Fly like the wind

As­ton’s most pow­er­ful con­vert­ible is a sim­ply stun­ning grand tourer

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - NEIL DOWLING neil.dowling@cars­guide.com.au

THE best road for the Van­quish Volante twists through a steep‒sided val­ley.

Dial up “sport” mode, set the driver-se­lect sus­pen­sion to “track’’ and pro­ceed at pace — the ex­haust by­pass sends the V12’s un­fet­tered mu­sic bounc­ing off the hills and back into the open cabin.

The note of this 5.9‒litre en­gine is never raw. In­tim­i­dat­ing, yes. But even when it barks and rasps, there’s a smooth­ness be­hind the kick. Like a sin­gle malt.

The best bit is that all this theatre now comes al­fresco.

This is Aus­tralia’s first As­ton Martin Van­quish Volante, the most pow­er­ful con­vert­ible As­ton makes, and its first road test.

The Volante gets clothed in the same ex­otic ma­te­ri­als — car­bon-fi­bre, kevlar, mag­ne­sium al­loy and alu­minium — as the Van­quish coupe and shares the sig­na­ture bul­bous haunches over wider-than‒wide rear tyres.

A multi-layer cloth roof trims some weight but the body and plat­form re­in­force­ment aimed at repli­cat­ing the chas­sis rigid­ity of the coupe adds 105kg.

So the Van­quish Volante is as quick as its coupe sib­ling, has a 1 per cent weight bias to the front (the coupe’s is 50-50) and adds about $36,000.

VALUE

The Van­quish Volante starts at $510,040, not that any­one pays the base price.

The test car is loaded with op­tions — car­bon-fi­bre, pre­mium em­bossed leather and $2648 re­verse cam­era — so it’s $609,000.

The cost is in the driv­e­train and coach­work tech­nol­ogy, the high-end ma­te­ri­als and the fact it’s a low-vol­ume, han­dassem­bled and re­ally fast con­vert­ible with a revered name­plate.

Sad that Aus­tralian ex­am­ples will bop around leafy sub­urbs to pick up gro­ceries while pro­duc­tion-line sib­lings are be­ing mis­siled down Ger­man au­to­bahns, over Ital­ian bridges and through Swiss tun­nels at a speed and with driver com­pe­tence for which As­tons are made.

It has a three-year, un­lim­ited dis­tance war­ranty and road­side as­sis­tance and needs an­nual ser­vic­ing.

No re­sale value is avail­able.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The light­weight, ul­tra-rigid al­loy plat­form is the fourth ver­sion of the VH and is used in dif­fer­ent sizes for all As­tons.

The V12 (422kW/620Nm) is As­ton’s strong­est and also used in the coupe. The six-speed robo­tised man­ual drives the rear wheels via car­bon-fi­bre shaft within a huge alu­minium torque tube.

The dampers are ad­justable, as is the driv­ing mode that changes the trans­mis­sion shift points, steer­ing, en­gine man­age­ment and — the best bit — the ex­haust by­pass flap.

It shares some parts with the exclusive One-77, in­clud­ing the huge 398mm car­bon-ce­ramic front discs and six-pot calipers. The rears, also com­pos­ite, mea­sure 360mm with four-pot biters. Sus­pen­sion is dou­ble wish­bones and the new front sub-frame is made of hol­low­cast alu­minium.

DE­SIGN

The Van­quish Volante is recog­nised by its wide, rounded rear wheel arches, pro­nounced mid-waist strake (car­bon-fi­bre on the test car), vented fend­ers and the kerb-chew­ing car­bon- fi­bre split­ter be­neath the deep front spoiler.

The cloth roof is all-new for this car, be­ing much thicker (and qui­eter) than be­fore. It closes in 14 sec­onds and is fin­ished in As­ton’s “iron ore’’ colour on the tester, close to the bur­gundy hue of the leather cabin. There are (op­tional) flashes of car­bon-fi­bre, no­tably the cen­tre-con­sole stack where it’s formed in a her­ring­bone pat­tern.

Sim­ple switches are up­graded, now touch-but­tons for the ven­ti­la­tion, though As­ton is yet to use an elec­tric park brake and stays with a man­ual han­dle along­side the driver’s seat.

The boot is big­ger, now 279L, fit for a golf bag and a chap’s weekend kit.

SAFETY

The car isn’t crash tested but gets eight airbags, all the elec­tronic nan­nies (which can be sent home at the press of a but­ton), huge car­bon brakes, park sen­sors (the cam­era is op­tional), tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor (but no spare wheel), bi-xenon head­lights with LED side lights and heated/fold­ing mir­rors.

It has roll­bars that spring to life — through the leather cover and the win­dow glass, if nec­es­sary — for ex­tra up­side­down pro­tec­tion.

DRIV­ING

The cabin is com­pact, the footwell nar­row but the broad girth is al­ways ev­i­dent in the mir­rors.

But it’s an easy car to drive and the sports sus­pen­sion never pun­ishes its oc­cu­pants, to the point where its sup­ple­ness makes some hot hatches feel like carts.

Out­ward vi­sion is or­di­nary (it needs the cam­era to park) but ahead is all that mat­ters.

The sound brings the car to life and urges the driver on. It re­sponds with good steer­ing feel, bril­liant brakes and al­ways a seam­less, lag-free power de­liv­ery. Rel­a­tive to a turbo car, the As­ton is an easy, pre­dictable drive. Han­dling is great and the odd-sized tyres (305mm rear, 255mm front) grip like glue.

Push hard — which means only the “track’’ and “sport’’ but­tons are alight — and it shows a bit of un­der­steer.

Apart from the en­gine bur­ble in “sport’’ mode, it’s docile and quiet. Launch con­trol is stan­dard but, in def­er­ence to the new en­gine, wasn’t tested.

You need the col­lapsi­ble wind break fit­ted to min­imise cabin buf­fet­ing.

This is more a grand tourer than a sports ma­chine like, for ex­am­ple, a 911.

It is cer­tainly in the same yard as the Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal and Fer­rari Cal­i­for­nia.

VER­DICT

The downside is that most As­tons look the same. The upside is they look sim­ply stun­ning.

The Volante is As­ton’s pin­na­cle of open-air rag­ing and it’s go­ing to be a rare beast.

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