, more firm ride but a quicker response to driver commands. Sadly, though, it also means some of the heaviness is gone from the steering. I used to quite like that, the sense you were manhandling the car rather than just sitting there, driving it.
There’s more too. A standard DB9 makes sense. It’s a grown-up, more relaxing, more comfortable and more expensive version of the baby V8 Vantage. But give a DB9 a hard ride and a manual box and visitors to an Aston showroom are faced with the agony of choosing which they’d rather have. Me? I’d rather have the salesman tie me down and tickle the soles of my feet with a feather duster.
So quite by accident we arrive at a proper story. Which Aston Martin should you buy if you’re the sort of person who likes to crack on a bit? The manual DB9 with a sports pack? Or a standard Vantage? I dislike making choices. Children’s schools. ITV or BBC. Swings or roundabouts. Even going out for dinner in Chipping Norton requires a nightmare hour of pen sucking. Should it be the Indian? Or the Chinese? Or Whistlers, for a spot of deep-fried brie? Last weekend it was the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Charlbury music festival. So which was it going to be? I could have ended up going to neither because I couldn’t make my mind up.
I think all men are like this. It’s why war takes such a long time to finish. And so the notion of deciding to buy an Aston Martin rather than a Ferrari or Porsche, and then arriving at the showroom to discover there’s yet another decision to be made — aaaaargh. Let me see, then, if I can help.
Practicality? Well yes, the DB9 has rear seats but no mammal yet created, not even when God was on the LSD trip that gave us the pink flamingo, could fit into them. That said, the boot is pretty generous but it can’t match the hatchback versatility you get from the Vantage. Oh and because the V8 is smaller, it’s easier to park.
In terms of styling, however, the DB9 still has it. You could walk round it, squint, go cross-eyed, do whatever you want but you won’t find a single angle from which it looks even slightly wrong. The Vantage is slightly less successful. Stand directly in front of it and it appears to have no wheels.
That’s one-all, and then we get to the noise. And of course the Vantage’s V8 makes a hell of a racket. For sheer volume, nothing short of a big bike can bring so much din to the road network. But it sounds a bit synthetic, a bit manufactured. The DB9’s V12 exhaust roar is also contrived, I know that. But it’s better. Deeper. More menacing somehow.
Inside, the DB9 wins as well, chiefly because, when you turn it on, you don’t get a message on the dash saying “Power. Beauty. Soul”. Every time that happens in my wife’s V8, I want to vomit.
I suppose at this point we should examine the price difference. The Vantage is £79,995. The DB9 we’re talking about here is about £109,000. That’s a big gulf and on paper at least that isn’t really explained by the performance gap.
Both do 0-60 in 4.something sec and both will top 175. But if you look behind the spec sheets, a different picture emerges. The V8 feels like it’s struggling to be fast whereas the DB9 makes it all seem so effortless. This means that in the Vantage you’re always having to work the box and hammer the brakes, whereas in the DB9 you can just sit there with your hair on fire listening to Ken Bruce.
I think then that if you bought the Vantage you’d spend large chunks of your time with it wishing you’d spent the extra £29,000 and gone for the DB9. When I first wrote about this car, oh ages ago now, I described it as perfect and I know some of you who’ve had flat batteries are cursing me for that.
But I won’t back down. There is, as Mr Bacon once told us, “no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness” about it.
And the strangeness of a DB9 with a flat battery is that you have longer to sit around looking at it.