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A wise motor industry veteran once told me a BMW is the car you drive when you’re on your way up, a Mercedes-Benz is the car you have when you’ve arrived, and a Rolls Royce is the car you own when you’ve always been there.
It’s a persuasive take on prestige badge hierarchy, and I’d slot Aston Martin into the ‘always been there’ category, too.
Forget new money Lambo poseurs, Porsches are so common now they barely raise an eyebrow, and you just know that Ferrari is in the hands of a colourful racing identity with more money than driving sense.
There’s a timeless quality to Aston Martin, which endures despite the company’s financial rollercoaster ride over more than a century in business. The perfect expression of ‘Cool Britannia’ built by competition success, a Savile Row suited Sean Connery as 007 leaning against his 'Silver Birch' DB5, and some of the most beautiful sports and GT cars ever made.
The opportunity to steer an Aston is always special, and we recently spent two days with the DB11 Volante, a 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8-powered 2+2 convertible capable of accelerating from 0-100km/h in around four seconds and lightening your wallet by no less than $458,125, plus on-road costs.
At just over 4.7m long and over 2.0m wide, striking is the best word to describe the Volante. Aston’s head of design, Marek Reichman has overseen the creation of a car that retains signature elements from the brand’s back catalogue - distinctive grille shape, side gills and ‘light blade’ tail-light design - while locating it firmly at the leading edge.
Finished in ‘Tungsten Grey’ our car oozed class and sophistication, and the interior is beautifully sculptural with flowing buttresses defining the centre dash panel, complete with 8.0-inch media screen at the top, while a simple binnacle wraps around the compact digital instrument cluster.
That screen and the media controller in the centre console will be familiar to current model Mercedes-Benz drivers, its supply one of several current connections between Aston Martin and the three-pointed star.
Like most surfaces inside the car, the simple and supremely comfortable front seats are trimmed in full-grain leather. They’re heated and electrically adjustable and the Volante picks up all the other luxury features you’d expect, from dual-zone climate control and sat nav, to high-end audio and 360-degree surround view parking cameras. Even the lid of the centre storage box is power operated.
But beware, the rear seats are very much of the ‘+2’ variety, meaning okay for kids, not so okay for adults. ISOFIX anchors and top tethers on both rear positions make fitting child restraints/baby capsules easy, though. And the boot offers a decent 224 litres of space.
Despite removal of the roof, kerb weight is up slightly over the DB11 Coupe to a rather chunky 1870kg. But it’s not for lack of trying to keep the scales under control. The body is extruded bonded aluminium and the door structures are cast magnesium. The culprit is extra underbody stiffening required to maintain structural rigidity.
But those additional bits and pieces have done the trick because with the roof down the Volante feels every bit as secure and planted as its coupe sibling.
Speaking of which, the eight layer roof, finishing with an Alcantara headlining, can be lowered in 14 seconds and raised in 16, at speeds up to 50km/h (with a 50km/h headwind), so the switch from quiet and cosy to bright and breezy is commendably quick and convenient.
But for many the Volante’s real beauty lies under the skin, and the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 comes courtesy of Mercedes-AMG, delivering 375kW (just over 500hp) and 675Nm to the rear wheels via a rear-mounted eight-speed auto transmission.
Firing up the muscular V8 brings forth a formidable rumble, and a squeeze of the right pedal delivers equally impressive thrust.
Maximum torque of 675Nm as available from 2000-5000rpm, meaning there’s always huge performance available, and manual shifts (via alloy wheel paddles) from the eight-speed auto are positive and agreeably rapid. Engine noise and exhaust note are suitably forceful at the top end.
Suspension is by double wishbones at the front, and multi-links at the rear, with adaptive damping standard, and in comfort-oriented settings the DB11 Volante minimises urban bumps and ripples, almost to the point of nonexistence.
Dial up to the sportier modes and push a little harder on your favourite B-road and the car shrinks around you, feeling taut, responsive, and planted.
Ten-spoke 20-inch forged alloy wheels are shod with high-performance Bridgestone S007 rubber (255/40 fr - 295/35rr) and torque vectoring (by braking) combines with the standard limited-slip differential to ensure the car remains balanced and drive is going to the rear wheel that can use it best. Power down is stupendous.
Brakes are huge, ventilated discs front (400mm) and rear (360mm) with giant six-piston calipers and the front and four-piston units at the back. Suffice it to say you’d need a determined track session to get anywhere near their performance limits.
High-performance potential demands a commensurate focus on safety, and while the expected active safety boxes are ticked, more recent crash-avoidance tech like active cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, and especially AEB, are missing in action.
The DB11 Volante’s stunning looks are backed up by genuine supercar performance. A compelling, confident statement from a charismatic British marque that continues to stand apart from the usual sports luxury suspects.