db11 volante

The DB11 loses none of its bril­liance in Volante form. In fact, in sev­eral key ways, it’s the pick of the range

VANTAGE - - Contents - words STEVE SUT­CLIFFE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MAX EAREY

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

Above There’s ac­tu­ally slightly more space in the rear than in the coupé, but still best for kids (it’s Isofix-equipped, too)

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