My flight to Los Angeles was delayed and my checked luggage isn’t arriving at the carousel promptly. Racing through my mind is the thought that it’s already well into the evening and I have to be at Willow Springs, the famous California club racing circuit, early in the morning. Needless to say, tension is building.
There are few things that can ease ones anxiety, however, and one of them is knowing that the latest Aston Martin awaiting your arrival. On this trip, the British sports car maker has its refreshed DB9 coupe waiting for me. I’d heard it had been painted in a custom finish, one to match the DB5 you’ve seen in the famous Bond film, Goldfinger. Just another silver colour, I think.
From the other side of the parking garage, I hear the unmistakable sound of the 12 cylinder firing up. My anticipation builds, but I remember that I’m already two hours behind schedule, which is now cutting into a good night’s rest before a serious day of work at the racetrack.
As the valet pulls up, I realize I’m entirely mistaken about the colour. The heritage Silver Birch paint on the sensual lines of the new DB9 is a magnificent combination. I’ve always argued that the current range of Astons benefits from lighter colours and this $4,400 paint proves me right. In person, it is sensational and unequivocally evocative of a vintage DB5.
With surprising forethought, I remembered to pack a number of small bags instead of a large suitcase. That’s because the DB9’s trunk is not as generous as the company’s flagship, the Vanquish, nor its gorgeous four-door sibling, the Rapide S. I’m able to fit a small suitcase, my briefcase and camera bag in the boot. My other small suitcase and racing helmet are required to ride with me in the cabin.
The tension eases slightly as I slide into the leather-covered bucket and get adjusted in the cockpit; it’s now time for a 35 mile drive to my destination. I don’t drive Aston Martins as frequently as I’d like, but I am a dedicated student of the company’s cars. I know where every control is located and the function of each button on the dash. There’s no need for familiarization, so I press the circular D button at the top of the dash to engage Drive and roll out.
No need for navigation tonight, I know the way to my destination. First things first, though – let’s exploit each one of the DB9’s 510 horses. Exiting the on-ramp onto the freeway, I gradually increase pressure on the throttle pedal until my right foot reaches the floor. The acceleration is unmistakably smooth – an effortless thrust that can only be produced by a V12. Highly illegal speeds are a fraction of a second away, time to back out of the throttle. The factory says the DB9 is good for zero-to-100 km/h times in the mid-four second range. That feels about right.
I like to think that Aston Martins are made for high-speed, cross-Continental journeys – “Why don’t we have dinner in Paris, darling?” – and the broken, uneven freeways of Southern California are an affront to the DB9. For 2013, there is a new three-mode suspension and these freeways demand the softest setting, Normal. I let the transmission shift into sixth gear, let the V12’s revs drop, set cruise control to a reasonable speed and, in no time at all, arrive at my destination.
Around dawn, my alarm chimes and I’m out of bed. After coming to terms with the fact I haven’t had enough sleep, I realize there’s a key to an Aston Martin in my jacket pocket. My day is already looking up.
From here it’s a two-hour drive to Willow Springs, which necessitates a stop for coffee. The DB9 does have a vaguely functional cup holder that also doubles as an armrest. With a small coffee cup in place, I begin to feel a little cramped. It’s like Aston Martin’s CEO and accomplished racing driver, Dr. Ulrich Bez, is telling me that perhaps some of our North American habits aren’t aligned with those of Europeans. I get the message.
The Aston navigates through town to the freeway and, even though exotic cars are a dime a dozen in California, the DB9 elicits countless positive reactions from motorists. I’m fairly certain they’re reacting to the car, not the bloke behind the wheel. In the near future, hydraulically-assisted power steering will disappear, much to the dismay of enthusiasts. For now, though, Aston Martin retains that classic steering feel that can only be delivered by a fluid-based system, and the DB9 is a pure joy to steer.
Without flinching, the Aston eats up over a hundred miles of California freeway to get me to the edge of the Mojave Desert, where Willow Springs International Raceway was constructed in 1952. Cleverly built into the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, it looks to be more challenging than I had anticipated.
The DB9’s cabin is pleasantly simple and although I’ve been sitting in the coupe’s minimalist bucket seat for a couple of hours, I arrive at Willow Springs rested and relaxed for a full day on track. Infinitely adjustable, massaging seats may be nice to have in your grand tourer, but a well-designed and –constructed seat is all you really need.
Today calls for testing a Porsche 911 GT3 fitted with Carbon Revolution’s one-piece carbon fibre wheels, but from time to time I can’t help catching a glimpse of that beautiful Aston Martin on the other side of pit wall. Eventually, there is a break in the on-track action and the devil on my shoulder plants an idea. He whispers, “Take the Aston for a lap…”
I’ve never explored speeds in an Aston Martin beyond those on the highway and I know that Willow Springs’ sweeping final turns will set me up with plenty of corner speed to accelerate down the front straight. I can’t resist… I need to know what the DB9 feels like at extra-legal speeds.
Once you pull one of the Touchtronic II’s shift paddles, you have manual control of the transmission. As soon as I pull onto pit lane, I’ve already given up automatic shifts. Around the circuit, prudence gets the best of me and I take it easy to protect the tires, but as I reach turn eight, my speed increases. And increases. I set up the DB9 for the perfect line through turn nine so that I exit onto the front straight with maximum speed.
The V12 shoves me back into the seat as I push the throttle to the floor. A flash of red light from the dash’s digital display tells me I’m running out of gear. Shift to fourth. The unmistakable wail of those 12 cylinders resonates off the pit wall. Another flash of red, pull the lever, fifth gear and I’m well above any speed limit. Corner one is fast approaching and I glance at the speedo – I see 130 mph. That’s 209 km/h per hour for us Canadians, and the DB9 is nothing but composed and confident at those speeds. The carbon ceramic brakes scrub over half that speed, without any drama, before I must turn into corner one.
While I’ve found handling limits in each Aston Martin I’ve driven, with the smallest V8 Vantage being the most nimble, I’m pleased to learn that even the 1,785-kilogram DB9 is controlled and changes direction with immediacy. The standard carbon ceramic brake package of the 2013 model lowers unsprung weight, improving the DB9’s handling and feedback for the driver. Plus, whether I’m attacking corners or navigating California’s notorious stop-and-go freeway traffic, I find these brakes to be the best of their kind from any manufacturer. They’re progressive, just like the best cast-iron brakes, but with the legendary fade resistance for which carbon ceramics are known.
Before I leave the circuit, I take a few more laps in the Porsche. Although I’m driving the 911 for an entirely different task, I can’t help but compare these two cars. The Porsche is simply a different beast than the gorgeous DB9. The contrast between these two coupes couldn’t be greater. They are polar opposites in the world of sports cars.
Where the 911 GT3 is uncompromisingly focused on performance, the DB9 offers power, composure, luxury and elegance in equal measure. With my energy spent and the day’s work at the track done, I pack up the DB9 and point the long hood towards the City of Angels. Driving this beautiful Aston Martin back to L.A., I’m forced to smile. I relax into the seat and realize that today I’m the luckiest bugger in the world.
2013 Aston Martin DB9
Base Price: $196,500
Engine: 5.9L V12
Horsepower / Torque: 510 hp / 457 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Ratings: 21.6 / 10.0 / 14.3 L/100 km (city / hwy. / comb.)
Story by Brian Makse | Photography by Brian Makse, Brian McGee and Aston Martin