Saturday, April 4, 2009

2010 Aston Martin DB9 Volante

Beautiful ... it is the first thing that comes to mind when you look at the Aston Martin. The lines are to die for. Ever angle that you approach the car, you find yourself just giggling like a little school girl knowing that you are one of the few people to know what it is and if you are lucky enough (like today) even fewer to be able to drive one.

Yes folks, that's right... I currently hold in my hands, the key fob to an Aston Martin DB9 Volante. Before even getting in the car, I just want to say again, this car is beautiful. Every angle, ever piece of body work... every assembly of the car just fits and fits perfectly. Even the key fob seems to have elegance written all over it due to the large chunk of crystal that is attached to the end of it. Don't lose it though as the key fob alone will set you back a hefty $1000. When you are driving a DB9 though, what is a few thousand dollars between friends?

Open the doors to the car and you will see that the Aston Martin retains its upwards swinging doors to make sure the elegant doors do not come close to brushing the curb should you part on a roadway with an evil tilt. Climb into the plush interior and the seats swallow you up like a cleverly crafted glove designed just for you. The leather is like no other leader found in an automobile to date. The stitching is flawless and the smoothness of the leather feels much akin to the backside of a newborn.

After you are done oooohing over the seat, you take that wonderful key fob and insert it into the dash center console... the emotional control unit as they call it. Conviniently, you push the key fob into this key hole and the crystal on the end of the key fob replaces the crystal that was in the dash covering the key hole. Wow, they thought of it all! Push the key fob all the way in and the electronics come to life. Push the key fob further in and the engine starts to spin. This is when you realize, they really did not think of it all because it is not a simple push button start like many newer cars. You have to push the key in and hold it for the engine to fire to life. A simple push only turns it over once and not enough to fire the mighty motor. Hold the key in and the starter spins bringing the massive V-12 to life.

That's right ... a 6.0L V12 throwing out numbers that would make almost any car envious. At idle, the silky smooth V12 sits there barely muttering a whisper as if not to wake the angry neighbors. Drive away from a stop at mild throttle any a quiet wave of torque ushers you out and away from trouble. People's heads all turn and gawk as you drive by quietly and smoothly. They can't take their eyes off the amazing lines of the car. Plant your foot though and anything subtle about this car is thrown out the window. The quiet V12 starts to rumble and as the tach swing around it passes a magic number an exhaust muffler flap open. That's when the innocent V12 turns into a snarly monster. The volume of the exhaust double and hte sound goes from subtle to snarling. As the RPM climbs, the sound turns into a symphony of mechanical noise and cars and people around you start to move out of your way for fear of being eaten alive.

The speed this work of art gathers is amazing. The gear changes happen quickly and smoothly by the torque from the engine makes acceleartion in any gear almost a piece of cake. Watching the mirror faced guages swing around is almost as if watching the smooth motions of a precise clock being adjusted. While this is not a sports car, but more of a grand touring car, it does a great impression of being just that, a sports car. The acceleration is phenomenal, the nimbleness of the cassis in comparison to it's weight is astounding and the brakes are big enough to serve a small pizza on if you really wanted to.

Cruising in this car is what it is all about. With the top down, the wind noise is there, but not annoying. However, the non-stop vibration of the rear view mirror makes seeing what is behind you well, impossible. It is almost required to have a passenger to help hold the mirror in place so you can make out if that is a car full of beautiful women following you are an angry police officer trying to pull you over. I will be honest, the radio, entertainment and navigation features of this car were not amazing. At least, they were not $200,000 amazing. So we left them off. If we want to sample how they work, we can find another car with a similar setup... probably a Volvo to play with them. That's right, this is all about the drive, not the gadgets, or lack their off.

On the subject... the Aston Martin lacks the latest gadgets found in many other $200,000 cars. I guess because of their limited production they are more focused on the car rather than the gadgets that you would be busy figuring out how to turn off anyway so you could just drive. The only real buttons you are concerned about on the dash -- oh sorry, the emotional control unit are the starter button and the drive button. That's right, button. This car has no gear shift lever or automatic transmission knob. It has button on the dash. P for park, R for reverse, N for neutral and D for drive. You push the button you want and that is the direction you go in. Optional gear changes can be handled by paddles on teh steering wheel. Oh and that's the way you want it to be.

Now... this has to be easily one of the nicest cars in the fleet. Comfortable, fast, quite the looker and extremely unique. It is something that you can buy and drive and don't have to worry about somebody else having one at the local Starbucks. Aston Martin makes a very limited number of cars per year so exclusivity is something that rolls hand in hand with them. Unfortunately though, Jaguar is not. Jaguar is mass produced and the designer for the Aston Martin is also the designer for the Jaguar. That design team has an eye for beauty but unfortunately, to maximize their dollar, has to use a very similar design for the Jaguar cars. One of the biggest turn offs for this car is the fact that everywhere you go, please are going to ask you... "Is that the new Jaguar?" After you have managed to simmer your boiling blood you explain to them it is an Aston Martin and even what an Aston Martin is. Next on the negative list is the fact that the rear view mirror is about as useful as sunglasses in the middle of the night. Then there is the fact that the purchase of Aston Martin by GM has muddled with the cars pristine heritage. To save money, parts from various other automobiles have been added to the DB9. For example... as to my understanding, the key fob for the DB9 is actually nothing more than a repackaged Volvo XC90 key fob with a nice slab of crystal on the end. The wing mirror have a Volvo part number and logo stamped under them and as mentioned earlier, the navigation and radio units look to be the same as those equipped most premium american cars ... all items you wouldn't expect in a $200,000 super car.

If you can overlook the small oddities, this car is definitely a super car to be had becuase of it's exclusivity and awesome design. The attention this car brings is awe inspiring and the smile from ear to ear is almost worth the price of admission. As a whole package, it is wonderful. Plus, the sound it makes blasting around town with the RPMs up is intoxicating.

Ok, I'm off to go check my couches for spare change...

2009 Audi S8

Audi's flagship ... their greatest attempt at a big car the A8 stands to be a car that is probably the most bland looking flagship car out there. Looking at it and it doesn't specifically call out or shout lavishness at you. It looks sedate, calm and well ... uninspiring for that kind of money. What is even more boring is that Audi's high performance version of the same car, the Audi S8 is no better. More money... same bland look. You walk around the car and it looks like your typical Audi... nothing fantastic, it looks nice... but not shouty. The front looking simple and elegant, the side looks long as it should and the back looks well, like a German car. The only thing that gives away a bit of this car's character is the quad exhaust which is exposed under the bumper and a little badge denoting it is the S8 trim.

Get in and fire it up... and hmmm, it sounds different. Pulling out the sheet from the glove box and you will see that this car is powered by 5.2L V10 engine. Interesting... The paperwork claims that it boasts 450hp at 7000rpm and a monsterous 398ft-lbs of torque at 3500rpm. You sit there thinking to yourself... are they sure? The engine sitting beneath the bonnet is calm and quiet with a rock steady idle. You would start to think an engine with these types of numbers may have a erratic idle or may make noise akin to a performance engine... but nothing. It is calm, almost as if there was a sleeping bear under the hood snoring his hiberating period away.

I figure, let's set off and go for a drive and see what the S8 badge on the back of this car is all about. First, it is comfortable and smooth. The car soaks up bumps as a uber-large sedan should. Steering response as slow speeds seems to be right on par with the competition, throttle response while a little twitchy is acceptable and brake feedback at slow speeds is to be expected. However, we all know we don't by an S8 to lounge around parking lots and creep up on old ladies in the dark. Let's give this thing the beans and see what happens.

Foot to the floor and away we go. Remember that sleeping bear I mentioned earlier? Well, put the pedal to the floor and it is as if a child with no care for his life walked up to the hibernating bear and kicked him square in the face. The monster jumps to life making snarling noises and roaring right up to redline with a viceral snarl. Propulsion is sent to all four wheels and you are glad that it is to keep those tires gripping the pavement. The sound the 5.2L V10 makes sounds simlar to it's bretheren located in the Lamborghini Gallardo (that's right, it's that 5.2L motor). The speedometer climbs and climbs and climbs with no sign of stopping. Gear changes are ticked off with ease and smoothness and I have no doubt that given proper testing facilities, this one sedate pussy cat would turn into a lion at higher speeds. The motor just wants to go. A motor with this type of power, you would expect to see in a sports car and as you are gathering speed, you begin to think to yourself. The car that was huge just a few moments ago seems to have shrunk. Well it would have to shrink to be able to gather speed that fast, maybe it wasn't as big as originally though... maybe it was an optical illusion?

Through this monster into a corner or two and the Audi all wheel drive does what it does best. it moves the power around to keep you going forward and it keeps putting that power to the ground almost as if it is bending the laws of physics given a car of this size. Granted, tight corners do not do it justice due to the shear size of the car, but the bigger the corner, the better the car handles it. I'm sure if enough time in the car were available, finding the way to navigate those tight corners in a fast fashion would have become apparent, but in reality, how often are you going to throw a big uber sedan into a tight hairpin corner and slide out of it. It is a performance car, but nothing like what it does in the movies. If you push it thought and have confidence in the all wheel drive system, the laws that govern the traction of such a beast will be bent and you will find yourself wondering how you have managed to not just slide off the road and end up backwards... upside down... in a ditch... on fire.

Braking for a large sedan of this kind is good. It is nothing awe inpsiring like that of say an M5, but those brakes will get the job done. Not really much can be said about this because well, I was too busy enjoying the go to really feel out the stop part of the car. They do the job, they do the job pretty well, but let's face it. I spent majority of my time mashing the gas to listen to that harmonious 5.2L sing from beneath the hood.

To sum it up... while it may be sedate and a little bland to look at from the outside, the S8 is truely a awesome car to drive. I think many people over look it because it doesn't have the flying marks of the Mercedes Benz or the BMW or even the Jaguar, but it is a really good car. It does everything well and I think if more people gave them a chance, you would see them on the road more often. Well, that is if they managed to up the image to be more on par with the people who like to walk around bragging how they drive a Mercedes or BMW.

--- Side note, The S8 comes equipped with the Bang & Olufsen audio system. If you get this car, you must get this option. It is pricey for an upgrade at $7000, but if you are already spending $100,000 for an S8, what is another $7000 between friends? The audio that this upgrade puts out is absolutely astonishing. I could not find a piece of music that the system tripped over or sounded less that perfect trying to reproduce. At all volumes, the system was able to put out the lowest of lows and highs that almost sounded as if they could shatter glass.

Get this upgrade... you will love it.