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.