Aston Martin DB9 / Ford Fiesta Review: Family Ties

There I was, a lowly commoner, behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB9, one of the finest cars in the world by anyone’s measure. Before me, beyond the long, long bonnet, was a circuit laid out on an abandoned airfield. And no speed restrictions.

Shagged
Aston Martin DB9. That is some other pillock behind the wheel but I suspect it is the same car I drove. I hope they have retired it by now, it must be shagged. Source: t’internet.

The occasion was a “supercar experience”. Held both for and by people too impoverished for supercar ownership, a variety of “exotics” were available, ranging from a mark 1 Lotus Elise, through a slightly ratty 997 Porsche 911, to a visibly distressed Ferrari 355. The Aston Martin, immaculate and barely a couple of years old, was an easy choice.

A hundred grand’s worth of England’s finest conveyance was a nice place to sit. The seats and steering wheel where covered in soft leather. Only the analogue clock in the centre of the dashboard jarred, perhaps purely through association with the mark 2 Mondeo.

Time for my four laps. Anticipation building, I pressed the starter button to fire up the V12, which lit with a muted thunder. Moving off, I noted that the driving controls were consistently weighted and “just right”, in the way that every post millennium Ford has been (after all, the DB9 was developed under their watch). Over the concrete of the wartime runway, damping was firm but refined, with much of the surface coarseness filtered away.

The engine delivered its prodigious power as smoothly as a set of Bob Monkhouse one liners. Listening to my passenger’s instructions regarding positioning and braking points, our pace gradually built until by the end of the third lap the barge was sailing at a good rate of knots. Yet despite the roar of six litres and the speed summoned with the slightest depression of the accelerator, I was beginning to feel… well, a bit bored.

By rights I really should’ve been more excited. Doubt set in. Sure, the DB9 was a fabulous drive, but maybe a big accomplished GT was the wrong choice for this type of thing? Maybe I should’ve opted for the shagged out Ferrari 355 instead? A renegade impulse crossed my mind. I still had a V12 and rear wheel drive to play with. Maybe smooth old Bob could be coaxed into some Rik Mayall naughtiness?

Entering the long straight for our final lap, I girded my loins (whatever that means), flicked the paddles twice to drop two cogs, and mashed the DB9’s accelerator to the Axminster. A chirrup of rubber and a blare of the brass section fit for a Christopher Nolan film heralded the arrival of all 450 horses. My instructor-passenger, presumably also the car’s owner, suddenly fell silent. Scooped into a leather lined trebuchet, we were flung at the horizon.

If I had not already worked it out by then, six litres was a lot of welly to throw about in a muddy Leicestershire field. Barrelling at grimace-inducing speed into the first corner — a sweeping right-hander — my passenger instinctively braced himself against the bulkhead. He may have wondered whether I had elected to pay the optional £40 damage insurance (I had not); I was too busy hoping the God of Anti-Lock Braking would favour us. Thankfully the DB9’s stoppers were mighty. Using the entire width of the track (plus a discretionary 5% extra as the corner tightened), I just about corralled all four hundred and fifty horses through the bend.

The rest of the lap passed at a similar clip, which is to say: quickly, incompetently, and most importantly, luckily. The last set of corners (a tight U-shape evoking the old “Bus Stop” at Spa-Francorchamps, were Grand Prix circuits entirely laid out in misappropriated traffic cones) were negotiated with a touch more rear attitude than was strictly intentional from a driver of my limited capability. I hope it looked good from the outside; from the inside of my underpants it looked distinctly brown.

Ducking back into “the pits” (a parking area, a portacabin and a tea urn), I fairly fizzed with adrenaline. The DB9 had finally entertained. Alas, my Aston Martin experience was over.

2015 Ford Fiesta
2015 Ford Fiesta in Vader’s Helmet Black.

For a number of reasons, a recent stint in a humble 2015 Ford Fiesta has put me in mind of my short but exciting time with the DB9. Not from a performance standpoint obviously; at least, not in terms of raw speed.

2015 Ford Fiesta
Ooh, look at the muck in here. It came to me like this, I swear.

Firstly and most obviously, there is the small matter of the Fiesta’s grille. Yes, I am not the first person to note the similarity between Aston Martin’s trademark aperture and Ford’s current family snoot, but in the metal the likeness is shameless. To say that the mark 1 Cortina also sported the same shape is highly disingenuous on Ford’s part; their stylists must surely have known who’s cues they were cribbing. A shame really, as in other respects the Fiesta is nicely styled. The same themes which look overcooked on the Focus play out over the Fiesta’s smaller expanses with better effect.

As far as I can tell, the car I have been lent is a mid range Zetec. I say this without certainty as the car lacks decisive external badging, but the Zetec trim on Ford’s online configurator is identical inside and out. Nigh on £15k (not cheap, granted) brings five doors and a fair level of equipment, including alloys, heated windscreen, air con, Bluetooth phone/audio and a voice command system (which inevitably does not work).

2015 Ford Fiesta
Samsung mobile phone, 2003.

An instant demerit: the Fiesta sports one of the most button festooned dashboards I have ever clapped eyes on. On one side of the assertive central stack are buttons for major phone/audio functions, in the middle a directional joypad, and on the right a full numerical keypad. (I wondered why anyone would choose to punch in their telephone numbers long form, but this might be a necessity considering my iPhone contacts consistently refused to sync.) Rendered in shiny piano black, the design is highly reminiscent of a Samsung mobile phone circa 2003. Thoughtfully, in a right-hand drive car the typography of the phone/audio buttons is canted towards the passenger seat, making them appear upside-down to the driver. Take that, loyal UK Fiesta buyers.

Ford needs to work on its media interfaces then. In all other respects however the interior is perfectly civil, with an entirely conventional usage of space (no Honda magic here) and comfortable seats. Perceived quality is a step up over the pre-facelift model, with mood lighting in the foot wells and the dash top benefitting from a nicely moulded plastic with the look of microfibre cloth. The graphic design of the dials is a tad fiddly but their lighting imbues a high tech feel. No DAB radio here, but Bluetooth music playback is fine and the stereo punchy. (These things matter.)

2015 Ford Fiesta
The boot looks like it was recently used to transport gypsum. I promise I did not do this.

The Fiesta’s merits really lay with the chassis and engine. It is these twin facets, and the degree to which they are polished, that really put me in mind again of the DB9. Steering feedback is non-existent (the norm these days) but is otherwise quick and turn in decisive. The damping is both pliant and composed, calmly despatching broken surfaces and speed humps, yet displaying a fabulous degree of control when pressing on. Those supposedly sporty German marques should take notes from Ford: this is how it is done.

The standout feature of this particular Fiesta however is the engine. A characterful thrum at idle is the giveaway that Ford’s latest 1-litre petrol Ecoboost engine occupies a small space under the bonnet. Summoning 100bhp from three cylinders and a turbo, the engine serves up an early wad of torque then revs with gusto. Meanwhile, the three pot wails like half a Porsche 911 engine — I’m not joking, it really does — making wringing it out towards the 8000rpm red line an absolute pleasure. The result is extraordinary tractability (I forget to change up from second half the time) allied to more urge than should be possible from such a small unit.

It is thus doubly surprising that a combination of short urban journeys and my lead foot have so far yielded an average of 37mpg. This engine seems like the best of all worlds.

And so my thoughts turn once again to the DB9. As with the Fiesta (both essentially being Ford products), there is an all pervading feeling of rightness about the driving experience that speaks of a deep level of care and attention. The major controls for both are well weighted; the handling fleet-footed and dependable; the engines, immensely tractable. How Ford continues to get these things right when other more premium manufacturers struggle is something of a wonder

2015 Ford Fiesta
Bird poo. You don’t get pictures like this in the brochures.

But in all other respects of course, the Fiesta and DB9 are polar opposites. The DB9 cost ten times the price and only became fun when pushed beyond speeds safely achievable on the road.

The Ford certainly does not need to pinch someone else’s nose when its own personality so easily charms. The Fiesta is a reminder that bigger does not necessarily mean better; that power is not the only measure of pleasure. It does not require an airfield (or a mirror) to make you feel special. Instead it proffers its gifts at a slow pace, selflessly and unprovoked, making every journey special.

Whilst not aimed at those who consider themselves driving enthusiasts, the Fiesta is rewarding nonetheless. Bread and butter it may be, but this is a slice served with jam. What an unexpected joy. I will be sad to hand it back.

Author: chrisward1978

Professional pixel pugilist and word wrangler. Unprofessional pub snug raconteur.

22 thoughts on “Aston Martin DB9 / Ford Fiesta Review: Family Ties”

  1. Thank you for that Chris. Two tests in one post. You spoil us Mr Ward.

    I’ve often wondered about a whole raft of ‘experiences’ yet I’ve always felt too self-conscious to ever sort myself out one. I have a fantasy that one day my partner will book me a session of some sort – at which point, and after much self-deprecation, I’d be forced to go and stun the instructors with my latent talent. But I realise that she never will, unless it’s with a Stannah Stairlift.

    Actually, my dream ticket would be a private session at the Nurburgring, cleared of spectators. The ‘cleared of spectators’ indicates why I’ve never had the bottle to actually arrange any sort of track experience myself. Strangely I can drive like an arse on public roads, where ‘spectators’ are plenty, but I’d be ridiculously self-conscious driving fast just for the sake of it. And the ‘Ring in particular seems to have a permanent film crew, just there to catch the public making idiots of themselves and scrap of their vehicles, and to post it all online.

    I hasten to stress that none of the above is a criticism of people who do indulge, Chris, more a comment on my odd nature. I always hated exams and tests too.

    Of course my ‘Ring desire is highly predictable, but I’d deviate slightly in that my choice of vehicles would be my Citroen and my Fiat motorhome. If only allowed one of the above, I’d probably choose the motorhome. This is a variant on Chris’s point about the Fiesta. Of course, I should be thinking along the lines of a 911 GT3, but I know I’d either drive that particular car at a pitiably low speed or do something life-changing to it and/or myself. In my motorhome, suitably set up, I’d have fun.

    On the Aston / Ford grille thing, an Aston Rapide poked its nose out of a side turning in front of me the other day – except it was a new Mondeo. I guess having bankrolled AM for so long, Ford reckoned they earned that grille, but to my eyes it is still a bit tacky.

    1. My idiocy was not encouraged by the instructor, but an airfield is a relatively safe environment to probe somewhere near a car’s (or driver’s) limits. If I were to do it again, I would choose something like a Porsche on a circuit with elevation changes, like Donington Park or Croft.

  2. Chris, thanks for sharing your experience driving the DB9, and comtrasting it with the Fiesta. If I was in your position I would have chosen the Aston over the 355 as well – it might not be ideal trackday fodder but how many chances do you get these days to drive a V12 performance car, much less one with th DB9’s looks? I never managed to ride in much less drive an Aston when I was in the UK so consider me properly envious of your 4 lap supercar experience.

    In terms of the driving experiences, I think they’re a worthwhile chance to drive a dream car in a relatively safe setting. Yes, there would be some anxiety about an accident, spin or poor driving technique. Plus the downside is you don’t get to drive the car around town and show it to your mates. But what audience there is would be less judgemental then if bin a Ferrari on public roads in a supercar rental gone wrong nightmare. If you can combine the driving experience with some performance driving training like Porsche do at Silverstone that would be even better.

    Have the new car websites been running details of the next Fiesta? It seems like a replacement should be due – or at least a revamped interior. The engine sounds like great fun though. They sell a 1.0 litre Zetec S in NZ that I’d assumed was just a bit of badge tuning of the standard car but it sounds like it might be fun.

    Sean: is there a motorhome lap recod for the Nurburgring? Or were you picturing a more sedate journey around the circuit?

    1. In fuller answer to the question, Mark, in 2006 Karmann-Mobil set a speed record – but their motorhome was rather special, tuned to 300 PS, whilst mine manages just 128.

      The above didn’t seem to go for a lap time, but taxi driver Sabine Schmitz, Germany’s far more acceptable answer to Jeremy Clarkson, apparently got the same vehicle round in 11 minutes with a meal being cooked in the back.

      http://www.autoblog.com/2006/12/18/motorhome-laps-the-ring-in-11-minutes-while-dinners-being-cook/

    2. I’ve just remembered that Britain’s far less acceptable answer to Sabine Schmitz drove a van around the ring so you’d better empty the cupboards and drain the water & waste tanks before your run at the very least so DTW sets a competitive time..

      Is it worth asking FCA for some Ducato performance tuning, or have the writers and readership here grumbled too much about Lancia, Alfa Romeo and Mr Marchionne’s dress sense to be considered for sponsorship? Perhaps Your Reader From Torino knows someone who could help?

    3. I might give Richard a Citroen C4 brochure to read, then see if I can drive round at a respectable speed without waking him up. I did consider chipping my diesel – online claims of 160 or more bhp and better consumption. But the cynic in me finds this win/win prospect hard to accept. Is the trade off extra emissions? If so, I wouldn’t want to shame the board of DTW and be forced to fall on my sword.

    4. My thoughts exactly: the F430 had already replaced the 360, making the 355 making even more of a relic.

      A 138bhp version of the 1 litre does warm hatch service in the Fiesta, which would certainly be worth a drive. At only £1500 difference between that and the ST, its value for money credentials are slim. The 1 litre has also been plonked into the Focus and Mondeo, although the latter must really strain those three pots.

  3. Thanks for the review(s) Chris. I share Mark’s envy for you having driven the Aston.
    Your comments about the Fiesta remind me a little of my Focus rental experience I had two years ago. It was an entirely inconspicuous and not very exciting car. But I was still a little thrilled by the smoothness of everything – namely the controls, the interplay of automatic gearbox and cruise control and the suspension. This was a north american example, so it might have been a bit softer than what we have around here – which I liked.
    So, if I’d ever want to complement my C6 indulgence with an uncomplicated daily driver, Ford will be part of the choice, and you confirmed this once more.

    1. In the distant past I owned a mark 1 Focus and had forgot what a handy device it was. The 2 litre engine was a duffer though; 120bhp and £400 tax. I should have opted for the 1.8 or found a few more quid for an ST.

  4. Thanks for that. At first I didn’t get the point of the pairing but it ended up being very informative indeed. I would choose the Ford first for a track lap and then try the Aston out of scientific curiosity.
    I have a better understanding of both cars now. What year was the Aston from?

    1. This is no ‘told you so’ criticism of your choice (which I wholeheartedly support), but my reason for not buying your car’s predecessor, a RenaultSport Clio 182, was the example I went to test drive. Just starting the engine and letting out the clutch let me know it was a deeply knackered example, so the test went no further, I made my excuses and left. Naturally I could have found a better one, but that sowed the seeds of doubt. However, the next generation should be more rugged, surely.

  5. Thanks all for your positive comments about my first punt in these pages. The Fiesta is merely a courtesy car; one day I will hopefully be able to start a long term review of the one I actually bought. But being French, it is already spending some time at the menders…

  6. An ex-boss of mine ran a DB9. It made the most wonderful sound, especially in the corporate underground car park in Greater London House it used to share with my humble Bianchi.

    Chris’ statement about the Fiesta’s well weighted and linear controls reminds me of a Mark 2.5 Focus I rented in Newcastle about two years ago. An abiding memory was the well judged manner in which everything operated. Well everything apart from the steering, which wandered like an inebriated lass down Grey Street at 4.23 am. It had clearly been crashed. Enthusiastically and probably more than once.

    Nice piece Chris and keep up the aliases – we need the numbers…

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