A question quickly answered – it’s the Bentley that turns heads in Downtown Dubai as we head out of the city. But I suspect that’s purely because of the colour – next to the Kryptonian glow of Crewe’s finest, there aren’t many silver cars that could take attention away. From my position in the driver’s seat of the DB9, I’m mildly jealous. It’s not just the attention though. The DB9 only touched down in the region six months ago, but it feels dated compared to the Bentley. I fully understand that as an independent company, Aston Martin doesn’t have the technological powerhouse that is the Volkswagen group behind it, as Bentley does. But as a man sitting in two very expensive cars today, I see one with all the latest mod cons, and one with features that feel about three or four years out of date. The Aston’s sat-nav screen is small, and not a touchscreen. The joystick that operates it is stuck inconveniently behind the gearstick, and the whole thing isn’t very intuitive. I go through the whole day without being able to work out how to zoom in and out on the map. In the end, I call up our destination on my phone’s Google Maps app instead.
That’s not to say that the Aston is an unpleasant place to be. Far from it – the design, technology aside, is very appealing. I especially like the metal dials under a leather-covered binnacle. But it doesn’t have the same luxury feel as the Bentley, and the seating position is higher than I anticipated. In addition, there’s still the lingering sense that bits of the car have been swiped from the parts bin of lower-end models.
I stay in the Aston for the 90-minute drive out, out of the high-rise city and past the sand dunes. The landscape changes to rocky mountains as we head towards the east coast, through the town of Fujairah and then slowly up the coast. Progress is uneventful, a plethora of new speed cameras limiting excitement opportunities. But the Aston is comfortable, if rather stiff. The damping takes the edge off things, but I’m still wary to avoid as many potholes as possible and slow almost to a stop for speed bumps.
The stiffness is purposeful however. The aluminium chassis has been tweaked from the outgoing version to improve the performance. Aston says the new DB9 is 20 percent stiffer than the old model. So that bodes well for the twisties. Indeed, the Aston feels like it’s straining to be let off the leash. It’s not uncomfortable on a cruise, but there’s an air of frustration to it as I drive slowly behind traffic.
That’s not the case in the Bentley. Adaptable suspension means the dampers can be set to their softest, cruise control enabled and the car left to waft its way cross country. Although the Aston’s V12 isn’t exactly lacking in low end grunt, the Bentley’s charged W12 writes the book on effortless acceleration, ladling in dollops of speed with elegance. If they ever bridge the Atlantic, this is the car I’m driving to the US in. It’s sumptuous, comfortable, and insulated from the blazing heat outside.
We’re not here to cruise though. North of Khor Fakkan we turn inland, searching for a road that we last visited some 18 months ago. After a couple of false turns, we find it. It’s a stretch of tarmac that ebbs and flows over crests and through corners, diving down into a wadi and launching back out of it. Layers of mountains form the backdrops around each bend, and there’s not another soul in sight.
Our first task is to take a brisk drive through the five-or-so kilometre stretch so that video man Will can get some footage from GoPro cameras mounted on the DB9. One faces backwards, so James in the Bentley will need to stay close behind to fill the wide-angle frame. With that in mind, I set off in the DB9, pushing the pace a little but keeping in mind that sudden changes on my part could result in a very expensive shunt as the Bentley ploughs into the back of me.
The Aston is instantly more at home here than on the motorway. Whatever the DB9 lacks in trinkets, it more than makes up for in performance. What felt slightly too stiff for luxurious comfort earlier now feels perfect for these twisting, diving roads, the dampers soaking up the imperfections without shattering vertebrae, and keeping the car rock solid. The walls of the wadi are too high for me to risk indulging in any tail-out antics, but the nose is keen to dive into apexes and the rear sends plenty of information about its intentions. The throttle is keen, the engine a beauty and I instantly feel connected, confident in what the car can do and how far I can stretch my talents. Still conscious of the luminous green Bentley in my rears, I try not to push too hard and I hop out when we return to where the support Cadillac is parked up.
James emerges from the Bentley with a thin sheen of sweat on his face, and the smell of brakes hits my nostrils. He appears to have been working much harder than I. That theory is confirmed when we take a peek at the carbon ceramics lurking behind the GT Speed’s huge wheels, and are greeted with licks of flame. Mild panic ensues for a few seconds, until common sense returns and James takes it for a cool-down cruise to extinguish the discs.
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