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Aston Martin 2009 DBS: a sports car you can bond with

December 26, 2008|DAN NEIL

With my rock-hard abs and murderous smile, I'm frequently mistaken for James Bond. I open cans of Coke with my Walther PPK. I settle hotel bills with lethal kung fu finger strikes. A glimpse of my Omega Speedmaster has caused waitresses to spontaneously disrobe.

My charms, however, are somewhat diminished when I climb into my white Honda minivan. Really, the only time my sick-cool man-pantherism can achieve its maximum fullness is when I'm obliged to test an Aston Martin.

I was initially offered a chance to drive an actual prop car from the latest Bond flick "Quantum of Solace," an Aston Martin DBS in which actor Daniel Craig's alabaster butt had actually sat. I declined. The thought of my wife purring and pawing at the upholstery did not appeal.

Soon enough, Aston Martin sent around a proper 2009 DBS, doused in scintillant flint-gray paint and upholstered with black, quilted Alcantara leather. It's a modest runabout that costs around $280,000, which is, interestingly, about the median home price in Southern California.

No lasers, alas, no oil spreaders, no glove box-mounted defibrillator to treat the beauty-induced tachycardia. God, this is one smoking-hot car. My desire, the sheer want of it, stings my face like sleet.

Before you reach for your sustainable-softwood pencil and recycled stationery, yes, I know, I get it. I've been co-opted by the oil fascists, the hyper-consumerist hypnotists, the evil marketers who sell the poison of materialism as cure for unhappiness.

Not only that, the Aston Martin, being British, plays into Americans' Anglophile fixation on class and rank as a substitute for human decency. Somewhere Thorstein Veblen is sitting on a horse like Iron Eyes Cody, crying.

Please. Ordinarily, I would so rain space-based missiles down on you using my cellphone, but I've got T-Mobile and I can't get a good signal from my office.

The DBS is not, perhaps, the ideal car for a spy, since the thing arrives with all the stealth of a marching band. This is an audacious car, big (nearly a foot longer than a Corvette), broad and low, with impossibly tight wheel-well clearances around the 20-inch rims and a canopy as narrowed as Cleopatra's eye.

Aston Martin's usual restraint in penmanship here surrenders to an orgy of strakes, ducts, aero channels and fender bulges cavorting across the aluminum and carbon-fiber bodywork. Yet there's harmony to the car, a strangely organic and unstrained quality as if it were a naturally occurring knot in the warp and weave of physics.

And then there's the moment when you plug the sapphire crystal "key" into the center dash-mounted starter receptacle. There's a flash of crystalline red, then a foreboding thunder rises from under the hood. Uh-oh. Somebody's knickers are going walkabout.

Though it's capable of 191 mph and will put a smoking borehole through the head of your typical Porsche 911, the DBS is neither the fastest nor most powerful of the six-figure exotic sports cars.

Mounted well back in the chassis is a 6.0-liter, 48-valve V12 engine producing an effortless 510 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque at a relatively high 5,750 rpm. To compare, the nose-to-nose rival Ferrari 599 GTB serves up 102 more hp and it weighs nearly the same as the DBS (3,828 pounds).

Meanwhile, there are two gearboxes available in the DBS, one a conventional manual six-speed and the other a paddle-shifted six-speed automatic transaxle. I tested a car with the automatic "Touchtronic" gearbox.

The factory's quoted figure for 0 to 100 kilometers per hour (0 to 62 mph) is 4.3 seconds -- not all that impressive. Ferraris, Lamborginis and even Corvettes are well down in the mid-3-second range. So, although it is still blazingly fast, the Aston simply doesn't have the pace of a true exotic. And you know, I could not care less.

Aston Martin could have hammered on the V12 for more low-end torque and more top-end horsepower. But it didn't. What it did was, at every turn, surrender some small and meaningless fraction of numerical performance -- lateral grip, top speed, braking distance -- for a holistic refinement and day-to-day drivability in every direction.

The suspension is quite taut and cinched down, but it's not so flat and hard and unyielding that you wouldn't want to drive to Canada and back.

Likewise, the steering is light and micrometer precise, but there is enough softness on center that you can sneeze and not wind up in Fontana. The new carbon-ceramic brakes will stop a freight train, but the initial tip-in is measured, silky and progressive.

This is not an exotic sports car so much as a hyper-focused grand touring car, immensely powerful but also mature. And it shows in the thousand grace notes around the cabin: the appealing chronometer-style gauges; the oversized Hermes-style stitching; the unidirectional carbon weave pattern on the doors; the beautiful, blue-lighted switch gear against the piano black console fascia.

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