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Review: Aston Martin DB11 Volante

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What is it?
We’ve met the DB11 before, and this is the Volante, which is Aston-speak for drop-top. Not as simple as it seems though. Although the Volante version was planned in from the start of the DB11 project, there are some fairly substantial changes between the bodies. And not just the roof, duh.

It’s a big, beautiful car, dripping with classy design details and craftsmanlike cabin tailoring. Profligate, mind – for all it’s vast footprint and dipsomania, there’s no more space inside than in a Mini convertible. And actually you can get more in the way of tech and infotainment in a Mini than in this.But as a thing to gaze upon, to be propelled by, to steer, to hear… well the DB11 Volante justifies its price. At the start of its life the Volante is available only as a V8, the engine that Aston Martin buys from Mercedes-AMG. There’s no V12 Volante thus far, though it’s a cert for the future.

We don’t mind, because in the Coupé, the V8 is a nicer car than the V12. Not actually because of the engine itself – who can resist a dozen-piston choir?  – but because the V8 simply has a nicer chassis, is more confident and clean through any bend.Canvas-roofed cars should always have glamour to them, but this one just oozes high-end style and raw pheromonal magnetism. The front and rear of it is clearly as per any other DB11. What mattered intensely, obsessively, to the designers was that the middle region around the folded hood didn’t turn into an ungainly bulging muffin-top. They wanted a long, low spearing shape. Head of exteriors Miles Nurnberger allows the E-Type Jaguar into his conversation.

Avoiding visual bloat was no mean feat. The hood is bulkier than a DB9’s, because it has more metal bows for a smoother shape, and a full eight layers of fabric to help absorb wind noise, a sorely needed change. Still, a fabric hood is easier to package and allows more creative styling than the rival Ferrari Portofino’s folding hardtop.Plus-two rear perches in the DB11 Volante are smaller than in the Coupé, but even so the bulk of Isofix child seats does just squeeze in. And the boot will now hold four aircraft carry-on cases. Also demanding space around the same congested region are hidden pop-up roll hoops. (You might grumble that your expensive Aston’s steering-column stalks are the same as the cheapest Mercedes’. But it’d be madly ungrateful to whinge at the M-B part-number on the rollover bars if they’d just saved your neck.)

Sections of the underlying DB11 structure were tortured into complex new shapes to make it all fit. The engineers refer to one of the cross-members as the ‘crazy beam’. Other reinforcements for the convertible run under the engine, along the sills and across the rear chassis. The usual places, but done with commitment.

Because the rear deck is longer than the Coupé’s, there’s less aero lift; a small deployable spoiler is all that’s needed to counter it. No need for the coupé’s slightly controversial air channels carved into the rearmost pillars, which is just as well as they’d be near-impossible to make in canvas.
The power-fold mechanism is heavy, as of course is the body strengthening. So, aluminium or not, this V8-engined Volante weighs 1,870kg. That’s as much as a V12 coupé. Though of course in the Volante’s case it’s biased significantly more towards the rear. It’s carrying 110kg over the V8 Coupé.

What is it like on the road?
The DB11 V8 is a confident sporting car, and it makes you feel confident. At least it does if the road is broad enough for the DB11’s extravagant width.

(That’s worth saying at the outset because the early DB11 V12 is not so well resolved. Its front end steers too grabbily, its rear end rolls too softly, so there’s less precision than you want, and that’s before we come to the jittery traction issues. Aston engineers candidly agree with this assessment, and in spring 2018 the V12 Coupé gets a suspension setup closer to the V8’s.)

By the way, if you drive the Volante with its roof up, it feels like a hard-roofed car. There’s little shuddering, and the wind noise isn’t grim. Tyre noise gets overbearing on some road surfaces, but that’s no different from the DB11 Coupé. OK, the rear window is a bit small, but not so you feel blinkered, and the over-shoulder vision is still useful.

Drive it with the roof down and the body remains rigid so the steering and ride don’t change.Meanwhile with clear air over your head, the road noise is carried away with the breeze, replaced by an welcome extra dose of exhaust woofle.When the road opens up ahead, you find the woofle is taking on a surprisingly hard edge. That’s because the V8 is doing huge work in it’s mid-rev region, doling out up to 675Nm. It’s extremely rare to find a turbo engine that feels so literally and metaphorically unforced as this one: it’s a natural, free, exuberant mechanical spirit.Because it’s so amazingly free of lag, you can relax, shift up early and still get the job done. If it’s wet you’ll want to short-shift like this, because otherwise you’ll overwhelm the back tyres and have the traction light flashing pointlessly.

Dig down into the throttle travel, get the revs up, and it’s seriously fast. But for a 510bhp sportscar, not shatteringly so. That’s the effect of its mass. But does it need to shatter you as a straight-line catapult? Probably not: this car has many more layers and textures than a simple speed rocket.As with the V8 Coupé, the Volante has recalibrated steering and rear suspension. Result is that just off-centre the steering weight builds progressively and the car turns more smoothly. Build up the efforts and it remains graceful and composed yet – given its mass – remarkably urgent and responsive.Chassis modes and powertrain modes have separate buttons. The extra powertrain anger is mostly just theatre. The chassis sport-mode calls up a tauter damper programme and looser stability-electronics thresholds when conditions and your mood call for that.

And yet amid all this, it’s also got a suppleness to its ride that means you wouldn’t be shaken up whether taking it across a bumpy city or a whole continent.That said, for long-haul work the DB11 still has some flaws. Tyre noise for one. Also, for travelling in France or anywhere where there are average-speed cameras, the lack of radar cruise control is a bit of a facepalm.

Layout, finish and space
The Volante works well as a convertible. Not just because it feels so protective roof-up, but roof-down arrangements are well-sorted too. Raise the four side windows and you suppress the high-speed bluster. Or for an even calmer glide, fit the wind blocker net if no-one’s in the back seat. Which they won’t be. Toasty heated seats keep the chill off even in the winter.Too cold or wet? The roof raises in 16 seconds, even up to 48kph.

Sitting in front it’s really very grand. Aston’s signature ‘brogueing’ pattern (unrelated to anything Madonna did in the early-1990s) is an expensive option but a special-looking one. Ornamental stitching loops around the dash and doors of course. Head-rest pads seem to hover out from the seats themselves, and you can even have the seat backs in veneer.It’s not all perfect though. The electric armrest is nothing more than an irritation, motoring glacially back and forth when you just want to grab it and get instant access to the pocket beneath. The seats are oddly shaped too, curving your shoulder-blades forwards to generate painful twinges after an hour or so.

The back seats lose 23mm of leg space versus the Coupé’s. Whatever… they were never more than child sized.The boot has a pop-down compartment into which the roof folds. If the roof’s up, you can collapse that compartment and make more space. Even so, if you’re talking grand touring, you’ll have some bags on the back seat.The infotainment is familiar from Mercedes, and decently modern if not the latest system. Phone mirroring is annoyingly absent.The instruments are screen-based too, a display that relies too much on gimmickry and too little on either clarity or style. A single obviously plastic bezel around the rev-counter dial makes things worse not better.

Final thoughts
The Volante works well in hostile weather: it’s snug and warm, and the confident chassis means you’re not overwhelmed by its big-hearted engine. It’s far less patchy than most Astons over history.Even so you’ll ache for the moment when the clouds dry their tears and the roof furls down. Now here’s a car of charm, soul and real ability. Not to mention huge visual allure.

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