Overall rating: 4.5/5
You need to dig deep to understand how significant the changes to the 2013 Aston Martin DB9 are, but there you'll find a more accomplished car than before. As ever it's marketed as a 'Sports GT', a role it fills capably thanks in no small part to a number of adjustable driving systems, though it's more capable and rewarding to drive than ever.
In the metal 4.5/5
It may come as a surprise, but 60 per cent of the DB9's body panels are new. Even so there's no mistaking the 2013 model as anything other than an Aston Martin DB9, but when you have a shape as gorgeous as this, why change it for the sake of change? The most obvious update is to the integrated rear spoiler, which has a much more pronounced shape. It's a functional change rather than an aesthetic one, but it works for both. The main grille has been restyled too, with aerofoil-section vanes inspired by the One-77 and pedestrian protection in mind (see 'Worth Noting' for more on that), while buyers may specify a Carbon Pack that includes a distinctly sporty carbon fibre front splitter and rear diffuser.
The interior has come in for mild revision too, though it's as special as ever with glass switches and Aston's unique 'ECU' ignition key that slots into the centre stack. It's a shame that the Vanquish's new haptic touch controls haven't made it into the DB9 as yet, though there's not a lot wrong with what is there. A new feature of the cabin is a leather welt detail, which undeniably adds to the hand-built feel of this car. Buyers can further enhance the cockpit by specifying lightweight sports seats made of carbon fibre and Kevlar, though this means doing away with the (debatably useless) rear seats.
Driving it 4.5/5
Without wanting to turn this into a back-to-back comparison with the equally new Aston Martin Vanquish, suffice to say that the DB9 is designed to be even more of an everyday kind of car. Saying that, it shares a lot with the range-topper, including three-stage adaptive damping, carbon ceramic brakes as standard, an active exhaust flap and a highly reengineered 6.0-litre V12 petrol engine under the bonnet.
The peak power and torque figures quoted above don't tell the full story of this epic engine. Apparently Aston's engineers began work on how it would sound even before a complete engine existed and Dr Bez (Aston's CEO) told us that he values the sound a car makes above outright performance. Given how often we dropped the windows to hear the DB9's sound bounce off rock faces and tunnel walls we'd have to say it's one of the most appealing aspects of this car.
Though that's not the end of it. On an incredibly challenging road in France we punished the carbon ceramic brakes and they shrugged our exuberances off, confidently and stably hauling the DB9 down from speed time and again. This endows a lot of confidence in the driver. As too does the DB9's body control. You choose between Normal, Sport and Track modes for the damping and there's a tangible difference between each. The latter need not be confined to a circuit either, as it ties the DB9 down well for fast, sweeping and smoothly surfaced roads. Assistance from the hydraulically operated power steering system is latched into these modes too, though there's not as obvious a difference. It's a direct and linear set-up, which offers some feedback without ever taxing the driver.
And that's the beauty of the DB9. It's a cinch to drive. You can amble comfortably around town in fully automatic mode and the throttle set to Normal. Once away from such environs, press Sport though, as this opens up the exhaust bypass valve, sharpens up the throttle response and alters the gearchange speed. To get the most from this car on a twisty road we'd also recommend that you take control of the six-speed automatic gearbox via the tactile paddles - and in Sport mode the transmission won't automatically change up at the redline.
But let's face it; most of our driving time is on the motorway or in amongst other traffic and the DB9 seamlessly slips into this role too, making it enjoyable to drive no matter where you're going or what speed you're doing.
What you get for your money 4/5
From launch the Aston DB9 will be offered in Coupé and open-topped Volante guises and there's just one trim level as such - though plenty of customisation options such as that Carbon Pack mentioned above. In fact there are two separate carbon packs - one for the interior and the other for the exterior. Otherwise it's generously equipped, with auto lights and wipers, stunning 20-inch alloy wheels, sumptuous leather for the electrically adjustable sports seats and steering wheel, satnav and climate control. The approximate price landed on Irish shores is north of €300,000.
One of the big news stories surrounding the launch of the 2013 Aston Martin DB9 is its compliance with European pedestrian protection legislation. Aston was adamant that it would not compromise its design for this so instead engineered a clever solution based around the 'keystone' building concept. An impact with a leg dislodges the 'keystone', which then 'softens' the whole centre section of the front of the car, absorbing the impact. To assist with all this the engine is a significant 19mm lower than before (to the benefit of dynamics too thanks to a much lower centre of gravity), while the bonnet is all new and the under structure has been revised. Impressively, Aston has managed to retain its metal grille when most manufacturers are moving to plastic.
Aston's new DB9 manages to avoid treading on the toes of the more driver-focused Vanquish, yet it's almost as quick, more competent than ever and a real experience to drive. Yet for all that it's still easy to get behind the wheel in everyday scenarios. No wonder it's the cornerstone of the Aston Martin line-up.