THE first thing anybody says about the Aston Martin DB11 is: “Oh! It’s such a beautiful car.”
And it is. The softly-rounded clamshell hood, grinning dark grille and a rear that is like a comet flaming across the sky, combine to make this arguably the most visually stunning coupe on the market.
It has long been this way. Ever since Aston Martin owner David Brown launched the DB1 70 years ago, half of all Aston Martins built have belonged to the DB family. The group includes the stunning DB5, which came out in 1963 and appeared in Goldfinger the following year, and the DB10, which was created specifically for James Bond in Spectre.
In fact, led by the alluring DB11 line, Aston Martin last year posted its first profit in eight years, topping 5,000 cars sold worldwide for the first time since 2008.
“Volante” is Aston Martin’s way of saying “convertible”, and it’s the update to the good-looking DB11 Coupe that debuted last year. It’s the natural next step for Aston Martin lovers looking for a summer ride. The car is as beautiful as you could hope, with angles that beg to be driven at speed. It has an interior that’s as premium as a private jet, with myriad exotic-wood options for the wide, swooping dashboard and bolstered seats stuffed under thick leather. Everything within eyesight says “rich”.
But that’s with the top down.
With the top up, you’re dealing with a different animal.
The car is still nice, of course, but raising the canvas top over those infinitesimal rear seats and stretching it across the car’s wide, low body compromises every line the brand has worked so hard to develop and protect. I don’t recommend it.
Suddenly, the interior, which seemed relaxed when it was open to the breezy air, seems stressfully busy. Some of this issue is inherent in the design of the car, which comprises too many flippant details, and some are optional, such as the odd colour pairings in the one I drove. That Volante had endless stitching and layering and cut-outs in the leather seats — rows of these gnat-like annoyances, if you can imagine — that clashed miserably with the blue matte-wood lining the doors.
Perhaps, you can choose a more muted option on yours, and I recommend you do. Ten minutes inside felt as if I had walked in on a karaoke bar in full swing: stimuli overload.
There’s something not quite right with the power adjusting of the seats. I could never find a way to sink into a good, neutral driving pose, let alone a comfortable position. I had to duck to see stoplights because the seats wouldn’t dip low enough to allow for a straight line from my eyes to the signal. This I have come to expect in a US$460,000 Lamborghini, not in a US$216,495 tourer ostensibly made for dolce vita-style road trips with a loved one. (And, only one loved one, because you’re sure as heck not going to be able to convince anyone to get into the back seat, no matter how beautiful the car is with the top down.)
You can probably play with the angles, colours and trim to get a combination that suits you. What I’m saying is that the visual elements of this car — which you buy because it is pretty — don’t come together easily. Contemplating the seat configuration and the dashboard and the crowded centre consoles, it felt out of touch. When all others are streamlining the insides of their cars, I wondered: Why all this fuss?
My guess is that this has something to do with China. Last month, Aston Martin announced that it achieved 89 per cent growth in that country last year and is doubling its number of dealerships there this year. Wealthy Chinese buyers seek out rich colours, flowing designs and chrome accents that signify opulence. Since China is set to become the largest market for luxury cars in the next year or two — having accounted for 90 per cent of sales growth of luxury automakers last year — the market is central to any automotive business plan. Aston Martin is considering an initial public offering — it’s likely to be reaching for Chinese buyers with these colour combinations and the Volante’s large size. (It’s nearly 2,268kg and nearly impossible to reach across.)
Aesthetic issues aside, one can’t deny the thrilling performance the DB11 Volante delivers every time you push the gas. With the same 503-horsepower V8 engine as the DB11 Coupe, it’s fast and as strong as an ox.
There are some who may lament the lack of a V12 option that has been an Aston Martin tradition, but the performance numbers don’t suffer in its absence. The DB11 Volante will hit 99kph in four seconds and has a top speed of 300kph. (If you’re counting, that’s only one-tenth of a second behind the DB11 V8 Coupe and two-tenths behind the V12 DB11. That is more than respectable, considering that the Volante’s stiff, 1,920kg body weighs 115kg more than that of the DB11 Coupe.)
I drove the Volante along the winding Angeles Crest Highway, a technically challenging road that put its eight-speed automatic and multiple drive modes (GT, Sport, Sport +) — with electrically adaptive dampers — to the full test. It easily skipped past other sports cars and it barreled down narrow, tree-lined corridors chest-out, asking for more. It’s precise on the wheels, with a tight-steering feel and silky smooth handling that gets more thrilling the faster you go. The throaty engine roar more than satisfies as you plant your foot on the gas and surge ahead.
When I really pushed it, the back end would wiggle a bit around the tightest curves — you can start to slide on an under-steer, if you’re not careful — but the DB11 generally clings to the ground with a broad bear hug. Torque is directed to the rear wheels, which helps keep everything down. It all makes the DB11 Volante a big, beautiful car that is solid, stable, and fun to drive.
Just keep the top down and watch how you spec it out. There’s not much margin for error.