► We drive new DB11 soft-top
► Tested in V8 Volante spec
► Full review, specs, prices and more
Late last year, Aston Martin slotted a V8 engine into its new DB11 coupe, creating a model to sit below the V12 for the marginally less wealthy. We liked it so much that we said the cheapest DB11 was also the best. Now we’re testing that same Mercedes-AMG-developed V8 in the new convertible variant, or Volante in Aston speak.
It’s on sale now, priced from £159,900, a £15k premium over the V8 coupe, and £2k more than a V12 Coupe. There are no plans to offer a V12 Volante.
Let me guess, it’s heavier, wobblier, less refined…
There are always compromises when car makers turn a coupe into a convertible. To compensate for losing the stiffness of a metal roof, the DB11 Volante features under-body bracing, which adds 110kg to its kerbweight. That adds up to a portly 1870kg all in, despite the bonded-aluminium architecture. Thankfully, on-paper performance is barely dented – 0-62mph takes just 0.1sec longer than the coupe’s at 4.1sec, and the 187mph top speed is unchanged. We don’t have the mid-range figures to hand, but rest assured that this is not a car that lacks punch.
To offset the weight and the potential for flex, the rear suspension subframe now features bushes that are around 40% stiffer, and the springs are stiffer to reproduce the suspension feel of the V8 coupe, while accounting for the extra heft.
Finding space to package the hood under that rear deck when it’s stowed does push the rear seats forward a little, so you’ve got 23mm less legroom in a package that was already pretty tight for full-sizers in the back – though Isofix anchors are still incorporated for those wanting to fit child seats. The boot, too, is also 64 litres smaller at 206 litres, if 20% larger than its predecessor, the DB9 Volante, and you lose some of that space when the roof is stowed, because the luggage separator has to be lowered to provide sufficient space for the roof to stow.
The DB11 is one of the prettiest cars on sale, and Aston has worked hard to maintain its sleek lines with the roof removed. Apparently, the fuel tank’s positioning – the same 78 litres as the coupe – was key in allowing the tail to be so elegantly low set, but the roof itself is clever too: designed with Webasto, the eight-layer roof concertinas back like a neatly folded bed sheet before the tonneau cover motors back down to leave no unsightly gaps. Despite being well insulated, it fits in a package that leaves the tapering rear end no higher than the coupe.
Press a button on the dash – or the key – and the roof will lower in a claimed 14 seconds, and close again in 16 seconds – we timed it, with near-as-dammit results – and at speeds of up to 31mph. More impressive, though, is the quietness of the roof’s operation – it’s so hushed it’s like you’re wearing ear defenders.
How does it drive?
Considering this is arguably the least sporting in concept of all Aston’s current range, the DB11 feels very sporting indeed. On relatively smooth roads around Nice, the structure feels impressively stiff, the shake and rattle that sometimes afflicts convertibles simply not apparent. The low-speed ride fidgets a little even in the softest ‘GT’ setting, the chassis firm and focussed, but it’s far from uncomfortable. The steering feels as alert as the chassis – not heavy, but it weights up precisely and quickly as you twist it off-centre, and has a lovely consistency with more lock. This certainly isn’t a detached GT.
String together a few fast corners and the Volante’s not inconsiderable mass feels well controlled, both under braking and as weight leans over the outside wheels. The front grip is ample, easy to read when it’s nearing its limit and progressive in the way it lets go.
At faster speeds in GT mode, there’s a relatively generous stroke to the damping, but the body remains nicely tied down. Sport tightens the damping without choppiness for an even more focussed feel. The steering also takes on more weight and self centres a little more aggressively – nothing wrong with that, but GT has more fluidity to my palms.
The brake pedal has a relatively long travel at first, before waking up quickly. That makes it hard to precisely mete out smaller braking inputs around town, but the feel is more intuitive on faster roads.
The V8 – taken from partners Mercedes-AMG, remember – is superb. It makes 503bhp and 513lb ft, pulls strongly from as little as 1900rpm, but still encourages you to pile round towards 7000rpm, such is the rousing V8 rumble. We drove in wet conditions on summer tyres with temperatures fluctuating between 0degC and 7degC, and there’s plenty enough torque to overwhelm the rear rubber if you’re over-zealous with the throttle in such conditions, but the stability aids to a good job of keeping you pointing in the direction of travel.
The eight-speed transmission serves suitably smooth shifts, perhaps at the expense of urgency and crisp engagement when you’re getting carried away, but this does little to detract from what is an enjoyable, entertaining sports car that just happens to have a fabric roof.
How does refinement compare with the coupe?
Roof down and with the wind deflector in place – which covers the rear seats – the Volante strikes a nice balance of exposing you to the elements while sparing you from a battering. It’s less impressive with the roof up. It’s not that this is a particularly loud car at, say, motorway speeds, but there’s more bluster than I remember in the coupe – wind, rain, passing traffic – so it’s certainly a less relaxed place to be on a long journey.
In the UK, where convertible owners tend to drive around the whole time with the roof up, that’s probably worth considering. Stuffing even more insulation into the fabric roof would have solved that, but then the rear end would be higher in the air and, as designer Miles Nurnberger says, even 15mm would make an instant difference visually.
Other niggles? The seats could be more supportive, and the headrests are strangely solid. The interior, while impressive, is also let down in some areas – the infotainment screen, for instance, looks very cheap in such a top-end vehicle. The Bentley Conti GT’s revolving screen is in another league.
The DB11 Volante is a great car. The roof is thoughtfully and beautifully engineered in both its operation and appearance, and it deserves special praise for being so silent during operation. Roof down, it adds extra enjoyment to the already very satisfying DB11 experience and – despite the compromises of a convertible’s increased weight and reduced stiffness – the Volante remains a great drive, even when pushed hard on a twisty road.
If you’ll regularly drive around with the roof down, buy it. British drivers probably won’t, though, so think carefully before choosing the Volante over the coupe. Me? The V8 coupe remains my favourite DB11, but I still covet a Volante.
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