If you've got a heck of a lot of disposable income to burn, then cars like the Aston Martin DB11 Volante are dream tickets - big, luxurious grand tourers, blessed with a folding roof for maximum posing power when the weather's clement. Luckily, the driving experience of this all-new Volante more than lives up to its exquisite exterior appearance.
In the metal
Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Astons have very rarely been anything but beautiful machines in recent years, yet even allowing for a lengthy back catalogue of automotive stunners, the DB11 Volante is truly, deeply, breathtakingly beautiful up close. So much of the design work carried out by Julian Nunn deserves credit, because it was not simply a case of Aston lopping the top off a DB11 Coupe V8 and hoping for the best. Nunn was keen to have a rakish, fastback roofline to the Volante with its hood up and that meant a) some tough design work for Webasto, the company which made the fabric upper section of the exterior, and b) some ingenious packaging solutions from Aston's engineering corps, in order to stash it all away in an elegant fashion when the car's occupants wish to enjoy the sun.
The results, though, are spectacular. Top up, the DB11 Volante in profile looks almost like a two-tone, hard-topped coupe, so good is that sweeping roofline. And when it is tucked away behind the rear seats, underneath the reverse-flipping tonneau cover, the concertinaed hood measures just 260mm high; Aston claims this is an industry-leading figure. All this, despite the fact it is eight layers thick, just to ensure the DB11 has a level of sophisticated cabin refinement required of this brand when the car is on the move.
That tonneau has meant changes to the rear haunches of the DB11 from the regular Coupe models as they are 11mm wider at the shoulder creases, so the Volante has a sort of 'inverse' kinked-out feature on its trailing wings when compared to a Coupe to make all the panels fit together correctly. Further touches, like the sweeping lines around the glasshouse that are mirrored on the bonnet and bootlid, and black details to denote that the Volante runs V8 power, are enough to make this Aston look precisely as it should: namely, one of, if not THE, most beautiful car(s) in production right now. Paint it any colour you like - even the weird champagne colour called Pearl Blonde - and it'll draw gaping stares from all and sundry, for every single mile that you're behind the wheel. It's a guaranteed show-stopper.
If all that sounds good, the interior is not quite up to the same exalted standards - but it is extremely lovely, all the same. The niggles here relate to Aston's tie-up with Mercedes-Benz and it's an age-old gripe about the totally understandable (for financial reasons) yet always-questionable decision to employ parts-sharing in the cabin; Bentley's had to put up with it for years, courtesy of its Volkswagen overlords. So, if you've been in a Mercedes A-Class, you'll be very, very familiar with the DB11 Volante's indicator and wiper stalk. Or the cruise control lever. And the infotainment screen on top of the dash plus its integrated control pad/buttons on the lower centre console are all lifted wholesale from cars of the ilk of the C-Class.
A criminal decision by Aston Martin? No, not really, as Mercedes is hardly a bargain basement carmaker itself. So we're prepared to overlook these ever-so-minor quibbles, although the squared-off, overly-large-bossed steering wheel is another matter - please, don't anyone mention 'Quartic'... Other than that, however, it's sublime in here. High-quality fixtures and fittings, sharp displays, the 'waterfall'-effect dashboard, that big crystal start-stop button... it's all fantastic. Rear legroom has decreased by 23mm and as the DB11 Coupe is a strict 2+2 in the first place, then it's clear only younger children can sit in the back of the Volante for any length of time. But full marks to Aston's engineers for only losing 5mm of rear headroom when accommodating that sporty-looking exterior roofline. Oh yes, and the hood can be lowered (in 14 seconds) or raised (in 16 seconds) on the move at speeds of up to 50km/h, and into a headwind of 50km/h as well, or using the key fob from a maximum range of two metres.
If you set your stall out accordingly ahead of driving the DB11 Volante, you can't fail but to be deeply impressed by this thing. Stunned, even. Go into the experience wanting the sharpest driving machine possible and you'll be left a touch underwhelmed - because it is a grand tourer first, and a sports car second.
However, judged correctly, the Aston is beyond reproach, because what the team behind it has served up here is precisely that: a wonderful, cosseting machine in the main that can, on occasion, genuinely excite on the right roads - those roads being empty, sweeping, fast two-lane routes with a variety of mid- and high-speed corners, rather than gnarled alpine passes riddled with hairpins.
The 1,870kg Volante is 110kg heavier than the V8 DB11 Coupe, around 44 kilos of that being additional structural bracing in the chassis and the rest accounted for, naturally, by the hood and its attendant mechanisms. The weight distribution has shifted slightly rearwards, making this the least nose-heavy of the three DB11s currently in existence (naturally, it's the V12 Coupe that has most weight at the front but that's only at a 51:49 split, the Volante running 47:53) - and when you pop the world's largest clamshell bonnet to see how far back the AMG-sourced but built-to-Aston-specification 4.0-litre biturbo V8 is mounted in the DB11, you can understand why that is. The motor is practically half in the passenger compartment, allowing for long, Aston-specific air intakes and a full Aston-bespoke exhaust from the turbos back. So, with all this in mind, only the rear suspension has been modified on the Volante, gaining springs with stiffer spring rates; the front-axle set-up is identical to the V8 Coupe.
There are detail changes to the steering, in order to give richer feel at the wheel rim, and the usual array of Aston drive modes, which cycle from GT through Sport and Sport+. Moving through each, the weight of the steering, the sharpness of throttle response, the guttural noise of the exhausts and the intransigence of the dampers all become a little more noticeable, with Aston's vehicle dynamics manager Ian Hartley saying the company didn't want GT mode to be able to do everything, thus making Sport and Sport+ redundant.
Well, if anything, it's Sport+ that does everything. In that setting, the DB11 Volante has a more than bearable ride - indeed, it has a firm-edged but wonderfully controlled manner that feels like some current hot hatches when running in their 'softest' settings - and yet it's stimulating your senses like a genuine sports car. The steering, a little light even in Sport+, is nevertheless thick with feedback and super-accurate, while the front-end grip of the DB11 is tremendous with that V8 installed. Driven in dry but cold conditions, you feel confident getting on the power early in bends where the seamless eight-speed auto has dropped down to second or third, and if the back end of the Aston breaks, then the slide is progressive and easily countered by that lovely steering. Body control is superb without the car ever becoming bouncy or feeling like it is jittering up and down on the dampers, and the wheel control is magnificent, keeping as much of the rubber contact patches in touch with the road surface for as long as possible. The handling of the Volante is marvellous, it really is.
All of the above allows you to exploit that absolute gem of an engine to the utmost. At the moment, Aston says no V12 Volante is forthcoming - although you always suspect that enough of an outcry from a suitably large proportion of well-heeled clientele might force the UK company to change its mind on that score - but you honestly don't need anything more powerful than this. The V8 suits the Aston down to the ground and it bestows a quite startling turn of pace on something that weighs the best part of two tonnes. It'll pick up rabidly from anywhere in the rev range, abetted by the rapier reactions of the autobox, but what you'll remember most, more than anything, is the noise. It is terrific. A barrelling, rumbling, thunderous eight-pot symphony, supplemented by the usual pops, cracks and bangs from the twin exhausts at the rear, it's a soundtrack to die for - and, crucially, it does not just sound like a slightly bigger Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Cabriolet, in case you're wondering. This is a distinctive Aston Martin V8 tune, and (as good as AMG V8 noises are) it's all the better for it.
Hood down, chasing the redline repeatedly on a deserted fast road, the Aston is astonishing. Mesmerising. And the feelgood factor is off the charts. Best of all, throttle it back, cruise along and it fulfils the GT role without any issues whatsoever - there's a slight feeling that the damping in the GT mode doesn't quite hit the highest highs of suppleness at city speeds but when the DB11 Volante is loping along a motorway, the shock absorption is exceptional. So is the cabin quietness with the eight-layered hood in place, making the Volante every bit as pleasant to travel in as the Coupe models.
As we said at the top of this section, in terms of nailing the brief of being a grandiose and highly desirable long-distance cruiser from the top echelons of the motoring world, with a bit of saucy sportiness thrown in for good measure, objectively the Aston Martin DB11 Volante is impossible to fault.
What you get for your money
Prices haven't been confirmed for the Volante, but it will command a premium over the V8 Coupe, which is a €265,000 imported here anyway, and it's also like to be more expensive than the V12 model. So we're not talking inexpensive. But that's an irrelevance with this sort of car, because if you've got the money and you want the Volante, you'll fine well have the Volante. It has all the kit of the Coupe models, including items like heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel and full digital dash, so you won't want for opulent equipment in the Aston Martin.
Aston Martins have never struggled for sheer sex appeal, so the fact the DB11 Volante is a genuinely beautiful car is not a surprise (although its extraordinary appearance cannot and should not be ignored) - but the DB11 family has added some much-needed dynamic clarity to the Aston portfolio. Sensational as the two Coupe models are, though, it's this Volante that lands our first five-star rating for a DB11. It's everything you could want of a machine like this: it's rewarding in the right conditions, it's relaxing in almost every single circumstance going and every inch of ground you cover in it is an incredibly special experience that is to be savoured and enjoyed. It's as near perfect as a grand touring convertible could be, all things considered.