There are many grand tourers, but at least in my book, the Aston Martin DB9 is the pinnacle of them all. The design is nothing short of perfection, and the driving experience is unforgettable. Today’s DB11 isn’t half-bad, either. Hearing them sing together is seriously something special though.
The chance to drive the two back to back is a rare one, for anybody. I did, and while it showed the amazing progress Aston’s GT cars have made in a decade, it reaffirmed just how magical the old car is too.
(Full disclosure: This 2005 Aston Martin DB9 shares a garage with the beautiful 1993 BMW 850ci we also wrote about this week. My plan had originally been to compare that car’s old V12 against the one in a new DB11 provided by Aston Martin. But once the DB9 crashed the party, it started to make a lot more sense to just run the Astons together.)
The grand tourer is an interesting category of car. On one hand, it’s one of the least logical things on wheels. Sizable vehicles that use a lot of fuel to transport just two people and a couple overnight bags? Doesn’t make a lot of sense, objectively.
But a grand tourer is also the best kind of car. It exists purely to be driven, to be enjoyed, and justify driving as a viable hobby. A good GT car will inspire you to blast 100 miles across the desert just to catch a sunset, or halfway across the state because why not.
There are plenty of companies making great examples of such cars, but small-batch British automaker Aston Martin has specialized in GTs for a long, long time. Its hard work was already paying off in 2005 when the DB9 was fairly fresh, and the DB11 that came out in 2017 is just a new take on the same idea.
The world was introduced to the Henrik Fisker-designed DB9 at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show. If you want to feel truly old, that’s the same year R. Kelly’s “Ignition” and 2Fast 2Furious came out. At the time, then-Ford-owned Aston Martin apparently had the bold dream of selling 5,000 cars a year. The heavy lifting for that goal was placed on the beautifully sculpted shoulders of the DB9.
Flash forward to February 2018, when Aston Martin’s President and CEO Andy Palmer is quoted stating: “In 2017, we delivered record revenue, full-year profitability and positive free cash flow,” in a press release. At just 5,117 retail sales for the whole of last year they hit those big goals from a decade ago, although not overwhelmingly so, but any outfit making money selling specialized cars is pretty impressive.
The DB9 was launched with a claimed output of 450 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque from a naturally aspirated 6.0-liter V12, which is what this 2005 “Aston Martin Green” Volante (convertible) is packing. All that energy was supposed to propel the 4,000-odd pound car from zero to 60 in around five seconds and on to a top speed just shy of 190 mph. The DB9 V12 did exist as a manual, but the car in these pictures had ZF’s paddle-shiftable six-speed automatic.
Power was bumped up in 2009, but the much more dramatic increase can be seen in the DB11 V12’s specs. The new car’s 5.2-liter twin turbocharged V12 is supposed to make 600 HP and 516 lb-ft of torque, while being a lot safer and weighing about the same as the DB9.
For all its extra output, the DB11 V12 can allegedly make stopped to 60 in under four seconds and hit 200 mph if you’ve got enough road. The DB11 has an eight-speed automatic with the finest, clickiest paddle shifters I’ve ever touched.
A DB9 would have set you back about $160,000 in 2005, or $170,000 if you wanted a convertible like this one. This particular example was a little dearer, though. The long list of options including the one-off “Sand Tan-on-Aston Martin Green” (with a body-matched green roof) combo you see it wearing cost this DB9’s original owner, Nielsen CEO David L. Calhoun, a $189,285 MSRP.
Well, maybe he got a better deal, but the window sticker I saw ended with that number and included some heavy line items like a $4,545 Linn 950 watt stereo, a $2,655 navigation system, $1,510 for the 19-inch 15-spoke wheels and a $230 umbrella. That adds up to about $250,000 in today’s money, which makes the DB11 V12’s list price of $198,995 look like a steal.
But if you’re shopping used, a convertible DB9 is supposed to be worth about $52,000 right now, according to NADA Guides. This one-of-one spec would probably take a few bucks more.
OK, now the old one is starting to sound like a better deal again.
Would you be annoyed to read that, once again, turbochargers are no replacement for displacement and the DB11 can shove its extra 150 HP...
No, don’t worry. The DB11 feels faster. No amount of NA nostalgia can compensate for an entire second swifter to 60 mph. But the DB9 feels stronger.
With the exception of its pathetic paddle shifters I was very concerned about snapping off, the DB9’s chunky A-pillars and console buttons—as big and dumb as the ones on that big silver stereo you had in middle school—just seem more robust than the delicate interior of the DB11. Again, with the exception of the paddle shifters, which on the new car are huge and deliberate and glorious.
More importantly though, the DB9 hits harder in your guts. Roll into the throttle aggressively and the car sucks your stomach straight aft-ward as the car drenches you in the sensation of speed.
The DB11 snaps to attention, and will happily step out sideways, when you put your boot down. But the newer car’s quiet interior absorbs a lot more of the adrenalin than an open-roofed DB9.
Once you’re cruising, what can I say. Both cars are just brilliant offerings to the gods of driving pleasure. Smooth, powerful, melodious. Either one could turn a drive to the grocery store into an Instagram’able adventure.
For those of you expecting a profound revelation, sorry. Just relax and enjoy the pictures.
I won’t shock anybody by saying that both of these cars are positively joyous to drive, but I happen to prefer the teenaged naturally aspirated V12’s pristine smoothness to the more powerful thrust of the young turbo’d 12.
The DB11’s interior is far nicer than the DB9’s, but while both cars look great on the outside, I think the DB9 will benefit from its subtly and stay fresh looking longer than the more cutting-edge DB11.
The DB9 feels tougher, the DB11 is more lithe. They’re both fantastic cars to waste a day and a few tanks of gas in. And now I’m going to go ahead and spend the rest of the day revisiting these photos, thank you very much.