Aston Martin DB9 Volante

But like a blond Bond, the DB9 looks good, but isn't quite right, says Michael Booth

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Would suit: Blond Bonds
Price: £112,000
Maximum speed: 186mph, 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 17.1mpg
Further information: 01908 610 620

I was parked in a backstreet in West London in a new Aston Martin DB9 Volante waiting to go in and do a radio interview with Sandy Toksvig (a lot more fearsome than I'd expected, incidentally) about my new book, Just as Well I'm Leaving: To the Orient with Hans Christian Andersen (Jonathan Cape, £12.99; picture the faces of relatives and friends of every demographic as they unwrap a copy on Christmas morn!).

This happened to be opposite a garage that services old Astons and, after sizing the car up for a while, one of the mechanics wandered over. "First one of these I've seen," he said, admiring the DB9's roof. "They've never managed to get the roof to fold flat on an Aston before, but I've heard they've had a few problems with the paddle shift."

I've heard that too and, if I were in the market for a £112,000 convertible, such rumours might put me off for, oh, at least half a second until I took another look at the brochure. I used to think that the DB7 was the most seductive car in the world, but its replacement is, essentially, automotive porn; toying with you, arousing you and, as it hurtles off to the next set of traffic lights, leaving you feeling spent and guilty. It is the kind of car that creates ripples of attention, and even hysteria, wherever you drive. I had crowds of kids whooping at me from open-top tour buses. Middle-aged men sidled up at filling stations to nudge me and say: "Bet she goes, eh?", and some neighbours who had virtually ignored me for a year invited me to a barbecue (didn't go).

But beauty can be distracting (just look at what happened to the careers of Uma Thurman's husbands) and it took me a while to realise that the Volante is not quite as good as it looks. Despite colossal thrust from a 6-litre, V12 engine that bellows like a bull with a tin megaphone, performance is merely "impressively muscular" rather than "alarmingly quick" as with, say, a 911 or Ferrari F430. Despite this, the throttle is sharp and, though it is not as cramped as the DB7 (I can only assume that marketing researchers discovered that "DB8" means "bum face" in Swahili, or something), you sit rather too tightly, cocooned by the centre console, and very low. Most of your view is of windscreen wipers. That, and the fact that it's a broad car, makes it hard to place the DB9 as accurately as you'd like. Odd, too, that suspension tuned more for cruising down Mulholland Drive than blasting along the Mulsanne Straight doesn't prevent it shuddering over bumps like a knackered old Saab soft top. It's like a blond James Bond - not quite right, a bit fey.

A badge on the kick plate tells us that the DB9 is "hand built in England" but it still feels more like a corporate product as opposed to the - admittedly often wayward - individualism of pre-Ford Astons. I winced every time I touched the cheap air-conditioning controls, and my right hand was constantly to be found worrying a loose bit of trim on the driver's door pull, like a tongue with a sore tooth. The sun-visor mirrors have no sliding covers which might seem a petty grumble, but they soon become a real eyesore.

I missed out on the coupé DB9 when it was launched earlier this year, but by all accounts it is a far better machine: stiffer, more composed and less "tarty". If Daniel Craig chooses the Volante, the Bond franchise is surely doomed.

It's a classic: Aston Martin DB4

Aston Martin has a tradition of using its customers as ongoing development engineers and, well into the 1980s, the company was notorious for putting cars into production when they were nowhere near ready.

The DB4 was typical in that it evolved through five different series, as customers discovered and reported a wide range of faults and failures. Despite all this, the DB4 became one of the greatest post-war Astons. With its legendary Tadek Marek-designed, straight-six engine, beautiful Italianate, lightweight aluminium body and luxurious leather interior, it drew the template for virtually every Aston that followed.

Today, any DB4 is a rare and desirable machine; a good one will fetch around £70,000, and the convertible is especially lovely. That said, the James Bond connection means that prices for DB5s will always be higher.

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