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People use the word sexy too freely when describing inanimate objects these days, but if ever a thing should deserve this adjective, it's the 2009 Aston Martin DB9 Volante. This long, classic grand tourer uses its creases and curves suggestively, without resorting to ostentation or cheap tricks. The design makes a beeline past rationality and practical considerations to the seat of your pure, unadulterated desire.
And that's just the exterior. Fire up the 6-liter V-12, give it some revs, and the exhaust note will batter down your last sensible thought. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the cabin is decked out in fine wood and leather, offering a cozy feeling that would only be enhanced if Aston Martin could figure out a way to install a fireplace in the car. Surprisingly, this fine interior hides a bevy of modern electronics, at once letting you exercise fantasies of being a proper member of the British upper class, but still making hands-free calls on your BlackBerry and listening to tunes off an iPod.
On the road
Right from the get-go, there are some quirks of the Aston Martin DB9 Volante to get used to. The key fob fits into a slot in the center of the dashboard, with a clear acrylic end showing the Aston Martin logo etched inside. It's a nice design element, but also means that you can't attach the fob to any kind of keychain.
To kick over the engine, you have to push that fob in and hold it. We've gotten used to push button starters that only require a quick press--the DB9 wants a little more commitment than that.
With the six speed automatic, the car lacks a conventional shifter on the console. Instead, push the D button at the end of a row of four transmission control buttons at the top of the stack to get going.
Pulling onto the road, the V-12 provides plenty of push with a firm foot on the gas. Use the Sport button at the bottom of the stack, and the transmission gives quicker downshifts, which is much more satisfying than the non-sport mode, where downshifts are infuriatingly slow.
Getting up to a good clip, the rigidness of the suspension becomes evident. It's more sports car than luxury ride, and lacks any adaptive suspension gizmos that might offer a comfort setting.
Beyond the ride quality, there is plenty of luxury in the cabin. For a soft top, road noise is very muted in the cabin, and you don't even hear engine noise unless you really ask for it by letting the revs run past 4,000. For normal cruising, the audio focus moves to the sound system, which pumps out extraordinary bass and tight sound all the way through the frequencies. The only downsides are the shrill high frequencies.
The DB9's nod to modernity includes digital audio sources such as iPod integration, a USB port, auxiliary audio input, satellite radio, and an MP3-capable disc changer. Unfortunately, the small radio display makes browsing for music while driving inadvisable. There is a navigation system, with a poorly-mounted LCD hidden under the wood dashboard, but more on that later.
Finding room to play, the DB9 takes corners like it wants to drift. Even under moderate acceleration through a corner, the back end feels like it wants to let go, with flashing traction control lights on the dashboard letting you know why the nose is still pointing in the right direction. Those traction control lights also show up under heavy acceleration, as the V-12's massive torque tries to twist the tires off the pavement. No matter, though, as the car still feels very controllable under stress.
The transmission's Sport mode seems to be the only setting for this type of driving. Standard drive mode waits too long to downshift, and the manual mode, where you select gears from column-mounted paddle shifters is just not responsive enough for quick shifts. The available six speed manual would serve better under these circumstances.
In the cabin
Luxury cars with classic marques don't integrate well with technology. How can an automaker with almost 100 years of tradition reconcile technology that changes every six months? But Aston Martin gives it a try, with some success. The 2009 Aston Martin DB9 Volante gets the key cabin technology we look for in a car: GPS navigation, Bluetooth phone support, and digital audio sources.
To control these functions, there is a set of buttons and a joystick capped by an enter key at the base of the stack. Strangely, the joystick looks like a knob but can't be turned, unlike most controllers of this type. As such, you have to use the joystick motions to move through menu lists for navigation and music.