The Aston Martin DB9 GT and the Incoming DB11
Can the new DB11 overcome the DB9's shortcomings while improving on its virtues?
Aston Martin launched the DB9 in 2005, the same year I joined AUTOMOBILE. Since that introduction, I've been lucky to spend quality time in everything from a V8 Vantage (on Route 66!), to the DBS, Vanquish, V12 Vantage S, and Rapide S. I was happy to revisit the DB9 recently, ahead of the launch of its coming replacement, the DB11.
The replacement, with its new platform and twin-turbocharged version of the decade-plus old DB9's V-12, is long overdue. After receiving an invitation to the wonderful Members' Meeting at the Goodwood Motor Circuit in England, I arranged a DB9 GT press car -- the swan song for the breakthrough Aston.
The GT combines many of the best bits from Aston Martin's parts bin, including adjustable dampers and carbon-ceramic brakes. The long-serving V-12 is tweaked to 540 hp, but it's still hitched to a six-speed automatic. Interior upgrades include the fancier and better-functioning DBS infotainment system and center stack.
More importantly, the DB9 GT wears well the gorgeous proportions of the original design. My Onyx Black press car was stunning with silver multispoke wheels, nicely showing off the subtle British beauty that Aston has been known for the past hundred years. There are few modern cars that have aged as gracefully as the DB9.
But Aston has troweled on too much flamboyance lately. The Vanquish is a breathed-on DB9 with too much glitz, missing the welcomed restraint of the basic DB9 and V8 Vantage designs. Speaking of the V8 Vantage, I'm still not sure what the company was thinking with the decal kit on the entry-level V8 Vantage GT. It's about as classy as Clark Griswold's cousin Eddie.
Based on the press photos, I'm not exactly sold on the DB11's exterior design. Yes, I will hold final thoughts until I see the car in person, but the new GT seems to be taking the Vanquish's design aesthetic and running with it. I'm not sure that's a good thing. I'm not taken with the "hat on its head" contrasting roof -- thankfully optional -- and the sculpting of the front wheel wells. Yes, Aston models need to evolve, but I'm not sold on the evolution from DB9 to DB11.
I like the clear improvements elsewhere on the DB11, especially inside. While the DB9 GT's infotainment system has been updated, it's still antiquated and frustrating compared with most modern systems. The DB9 also lacks decent cabin and luggage space, and Aston claims large improvements in both areas with the DB11. The British company is now in bed with Mercedes-Benz, and the initial results with the DB11 look promising.
We'll have to wait and see if the new twin-turbo V-12 in the DB11 carries the same visceral engine characteristics found in the DB9. I hope the new British powertrain gets no Mercedes influence with its artificially aspirated 12-cylinder engines. The turbocharged AMG V-12 in the SL65 AMG isn't exciting or aurally pleasing. Even the older full-fat SL65 AMG Black Series had the aural quality of a garbage truck fitted with a performance exhaust from Pep Boys. In contrast, the music produced by the DB9 GT is fantastic, and Aston nicely tunes the acoustics of its 5.9-liter V-12. The engine shows off its effortless torque and subtle burbles when the DB9 is driven sedately. But the full aural pleasure comes into play when you stretch the engine into the upper reaches of the rev range. I'm happy that the DB9's old six-speed will be replaced with a new eight-speed automatic in the DB11.
Despite its geriatric shortcomings, the DB9 is still a satisfying GT car. Sure, it guzzles gasoline at an alarming rate -- Aston promises the DB11 will be better -- but there are few cars that burn fossil fuel in such a wonderful way. The DB9 is so analog and involving to drive at all speeds. Its hydraulic power steering offers great feedback, including the VH-platform's tendency for steering kickback over large bumps. But when you tap the sport button and use the paddles to manually row the transmission, the gorgeous Brit is transformed, dancing around country roads in a way many modern cars could never duplicate. The mechanical differential puts down the power progressively, and you feel exactly what the car is doing on the tight, twisty British roads. When the Pirelli winter tires on my test car began to give up grip, I could carefully adjust my line with the buttery steering and intuitive throttle wiggles. This is becoming a rare quality and must be celebrated.
If Aston Martin can keep the DB9's fabulous feel in the new DB11 while fixing the shortcomings, I can forgive the overdone styling. Aston's chief of vehicle attribute engineering, Matt Becker, wanted to expand the breadth of capability of the DB9 with the DB11. If it's an even more comfortable GT that's evocative to drive hard, Aston Martin may have a winner on its hands. I can't wait to find out.