The DB11 loses none of its brilliance in Volante form. In fact, in several key ways, it’s the pick of the range
Latest in a long line of Volantes, this could just be the pick of the DB11 range
The Volante has been a staple of the Aston Martin line-up pretty much ever since the name was first coined, back in 1965, and although some versions have been more successful – and arguably more beautiful – than others, the fundamental appeal of the open-top Aston has remained a constant for more than half a century. Fact is, there are few other experiences on four wheels that can match a Volante in full flight, hood down, exhaust note echoing off the scenery, and ideally somewhere like the south of France…
Which was exactly where Aston Martin chose to introduce the all-new £159,900 DB11 Volante to the world’s press – and to universal acclaim, it has to be said. Because this time Aston’s designers and engineers have gone equally to town on the Volante, and the result is a car that a) looks sharper and just plain sexier than any other Volante in history, and b) drives better than any other DB11 so far. And that’s perhaps the biggest surprise of all.
Because everyone knows that when you remove the roof of a car and replace it with a hood, you take away its torsional strength, at which point its chassis and suspension become far harder to tune. At the same time, you also tend to lose luggage space and add weight, while the styling becomes much more challenging to perfect. Oh, and it has to look good, hood up and down. For the average team of designers and engineers, the open-top car is an extremely tough nut to crack.
Yet the good folk at Aston Martin have done just that. By introducing extra bracing points at both the front and rear and by fitting – and then fine-tuning – stiffer springs and dampers, Matt Becker and his team of engineers have created a car that manages to ride, handle, steer and stop even more sweetly than the DB11 coupé, on which the Volante is based. At the same time, the designers have pulled off a similar miracle with the styling, the Volante featuring an unusually low rear deck, making it look sleeker in profile than the coupé, and every bit as gorgeous from behind.
And the good news doesn’t stop there, because the DB11 has also become a more practical car in Volante form, with a roomier boot and more spacious rear seats, while the new electric hood glides near silently into the rear bodywork when lowered, which can happen at any speed up to 31mph. There are even ISOFIX attachments in the rear seats for
‘Few other experiences on four wheels can match a Volante in full flight’
the first time ever in a Volante, though it has to be said that space for full-size adults in the rear isn’t exactly generous.
But it’s on the road, ideally when being driven at a decent speed and on a road that’s quiet and quick, that the Volante delivers its most impressive results – because it really is a lovely thing to drive.
Aston says it has no plans to fit the Volante with a V12, so the only engine is the 90-degree 4-litre twin-turbo V8 – and there’s not a lot wrong with that. Peak power is 503bhp at 6000rpm while maximum torque of 513lb ft is available all the way from 2000 to 5000rpm.
The Volante weighs 110kg more than the DB11 V8 coupé (making it exactly the same weight as the V12 coupé, coincidentally) so it’s not quite as quick in a straight line. But it’s still more than quick enough to be genuinely thrilling and entertaining, with Aston claiming 4.1sec from 0-62mph, 8.8sec to 100mph and a top speed of 187mph.
The gearbox is the same excellent eight-speed ZF automatic with paddle-shifters as found in the coupé, so it features the same shift-by-wire control system, though the mapping has been retuned by Matt Becker and his team to deliver bespoke responses, depending which drive mode is selected.
As with the coupé, there are three different modes to choose from for both the drivetrain and the chassis: Normal, Sport and Sport+. With both in Normal, the Volante feels calm, sounds reasonably serene and rides beautifully. It’s perhaps a touch firmer than you might expect, but that’s precisely how Becker wants it to feel. The DB11, he says, is deliberately set up to feel like a properly sporting GT car, not a lazy one, so the spring and damper rates are pretty keen, even in the most comfortable setting.
Yet at the same time you rarely detect any unwanted intrusions from below, and that goes for any mode, and at any speed. Switching to Sport livens things up nicely: if you wish, you
‘it has been set up to feel like a properly sporting gt car, not a lazy one’
can keep the chassis in Normal and put the drivetrain in Sport, and vice versa, which is a nice touch. And then in Sport+ mode it feels – and sounds – altogether more aggressive. In fact it feels like a full-blown sports car, the mapping for the throttle, transmission, exhaust and dampers all shifting to a much sharper level.
The Volante’s steering, in particular, is quite lovely, even though its response is one of the few aspects to remain constant as you scroll through the modes. It somehow has a keener response on turn-in compared with other DB11S, and a delightful sense of weight mid-corner. Again Becker agrees, adding that the Volante’s sweeter steering is a direct result of the extra bracing that’s been fitted front and rear. This, he says, has had the knock-on effect of sharpening up the feel of the car generally but its steering response on turn-in specifically.
It’s not just the way it steers that distinguishes the Volante, however, because there’s something about the way it goes down the road, even when travelling in a dead straight line, that feels more cohesive, more right than any other DB11. From the way it rides to the way it sounds, to the way it goes, even to the way it changes gear, the Volante has an extra degree of polish to it that I’d never expected, given that it is the only DB11 without a fixed roof.
And despite the weight penalty, it really does feel properly quick. Quicker than even that 4.1sec 0-62mph time might suggest, I’d say. The torque flow and the response from the twinturbo V8 is always strong, even down at 2000rpm. And as in the V8 coupé, but even more so in this instance, your every move is accompanied by a potent, deep-chested V8 roar. Especially with the hood down and the drivetrain set to Sport+.
Indeed, the engine doesn’t actually sound or feel turbocharged. Instead there’s a zip to the exhaust note and an immediacy of response to the throttle that feels more like that of a big-capacity atmospheric V8. And when you get it up to 4000rpm and beyond, the Volante feels seriously rapid in any of the first six gears – to the point where I’m not sure you could tell the difference between the convertible and the
‘Hood up, the Volante transforms into a refined, smooth-driving, comfortable mile-eater’
lighter, theoretically faster coupé in a straight line. That’s how rapid it feels, and thrilling, too, especially in Sport+ mode with the exhaust producing all sorts of thunderous bangs and crackles on the overrun.
Of course, the Volante’s wide dynamic repertoire is best enjoyed with the hood down, the wind noise impressively well suppressed, at least up to three-figure speeds, though you’ll probably want to put the wind deflector in place if you’re going to be travelling much above 50mph for a prolonged period. This stores neatly in the boot when not needed.
And with the hood up, the Volante transforms into a refined, smooth-driving, surprisingly comfortable mile-eater – and it takes one small prod on one small button and just under 20 seconds to make that transformation. There wasn’t a hint of wind-rush with the hood up in the pre-production car I drove, even at strong motorway speeds. Indeed, apart from the fact that your view back through the smaller-than- normal rear window isn’t quite as generous, the Volante feels essentially like the coupé when you’re on the move with the hood up. That’s how well-engineered the conversion is.
And how impressive the cabin is, with Aston’s intuitive new touchscreen infotainment system taking pride of place in the middle of the handsome new dashboard. There’s even a heated steering wheel this time round, plus a more potent air-con/heating system so that you can drive your Volante al fresco, even on cold, wintry days.
It’s a fine car, the latest Volante, and the most impressive aspect of all is just how well it drives, how fundamentally well resolved it is dynamically, even beside the excellent new DB11 V8 coupé. But then such is the rate of progress at Aston Martin nowadays, perhaps we should have expected nothing less.
Volante means ‘flying’ in Italian, by the way. Given how good this latest drop-top Aston is, it really couldn’t be more fitting.
Left To our eyes, the Volante is even better looking than its coupé sibling, with deliciously taut curves from nose to tail