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The Aston Martin DB9 is back for 2013, after an improbable brush with fate in the form of the 2012 Virage. That big 2+2 coupe came to the Aston Martin lineup as a swankier alternative to the then seven-year-old DB9--and for 2013, it's gone from the lineup after just 18 months, while the DB9 returns with most of the Virage's subtle upgrades. Score one for age and experience.
There has been just the one generation of the DB9 in the eight years since its introduction. Almost unchanged since then, it's the distillation of Aston Martin's signature style, a suave spin on the GT formula that's intricately entwined with the Rapide four-door and Vantage sports car, less so the new and more outrageous Vanquish. It's not been around long enough to earn icon status, but the Aston silhouette locks on immediately, and keeps rewarding owners handsomely over time with ageless appeal. There's not a line that looks dated, and the details are the essence of good taste--slim, recessed door handles tuck back into the door panels so as not to disrupt the outline, a tight little decklid spoiler curls up at its rear end, and LED-lighted fender strakes button down the shape like cufflinks. It's gorgeous either as a coupe or as a Volante convertible.
The aesthetic high road winds through the cabin. The DB9 wears tightly fitted leather, and wood (walnut, ash, or mahogany) or carbon-fiber trim. The LCD touchscreen and the metallic trim ring haven't disturbed the peace here just yet. There's just a confident sense of restraint in the DB9's finer points, down to the crystal-tipped key that defies you to clip anything pedestrian to it.
A pure grand tourer, not a sports car, the DB9's reserves of speed and grip aren't as deep as those from some hyperexotic choices. The same 6.0-liter V-12 engine that's powered it since launch still launches it. Only now, it's rated at 510 horsepower, and it's now capable of hurling the long-wheelbase, high-pricetag machine to 60 mph in about 4.6 seconds, or to 186 mph. A Jaguar XJR comes very close to those numbers; so does a Hyundai Genesis R-Spec.
The comparisons end abruptly with the deeply emotive bark from the Aston's V-12, and the taut, clean turn-in of its hydraulic steering. The six-speed, paddle-shifted ZF automatic has much faster shifts now, though it's still many gears behind the seven- and eight-speed, throttle-blipping automatics offered even by some domestic non-luxury cars--not to mention the lust-object PDK dual-clutch from Porsche, or other decent dual-clutches. It's simple to find a spec where the DB9 doesn't meet the newest arrival head-on--but difficult to find a challenger that performs so consistently with its brand's image.
With a bonded and riveted aluminum body like the ones used by Jaguar, the Aston DB9 is lighter than it might be, and stiffer too. The dynamic payoff is more punch from that specific output, and a more deft touch than some of the two-seat roadsters with German badges that price out in the same stratosphere. The DB9 never snaps to attention with Porsche zeal, but has its own brand of athletic response, with the feedback that's dialed out of all the electric-steering sportscars, and an absorbent ride quality that its massive 20-inch, 35-series tires and low, low ride height would seem to rule out. An adaptive suspension is key: it has more modes this year with Normal, Sport, and Track covering a wider span of shock stiffness that'll suit most drivers in its first two settings. Carbon-ceramic brakes are standard, and like the units on other high-performance cars, are deeply capable, and grabby at the first few dips into the pedal.
The DB9 suits two passengers very well, and other adults will have to seek their own transportation for anything but the shortest of trips. The basic front seats are slim and well-shaped. Aston Martin offers a pair of composite sport seats on coupes that deletes the rear buckets, but those are not very useful for anyone but children, anyway. They're more often luggage bins with lavish upholstery, since the trunk itself is very small, even by sportscar standards.
For the new model year, Aston Martin has added new features to the DB9, including automatic headlights and a rearview camera that displays on the pop-up navigation screen. That nav system continues to be a frustrating user experience for its owners--seriously, use a Google Maps for better, quicker, more accurate rendering--but the optional 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system is a can't-miss option that rivals the sound from other British automakers and their premium-audio brands (Naim, Meridian, Bowers & Wilkins). There's a carbon-fiber trim package both for the interior and the exterior; it's a distinctive choice that won't get confused for the synthetic stuff, but we'd rather spend the money on the available leather headliner on coupes. Convertible DB9 Volantes come with a standard power-operated folding top and a glass rear window, of course.
The 2013 DB9 is priced from $185,000, not including options or destination charges.