Removing the roof sometimes proves the undoing of sports cars, but can the Aston Martin DB11 Volante buck that trend? Chris Pickering certainly thinks so
It’s getting on for two years since The Engineer first drove the Aston Martin DB11, but there are some significant differences between the V12-engined Coupe that we sampled in 2017 and the new Volante. Most noticeably, Aston Martin has taken a can opener to its best-selling model to create the car you see here. And while that glorious 5.2-litre V12 is still available in the DB11 AMR, the open-topped Volante is currently only available with the 4-litre V8 found in the DB11 V8 Coupe.
At 503bhp, the Volante’s power output is down by 97bhp compared with the DB11 V12 that we drove previously (and 127bhp compared to the more hardcore AMR). On paper, then, it’s not the most encouraging start for the Volante and it faces another problem that engineers have been wrestling with ever since monocoque construction became common in the 1960s: how do you provide adequate stiffness to what is essentially a box when the roof is no longer there?
Typically, the answer is to add more material elsewhere in the structure, and the DB11 Volante is no exception. In total, it tips the scales at some 110kg more than the equivalent V8 Coupe. The torsional rigidity has also fallen by around 35 per cent, from 34KN/deg for the Coupe to 22KN/deg for the Volante. It’s important to put those figures in context, though. Anything over about 20KN/deg is generally regarded as a pretty good basis for a road-going sports car. What’s more, it makes the DB11 Volante chassis around a third stiffer than that of its predecessor, the DB9 Volante, despite being some 26kg lighter.
In order to retain as much stiffness as possible, Aston Martin has increased the material thickness in the sills relative to those in the Coupe. There is also a revised rear cross member, which runs between the top mounts of the suspension, giving additional support. This also provides the anchorage for a pair of pop-up roll hoops, which smash through the glass in the event of a rollover. Other changes include slightly stiffer bushes for the rear subframe, which remains isolated from the rest of the chassis for the sake of refinement.
Look a little closer at the engine and things start to seem brighter here, too. It may lack the V12’s outright power, but the 4-litre twin-turbo V8 comes remarkably close to matching it on torque at 675Nm, compared to 700Nm for the original V12 Coupe. Plus, the V8 is some 115kg lighter (comparing like-for-like installations in the Coupe) and its two cylinders shorter, which allows it to be placed further back in the chassis. Combine that with the fact that some of the additional mass comes from the hood mechanism and the rollover protection – both located near the centre of the vehicle – and you actually have a car that weighs round about the same as the original V12-powered Coupe with inherently better weight distribution.
Power, beauty and soul
Thumb the starter button and you’re greeted with an unmistakably V8 burble. However, Aston Martin has gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the Mercedes AMG-derived engine has its own unique character. The intake and exhaust systems are completely bespoke to Aston Martin and help to provide more mid and high-frequency content. That translates to a soundtrack that is noticeably more sophisticated than the AMG cars’ muscle-car drawl. As with the Vantage, though, what really strikes you about the engine in the DB11 Volante is that it simply does not feel (or sound) turbocharged. It provides plenty of effortless power when required – maximum torque is available from just 2,000rpm – and yet it still revs and responds like a naturally aspirated unit. For the record, 0 to 62mph is dispatched in 4.1 seconds – just a tenth of a second behind the V8 Coupe – and top speed is a more-than-ample 187mph.
We didn’t drive them back-to-back, but the Volante’s performance doesn’t feel noticeably diminished compared to that of the V8 Coupe. More impressively, the structure feels rock solid, there is the same incisive steering response and a palpable sense of balance to the chassis. As with the other cars in the range, you can adjust the chassis and powertrain settings independently using a 3-stage system that varies things like suspension stiffness, gearshift speed and throttle response. Where it differs from more hardcore models like the Vantage, however, is the calibration. In Normal – the softest of the three modes – the DB11 Volante rides with genuine comfort, the active exhaust is kept to a hushed level and the eight-speed rear-mounted transaxle shuffles away discreetly. In Sport or Sport+ mode, the Aston takes on an altogether more focused feel, while still retaining enough comfort to fulfil its GT credentials.
Not only is the drop-top roof great for cruising along during our fleeting moments of winter sunshine, but it makes the Volante a somewhat more visceral experience when you’re in the mood for such things. B-roads can be attacked with real vigour and you soon forget you’re in a 4.75m-long grand tourer. At the flick of a switch, however, the Volante transforms back into a fixed-head GT. Aston Martin chose to go with a fabric hood rather than a folding metal hard top, but it features an eight-layer design with the latest acoustic and thermal insulation materials, which means it does a remarkably good impression of a fixed roof. There is still a touch of wind noise, but it’s not hugely different to the Coupe in that regard.
Aston Martin has achieved what it claims is a class-leading stack height when the roof is folded. The end result is that the DB11 Volante avoids the hunchbacked appearance that afflicts a lot of convertibles when their roofs are folded. Boot space is 206 litres (down 64 litres on the Coupe), but it remains on a par with the Jaguar F-Type Convertible and comfortably larger than the Porsche 911 Cabriolet. Incidentally, the hood mechanism does eat into that volume somewhat further when it’s folded, but there is a sensor to ensure it won’t crush your shopping in the process.
In summary, then, the DB11 Volante is that rarest of things: a convertible that might actually be the pick of its range. In the real world, it concedes next to nothing to the V8 Coupe in terms of performance or refinement and, while its engine can’t quite match the V12 for operatics, in many respects it is a better fit for the car. What’s more, the ability to revel in open-air motoring expands what was already perhaps the broadest skill-set in its class. There are more focused sports cars out there and more cossetting tourers, but none that combine those two qualities with quite so much aplomb as the Aston Martin DB11 Volante.