Buyers Guide Aston Martin DB9

Buyers Guide Aston Martin DB9

The first Aston Martin of the modern Gaydon era but now verging on classic status, the DB9 is a tempting sports GT for not too much money. Here’s how to buy one.


WORDS: KYLE FORTUNE

PHOTOGRAPHY: AMD ARCHIVE

DB9: HOW TO BUY THIS GREAT VALUE GT

Everything needed to know to buy this now great value but still stylish grand tourer


Arguably one of Aston Martin’s most beautiful cars, which given the company’s history is really saying something, it’s incredible to think that the DB9 was introduced way back in 2003. It was the first car to hail from Aston Martin’s Gaydon plant, with all of its predecessors having rolled out of the Newport Pagnell factory, though the last car from there would lend some of its tech to Aston’s then newcomer. The flagship Vanquish model introduced bonded aluminium and composite construction techniques to the company and the DB9 used a development of this technique that was co-developed with Lotus. Dubbed Aston Martin’s VH (vertical/horizontal) platform (or architecture), versions of this structure would feature under all of Aston Martin’s production models including the Vantage, Virage, DBS, 2012 Vanquish and Rapide, before the DB11 introduced an all-new platform in 2016.


Aston Martin DB9 - engine

Such were the advances over the ancient Jaguar XJS-derived underpinnings of the DB7 before it, that the company chose to leap a generational badge and name its new GT contender DB9. The decision to do so also usefully prevented any confusion that there might be a V8 under its shapely bonnet. There wasn’t, the DB9 instead featuring a 5.9-litre V12 engine, which, like the platform, owed a lot to the Vanquish flagship model. Naturally, the DB11’s power output was lower than the Vanquish, with Aston Martin quoting peak power of 450PS (443bhp), that being developed at 6,000rpm, with maximum torque of 420 lb ft arriving at 5,000rpm.

That engine drives the rear wheels only, the DB9 initially being launched with a six-speed automatic transmission, it being joined shortly after by a six-speed manual choice – an option that very few buyers picked. The automatic suited the DB9, its placing as a sports GT, as opposed to an out-and-out sports car suiting the automatic better. However, Aston Martin did off er the DB9 with a Sports Pack, which heightened the driving experience by dropping the ride height by 6mm, significantly increasing the spring rates and changing the anti-roll bars, as well as adding a structural under body panel and dampers to match the other suspension revisions. Able to be ordered new, or retrofitted to any existing DB9, the Sports Pack added agility and precision to the DB9, to allow it to compete better with the more sporting cars in its class. From 2010, Aston Martin updated the DB9, upping power from its engine and also adding adaptive damping to the suspension, along with a number of minor improvements and revisions to the interior and standard and optional equipment. Among its rivals you could count cars like Ferrari’s 575M Maranello, the Porsche 911 Turbo, Maserati GT as well as a number of alternatives from Germany’s BMW and Mercedes-Benz brands, but its closest rival, both conceptually and geographically, would be the Bentley Continental GT. Described by Aston Martin as a 2+2, you’d be hard pushed to get anyone in the rear seats, the company also offering the option to have it built as a 2+0, with a simple storage area behind the front seats. Offered as either a coupe or a Volante convertible, the DB9 cost in excess of £100,000 as a coupe, and you can now pick one up for a quarter of that. Check out what to look for if you’re in the market, because while they can be inexpensive to purchase, buying the wrong one will end up costing you in the long run. We speak to Aston Martin specialist, John McGurk, from McGurk Performance Cars, who highlights things to look for.


BODYWORK

The DB9’s bodywork is a mix of aluminium and composites which makes it strong and light, but also makes it complex and costly to repair. Don’t think that because it’s aluminium that it’s immune from corrosion, quite the contrary. Aston Martin did provide a 10-year anti-corrosion warranty with the DB9, but it was carefully worded to only include corrosion deemed to be outside in, opposed to water ingress from outside. You don’t need to search too hard to find disgruntled owners complaining about Aston Martin’s customer service in this regard.

It’s fairly well established then, that the DB9 does suffer corrosion issues, these manifesting as bubbling in the painthreerk, and many will have had remedial work under warranty early in their lives. The most common areas are around the door handles, the trailing edge of the doors, around the wing mirror mounts, wheelarches and more. Don’t think, too, that the composite panels won’t also suff er similar problems, the issues apparently arising due to paint preparation during the build process. Aston Martin has apparently addressed this since, which will benefit owners of newer models, but most, if not all, DB9s are likely to have some sort of painthreerk issues. The DB9 isn’t alone in this, though repainting panels, particularly composite ones, can get expensive if a lot of work is required. As with any prospective purchase, inspect the bodywork fastidiously, and look out for that telltale bubbling paint.

If you’re buying a Volante, check the folding fabric roof for any wear and tear, because if it needs replacing you’ll be looking at a £10,000 bill as a minimum. Check the boot in both coupes and Volantes for water ingress, this getting in via the rear taillight seal. While you’re looking, check all the lights for condensation build-up, as they’re all prone to this, while it’s also worth checking the headlight washer jets work.


ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION

Power comes from a 5.9-litre naturally aspirated V12 engine. Initially delivering 450PS (443bhp), Aston Martin’s changes for the 2008 model year saw that output rise by 20PS (19.7bhp), with Aston again upping the output in 2013 to 510PS (503bhp). The V12 is mated to either a six-speed automatic transmission supplied by Graziano, or a ZF-sourced six-speed manual. The automatic, by far the more common choice, was named Touchtronic, and along with its fully automatic mode capability the DB9 driver could take over by using the large shifter paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. Manual cars are comparatively rare, and more coveted as a result, meaning you’ll likely pay more for one, though, conversely, it’ll also be certain to retain its value better.

It’ll come as no surprise to potential owners that fuel consumption is heavy, with around 14-15mpg in normal use, less if you’re in a hurry and perhaps as high as 20mpg if you’re on a long motorway trip. Servicing is crucial, even if it’s not being used regularly — McGurks recommend an annual service to keep everything in order. There are some known issues with the V12, not least that it consumes a decent amount of oil. Keep an eye on levels, because running it low on oil will cause you no end of problems long term. It’s worth checking the air fi lters, too, as oddly, oil can collect in their housings as a result of the failure of a valve (PCV – positive crankcase ventilation) in the engine ventilation system and the pipe that feeds it. Too much oil is delivered to the intake system as a result and excess oil drips into the air intake system, it being a sure sign that it’s needing work if oil has collected in the air filter housing.

Listen out when cold starting for a knocking noise, McGurk explaining that, “Cold start knocking is likely to be big end bearings, the noise going away when it gets hot, but the problem doesn’t.” Similarly, there’s a hot ticking sound associated with the V12, which McGurk outlines is, “either little end bearings, or the liners become oval and you get piston slap. It’s hard to differentiate but either way it’s a new engine because a strip and rebuild is becoming too expensive. You can get a new engine direct from Aston Martin for about £13,500+VAT, which is about what you’d pay to rebuild it. The ones Aston Martin supply come with a warranty for a year, they’re better value, and they’re bench-tested/dyno’d before delivery.”

Catalytic convertors are about £5,000 for the part if they need replacing, plus fitting. Plugs and coils are fairly common failures with any misfiring pointing to this. The propshaft can go out of balance — this is obvious if there’s a pronounced vibration from underneath — while diff s can be problematic. “What happens is either the crown wheel and pinion fail, or the plates fail, lack of oil changes are to blame,” explains McGurk. “You’ll hear it very slowly on full lock, it’ll grind, you’ll feel it through the car. The crown wheel and pinion will be while you’re driving the car, coming down the hill when the diff is dragging rather than pushing, and you’ll hear it.”


SUSPENSION, STEERING AND BRAKES

Riding on double wishbone suspension all round with coil springs, the early DB9 features passive dampers, with later cars gaining a variable damper system. Aston Martin also offered the DB9 with the option of a Sports Pack which dropped the ride height and added stiffer suspension components accordingly, this either fitted as new or retrospectively, and sharpened up the DB9’s dynamics considerably.

The standard dampers can leak, which isn’t unusual for cars of this age, these costing around £800 each. The subframes to which all the suspension is mounted is of an age now where rust can be problematic, so make sure you have a good look underneath, and remove any of the underbody panels to make sure they’re not hiding any potential issues. Brakes shouldn’t cause any real problems, and wear should be consistent with use, and service items. The steering doesn’t have any reported issues, other than a few recalls in relation to a replacement lower arm and incorrectly torqued bolts, simply calling Aston Martin with the VIN number will allow you to ascertain whether these have been replaced/remedied as part of the recall.

Riding on 19in wheels, these should be strong, and tyre wear should be consistent if the alignment’s all good, uneven wear being a sure sign that it’s not. Tyres won’t be inexpensive for a car like this, but it’s a false economy to look for budget alternatives, because they’ll detract significantly from the overall driving experience. Budget on around £200-£250 a corner for a good-quality, recognised brand, high-performance tyres. Check for any play in the suspension, this manifesting as imprecision on the road. New bushings are relatively inexpensive to fit, and transformational in how the car will drive, too.

“A car that’s not just wonderful to look at, but sounds magnificent and still offers incredible performance, too”...


INTERIOR AND TRIM

The DB9’s interior is largely free of faults, being nicely finished, though a few squeaks and rattles will be apparent as they age, as is common with any car of this vintage. Look out for things like excessive wear on seat bolsters, scratching of the scuff plates in the doors, and any loose trim. The standard sat-nav from ’06 was a Volvo-derived system, and looks ancient now, it never worked with the slickest of ease when new. Check all the carpets for any signs of dampness, as this will point to water ingress, which is never a good thing. From ’09 the DB9’s conventional key was replaced by the Emotion Control Unit (ECU), a glass key that starts the engine by slotting into the centre console – it is prone to damage if dropped, which is why most owners will use the second, plastic one instead. There have been issues with the early Linn audio systems, so check it’s all working, or opt for a later car which had a standard, improved Alpine system. McGurk highlights some issues with door and roof modules, so check everything is working there, while the seat heating system was subject to a recall for all cars from ’06-14, which if it’s not addressed could result in a fire.


VERDICT

You might have read all the above and reconsidered buying a DB9, but really, they’re no worse, or better, in relation to ownership costs and any mechanical issues, than any car of similar prestige and performance. McGurk admits that they’re getting to an age where they are starting to need light restoration work, but, again, that’s true of the DB9’s contemporaries. Get a good one, and there are plenty to pick from, and you’ll have a car that’s not just wonderful to look at, but sounds magnificent and still offers incredible performance, too.

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