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Dancing With a Rare Beauty

2005 Aston Martin DB9

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page G01


Value has two faces. The one better known is basic, common, practical. It offers much, costs little. It's an easy buy for the masses.

The other visage is more exclusive. It turns away from the ordinary in passionate pursuit of power, beauty and soul. It seeks to distinguish itself from its own class. It costs much. But its patrons see only its virtues, not its expense. In that regard, it is value as oxymoron -- the priceless available to a special few for a price.

2005 Aston Martin DB9
2005 Aston Martin DB9
2005 Aston Martin DB9 (Guy Spangenberg for - Aston Martin)

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: The DB9 coupe's sun visors are narrow, designed to comply with the sleekness of the car's interior. That's great styling but lousy ergonomics. Those visors can become practically useless when driving into direct sunlight. There are also the usual sports car bugaboos -- two rear seats that are seats in name only; a low ground clearance that turns speed bumps and dips into jolting obstacles; and little luggage space.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent overall ride. Superior handling. The car moves from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds.

Head-turning quotient: The DB9 snapped necks all over San Diego County. At the Hotel del Coronado, attendants fought for the chance to park the car.

Body style/layout: The DB9 coupe has a mid-front-mounted engine. It is a two-door with rear-wheel drive. The DB9 is also available as the stunningly beautiful Aston Martin Volante convertible. The 2005 DB9 replaces the Aston Martin DB7. The DB9 is built on a completely new bonded-aluminum platform.

Engine/transmission: The car is equipped with a 6-liter V-12 gasoline engine that develops 450 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 420 foot-pounds of torque at 5,000 rpm. A six-speed automatic transmission that also can be shifted manually (using paddle shifters on either side of the steering wheel) is standard.

Cargo and fuel capacities: There are four seats in the DB9 coupe, but the car actually has adequate seating only for the driver and front passenger, as is the case with most sports coupes. Luggage capacity is a scant 6.1 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 22 gallons of required premium gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 18 miles per gallon mostly in highway driving.

Safety: Super-rigid body construction, traction and stability control, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, side air bags.

Price: The base price on the tested DB9 coupe is $160,000. No dealer invoice price was available at this writing. Price as tested is $177,150, including $15,800 in options and a $1,350 destination charge. The price does not include possible federal gas-guzzler taxes. Pricing information is sourced from Aston Martin, Kbb.com and Edmunds.com.

Purse-strings note: Aston Martin automobiles are largely built to customer specifications, so their prices vary based on customer orders. Compare with the Bentley Continental GT, Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG, Mercedes-Benz CL600 coupe and the Porsche 911 Turbo.

It is the difference between a Timex watch and a Jaeger-LeCoultre, a Holiday Inn anywhere and the classic Victorian beauty of the Hotel del Coronado here. It is the difference between a sports car commonly defined and the 2005 Aston Martin DB9 coupe, which is its own definition of that motorized genre.

"It is seeing something or someone for the first time and instantly recognizing that thing or person as special, extraordinary . . . like watching Elizabeth Taylor in a starring role. You always remember the experience," said Tania V. Anderson, a well-heeled California friend and movie buff who took a spin with me in the DB9.

It is customary in discussing exotic sports cars to compare their on-road performance with those of similar vehicles: Which has the best straight-line acceleration from 0 to 60 miles per hour? Which has the most horsepower (a measurement of the engine's ability to do a specific amount of work over a given amount of time)? Or which has the most torque (the amount of twisting power exerted to turn the drive wheels)?

Such topics are great fodder for car-guy debates. But they ultimately miss the underlying value of a car such as the DB9. That talk is the moral equivalent of high school boys discussing sex. It bypasses romance, destroys poetry, ignores art -- all of which are part and parcel of what makes an Aston Martin an Aston Martin and a DB9 a DB9.

To understand, you have to spend time looking at the DB9 in the manner of examining a sculpture. Notice the exterior chrome molding around the side windows. It appears to be of one continuous flowing piece, free of cosmetic joint caps or, worse, visible seams at the corners.

The same design affects the interior window arches, left and right, running from the front-window pillars to those in the rear. There are no joint caps, commonly used in cars in all price ranges. There are no visible seams. The result is the appearance and feel of an art piece elegantly shaped from one piece of metal on the outside and formed, at least along the roofline, from one material in the interior.

There is an obsessive attention to detail in this car. The cabin leather is fitted and stitched by hand; and the leather itself is of the supple sort designed to look better and richer with age and wear -- in the manner of an expensive, fine leather chair. The wood veneers are premium and, in some cases, depending on buyer taste and demand, adventurous. Bamboo accents, anyone?

And then, of course, there is the driving, where the most notable thing about the DB9 coupe is its perfect 50-percent-front, 50-percent-rear weight distribution. Add to that the DB9's super-rigid bonded-aluminum body, augmented by magnesium and composite material parts, and you get a tight rear-wheel-drive car that handles so well, you easily are tempted to test and exceed the limits of your driving ability.

It is best not to yield to such temptation inasmuch as no car available at any price, not even one engineered to meet the toughest safety requirements, can save you from yourself in all circumstances, or somehow overcome the immutable laws of physics.

The attraction of power, such as the peak 450 horsepower available from the DB9 coupe's 6-liter V-12 engine, is knowing that it's there if you need to use it. Actually using it requires a certain amount of caution and discretion. Choosing the wrong speed, gear or steering angle can take you into a mountainside or over a cliff in a DB9 just as quickly as in anything else.

There are other cars -- from Porsche, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz (maker of the 617-horsepower, $450,000 SLR McLaren super-coupe) -- that can run faster and harder than the DB9. But they tend to be myopic pieces, more concerned about hard-charging performance than anything else, enjoyable in the manner of a hard-fought rugby match in which few players are left standing.

I much prefer dancing -- spending an evening with salsa, samba or tango. There is just as much sweat in such movement; but the experience is more enjoyable, memorable -- like driving a DB9 along a beach road in Coronado at twilight.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company