Spy class

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE - philip king

As­ton martin di­als it up to 11

When As­ton Martin up­graded its sig­na­ture DB range two years ago, it jumped a spot and went straight from DB9 to DB11. There was a DB10, made es­pe­cially for the Bond movie Spec­tre, but that was a real car in the same way 007 is a real spy. So it was tempt­ing to be­lieve that As­ton’s mar­ket­ing peo­ple looked at the huge step it was tak­ing with DB and fig­ured a sin­gle in­cre­ment was in­suf­fi­cient. Like the gui­tarist in spoof rock-doco This is Spinal Tap, it needed to turn things up to 11.

No ques­tion it was a big change. I drove a freshly minted DB11 Coupe back-to-back with one of its out­go­ing line-up, the Van­quish, last year and it high­lighted the dif­fer­ences. Where the Van­quish was loud and raw, the DB11 was more re­fined, eas­ier to live with. Its elec­tron­ics felt up-to-the-minute – some­thing you’d never pre­vi­ously have said about an As­ton – and even its shape looked more so­phis­ti­cated.

As­ton has moved rapidly to fill in the DB line-up. The de­but Coupe, which boasted a new home-grown 447kW tur­bocharged 5.2-litre V12, has been joined by a 375kW turbo 4.0-litre V8 ver­sion be­low and a just an­nounced 470kW AMR high­per­for­mance vari­ant above. When it ar­rives late this year, the range will start at $368,000 and stretch to $428,000. With the new gen­er­a­tion, prices went up a gear as well.

Oddly, in this horse­power ar­ray the DB11 con­vert­ible – known as Volante in the As­ton nomen­cla­ture – feels al­most like an af­ter­thought. Ini­tially, it’s been of­fered solely with the V8 en­gine and there are few sug­ges­tions it will get the V12. It’s priced above both coupes – a few grand more than the V12 and $30k more than the V8. Sim­i­lar money will buy an Audi R8 V10 Spyder, a Fer­rari Portofino or MercedesAMG’s flag­ship SL63 con­vert­ible.

More poignantly, a Mercedes GT C Road­ster is $60k less. It lacks the ves­ti­gial rear seats of the As­ton but shares its en­gine in a more pow­er­ful (410kW/680Nm) state of tune. Hav­ing blown its bud­get de­vel­op­ing the new V12, As­ton turned to Mercedes’ per­for­mance arm, AMG, for V8s.

As­ton doesn’t do any­thing to th­ese units be­fore it drops them un­der the bon­net but they don’t feel out of place. Not quite as loud and dra­matic as you ex­pect, it nev­er­the­less makes it­self heard with cut-and-rasp as you climb the revs, and hissy-spits from the ex­haust when you ease off. Its rel­a­tively high power and torque peaks (6000rpm

and 5000rpm) make it an en­gag­ing drive and on-the-move ac­cel­er­a­tion is es­pe­cially im­pres­sive. It re­sponds quickly to the throt­tle and throws the car at the hori­zon. It’s one-tenth slower to 100km/h than the V8 coupe, at 4.1s, and has the same top speed of 301km/h.

Mus­cu­lar cruis­ing is the car’s forte – As­ton de­scribes it as the ultimate con­vert­ible sports GT, or grand tourer. Sus­pen­sion and driv­e­line have three lev­els of ag­gres­sion, and in the soft­est set­ting ride com­fort is ac­cept­ably ab­sorbent. The car feels taut – As­ton says it’s 5 per cent stiffer than be­fore – and with every­thing dialled up to the max, the sus­pen­sion does a rea­son­able job of con­trol­ling the car’s sub­stan­tial 1.9 tonnes. That’s 110kg heav­ier than the V8 coupe and it doesn’t set­tle on its sus­pen­sion as quickly and de­ci­sively as some­thing de­signed purely for blitz­ing back­roads. Once it sorts things out, it’s nicely bal­anced on its outer wheels and tracks through cor­ners well. But it’s an oc­cu­py­ing force, rather than an in­vader.

An eight-layer soft roof means it’s as quiet and com­fort­able in­side as a hard­top. Around town, there are enough V8 sounds to keep you en­ter­tained with­out be­ing in­tru­sive. The roof works quickly on the move if re­quired and while it com­pro­mises the boot, As­ton says there’s 20 per cent more lug­gage room than in a DB9. Which is just as well, be­cause the cabin lacks a glove­box and any­thing that doesn’t fit in the small cen­tre con­sole or smaller door pock­ets will end up with the tod­dlers in the plus-two seats.

From the out­side it looks fab­u­lous and al­though slightly taller than the coupe, seems just as slick. As­ton’s ex­te­rior sur­fac­ing moves up a grade in this gen­er­a­tion.

The elec­tron­ics are an­other lift from Mercedes and while the con­trol graph­ics are dif­fer­ent, some com­po­nents such as the con­trol knob, wrist pad and wands are recog­nis­able from the Ger­man cars.

As­ton’s in­put is ev­i­dent in the flat­tened oval steer­ing wheel, lovely gearshift pad­dles and row of gear se­lec­tor but­tons, which are in their fa­mil­iar place on the cen­tre con­sole. There’s also As­ton’s way with cabin fin­ishes, with elab­o­rate broguepat­tern leather de­tail­ing and wood trim that ex­tends to the seat-backs in the (heav­ily op­tioned) test car. Un­usu­ally, the soft-touch self­clos­ing that’s fa­mil­iar on doors has been fit­ted to the bon­net and, in an ex­trav­a­gant move, the cen­tre con­sole lid is power-driven. Other suc­cess­ful de­tails in­clude the heavy metal hinges on the sun vi­sors and an edge­less rear-view mirror.

Else­where, the cabin dis­ap­points with a hard plas­tic sur­round for the in­stru­ments and in­con­sis­tent look to the switchgear, with some of the gloss black but­tons re­quir­ing mul­ti­ple stabs to work. The in­te­rior lacks the co­her­ence of the ex­te­rior, with over-fussy shapes such as the door han­dles. There are prac­ti­cal draw­backs, too, such as vents that can­not be po­si­tioned to best ef­fect, a tiny slit for a rear win­dow and re­flec­tions from the dash-top into the wind­screen. Ex­ten­sive op­tions not­with­stand­ing, there are glar­ing equip­ment omis­sions such as au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing and ac­tive cruise con­trol.

So it’s a mixed bag. There’s plenty to rec­om­mend it as a grand tourer but there are some ap­peal­ing cars for sim­i­lar money (the test car came in at $486k with op­tions) that are every bit as beau­ti­ful and drive as well, or bet­ter. As­ton has turned things up to 11. But for me, the Volante falls well short of a 10.

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