- Former headliner now sub-£30k buy
- Gorgeous looks and tuneful V12
- Bonded aluminium monocoque
- Plush interior with 2+2 layout...
- ...although the rear seats are tiny
The DB9 was the first Aston Martin of the modern age. Not only did it draw a line under the DB7 that had propped up the company for the best part of a decade, the DB9 was the first Aston to be built at the company's new Gaydon headquarters. That meant better production technology, higher quality control – and fewer hammers. It was deliberately styled as a slenderer take on the Vanquish, underpinned by a new bonded aluminium platform and with a characterful V12 under its snout. It was a proper Aston.
The DB7 successor – which was penned in concept form by former design director Ian Callum before his successor, Henrik Fisker, readied it for production – skipped the logical DB8 name as Aston felt this might confuse buyers into thinking it was powered by a V8 engine. It wanted to emphasise the fact that model was endowed with a new 5.9-litre V12, a defining feature that perfectly suited the subtle but brutish lines of the body. At launch, it packed 456hp and a six-speed automatic gearbox with manual paddle override.
Aston did introduce a six-speed manual, but it was less popular (though the tables have turned in the used market) as the auto perfectly suited the car’s use case. A 4.9-second 0-62mph dash and 186mph top speed means it isn't particularly rapid by 21st century standards, but the DB9 was all about effortless pace and grand touring. It did receive more power through the years, with Aston’s AM11 motor delivering 517hp in 2013. But the earlier versions were no less appropriate for the job, hence our focus on the pre-update car here.
There are certainly plenty to choose from, what with the DB9 being in production for 12 years, making it one of Aston's longest-lived models. No longer are we in a time where those that can be had from under £30,000 are by default a dangerous purchase. There are plenty examples of smart purchases below the mark, although as with any Aston bearing a big, thirsty V12 motor, there are inevitable risks. Let's get started.
SPECIFICATION - ASTON MARTIN DB9
Engine: 5,935cc V12
Transmission: 6-speed automatic (or 6-speed manual), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 456@6,000
Torque (lb ft): 420@5,000
0-62mph: 4.9 secs
Top speed: 186mph
MPG (official combined): 19.8
Wheels: 8.5x19 (f), 9.5x19 (r)
Tyres: 235/40 (f), 275/35 (r)
On sale: 2004 - 2016
Price new: £103,000
Price now: from £26,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
The 5,935cc V12 engine used in the DB9 kicked off with 456hp at 6,000rpm and 420lb ft of torque delivered at 5,000rpm. In 2009, the engine's capacity remained unchanged but revisions to the cylinder head and a slight rise in compression found another 20hp to give 470hp at 6,000rpm and 443lb ft at the same 5,000rpm. Although small gains, they helped improve 0-62mph from 4.9 seconds in the earlier car to 4.6 seconds in the revised version. Top speed also rose from 186mph to 190mph, and these figures are all for the Touchtronic six-speed automatic gearbox model.
At the same time the engine was revised, Aston also improved the six-speed automatic transmission with a new hydraulic control box, making shifts quicker and smoother. As a result, a facelifted DB9 with the more powerful engine and 'box is the one to look for, if budget allows. The manual six-speed variant is much rarer as few owners opted for it when new, but it is now prized among used buyers and commands a premium of around £5,000. Again, that’s assuming you can find one – just one is listed at the time of writing for £100k.
Clutch life in the manual gearbox is around 20,000 miles if you don't drive the car excessively hard and one owner we spoke to was up to 25,000 miles without the need for a new clutch, even though the car was driven in city traffic regularly. To replace a clutch will cost around £1,500 plus fitting from an independent specialist, so reckon on a final bill of over £2,000. Specialists offer lightweight flywheel conversions, which make the engine more responsive, though most owners say they are more than happy with the engine's power and delivery.
While checking out the gearbox, look in the service history to be sure a recall for 2009 cars has been carried out. This concerns the automatic 'box properly engaging Park. There was also a recall for the transmission surround potentially touching the printed circuit board underneath and causing the gearbox to default into neutral. Another recall was issued for a faulty throttle pedal arm that could fail and leave the driver unable to press the accelerator.
The 2009 update brought a deeper engine sump to create less drag on the motor's internals. It did nothing to alter the V12's thirst for fuel and owners report 15mpg is about average in normal use or 20mpg at a steady cruise on the motorway. Service intervals for the DB9 are every 7,500 miles and an independent specialist will charge around £750 for a minor service and £800 for the major services that come around every five years as most cars don't cover enough miles to meet the 45,000- and 100,000-mile markers.
The V12 is considered to be very durable and under stressed, so it's generally reliable. Some electrical faults can show up, with failed sensors the most common. These can be irritating but are generally easy to fix, although a car with oil leaks is more of a concern. Although not common, leaks can occur and usually signify a car that has been abused. You should also check the oil level is to the full mark and clean as the motor will use around 250ml every 1,000 miles in normal driving.
The DB9 uses double wishbone suspension front and rear with coil springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. From 2006 onwards, Aston offered a Sports Pack that increased front spring rates by 68 per cent and the rears by 64 per cent. Along with new anti-roll bar and damper rates, they combined to give the DB9 much improved handling. This was helped by a 6mm lower ride height and Sports Pack five-spoke alloy wheels that saved 1kg in unsprung weight per wheel. Underneath the DB9, the normal composite undertray was replaced in Sports Pack models with an aluminium tray that became a structural part of the car.
Standard DB9 models come with 19-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels and 235/40 ZR19 front tyres and 275/35 ZR19 rears. The Sports Pack wheels are the same size and use identical Bridgestone tyres. Tyre wear on the DB9 is similar to any powerful rear-drive car and you should see 10,000 miles from a set of rubber in normal mixed driving.
The rack and pinion steering has hydraulic assistance and needs three turns between the lock stops. While not as direct as some other Astons, it treads a line between grand tourer comfort and sportiness that most owners seem to like. However, if you're expecting the last word in cornering precision, the DB9 is not going to satisfy your steering requirements. This is a car in which to make swift but smooth progress.
There have been three recalls to do with the DB9's steering. The first is due to the front subframe bolts not being correctly torqued which could lead to inaccurate steering responses. A check of the service history will show if this work has been carried out. It will also show if both of the recalls for replacement of the bottom suspension arm cam bolt. Aston found these bolts should crack and potentially fail, leading to a loss of steering control.
Unlike the current DB9 models, the pre-2013 models we're looking at here have conventional ventilated steel discs that are 355mm at the front and 330mm on the rear. They use four piston Brembo Monobloc calipers at both ends and there's a separate caliper for the handbrake. Despite the DB9's 1,760kg kerb weight, brake wear is not a particular issue and owners report 20,000 miles from a set of pads is normal.
For the 2009 update, Aston introduced Bilstein shock absorbers and revised upper suspension arms. There were also new suspension bushes to give improved refinement and ride quality. For the Volante convertible, a new front shear panel helped to increase torsional rigidity by 10 per cent to make further gains in ride quality. Other than wear and tear, the DB9's suspension is proving to be durable and easy to maintain. Any car over five-years old will benefit from new suspension bushes, while several companies offer upgrades for those looking to make their DB9 sharper and keener.
Based on Aston Martin's VH (vertical-horizontal) system, the DB9 uses a mix of aluminium and composites for its base structure fixed together with rivets and bonding. Aston claimed at launch this method made the DB9's chassis 25 per cent lighter and more than twice as rigid as the previous DB7's.
Attached to the chassis is a body made mostly from aluminium, though the bonnet, boot and bumpers are composite. While this makes them light, it can make crash repairs more complicated and expensive as it's often easier to replace whole panels than fix them. It also takes specialist skill to paint these composite panels to match the surrounding metals ones accurately, so look for any variation in paint shades as a warning that a car may have been in a collision. However, the front end may also have been painted to rectify stone chip damage to which the DB9 is quite prone.
Although aluminium, some of the bodywork can corrode, which shows up as small bubbling in the paintwork. It's most commonly found around the door handles, but it's worth checking all of the edges of every panel as these are the most likely spots where the paint will wear and allow moisture between it and the aluminium beneath.
With the 2009 update, the DB9 gained new door mirrors and a five-bar anodised front grille. The Volante's hood is electrically operated and should work quickly, quietly and smoothly in 17 seconds up or down. Check it for tears and scuffs, but these should be obvious and accounted for in the price paid. The multi-layer fabric roof does not have a separate tonneau but sits under a flush-fitting panel to give cleaner lines. It doesn't affect the limited rear seat space of the DB9 Coupe and there are twin pop-up roll-bars should the car tip beyond a certain angle in the event of a collision.
At launch, the DB9 offered the expected mix of wood and leather Aston Martin's traditional buyers demanded. There were some complaints the car was not as well equipped as it should be given the six-figure asking price, but Aston addressed this in 2006 with the addition of satellite navigation that was sourced from Volvo, Bluetooth and heated seats as standard.
It's worth noting the heated seats have been subject to two recalls as the control module can fail and allow the heating elements to get too hot. This could possibly lead to the seats beginning to smoulder and present a fire risk, so check the car's service record to make sure this remedial work has been completed.
With the 2009 update of the DB9, Aston introduced a new centre console made from die-cast zinc with a painted iridium silver finish. The company also started to use the Emotion Control Unit key first seen on the DBS in 2007. This glass, stainless steel and polycarbonate key fits in the slot on the dash and flashes red as the car is started. However, it's also susceptible to chips in the glass finish, so most owners keep it safely stashed away and use the plastic second key.
There's a lot of leather inside the DB9's cabin and it's of a very high quality. Any wear should be restricted to the driver's seat outer bolster, but this is straightforward to have repaired. As for the two rear seats that nominally make the DB9 into a grand tourer, they are much too cramped for even small children and most owners treat them as additional storage space to augment the 155-litre boot.
The Volante's boot capacity is 138-litres as the cavity for the roof pinches some luggage room. A final point to bear in mind with the DB9 is the combination of interior colours and finishes. Used buyers tend to prefer more restrained interiors that are in keeping with traditional Aston Martin looks. There are some more outlandish DB9 cabins out there, so bear this in mind when buying as it will make the car harder to sell on and worth less than one in more muted hues.
If you find a good sub-£30k car – and evidence suggests that should be easily possible – it’s hard to overstate just how much car you are getting for the money. The DB9 is not the Ferrari 360 Modena or Lambo Gallardo alternative it was once billed to be – it isn’t able to offer anywhere near the drama readily supplied by those machines. But it’s no less alluring, and as an elegant, V12-powered grand tourer that’s capable of handling regular city use as well as crossing continents at pace, it is terrific. All for hot hatch money.
It’s true that those wanting more space and cabin chintz could look to a Conti GT, the earliest examples of which are available for under £20k. But the Bentley is a far more common sight on UK roads, and will almost certainly be driven by the technically impressive but less characterful V8. Aston’s machine feels like a cut-price Vanquish with that V12, partly because that's essentially what it is. You’ll need to double your money to £60k to step onto the Vanquish ladder – and you’d not really be getting a superior car.
No, the DB9 stands out because, large maintenance costs aside, it represents great value for money. Any contemporaneous complaints about the car's steering feel or performance need to be considered through a 2020 prism: no-one buying the car today would expect knife-edge handling or scintillating acceleration. Secondhand customers will likely be looking for the sort of hydraulic and mechanical experience it's hard to come by today - twinned with styling that can genuinely be described as timeless. Accepting the DB9's foibles is all part of that process, and there's no question that it is probably the most cost-effective and gratifying way to access the modern Aston Martin experience.
[This is a comprehensive update of a buying guide that was first published in 2016]
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