When shopping for a $20,000 commuter, the things you look for are simple and practical, like whether there’s enough rear headroom, of if frogurt stains will wipe off fabric seats. But how do you gauge the value of a $200,000 Aston Martin DB9, an iconic, James Bond-branded exotic? That’s enough scratch to buy a house in most parts of the United States — or a whole Detroit city block.
While luxury cars enjoy higher profit margins than a Honda Fit, the Aston oozes exquisite craftsmanship worthy of its $183,300 starting price. There are the obvious signs, like a plaque in the engine bay with name of the enviable person who inspects these cars; or hand-laid carbon-fiber accents inside and out (part of the Carbon pack). But then there are the almost imperceptible, obsessive details that you only notice when driving the car for a while, like the fuel cap seemingly chiseled out of a chunk of aluminum, or suede backing behind the door grips. The DB9 cuts no corners, and everything you can touch — from the glass-smooth paint finish to the suede headliner — exudes an artisan's dedication.
It helps that the DB9 looks stunning from every angle. The Aston literally stops traffic, and bystanders frequently whip out their iPhones to snap a picture of one in the wild. A guy in a Prius Zipcar pulled alongside of me on the freeway, staring and grinning ear to ear as though he owned the car himself.
The highlight of the DB9 is when you push the Swarovski crystal key fob — which alone costs $2,500 and looks like a miniature spaceship — into the center console and start up the majestic 6.0-liter, 510-hp V-12 engine. The sound isn’t merely great; the snarls, burbles and grunts are like a symphonic ode to V-block engines. Not high-strung like a Ferrari, or menacing like a Lambo’s V-12, it bellows with a composed yet confident roar that other supercars simply cannot match.
Nor are those euphoric sounds only for show. As the throaty exhaust note crescendos to the redline, the acceleration is decadently smooth, with a crisp, linear throttle response that makes that awesome power easy to modulate. Hitting 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, it’s not as manic as a Nissan GT-R, but you won’t care. Even when running cold, the carbon ceramic brakes have a consistent bite. The dual-clutch transmission gently tugs when driving around the street; but hit the Sport button and the gear changes become thunderously quick and precise. It highlights the dual nature of the DB9: while softer than the Aston Martin Vantage and compliant enough for long weekend drives, changing the suspension damping and throttle response to Sport transform the car into a track-ready machine.
And it’s a car comfortable being pushed hard. You’d think a hulking engine up front would easily upset the chassis, but the tail sweetly rotates with the throttle—unlike an axe-murdering Viper from the ‘90s. Even when approaching its limit, the DB9 never sheds its sense of class.
There are foibles in the Aston though, and pointing them out feels like I’m dating Adriana Lima while complaining about her sharp knees. The passenger side door had a minor hiss from the air outside leaking into the cabin. The snowplow-like front doesn’t do steep hillside driveways, and the Volvo navigation/audio interface is a throwback to 1999 (I couldn't even connect my iPhone 5 via Bluetooth or USB cable).
Nitpicking aside, there’s nothing like the DB9, which the company calls “timeless.” But in the age of ever-shrinking engine displacements, stiffer fuel economy rules, and the resulting move toward turbos, I disagree; the V-12 Aston Martin celebrates a dying form of automotive art, one destined to become priceless.