The biggest drawback of the interface is the lack of integration between the navigation screen and other car functions. Music and phone information is shown in a small radio display on the stack. An LCD for the navigation system is hidden under a panel in the center of the dashboard. The LCD folds down when not in use, hidden by a wood panel, but the operation seemed glitchy, as if the installation was done haphazardly. While driving with the top down, we noticed the wood panel flapping around a little in its closed position, showing poor fit and finish.
Beyond the lack of an integrated interface, the electronics worked well. The navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive, making for quick operation and good resolution. This navigation system covers the basics, but lacks advanced features such as live traffic integration, text to speech, or 3D graphics.
For the stereo, there is an iPod cable in the center console, along with USB and auxiliary ports. The system offers full iPod browsing by artist, song, album, and genre. For music stored on USB drives and MP3 CDs, which can be used in the six disc changer, you get a simple folder and file interface. Sirius Satellite Radio is also included.
We mentioned the sound quality of the audio system above. Our car came with the standard audio system, but that still means 700 watts of power. Although the cabin wasn't festooned with speakers--we only saw door speakers and a subwoofer between the rear seats--the quality is excellent.
But that's not the audio system you want. Aston Martin offers an optional system from Bang & Olufsen, dubbed the Beosound DB9. This system has 1,000 watts of amplification and 13 speakers. We listened to this audio system in a DBS at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show, and were blown away by the outstanding sound quality.
We found that the Bluetooth phone support worked very well and was up to the standards of most current systems. After pairing a phone, it immediately makes the phone book available, although you have to scroll through the entries on the small radio display.
Under the hood
Performance tech in the 2009 Aston Martin DB9 Volante is more about engineering than innovative systems. For example, the suspension relies on aluminum double wishbones front and rear with sway bars, but doesn't employ electronics, such as the Skyhook system found in the Maserati GranTurismo, which employs active dampers.
There's nothing wrong with solid engineering, but at more than 200 grand, you would expect Aston Martin to take advantage of good performance technology. For sport driving, the suspension works fine, keeping the car level in the corners and promoting that aforementioned rear-end slide. The DB9's weight, a svelte 3,880 pounds, is also perfectly distributed at 50-50 fore and aft, helping the cornering. And the car does have typical road-holding electronics, including traction control, stability control, and brake power distribution.
Similarly, the 6-liter V-12 uses four valves per cylinder, but lacks variable valve timing, which would wring more efficiency out of the engine. As it is, those 12 cylinders get you 470 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 443 pound-feet of torque at 5,000rpm. Those are good numbers, of course, but other automakers get the same from eight cylinders. But we can't deny the appeal of the exhaust note from this engine. At engine speeds of 3,000rpm and below, the engine is very quiet, but when the revs go up, an aggressive growl sounds off.
You will also pay a lot to run that engine, as the EPA ratings of 12 mpg city and 19 mpg highway mean a gas gauge that moves a little too quickly. Although we weren't able to record an accurate fuel economy number while we had the car, its range seemed to be just a little over 200 miles.
Aston Martin gives figures of 190 mph maximum speed and 4.6 seconds to 60 mph for the DB9 Volante, using either the manual or automatic transmissions. We weren't that impressed with the six speed automatic's manual mode, which seemed slow to shift, but the sport mode was adequate for what this car can do. Helping keep overall weight down is a carbon fiber propeller shaft in the transmission.
With a base price of $197,850, the 2009 Aston Martin DB9 Volante sits in a pretty specialized segment of vehicle. Fortunately, Aston Martin doesn't soak its buyers on options, as all of the electronics are standard. Our car had a number of cosmetic options, all costing between $200 and $500, along with 19-inch wheels for an extra $1,910. The gas guzzler tax on the DB9 is $2,100, and destination comes to $1,350, making for a total price of $208,970. Buyers who can afford the Aston Martin DB9 probably aren't doing a lot of comparison shopping, but we do like the value of the Maserati GranTurismo when considered against this car. However, it would be hard to find coachwork this nice outside of a Rolls-Royce.
For our performance rating of the DB9, we are impressed by the engineering and the zero-to-60 numbers, but we have to downgrade it for poor fuel economy, its lack of some useful engine and suspension technology, and a merely average transmission. It fares better for cabin electronics, covering key bases with good equipment, then going stellar with the optional Bang & Olufsen audio system. It also earns high points for design, from the beautiful exterior to the excellent coachwork. But it loses points in this area for the electronics interface, which is a little haphazard.