2019 Aston Martin DB11 Volante Review: The Zero-Compromise Convertible
Most convertibles show their weaknesses early; this one shows none we can find.
It’s a late winter morning in the highlands above France's Côte d'Azure, and the alpine wind howling above our heads could chill the spray tan off an Instagram model. The heat’s blasting, as power chords from a gurgly V8 echo off sheer walls of rock and into the Aston Martin DB11 Volante’s cockpit. It’s a perfect driving moment, loaded with drama of both natural and manmade kinds, and brought to you by the giant hole where a roof should be.
For as many neural fireworks as they deliver, convertibles get a bad rap. Removing a car’s top reduces the torsional rigidity a well-tuned suspension craves; bracing a roadster’s chassis to compensate and prevent twisting and “scuttle shake” adds weight, as does the mechanism that operates the roof. Even with huge leaps in the structural integrity of most cars during the past decade, hazy driving dynamics have been the trade-off for an edifying burn in the open air. But surprisingly—owing to some deft engineering and a detail-oriented design focus—the new Volante, a name Aston's used to denote its "drophead" GT cars since the mid-1960s, delivers on both kinetics and atmospherics.
And it's not hard to look at, either.
While lighter than the previous DB9-based droptop, the new Volante piles 243 pounds onto the DB11 V8 coupe's weight, for a total of 4,134 lbs. Dig deeper into how it wears that burden, however, and silver linings emerge. With extra cross-bracing connecting the top mounts, the chassis is more rigid at the suspension pivot points, which adds crispness to its front-end responses. What’s more, the extra mass from the folding top has shifted the Volante’s weight balance astern. The ratio now totals 47 percent front, 53 percent rear, compared to 49/51 for the V8 coupe (and a nose-heavy 51/49 for the V12 coupe). Add stiffer springs and shocks all around, working with Aston’s three de rigeur active damper settings that vary on-road pliability from sofa-smooth to firm and level, and the results speak volumes.
Those changes give the Volante a brightness and precision that shrinks this big GT to its environment. Despite its prodigious width, the Volante is a riot to wheel around a serpentine B-road like the Route de Caussols, a fast, twisting stretch that winds through the Loup river valley. Here, you’ll struggle to detect the Volante’s structure yielding to quick, high-load transitions. Scoop through one of the many hairpins, plant the throttle, and you'll experience the joys of rear-biased weight distribution in the form of a casual drift.
Ensconced in granite, these are some of the greatest roads in Europe: The Alpes-Maritimes and the deep gorges therein, comprise the primary motoring playground of the French Rivera set—those who reside in Antibes, Cannes, San Tropez, and Menton—who commute to Switzerland by jet, and color-match their sports cars to their Irish wolfhounds’ eyes. No such residents are here today; they’ve decamped to warmer climes. The jagged peaks wear a dusting of new snow like confectioners' sugar over a basket of almond croissants. The roads are deserted, save for a few work vans, driven with remarkable skill by men who gesture through the smoke of their ashy Gitanes. They fight hard not to be overtaken, but the Volante dispatches them all; its 4.0-liter, twin-turbo AMG-sourced V8—with intake, exhaust and ECU tuned by Aston engineers—is a prime motivator.
Zero to 62 miles per hour (100 km/h) in 4.1 seconds only seems slow when you consider the company this car keeps, like the new Ferrari Portofino, which does the same in a quoted 3.5 seconds. The torque curve is a tabletop between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm, making the Volante as docile and usable around town as it is violent when fully unleashed. Top speed is a vortex-generating 187 mph. Still, for all its potency, the 503-hp, 498 lb-ft powerplant, shared with the Mercedes-AMG GT family, runs out of drama before it runs out of revs. Ferrari solved a similar issue by increasing turbo boost in each advancing gear to simulate a naturally aspirated engine’s megaphone-shaped torque curve; it is a thrilling experience.
The paddle-shifted eight-speed ZF automatic is identical to that in the DB11 coupe, with separate shift-response maps for each of the three drive modes: GT, Sport, and Sport +. Those modes also manage the throttle response, from laid-back to aggro, as well as the valve position of the sport exhaust. While you can separate the damping modes from the drive modes, you must have the shouty exhaust if you want the more aggressive shifting and throttle map. No great hardship, that.
Aston Martin reps say there are no plans for a V12 Volante—and frankly, the single moment you’ll miss the extra four cylinders occurs after 5,000 rpm, where the V12 is at its most tuneful. Nonetheless, as with the V8 coupe, buyers in displacement-taxed countries like China will benefit in tens of thousands of dollars in savings.
With the top down, the Volante’s visual proportions are faultless. The roof folds into a particularly short stack, so there’s no high bustle to foul up the rear decklines. Designers have smoothed out every transition between top and body. There’s also decent trunk space—20 percent more than the earlier DB9 Volante. With the top up, eight layers of sound-deadening materials and insulation keep road noise at a surprising minimum, although they also prevent most engine music from entering. The better bet is to crank the heat, flip up the rear wind baffle, and drop that roof—with the key fob, even, if you like. The top lowers in 14 seconds, which is a solid number for spec that convertible-selling car companies trot out as if it were a Nürburgring lap time.
Inside, the DB11 coupe's fittings carry over, and sumptuous materials continue to be undermined by plastic bits that haunt a few common touch points. The Benz-sourced console switchgear, while awkward to Aston’s brand sovereignty, are easy to use and ergonomically well-designed. New front seat-back veneers, available in a range of woods and carbon fiber and visible when the roof's down, are a gift you give to rear passengers and motorists following behind.
Whether you’re outside scoping its curves or inside scanning the landscape as it reels off at great speed, the DB11 Volante is indeed a fully resolved GT road car in its own right. With a potent combination of looks, chassis dynamics, ear thrills, usability, and charisma, it is the finest convertible Aston Martin has ever built, and is the most satisfying car in its lineup at this moment. It has to be; the competition for your $220,000-or-so has never been stronger.
Pro tip, though: Just keep the top down. Wear a parka if you must.