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March 17, 2014
The best road for the Vanquish Volante twists through a steep-sided valley. Dial up "sport" mode, set the driver-select suspension to "track" and proceed at pace - the exhaust bypass sends the V12’s unfettered music bouncing off the hills and back into the open cabin.
The note of this 5.9-litre engine is never raw. Intimidating, yes. But even when it barks and rasps, there’s a smoothness behind the kick. Like a single malt. The best bit is that all this theatre now comes alfresco.
This is Australia’s first Aston Martin Vanquish Volante, the most powerful convertible Aston makes, and its first road test. The Volante gets clothed in the same exotic materials - carbon-fibre, kevlar, magnesium alloy and aluminium - as the Vanquish coupe and shares the signature bulbous haunches over wider-than-wide rear tyres.
A multi-layer cloth roof trims some weight but the body and platform reinforcement aimed at replicating the chassis rigidity of the coupe adds 105kg. So the Vanquish Volante is as quick as its coupe sibling, has a 1 per cent weight bias to the front (the coupe’s is 50-50) and adds about $36,000.
The Vanquish Volante starts at $510,040, not that anyone pays the base price. The test car is loaded with options - carbon-fibre, premium embossed leather and $2648 reverse camera - so it’s $609,000. The cost is in the drivetrain and coachwork technology, the high-end materials and the fact it’s a low-volume, hand-assembled and really fast convertible with a revered nameplate.
Sad that Australian examples will bop around leafy suburbs to pick up groceries while production-line siblings are being missiled down German autobahns, over Italian bridges and through Swiss tunnels at a speed and with driver competence for which Astons are made. It has a three-year, unlimited distance warranty and roadside assistance and needs annual servicing. No resale value is available.
The lighweight ultra-rigid alloy platform is the fourth version of the VH and is used in different sizes for all Astons. The V12 (422kW/620Nm) is Aston’s strongest and also used in the coupe. The six-speed robotised manual drives the rear wheels via carbon-fibre shaft within a huge aluminium torque tube.
The dampers are adjustable, as is the driving mode that changes the transmission shift points, steering, engine management and - the best bit - the exhaust bypass flap. It shares some parts with the exclusive One-77, including the huge 398mm carbon-ceramic front discs and six-pot calipers. The rears, also composite, measure 360mm with four-pot biters. Suspension is double wishbones and the new front sub-frame is made of hollow-cast aluminium.
The Vanquish Volante is recognised by its wide, rounded rear wheel arches, pronounced mid-waist strake(carbon-fibre on the test car), vented fenders and the kerb-chewing carbon-fibre splitter beneath the deep front spoiler.
The cloth roof is all-new for this car, being much thicker (and quieter) than before. It closes in 14 seconds and is finished in Aston’s "iron ore" colour on the tester, close to the burgundy hue of the leather cabin. There are (optional) flashes of carbon-fibre, notably the centre-console stack where it’s formed in a herringbone pattern.
Simple switches are upgraded, now touch-buttons for the ventilation, though Aston is yet to use an electric park brake and stays with a manual handle alongside the driver’s seat. The boot is bigger, now 279L, fit for a golf bag and a chap’s weekend kit.
The car isn’t crash tested but gets eight airbags, all the electronic nannies (which can be sent home at the press of a button), huge carbon brakes, park sensors (the camera is optional), tyre pressure monitor (but no spare wheel), bi-xenon headlights with LED side lights and heated/folding mirrors. It has rollbars that spring to life - through the leather cover and the window glass, if necessary - for extra upside-down protection.
The cabin is compact, the footwell narrow but the broad girth is always evident in the mirrors. But it’s an easy car to drive and the sports suspension never punishes its occupants, to the point where its suppleness makes some hot hatches feel like carts. Outward vision is ordinary (it needs the camera to park) but ahead is all that matters.
The sound brings the car to life and urges the driver on. It responds with good steering feel, brilliant brakes and always a seamless, lag-free power delivery. Relative to a turbo car, the Aston is an easy, predictable drive. Handling is great and the odd-sized tyres (305mm rear,255mm front) grip like glue.
Push hard - which means only the "track" and "sport" buttons are alight - and it shows a bit of understeer. Apart from the engine burble in "sport" mode, it’s docile and quiet. Launch control is standard but, in deference to the new engine, wasn’t tested.
You need the collapsible wind break fitted to minimise cabin buffeting. This is more a grand tourer than a sports machine like, for example, a 911. It is certainly in the same yard as the Bentley Continental and Ferrari California.
The downside is that most Astons look the same. The upside is they look simply stunning. The Volante is Aston’s pinnacle of open-air raging and it’s going to be a rare beast.