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Aston Martin or Rolls? What a Choice!


What better once-a-year salute to dads than a pair of once-in-a-lifetime machines: the Aston Martin DB9 Volante and the Rolls-Royce Phantom.

The 2009 DB9 Volante (convertible) tops $200,000 after options. The link to James Bond is standard.

After a test of the DB9 limited to two days or 100 miles, whichever came first, we can only assume that in forsaking Aston Martin, Ford Chairman Bill Ford must have lost at least a month's sleep.

Ford bought an 87 percent stake in Aston in 1987, raised it to 100 percent in 1994 and sold it to a consortium of investment houses in 2007 to fund its survival.

A lot of financial wrangling for a work of art. Each piece fits neatly and solidly in place. It moves swiftly thanks to the 6-liter, 470-horsepower V-12 that responds to pedal pressure as if tuned by a symphony conductor. The zero-to 60-m.p.h. boast is less than 4.8 seconds. It delivers while hugging the road.

But the 12 m.p.g. city/19 m.p.g. highway rating brings a $2,100 federal gas-guzzler tax. Fun isn't cheap.

And no hybrid, no plug-in and no diesel. No matter. Top up or down, the DB9 shouts, "Hey, look at me."

But there are a few nagging annoyances, such as the minuscule trunk. Holds barely a duffel bag to leave room for the hardtop convertible -- and the umbrella along the wall.

The DB9 is a 2 plus 2, but missing in back is what's commonly called legroom; the backs of the front seats touch the fronts of the back seats. Use those rear seats for a second duffel or umbrella.

So little storage room, yet Aston Martin put ashtray/lighter in the center console. At $220 for the "smoker's kit," maybe it was the treasurer's idea.

Nice touches include a glove-box light to see inside it at night, push-button gear selection and a crystal fob in place of the traditional ignition key. The look is elegant, the weight in the pocket anchor-like. A navi screen pops out of the dash top for the directionally challenged, but it's neither large nor easy to decipher.

For $200,000, the rear window should be larger than a slit, sun visors bigger than butter knives and driver-seat bladder-inflater control buttons in sight and within reach, not to the right and slightly under the driver's butt. Try going for that without attracting a lot of attention.

The DB9 starts at $197,850. With a few non-essential options, plus guzzler tax and freight, it topped $208,000.

But that's a bargain compared with the $380,000 base price on the 2009.5 Rolls-Royce Phantom we piloted at a Midwest Automotive Media Association rally at Elkhart Lake, Wis. -- on the road, not the track.

The 6.75-liter, 453-h.p. V-12 is potent and impressive and so silent that we committed the cardinal sin of trying to restart an idling car. Even the 11 m.p.g. city/18 m.p.g. highway rating and $3,000 gas-guzzler tax don't detract from the allure of a machine that comes with a cashmere-blend headliner and cabin covered in bull leather "to avoid stretch marks," as Rolls spokesman Wayne Kung pointed out.

The bulls even are raised in a region of Europe where the climate is too cool for mosquitoes, so no bite marks pock the hides. Animal-rights activists can order the vegan edition.

What impressed us most, however, is that Rolls has responded to vandals who rip off the Flying Lady hood ornament. The Lady now retracts into a locking compartment in the hood if some mope tries to nap her. Talk about the Spirit of Ecstasy.

British motor cars call the hood the bonnet and trunk the boot, but the Phantom goes one better, referring to the strap over the door that eases entry and exit as the Duchess sling. No grab-handles here.

No cupholders, either. Goblet holders ($5,460), thank you, for the stash in the champagne cooler ($6,025) between the rear lounge seats ($12,550).

And, yes, an umbrella, but in a slot in the rear passenger door rather than in the trunk.

With options, guzzler tax and freight, the sticker tops $450,700. But if you settle for the standard fold-down table tops for the back seat, you can skip the goblet holders and pocket the $5,460.



Wheelbase: 108 inches
Length: 185.5 inches
Engine: 6-liter, 470-h.p. V-12
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual mode
M.P.G.: 12 city/19 highway
Price as tested: $204,500
Add $1,350 for freight and $2,100 for the gas-guzzler tax.

$197,850 Base
$1,510 19-inch, 15-spoke wheels
$750 Contemporary exterior color
$750 contemporary hood color;
$750 Contemporary leather trim
$750 Walnut veneer door trim
$450 Contemporary carpet color
$295 Alarm
$295 Color-keyed steering wheel
$295 Perforated leather seat inserts
$220 Carpet binding
$220 Carpet stitching
$220 Smoker's kit
$145 First-aid kit

PLUSES: Tops $200,000 for prestige image only money can buy, launch measured in zero-to-60 time and g forces, Hides its hardtop in 15 seconds, Stunning styling, exceptional performance, rubbing shoulders with ought-ought-seven

MINUSES:$200,000 sticker steep unless you have a $180,000 trade-in, Guzzler tax, No rear-seat leg room or trunk space



Wheelbase: 140.6 inches
Length: 229.7 inches
Engine: 6.75-liter, 453-h.p. V-12
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
M.P.G. 11 city / 18 highway
Price as tested: $454,035
Add $2,000 for freight and $3,000 for gas-guzzler tax.

$380,000 Base
$12,550 Lounge seats
$6,025 Wine cooler
$5,460 Goblet holders
$50,000 Frivolous options

PLUSES: Ultimate image builder, Bull hides for backsides, Total protection for the Flying Lady

MINUSES: Price, Mileage, Cost of wine

Jim Mateja can be reached at rides@tribune.com.


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