Aston Martin DB9 Volante : OPEN SEASON

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When choosing a soft top car, it's well worth asking one fundamental question. Was this car designed from the outset as a convertible or is it merely a coupe or saloon with the roof hacked off? Although it may at first seem a rather dogmatic point, you'll notice the difference between purpose-built and jerry-built convertibles the moment you set off down the road. Faced with some formidable rivals, Aston Martin have gone about the DB9 Volante model properly, designing the chassis with such stiffness that a convertible model still feels all of a piece.

Aston Martin's chief executive, Dr Ulrich Bez, explains further. "From the outset of the DB9 programme, we knew we wanted a convertible model. So the Volante has been designed, engineered and built from the outset as a convertible - it's not a Coupe with just the top taken off." The chassis on which the Volante rides takes much of the credit. It's a mixture of extruded, stamped and die-cast aluminium, bonded together into an extremely light yet rigid superstructure. What's more, experience with the Vanquish has enabled Aston Martin to develop the chassis in a cost effective manner; essential when dealing with relatively low volume production runs. Most of the exterior panels are aluminium, bonded into position by Aston's sole robot assistant, nicknamed James Bonder. Manufactured in Britain at Aston's Gaydon facility, the company has high hopes for the Volante, expecting it to net half of all global DB9 sales. It's not hard to see why. The shape, penned by Henrik Fisker, is beautifully proportioned and - unlike many convertible cars - looks the part whether the hood is up or down. The hood itself is a fully retractable soft top affair that folds down in 17 seconds, making it entirely possible to stow it when waiting at traffic lights without the risk of being embarrassingly caught half way through the process. When stowed, it sits beneath a hard tonneau cover that sits flush with the DB9's bodywork. The best part is that you won't forgo the two rear seats as in many convertible models. There's even a respectable amount of boot space, the 197-litre capacity being up 27 litres on the old DB7 Volante. And the price? Around £123,000. Safety features include windscreen pillars that can withstand twice the total weight of the car and sensors that can detect rollover and deploy twin roll hoops from the rear seat headrests. That's on top of the usual array of stability control and other electronic safety systems. The DB9 Volante is otherwise mechanically identical to its coupe sibling which means a 450bhp V12 engine up front that sounds utterly intoxicating, courtesy of new cams, inlet and exhaust manifolds and an exhaust tuned for the enthusiast ear. Although a little more discreet than the banshee wail of the Vanquish, the open top Volante gives a better opportunity to enjoy the acoustics in surround sound.

"Everything about the car feels substantial"

The 13th convertible from Aston Martin following an illustrious lineage that stretches back to the DB2 of 1950, the DB9 Volante is comfortably the most accomplished on the road. Despite its GT appeal, it encourages enthusiast driving, hitting 60mph in under five seconds and running to a top speed in excess of 180mph. Although the `Touchtronic 2' gearbox that accompanies the first production DB9 models may not seem overtly sporting, featuring as it does an automatic-style torque converter, the change is slick and positive enough to please keen drivers via steering wheel paddle controls yet handles automatic changes a whole lot better than sequential manual units. In `manual' mode it holds onto gears throughout corners, never shifting up and leaving the car wallowing mid-bend without drive as some less intelligent units are wont to do. It matches downshifts with a sharp blip of the throttle and has a neat trick up its sleeve as well. Knock the left paddle to downchange a little too early and the engine's electronics will remember this input and only downchange when the speed drops to an acceptable level. Although the asking price may seem heady, when judged in context it almost seems underpriced. The interior offers a sense of occasion unmatched at this price point with beautifully finished aluminium dials, lustrous leather and quality wood cappings. So many manufacturers fail to get the balance between wood veneers and `technical' finishes correct but the interior of the DB9 is a case study in how to effectively mix traditional and modern materials. As well as the aluminium, wood and leather, there's even a glass starter button on the centre console. A satellite navigation system is secreted in a pop-up dash top panel. In the unlikely event that you should tire of the majestic engine note, there's a 1300 watt Linn stereo system to keep you entertained. Everything about the car is substantial. Take a good look around the cabin and you won't find the quality wanting. Aston Martin have engineered the steering to feel meaty with a decent amount of heft to the helm. The ride is firmer than you might expect (especially if you opt for the Michelin Sport rubber rather than the preferable Pirelli P-Zero Rosso tyres) but body control is reported to be superb as a result, the Aston by no means left struggling against some of the best handling cars in the class. In truth, the DB9 Volante doesn't actually need to be this good. Its looks will sell it to many with the rest of the package being a bonus. Removed from its coupe sibling's rivalry with cars like the Porsche 911 Turbo and Lamborghini Gallardo, the DB9 Volante has few natural rivals and many potential customers. It's hard to see how Aston Martin can fail this time round.

Facts At A Glance
CAR: Aston Martin DB9 Volante
PRICES: £122,950 - on the road
INSURANCE GROUP: 20
CO2 EMISSIONS: 394g/km
PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 4.9s / Max Speed 182mph [est]
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 16.8 mpg
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES:
WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: length/width/height mm 4697/1875/1318

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