Everyone knows that when you remove the roof of a car and replace it with a piece of cloth you take away its torsional strength, and therefore its chassis and suspension become far harder to tune. At the same time you also lose luggage space and add weight, while the styling becomes much more challenging to perfect, especially from the B-pillars backwards. So for the average team of car designers and engineers, the open-top car is a right old nightmare, quite frankly.
Yet the Volante has been a staple for Aston Martin since it was invented in 1965. Which is why Aston’s designers and engineers have pulled out all the stops to make the latest £159,900 V8 Volante as good to drive as it is to look at, and a fair bit roomier, stiffer and more practical than its immediate predecessor, too.
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Engine, transmission and 0-62mph time
Aston Martin says it has no plans to fit the Volante with a V12 engine, so you get the 90 degree, 4-litre twin-turbo V8, like it or not. Fortunately we rather like the V8, and so will most owners we’d expect, given how fundamentally good it is as a power-plant, and how well Aston Martin’s engineers have tuned it to make it feel bespoke (even though it’s essentially the same engine as you get in most, if not quite all, Mercedes AMGs).
Power is 503bhp at 6000rpm, while maximum torque of 498lb ft is developed as a flat peak between 2000-5000rpm. The Volante weighs 110kg more than the DB11 V8 Coupe (making it exactly the same weight as the V12 Coupe) so it’s not just as rapid in a straight line. Aston claims 4.1sec to 62mph, 8.8sec to 100mph and a top speed of 187mph, so it’s still well beyond the right side of brisk.
The gearbox is the same eight-speed ZF automatic with paddle shifters that’s used in the Coupe, with the same shift-by-wire control system and mapping tuned by Aston Martin to deliver different responses, depending on which drive mode is selected.
Without going into exhaustive detail about how Aston’s engineers have conjured such strong results from the Volante’s chassis, essentially there is extra bracing at both the front and back ends, plus significantly stiffer springs and dampers all round. And as a collective these modifications have made the Volante the sweetest of all three versions of DB11 on the move. Which, given the compromises, is more than a little bit surprising.
As with the Coupe versions, there are three different drive modes to choose from for both the drivetrain and the chassis, so in theory six different modes in all; Normal, Sport and Sport+ for each (chassis and drivetrain).
In Normal the Volante feels calm, sounds reasonably serene and rides a touch more firmly than you might expect, but without any unwanted intrusions from below. In Sport it feels a fraction more alive generally, although you can still keep the chassis in Normal and put the drivetrain in Sport, and vice versa, which is a nice touch. And then in Sport + for both modes it feels – and sounds – much more aggressive, the mapping for the gearbox, throttle, transmission, exhaust and dampers all shifting to another level, making the Volante feel like a much more focused machine.
In a way it’s a shame you can’t have the loud exhaust without also having the more aggressive throttle and transmission maps. It would be nice, after all, to be able to enjoy the extra noise from the V8 without being in a gear too low most of the time in Auto.
There’s also a trick new electric hood that stores much more neatly than before into the rear bodywork, which has allowed the designers to really go to town with the Volante’s lower-than-normal rear deck. The result is a good-looking car when viewed either in profile or, especially, dead on from the rear.
The new hood – which can be raised or lowered at up to 31mph and takes less than 20 seconds to do its thing – also takes up a fair bit less space than previously thanks to its clever packaging, meaning you get more room in the rear seats and boot. The rear chairs, for instance, are spacious enough to feature ISOFIX attachments for the first time ever in a Volante.
What’s it like to drive
Surprisingly sharp, and very possibly the sweetest DB11 of them all on the move as a result. The Volante’s steering, in particular, is quite lovely, with a sharper response to it on turn-in and a lovely consistent sense of weight mid-corner.
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 generally 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 dynamically that is thoroughly surprising given that it is the only DB11 without a fixed roof.
And despite weighing that much more than the V8 Coupe, it’s also quick. Quicker than its 0-62mph time would suggest. The torque flow from the twin-turbo V8 is strong even at 2000rpm, and at 4500rpm it feels seriously rapid in any of the first six gears within the decent-enough eight-speed paddleshift auto.
Predictably, the Volante’s wide range of dynamic personalities are best enjoyed with the hood down, when wind noise is impressively well suppressed, at least up to three figures, although you need the wind deflector in place much above 50mph. But even with the hood up the Volante can play the refined, smooth-driving mile-eater perfectly well. Apart from the restricted vision through the small rear window, it essentially feels like a coupe on the move with the hood up. That’s how well the hood has been engineered.
I’m still not absolutely convinced that the cabin feels like £160k worth in one or two aspects: the plastic air vents – sourced from a fairly low-end Mercedes – being the most obvious example. But beyond this the Volante is an absolute belter of a car, one that drives even better than it looks.
Price and rivals
Is the £159,900 Volante a car you’d consider instead of, say, a £156,381 Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet? Maybe, maybe not. But the one very obvious rival for the Volante is the new Ferrari Portofino, which we drove last week and which also has a twin-turbo V8 engine mounted in its nose that drives the rear wheels, and the rear wheels only. It costs a touch more than the Aston at £166,180.
As to which is the better of the two, it’s close enough to warrant a full twin test a little later in the year, back in the UK, once something called the sun has reappeared. Right now, though, if I was really pushed I reckon I’d take the Aston. That’s how good the Volante has become.