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Mission: Drive 1,800 km from Melbourne to Brisbane via Sydney. Weapon of choice: 2011 Aston Martin DB9.
What better way to road test a vehicle than to drive it over 3,000 km in one week. Not many drive that many kilometres in a month (some don't even do it in a year). In fact most supercars tend to get driven about 5,000 km a year at best. So, then, how does Aston Martin's 2011 model DB9 handle a drive as long as the one we had planned?
It's fair to point out that before this particular 2011 Aston Martin DB9 evaluation vehicle was handed over, it had just spent a gruelling day at Phillip Island race course. It literally drove from the track to the dealership, had its tyres changed and got a wash. No oil change, no mechanical servicing. I was simply handed the keys to begin the long journey from Melbourne to Brisbane via Sydney.
You may indeed be wondering, what's so special about the 2011 update to the DB9. Firstly, lets be honest for a minute, you can't make a car look prettier than this. It's a common agreement amongst all car lovers that the DB9 is the best looking Aston Martin, ever.
Sure the DBS takes it to a new level of sportiness but the DB9 is an instant classic, it looked good when I first saw it in 2003 and it looks even better today. It's not just my personal opinion either, it's selling better now than it ever has (it happens to be the most successful model in the company's history). Other manufacturers could only dream of creating such a timeless design.
Aston Martin has decided to take a more progressive approach to car design, meaning new models will not be radically different in their appearance. In fact they will be evolutions of their ancestors. Instead of big changes for each new model, there will be minor updates along the way. One year it will be interior, next year new headlamps and so on. It will become a living, evolving design that grows and modernises as time passes. A brilliant idea for a whole range of reasons.
Now, back to the car. The 2011 update looks pretty similar to the one before, but there are subtle differences. Firstly there is a new front bumper which gives a more modern look. That's helped by a chromed grille and a redesigned lower intake in addition to chrome hexagonal-patterned bonnet vents.
Minor update to the headlights can be noticed if you look hard enough. Same goes with the new upswept sideskirts, silver brake calipers, 20-spoke diamond-turned alloy wheels and clear tail-lights (option).
Essentially it's a minor facelift from the outside.
The test vehicle came in a rather interesting colour called "Hardly Green" (yes, that's actually the name of the colour). The DB9 does tend to look its best in more solid colours but the fact that it can still turn so many heads when it's hardly green is an achievement.
We drove out of the Aston Martin dealership in Southbank, Melbourne and headed towards the Hume Freeway.
Being a motoring journalist has its moments. This was certainly one of them.
Not many would recommend you take any car straight from a race track and drive it 1,800 km across two different states without an oil change or a service, but then again, not many give enough credit to the engineering that goes in to a hand built work of art.
The DB9 is the sort of car you can buy and leave in your garage just to admire. If it was powered by a 1.5-litre four cylinder econobox engine I still believe it would sell well, just based on its looks. However, when you consider that there is a giant 6.0-litre V12 with 350 kW and 600 Nm of torque residing within, you begin to understand why the DB9 is such a complete package.
I wish almost not to insult Aston Martins by labelling them as supercars as they are much more than that. Ferrari reportedly makes more money from selling its brand for merchandising than it does selling cars (Ferrari shoes, laptops, socks... anyone?), that should tell you a thing or two about how supercar brands differ.
Whilst the Italians go for the "Look at me" approach, Aston Martin goes for subtle timeless beauty. The difference is, driving an Aston Martin is an absolute pleasure. Not only do you command the respect of all other drivers, but you also command their admiration. The same cannot be said for some other similarly priced brands.
I can talk about Aston's brand marketing forever, but lets get back to the car. The light turned green and my cameraman and I began turning right from City street heading towards the West Gate Bridge (quite possibly in the wrong direction to leave Melbourne). A quick stab of the throttle and the V12 came to life with a monumental roar of passion. It doesn't take all that long to get to speed but you keep wishing for more opportunities to accelerate (and open the butterfly valves) as the noise is absolutely addictive. Nonetheless, Melbourne's obsession with speed cameras meant the car was left in comfort mode as we headed out of the city.
Melbourne traffic loves the DB9. The six-speed automatic gearbox is bullet proof with instant and surge-free gearchanges in all conditions. Using the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters means you can exploit the beautiful sound of the V12 at all times. You can buy the DB9 with a manual transmission as well but given it's a Grand Tourer more than anything else, it doesn't make all that much sense to do so (whilst it does makes perfect sense to buy a manual DBS).
Being stuck in traffic was a welcomed opportunity to admire the car's new optional Bang & Olufsen sound-system which now integrates very easily with an iPod or iPhone (tested with an iPhone 4).
It's hard to know what to listen to, the V12 engine or music pumping through one of the world's best sound systems. I have to say, for sound clarity the B&O is hard to beat but my vote still goes for the Alpine system in the Vantage for being the best sound system integration in any motor vehicle I've driven to date.
In addition to the B&O the 2011 DB9 gets an update to its bluetooth system which now sees the microphone placed right above the driver's head for better sound quality. This was tested without fault throughout the trip.
The centralised controls can be a little confusing as you first have to select which device you want to operate then use the joystick to fiddle your way around. So if you want to control your phone, you must first pick phone otherwise you'll start fiddling with the SatNav without realising.
The front seats are about as comfortable as they come. Wrapped in the highest quality leather money can buy, the DB9 provides a spacious and comfortable cabin that will keep you smiling even after nine hours of solid driving.
In case you're wondering, the rear 'seats' are the about as comfortable as having your wisdom teeth removed. So much so that I recommend calling up your worst enemy and tricking them into a long drive in the back seat. Aston Martin argues that the seats are there for those times when you just have to carry an additional person or a child (good to have the option). I suggest that unless it's the apocalypse and a choice between life or death, you're better off avoiding the back seats at all cost.
It's easy to underestimate the DB9's performance as it lacks the power of the DBS on paper but it actually has more torque and achieves the 0-100km/h dash in just 4.5 seconds (compared to 4.3 for the DBS). That's about as fast as you'd want your Grand Tourer to go. Acceleration is instant as well, there a smooth linear power delivery that keeps on giving and giving.
The drive from Melbourne to Sydney was as scenic as one could hope for. Green country side, smooth roads that travelled in and out of beautiful little towns rich in history and culture. We stopped numerous times along the way to not only take in the scenery but to make it better with the DB9 in shot.
It didn't matter where we stopped, be it at a local deli or cafe to a highway McDonald's, people came to admire. Fingers pointed, heads turned, kids and adults alike were all keen to have a look. Don't for a second think a subtle yet beautiful design means it gets no attention. Its subtlety is its strength.
Before we knew it, we were fast approaching Sydney and despite stopping numerous times for breaks we managed to cover the 900 km journey in just a tad over nine hours. The DB9 didn't miss a beat, it even managed to get 650 km out its 80 litre tank (which is impressive given fuel economy was the last thing on my mind).
The real beauty of the DB9 is that you can take it to your local shopping centre, quietly park it away, do your shopping and drive it home just like any regular car. Actually that's a lie, it even does that simple task better than any regular car I can think of.
In comfort mode, the DB9 floats around town negating bumps and rough surfaces. It almost feels as though you're driving a Rolls Royce - smooth, effortless driving. But when its time to play, simply use the new adaptive damping system (previously only available on the DBS) and select Sport mode. Instantly there is shift in driving dynamics and feel. Everything firms up as the Aston prepares for battle.
The first leg of the journey was over and we stayed the night in Sydney. The next morning we decided to miss the traffic and after a quick visit to the CarAdvice headquarters in North Sydney we left for Brisbane around midday.
I was hoping the run would be as smooth as the one from Melbourne to Sydney but it wasn't so. Numerous accidents, road work after road work, consistently altering speed zones and an endless supply of highway patrol cars meant the 900 km trip took 13 hours, with only one stop.
Despite the horrid road condition, the DB9 still made the trip enjoyable. It's hard not to enjoy sitting inside an Aston Martin. Unlike an Audi R8 or any Porsche, the DB9 has that 'an actual person made this' feel to it.
The company's moto (which shows up when you start the car) used to be "Power, Beauty and Soul" and it's the Soul part that I can't emphasis enough. There is something so special, unique and overwhelmingly beautiful about an Aston Martin that you can only describe by saying it has a Soul of its own.
Those of you curious to know, the opening sequence now says "Pure Aston Martin", instead.
It was approaching 1 am as we headed into the city lights of Brisvegas. This beautiful DB9 had now officially travelled over 1,800 km in two days without one complaint.
I spent the next few days putting it through its paces as a day to day car. That meant numerous trips to the supermarket, restaurants and everyday tasks that you would do in any regular car. Given that Aston Martins don't attract the same type of attention as other supercars, you are generally safe to leave them in public car parks.
Speaking of parking, squeezing into tight car parks in a supercar can be somewhat daunting but the DB9's sensors and good steering makes the task a breeze. Getting in an out can be a little tricky on hills given the long doors but you can't have this much beauty without some compromise.
Of course no evaluation car comes to Brisbane without having a go around Mount Glorious and Nebo. Despite being a rather long vehicle and a Grand Tourer at heart, with the new suspension system in place and Sport mode selected the 2011 DB9 becomes a great drive on twisty roads. Tight corners and aggressive mountain driving is better suited to a V8 or V12 Vantage but the DB9 still has the ability if need be.
After one week and 3,000 km in a brand new 2011 Aston Martin DB9, it was time to hand it back. Those lucky enough to purchase one of these won't have to go through this painful process. You can have your way with a DB9 for around the $400,000 mark once you factor in on-roads (and what mood Julia Gillard happens to be in that week).
Having time to reflect on the DB9, the long road test emphasised a few things. Any thought of reliability issues is no longer relevant and more importantly, nothing oozes so much class and sophistication as an Aston Martin.
The 2011 model year may still look similar to the previous versions but it's rather hard to improve on perfection.