The first Aston to come from Aston’s new Gaydon facilities is the 2+2 DB9 Coupe. It is made on Ford’s all-aluminum VH platform with an aluminum/composite body. First launched to market as a 2004 model, Aston upgraded it in 2008 with a more powerful engine 470 bhp engine, better suspension and standard 19’’ 10-spoke alloy wheels.
The future of Aston Martin is epitomised by the all-new DB9, a 2+2 seater sports car that sets new standards in its class due to its astonishing combination of agility, V12 power, smoothness, beautiful design and hand craftsmanship.
Using a radical new aluminium-bonded body frame, the DB9 is one of the most sophisticated and technically advanced sports cars in the world. It is powered by the latest version of Aston Martin’s 6.0-litre V12, producing 450bhp and a top speed of 186mph. Yet the DB9 is significant well beyond being a class-leading sports car. It is the beginning of a new era for Aston Martin. It is the first car to be hand-made at Aston Martin’s new state-of-the-art facility in Gaydon, Warwickshire, where all future Aston Martin models will be developed and built.
‘Gaydon is the future of Aston Martin,’ says Dr Ulrich Bez, CEO of Aston Martin. It combines cutting-edge high technology with hand-craftsmanship and tradition. It is probably the best facility of its type in the world, and the perfect showcase for how to design and build innovative sports and GT cars for the 21st Century. All cars built at Gaydon will be based on Aston Martin’s new VH [Vertical Horizontal] platform. It’s the first time in our history that we have had a totally flexible yet dedicated Aston Martin platform. The DB9 is the first car to use it making it the most important Aston Martin ever.
Aluminium VH Chassis
In a long list of technological innovations, the most important is the bonded aluminium frame. Aston Martin believes it is the most structurally efficient body frame in the car industry. The new Aston Martin VH (vertical horizontal) aluminium structure gives immense benefits. It is very light, aiding performance, handling, economy and durability. It is also enormously strong. Despite being 25 percent lighter than the DB7 bodyshell, the DB9 structure has more than double the torsional rigidity.
This is the car’s backbone, the skeleton to which all the mechanical components are either directly or indirectly mounted. Drawing on the experience and technology pioneered in the Vanquish, the DB9’s frame is made entirely from aluminium. Die-cast, extruded and stamped aluminium components are bonded using immensely strong adhesives, supplemented by mechanical fixing using self-piercing rivets.
The frame is made in aluminium and the body panels are then fitted, again using adhesives, in the advanced body assembly area at Aston Martin’s new Gaydon facility. This adhesive is applied by a robot – the only one at Aston Martin. Computer controlled hot-air curing ensures the highest standards of accuracy and repeatability.
The bonding has enormously high stiffness, so that shakes and rattles are obliterated. Bonding also has excellent durability offering better stress distribution than welding – which is more prone to crack. The process is also used in the aircraft industry and Formula One.
In addition to the aluminium frame, other lightweight or high-technology materials are used extensively. The bonnet, roof and rear wings are aluminium. The front wings and bootlid are composite. Cast aluminium is used in the windscreen surround, another industry first. Magnesium alloy, which is even lighter than aluminium, is used in the steering column assembly and inner door frames. The driveshaft is made from carbon fibre. It is part of the torque tube that rigidly connects the front engine to the rear gearbox. This arrangement helps the DB9 achieve perfect 50:50 weight distribution, further improving handling.
The DB9 uses all-round independent double-wishbone suspension. As the body frame is brand new, the chassis designers were able to start from scratch – rather than be forced to develop a suspension for an adapted saloon car platform. The front suspension is mounted on a cast aluminium subframe. At the rear, another subframe carries the rear suspension as well as the rear transaxle. Forged aluminium wishbones are used front and rear, as are aluminium-bodied dampers. This is rare, even on top-end sports and GT cars.
The steering rack is mounted ahead of the front wheels, which provides better control under extreme steering loads and heavy braking. Magnesium alloy is used in the construction of the steering column. Even the wheels have been specially designed to save weight. The 19-inch alloys are made using flow forming rather than casting. This saves about 1kg per wheel, benefiting unsprung mass, overall vehicle weight, and reducing rotational inertia. The tyres have been specially developed by Bridgestone.
The calipers are made from a single casting, rather than being fabricated in two halves and then bolted together. This increases strength and rigidity and gives superior braking performance at high speeds.
Braking is improved by Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), which is computer controlled to optimise the front-to-rear brake balance, and by Brake Assist – in which the cars electronics detect when the driver wants to emergency brake and automatically applies maximum braking force, cutting stopping distance. There’s also the latest anti-lock (ABS) system, which prevents the car skidding or sliding out of control.
Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is standard. DSC is an advanced electronic control system that continually analyses wheel speeds, steering angle and yaw rate. It reduces the risk of skids by automatically applying braking to individual wheels, or reducing engine torque.
The instrument pack is particularly attractive and innovative and all dials are made from aluminium. Microperforations allow the warning lights to illuminate through the aluminium. The rev counter runs anti-clockwise to maximise the visible area for the central electronic display, in the main instrument cluster. It’s also a nice reminder of earlier Aston Martin models such as the Atom and the DB2.
There is no conventional red line on the tachometer. A red warning symbol will be displayed when maximum revs are reached but – thanks to the high-tech electronics – the red line varies, depending on the engine’s mileage, how recently the engine has been started, and ambient temperature.
The electronic message displays in the main instrument cluster, and in the centre console, are organic electroluminescent displays (OEL). This is another car industry first. There are many benefits to OELs compared with conventional LCDs, including higher resolution and greater contrast, and improved clarity, particularly when viewed from an angle.
‘Volvo is renowned as the automotive safety leader,’ says Chief Programme Engineer David King. It was the perfect partner to assist in delivering the DB9’s outstanding safety performance.
All crash testing was done by Volvo in its state-of-the-art safety centre in Sweden. The VH platform was designed to provide a supremely robust passenger cell that cocoons its occupants. The cell is protected at the front and rear by extruded aluminium crumple zones. Dual-stage driver and passenger airbags, and seat-mounted side airbags, offer further protection, as do seat belt pretensioners.
The engine is developed from the V12 used in the Vanquish. The advanced quad-cam 48-valve engine has been designed by Aston Martin engineers in partnership with Ford’s RVT (Research and Vehicle Technology), and is unique to Aston Martin.
The crankshaft is new, as are the camshafts, inlet and exhaust manifolds, the lubrication system and engine management. The result is more low-down torque and a more seamless power delivery. Maximum power is 450bhp and maximum torque 420lb ft. Even more impressive, 80 percent of that maximum torque is available at only 1500rpm.
Comparing the Vanquish’s engine to that of the DB9, Fitzsimons comments: The Vanquish offers more ultimate performance, the DB9 has more torque over a wider rev range, says Fitzsimons.
In the new DB9, the V12 – which is a significant 11.8kgs (26lb) lighter than the Vanquish V12 – has been fitted as far back and as low as possible, to assist agility and handling. This helps the DB9 achieve its perfect 50:50 weight distribution.
The DB9 is fitted with a rear transaxle to help achieve the ideal 50:50 weight distribution. The front mid-mounted engine is connected to the rear gearbox by a cast aluminium torque tube, inside which is a carbon fibre drive shaft. The use of carbon fibre prevents any flex and ensures low rotational inertia, improving response and cutting both noise and vibration.
Two transmissions are offered: a six-speed ZF automatic gearbox and a new six-speed Graziano manual gearbox. The ZF automatic used in the Aston Martin DB9 is particularly innovative. The DB9 is one of the first cars in the world to use a shift-by-wire automatic gearchange. The conventional PRNDL gear lever has been replaced by a system of buttons that select park, reverse, drive or neutral.
Those choosing the ZF automatic can drive the car in full auto mode, or can change gear manually using the paddle shifts. The paddles are made from lightweight magnesium and are directly behind the steering wheel, at the ten-to-two position. They allow instant Touchtronic gearchanging.
Clean and elegant styling
The Aston Martin DB9 is a modern interpretation of a traditional Aston Martin sports car, representing a contemporary version of classic DB design elements and characteristics.
‘Aston Martins are not edgy cars – they don’t have sharp surfaces or pronounced power domes,’ says Hank Fisker, Director of Design, ‘the bodywork is elegant and gently curved, like a supremely fit person, with great muscle tone. But it is not like a body builder, who is bulky and out of harmony.’
The side profile is very clean, with a single-sweep roofline. There is a pronounced boot – a noticeable feature of the DB4 and DB5 – and the haunches on the rear wings are wide and curvaceous.
The aluminium bonnet runs all to the way to the leading edge of the car. ‘This accentuates the length of the bonnet and the power of the car,’ says Fisker. All front cut lines emanate from the grille. The DB9’s bumpers are invisible. The front number plate is part of the crash structure and computer modelling has enabled Aston Martin to use invisible -hard pressure zones- to cope with bumps.
The side strakes – an Aston Martin DB signature – are made from metal. The door handles are flush with the body opening the unique swan wing doors, which rise at a 12-degree angle for improved access.
‘The DB9 had to have the best quality and most luxurious cabin in the 2+2 sports car class,’ says Fisker. As with the exterior, the design is simple and elegant and a premium quality look and feel are crucial.
The latest technology is also essential, and that’s exactly what the DB9 customer gets, says Fisker. But in an Aston Martin, the technology is aimed at increasing the driving pleasure. There are no computer gimmicks. You don’t buy an Aston Martin to play games on the in-car computer, or to send emails. Aluminium is used for door handles, on the dashboard, in the instrument cluster, and for some trim panels. The most distinctive use of aluminium is probably in the instruments. The dials are made from aluminium, and are of noticeable three dimensional design. They are flood lit, not back lit – making them especially attractive and clear at night.
There are 20 new leather colours, supplied by Bridge of Weir in Scotland. The hides are particularly soft and supple. The leather skins the seats and is used widely throughout the rest of the cabin.
‘We spent a lot of time considering how best to use wood, says Interior Designer Sarah Maynard. Today wood is typically used as an applique, strips of highly polished veneer simply adding decoration to the car. We wanted the wood in the DB9 to look more structural, as it does on avantgarde modern furniture. We also wanted to use large pieces of wood, rather than little strips – again, as in top furniture.
Maynard adds: ‘Wood is used in two places only: on top of the centre of the dashboard and, if the customer chooses, for the door caps. Three types of wood are offered: walnut, mahogany and bamboo. The wood is one piece, so it looks completely different from burr strips, and can be oiled rather than high gloss. Glossy wood invariably looks like plastic.’
Her favourite cabin design feature is the clear glass starter button. ‘It seemed wrong to us that most car starter buttons – the first point of contact between driver and engine – is a plastic button. We wanted something better so decided on crystal-like glass. The Aston Martin logo is sand etched into it. It’s lit red when the ignition is on, and afterwards changes to light blue. I think it’s a really cool piece of design.’