A car like the 2023 Aston Martin DBS Volante only needs to do two things:
- Make you feel rich.
- Make you feel hot.
When you’re talking about a number like $432,086 as-tested, a car doesn’t need to be objectively good anymore. Allow me to explain. This is, at best, a fifth car. It doesn’t need to be practical, economical, comfortable, quiet, or spacious. It’s supposed to be a drop-top escape from the day-to-day of being a one percenter. Which, presumably, includes lots of worrying about boring things like stocks, balance sheets, and light treason.
What a car like the DBS needs to be is an occasion. A special treat. Something to take the edge off. Its mission should be to make you feel things that you otherwise cannot access in your normal life, a dissociative dreamlike fantasy. And when the top comes down, sunset piercing through the rearview, and all 715 horsepower propels you away from the scream of life, no amount of money matters. The DBS Volante is an involving, meditative brute of a driver’s car disguised as a rich asshole’s convertible.
|2023 Aston Martin DBS Volante Specs
|Base Price (as tested)
|5.2-liter V12 | 8-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
|EPA Fuel Economy
|14 mph city | 22 highway | 17 combined
|A car of real substance. And proof that money beats physics.
There is nothing about the DBS Volante that would suggest that it’s a driver’s car. On paper, it’s the farthest thing from it. For starters, it weighs a planetary 4,107 pounds which is a clear 300 pounds heavier than the fixed-roof DBS. It’s hideously overpowered for a rear-wheel-drive car as well, with 715 horsepower and 663 lb-ft of torque being sent to the rear wheels via a rear-mounted ZF eight-speed transaxle. Then there’s the issue that it’s a luxury convertible, not a focused sports coupe.
But it’s built on an extremely capable, if aging, body structure. Dual-wishbone suspension all around provides fine control of suspension geometry, while conventional steel springs and adaptive dampers hoist the considerable mass of the drop-top. Gargantuan carbon-ceramic brakes just about bring the whole party to a stop, while that rear-mounted gearbox and convertible top mechanism contribute to an incredibly impressive 50/50 weight distribution.
And that V12 is all Aston Martin, no AMG V8 to be seen here. It’s all glory, all excess, and one of the centerpieces of the DBS experience. The other highlight is, of course, the way it looks.
There are no photos that can communicate the majesty of the DBS Volante. It is a beautiful object, isolated from the fact that it is a car. The classic Aston Martin grille shape is pushed to the outer edges of the fascia, with twin intakes exposing pronounced heat exchangers flanking either side. Subtle openings in the hood let casual observers in on exactly what it takes to make 715 hp.
Graceful details accentuate the DBS, enhancing the strong base shapes and volumes that make the car up but never stealing the show. Even the act of opening the hood is pure theater thanks to its forward-opening clamshell design, with an exploded view that’s almost as good as seeing the car in its regular, closed form. It was only once I opened the hood that I realized that there was aero detailing all over the DBS, the most pronounced of which were the fender vents which were actually air directors extracting and conditioning turbulent air from the wheel well.
The way the DBS presents you to the world is a big part of its second mission in life: make you feel hot. It’s excess, but it’s beautiful gluttony. It makes no concessions for others in proportion and size, taking up as much space as it needs to be as gorgeous as possible. When you park it, you have no choice but to turn around and marvel at it. For that fleeting moment of wonder, it also fulfills item one: make you feel like a million dollars.
Because the top comes down, the interior effectively becomes the exterior of the car. As specced, my DBS Volante’s Phantom Grey and Ivory interior was gorgeous, though clearly of a different art style than the graceful exterior. If it were my $400,000, I’d skip the Chopped Carbon trim for some wood and go for more earthy-toned leather. But also, if it were my $400,000 I’d sure like Apple CarPlay, a feature the DBS glaringly omits. Also, the center stack is nonsensical to use, with a haptic slider for volume and buttons that work only if they’ve had a good night’s sleep.
That exterior beauty translates to an exceptionally high beltline. I sat low in the DBS. Low enough that my eyes just about crested the tops of the doors, and the top of the steering wheel sat just below the center of my vision, the acreage of hood laying just beyond. Even if the rest of the car is nonsense, the start button is front and center. I sunk in deep, doing my best impression of the Maxell Blown Away Guy, and keyed the V12 into life.
What Was I Made For?
Elegance gave way to brutish aggression quite quickly thereafter. The V12 barks to life with an almost antisocial growl, idling loudly for 30 seconds before settling into a quieter, neighbor-friendly idle. Though, of course, if you have a DBS, you probably won’t have many neighbors close enough to bother you.
Two buttons on the wheel control the character of the DBS. One switches between GT, Sport, and Sport Plus for the engine and drivetrain—essentially a volume knob for the V12. The other controls the adaptive dampers independent of the engine, letting you have soft dampers with a loud motor or any combination of the two. But the most important switch is hidden in a menu, and that is the stability control.
My first miles with the DBS were fraught—the car did not put its power down with any sort of effectiveness. Even if I felt there was more, the car would restrict torque severely in the name of not flinging billionaires into Beverly Hills hedges. It was much too restrictive, even though it might have good reason to be. It was only around fourth gear that the DBS released the reigns and gave me 715 hp. The turbos finally spooled and whistled into a high-pitched frenetic battle with the baritone confidence of the exhaust. It is unbelievably quick, almost McLaren quick.
But still, the restrictions bothered me. I searched, with an amount of fear and acceptance that I would likely turn it back on, for a traction and stability control defeat just to see what the car would do without reigns. Hidden in a menu in the gauge cluster, I found three modes to the stability control program (ESP): On, Off, and Track. Recognizing the proximity of death, I gave Track a try. Turns out, it is the single most important thing to toggle if you care to drive the DBS on a twisting canyon road.
Suddenly, instead of restricting power, the DBS would harness the horsepower and use it to adjust the attitude of the car to your desired path of travel. It would still throttle back, but only just after the tires began to slip in any direction, be it in a straight line or exiting a turn. This put the car in a reliable, consistent yaw that could be modulated with the throttle. That is not a luxury GT trait. It’s a sports car trait.
Power wasn’t its only trick; the chassis is supremely well-developed. All 4,107 pounds are accounted for during turn-in, but the DBS quickly settled and carved, carefully managing its immense weight to maximize grip. Without rear-wheel steering, the DBS will always feel a hint heavy initially, but once Newton’s first law is surmounted, it’s unbelievably composed. Brutish aggression gave way to elegance.
It flowed delicately, simultaneously settling its immense weight while staying light on its feet. Information about the front tires traveled up the steering column, reassuringly weighing and lightening as it dispatched undulations and bumps, always looping me into how much was left in the car. It also nudged back as the car rotated, finding that wonderful, impossible place where the car is steering itself in the midcorner and you control cornering through rotation rather than steering input.
What was truly supernatural was that this wasn’t just a spirited driving behavior, the car always felt this way. Low-speed canyon cruising offered the same experience as a good, hard drive. But even for the most spirited of drivers, Track ESP wasn’t anything nearing dangerous or unrestricted. It was optimized; clearly the mode that the DBS was meant to be driven in but still preventing any powerslides, protecting you from the very real danger of 715 hp and 4,107 pounds. It’s a rare case of a stability control system developed to enhance driving feel rather than hide weight or defeat physics.
No Time to Die
The 2023 Aston Martin DBS Volante was a real surprise. The big, red convertible only really needed to be an excessive toy for someone with too much money, but it went star systems beyond what it needed to be.
It isn’t as nice inside as a comparably priced Bentley Continental GTC, nor is it as functional, nor is it as well-featured. On top of its perplexing lack of Apple CarPlay, the DBS also doesn’t get adaptive cruise control, meaningful ambient lighting, or an infotainment system made in this decade. On paper, the DBS is extremely barebones compared to the Bentley.
In practice, it’s a different car for a different kind of person. It’s for someone who wants less gimmicks and more genuine theater, and a car that has a true heart of gold. While the Conti handles well but joylessly, the DBS Volante is a truly great driver’s car. It’s a shame, then, that Aston Martin says the DBS will die with this generation. Canceled, after the release of the DBS 770 Ultimate and V8-powered DB12.
The DBS Volante does three things, then. It definitely makes you feel hot, and certainly makes you feel rich. The third thing it makes you feel is real, genuine, non-cynical driving joy. Anybody could love this car. And I’ll be sad to see it go.
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