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Aston Martin DB9

Phil LlewellinwritersRichard Newtonphotographers

There's a strong case for the new DB9 being the most important car in Aston Martin's long, turbulent history. Insiders regard it as symbolizing the change from a cottage industry to a serious manufacturer fit to compete with the likes of Ferrari and Porsche. The seal-sleek coupe-which replaces the DB7-marks the start of a new era, because its aluminum spaceframe platform is the basis for a three-model range.

Chief program engineer David King and his team were determined to create an exceptionally efficient car. They have succeeded to such an extent that the DB9's basic structure is 25 percent lighter than the DB7's but has more than double its torsional rigidity. The convertible, when it arrives, will carry a much smaller weight penalty than is generally the case when a coupe is decapitated.

"We were obliged to consider platforms within the Ford family but realized that we should go it alone," says King. "The basic philosophy was that to become more competitive, we needed to improve our cars' dynamic attributes. We had rather lost our way with the heavy, cumbersome V-8s and, to an extent, with the DB7. The DB7 has been a wonderful car in many ways, but dynamically it has lagged a bit behind some of our competitors." The DB9 is sharper than the DB7 thanks to the control-arm suspension at each end and the rear-mounted transaxle, which helps provide 50/50 weight distribution.

Building on know-how acquired while developing the range-topping Vanquish, the DB9 is the first part of Aston's VH strategy. V, for vertical, identifies the platform; H, for horizontal, embraces technologies shared with other Ford marques. For instance, the DB9's safety features were developed in cahoots with Volvo.

This version of Aston's 48-valve, 5.9-liter V-12 is mounted far enough back for the DB9 to be regarded as a front-mid-engine layout. Key figures are 450 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 420 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. Floor the pedal, and the DB9 with the six-speed manual gearbox should reach 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, hit 100 mph just 6.1 seconds later, and max at 186 mph. The shift-by-wire automatic delivers the goods a couple of tenths slower.

Design director Henrik Fisker has retained the DB7's smooth, flowing, ever-so-slightly retro lines while moving on a few paces. For improved access, the DB9 features "swan wing" doors, which open both out and up twelve degrees. Sarah Maynard, a former fashion designer, was instrumental in conceiving the interior. Its details include a glass starter button that glows red when the ignition is on and light blue when it's off.