Aston Martin’s dynamic president and CEO Andy Palmer is making up for lost time. Until recently, the Gaydon firm was still selling cars first designed back in the mid-2000s. It showed. They were still gorgeous to drive, but felt ancient inside. And they all looked the same.
Palmer has transformed the company. He secured sufficient investment to commence a wholesale revival of the brand’s products, a project he called the Second Century Plan. The first car to be launched was the DB11 coupe, a V12 luxury GT that immediately won plaudits. A V8 later followed later, using a Mercedes-AMG engine – one of the finest in the world – in a savvy bit of tech-sharing.
Soon, we’ll be driving the all-new Vantage, Aston’s V8 sports car rival to the Porsche 911, but ahead of that, the firm is rolling out a new open-top DB11 Volante cabriolet, which you can order now in time for summer. To get us in the mood, Aston took us to the South of France, which, even in February, can be lovely.
But for the freak snowstorm that preceded our arrival, anyway. “It’s an all-year-round convertible,” said Aston, not intending to have the weather to demonstrate this. A thick new soft-top with no fewer than eight layers keeps it toasty-cosy when up, and there are both heated seats and Aston’s first-ever heated steering wheel to further stave-off chills.
I’m hardier than that, though. And because I have a bald head that’s prone to sunburn, winter is actually the best time for me to enjoy a convertible. So down it went, in 14 seconds (you can do it on the move up to 31mph, so you won’t be embarrassed at traffic lights), folding snug and tight into the rear deck.
Roof down, the Volante is even more knee-quiveringly beautiful. The already-lovely DB11 becomes divine, with bulging rear haunches but none of the hunchback some cabrios suffer with the roof down. It’s clean, elegant and classy. People are charmed by it, rather than being hit with a visual assault as they are with Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
Their ears are safe as well. No aural assault from anti-social exhausts here. Sleeping babies will be content, dogs will remain unroused. The pipes woofle and burble instead, like V8s used to in the good old days. Just one of umpteen ways this magnificent turbo 4.0-litre V8 charms and seduces. Fast, effortless, purposeful, powerful; Aston is yet to say whether it’ll make a V12 Volante, but we won’t feel shortchanged if it doesn’t.
An engineer told me Aston had developed this drop-top in tandem with the coupe, rather than making a hard-top first and then modifying it. You can tell. The Volante demonstrates near-perfect integrity on challenging roads, with barely any shimmer and shake, steering precision arguably crisper even than the coupe. It’s a nicely poised car with a classic front-engine, rear-drive balance. The most challenging part is its sheer size – be warned, it’s wide…
The Volante is a four-seater, and the rear seats now have twin Isofix mountings, although once the kids have outgrown their seats, they’ll have outgrown the Aston. Besides, they’ll spoil your jaunts to the South of France. Best instead to leave them with the nanny, fit the wind deflector in the back and savour bluster-free, million-dollar, roof-down motoring in the most charming GT cabin around.
The kids will get their chance. Palmer’s got Aston developing a Lagonda SUV to be built in Wales and, literally, a million-dollar hypercar designed by Red Bull Racing boffin Adrian Newey. It’ll be Forza Motorsport gold. This month’s new Aston, though, is the enchanting Volante. Palmer may be on a mission, but he’s not cutting corners.
• Richard Aucock works for automotive publisher motoringresearch.com