How on earth do you begin to pass judgement on the new Aston Martin DB9? Unquestionably it's a thing of beauty with a monstrous 380kW engine to propel you all the way to 294km/h, but what does that mean on the road? And what does this kind of supercar performance and luxury really feel like?
Aston Martin DB9 is a weekend warrior
Perhaps I could start with a clever riff about trying not to get carried away with the firm's connection to James Bond before bemoaning its lack of ejector seat and machine guns.
Or I could focus on one particular aspect of high-octane performance, beautiful racing lines and obsessive attention to detail. Perhaps its addictive exhaust note or the detailed stitching on the sumptuous red-leather dashboard of my test model.
Equally it would be easy for me to castigate it for its difficult-to-use handbrake or fiddly entertainment system. That's not forgetting the approach which favours using the DB9 as a metaphor for Aston Martin's corporate fortunes - in December it secured a £150-million investment from a private equity firm for a 37.5 per cent stake in the business.
Last week I had nearly 1100km to cover from London to north Wales and back again, by way of Yorkshire, in an ivory white DB9 and all these points were running through my head. What struck me most, though, was the child-like excitement of the friends and colleagues I took for a spin along the way. To most of us with a bank balance more suitable to a Ford Fiesta, the DB9 can't really be examined on a rational basis, but on the emotional reactions it causes.
A rational appraisal of its design would point out that's it's an update of a familiar Aston Martin style, which divides opinion between those who think the firm has lost its way and those who see it as the perfect embodiment and gradual evolution of an "iconic" British marque.
Both views fail to explain the thrill its shark-like beauty and its endearingly long, but menacing low-slung bonnet brings to the driver.
Take a look under the bonnet at the gusty V12 and a rational analysis of its performance would welcome its cosseted ride - it gets new adaptive damping - staggering acceleration and the rapid stopping power of its new carbon-ceramic brakes. This is where the DB9 earns its keep, of course, but a list of performance figures misses the boyish thrill of opening the throttle on a country B-Road and hear your (male) passenger squeal with delight.
Finally a more forensic comparison reveals that its slightly ponderous six-speed gearbox is a little whispery, its emissions and economy figures are poor even for a sports car and that the firm's rivals are leagues ahead in in-car technology and refinement.
The reason for this is that unlike, say, Bentley, which is owned by VW, Aston Martin isn't owned by a major car manufacturer. This means there's no research centre of clever bods working on luxury saloon technology it can co-opt for its supercars.
For my money, though (around R4-million in SA, depending on the exchange rate at the time) the new DB9 is still the best Aston Martin I've driven and a step in the right direction for the firm before investment brings new (as yet secretive) models in the years ahead.
Some will disagree but if you can afford the asking price for a car that is essentially a weekend warrior (the boot is tiny and rear seats only for show) I doubt you'll worry about fuel consumption or the lack of a seat massage. What you'll worry about is how that it makes you feel. Or at least I think that's how you judge an Aston Martin… next time I meet someone with enough money to spare, I'll make sure to ask them. The Independent