If you want to be inconspicuous when you drive, look elsewhere. Even in car-crazy Southern California, where automotive exotica is common enough to blend into the background, the sight of a DB9 will draw stares. Which made me more than a little self-conscious to be stepping out of one at the Toyota GP of Long Beach, knowing I was being sized up for my place on the celebrity scale. I didn't need to worry, though, since the passing crowd was quickly drawn back to the car itself. It's sweet, clean lines, so instantly recognizable as an Aston Martin, would have made it the center of attention even if I'd been the new king of American Idol.
And it's not just the car's shape – the execution of Henrik Fisker's design is jeweler-perfect. Scrutinize the exterior from any angle and it's just simply right. The DB9 may present a less aggressive stance than a Vanquish, and arguably a less-dynamic one than a Rapide, but it presents a balanced look from front to back, with exquisite shut-lines and organic-looking high intensity discharge headlamps and LED taillights that flow perfectly with the rest of the car.
Such a commanding presence is especially remarkable considering the DB9 is well into its development cycle, having been introduced back in 2004, albeit with mild restyles in 2008 and for this year. The latter incorporated a new front fascia, bright finish radiator grille with a reshaped lower intake featuring bright hexagonal mesh, new headlight surrounds, restyled sills, silver brake calipers, clear rear taillights – all of which serve to polish the jewel even further. They even improved the fuel efficiency, if Aston buyers are interested in such things (13mpg city, 20 highway, if you must know, and you'll still be dinged for $1,700 in gas-guzzler tax).
The trademark side strakes are fashioned from metal, and door handles are flush with the body. Their sturdy actuation opens the unique “swan wing” doors, which rise at a 12-degree angle and offer relatively easy access, in comparison to the “gull wing” entry of the Mercedes-Benz SLS.
While it may be a match for a Ferrari or Lamborghini in panache, the DB9 feels more like a GT than a full-on supercar. The V12 now pumps out 470hp and 443ft-lbs, good for 0-60mph in just 4.6sec with either the 6-speed manual transmission or paddle-shift Touchtronic 2 automatic. It helps that the DB9 weighs in at just 3,880lbs, thanks to aluminum construction, and the handling is improved this year with active dampers, new suspension arms and bushings, and 19-in. wheels combining to create a sportier ride. Our car was equipped with the paddle-shift, which offered creamy smooth shifts in either manual or full auto mode. You'll find yourself opting for the paddles more and more just to encourage a little more purr from the V12, which the auto will otherwise make you work to rev above 2,000rpm.
With a light yet precise and consistent steering feel, the DB9 encourages as well as cossets, and you can switch the suspension to Sport mode to explore the handling envelope further. Even so, the DB9 is more suited to the role of grand tourer than canyon-carver, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more appealing prospect for a long drive.
The sense of grandeur is reinforced inside the sumptuous cabin, where rich leather, soft woods and piano black (finished according to taste) abound. You and your passenger (the implausibly tiny back seat makes the DB9 a definite three's-a-crowd situation) will find plenty to relish, especially the awesome 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo (OK, it's a $7,200 option, but when you're starting from an MSRP of $189,915, you may as well go ahead and tick the box).
The center console is finished in diecast zinc and a gorgeous stainless-steel-and-sapphire-crystal key, inserted flush into the dash to enable the push-button start, stays true to the rare-gem theme. (On the other hand, this foppish fob has no eyelet for a keychain, so you'll find yourself needing regular reassurance of its continued presence in your pocket.)
While the DB9's driving dynamics offer plenty to cheer about, ultimately this is a car that will be judged by its looks. How many cars can achieve full 360-degree perfection? Aston Martin achieved something very close to that with the DB9 back in 2004, and this edition edges even closer yet.