The most accomplished Volante Aston Martin has ever built
Aston Martin unveiled the Volante name in 1965 on a convertible conceived to use up DB5 chassis made surplus by the launch of the longer-wheelbase DB6 coupé. A little more than 50 years later, the first Volante ever built sold at auction for $1.7 million USD USD. In that context, the $219,581 USD 2019 Aston Martin DB11 Volante looks a steal.
A word of warning before you cash in the 401(k) to invest in Aston Martin soft-top futures, however: Back in 1965 Aston only had 37 leftover DB5 chassis to work with, making those original Volantes the rarest Aston Martin convertibles of them all. The new DB11 Volante, by contrast, is expected to account for about 50 percent of DB11 sales when it arrives in the North America later this year. Aston will sell more DB11 Volantes a month than the entire production run of the original.
The DB11 Volante shares its 503-hp, AMG-sourced 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, eight-speed automatic transmission, and suspension and brakes with the DB11 V8 Coupé launched last year. The hood, front fenders, and doors are shared, too, along with much of the underlying structure ahead of the windshield.
What’s different? The exterior changes are obvious, though they’re more subtly executed than they appear. The bone line along the new rear fender runs 0.4 inch higher over the wheel opening before curving gently downward toward the tail, and the top surface of the fender is more horizontal. Aston engineers also worked hard to ensure the cloth roof folded down into a stack just 10.2 inches tall.
As a result, the DB11 Volante is endowed with a low, languidly voluptuous profile few modern convertibles can match. And unlike many convertibles, it’s achingly gorgeous even with the roof raised. The backlite is impressively fast for a soft-top, the roofline streaming back from the windshield header to the trunk in a single glorious arc.
No roof means the Volante doesn’t get the DB11 Coupé’s Aeroblade active aerodynamic system, which ducts air through the rear fenders and turns it 90 degrees to exit vertically through the trunklid just ahead of an extendable Gurney flap to create an air curtain spoiler. Instead, the Volante has only the extendable Gurney flap. Aston engineers say high-pressure air stays closer to the Volante’s longer, flatter rear deck, so the system isn’t needed.
The Volante weighs 242 pounds (110 kg) more than the V8 Coupé, or about as much as a V12 DB11. About 99 pounds (45 kg) of that increase is the result of strengthening the body structure to compensate for the lack of a roof. The rest is down to the eight-layer Webasto cloth roof and the power mechanism that allows it to be raised or lowered in 14 to 16 seconds at speeds of up to 30 mph (48 km/h).
The lighter V-8 engine under the hood means the mass is distributed very differently, however. The Volante’s front-to-rear weight distribution is 47/53 percent, compared with the V12 Coupé’s 51/49 percent and the V8 Coupé’s 49/51 percent. Managing that change in weight distribution was more of a challenge than dealing with the mass increase itself, says Sean Docherty, the dynamics engineer responsible for tuning the Volante’s chassis. The front spring and stabilizer bar rates are the same as the V8 Coupé’s, but the rear springs are 13 percent stiffer.
The extra mass does little to dull the performance: With a claimed 0–60-mph acceleration time of about 4.0 seconds and top speed of 187 mph (300 km/h), the Volante is as quick as the V8 Coupé. The Volante feels impressively plush, calm, and controlled, even when hustled along narrow, winding mountain roads. It’s more agile than the nose-heavy V12 Coupé, more measured than the V8 Coupé … and more involving than Ferrari’s new Portofino, a car that is the Volante’s direct rival in terms of price, presence, and performance of intended function.
With 88 more horses under the hood and an active torque-vectoring E-Diff, the Ferrari is unquestionably faster and sharper. But even with the shocks switched to Sport Plus mode, the Aston rides more fluidly—and has more communicative steering. You have a more intimate sense of what the chassis is doing underneath you.
On our test drive the Volante’s cockpit remained comfortably snug with the roof down, side windows up, heated steering wheel on, and wind blocker in place despite snow on the ground and the mercury hovering below zero under the azure skies of the Alpes-Maritimes in southern France. However, opening up that beautifully brogued leather interior to the elements means bright sunlight occasionally renders the TFT instrument panel totally unreadable.
It’s safe to say a 2019 Aston Martin DB11 Volante probably won’t be worth the equivalent of $1.7 million USD in 50 years’ time. But that’s not the measure of this car. In terms of the here and now, its stunning good looks, sophisticated road manners, and everyday usability make it the most accomplished Volante Aston Martin has ever built.