What better way to review an Aston Martin than with the top down the whole time? The stunning DB11 is hunting all other GTs and doing it with style and panache.
The 2018 Aston Martin DB11 Volante is unashamedly two things: firstly, it's a deadset attention magnet, and secondly, it’s designed purely to entice buyers away from Ferrari and Porsche dealerships. Given the rabid fandom of those two brands, the latter is no easy feat either.
While Porsche and Ferrari have – comparatively speaking – in Australia become something of a more common sight on the road, the Aston brand has maintained a lower profile. Rare, uncommon, bespoke, attention-grabbing and handmade, all words you’d associate with any Aston when you do see one. Whether you understand the history of the British marque or not, an Aston is a special and beautiful sight on the road.
As such, this boisterous blue – even the interior – DB11 Volante is all about attention. And we can attest to the fact that after a week behind the wheel, it certainly gets plenty. My favourite chat from the week was with a professional hire-car driver who exclaimed that he’d ‘seen them on YouTube or Top Gear, but never on the road'. Took me a while to get out of that petrol station…
The answer to whether it gets enough attention to justify the eye-watering price is a resounding yes then. But when you’re asking buyers to part with more than half a million big ones, attention might not be quite enough, especially if those buyers are previous or potential Ferrari and Porsche owners.
Let’s dig a little deeper then.
While this Aston might be very British, even the leather smells British somehow, the beating heart is a lot more Teutonic. Under the lengthy bonnet, there’s a thumping AMG-derived V8 engine in the form of a 4.0-litre twin-turbo that pumps out 375kW and 675Nm. Grand Touring might be more to do with cross-continent wafting than ballistic speed, but thanks to that engine and the eight-speed ZF transmission, this Aston is no slouch even if it is RWD and traction is sometimes an optional extra.
The ‘hot-vee’ configuration, as it’s known, positions the turbos inside the vee between the two cylinder banks for sharper throttle response – that is, it should behave a little more like a naturally aspirated engine, and it is certainly lightning fast on the uptake. Against a claim of 10.0L/100km on the combined cycle, we saw an indicated return of 16.5L/100km – not bad at all. The engine note is shatteringly stunning, but we’ll get back to that in a second.
The pricing is, as you’d expect, not for the faint-hearted. The cheapest (Should that be 'most affordable'?) way into DB11 Volante ownership is $398,495 before on-road costs. Let’s call it 400 grand then shall we? What’s 1500 bucks or thereabouts when you’re coughing up that much money?
The complete standard equipment list is too lengthy – and the options for that matter – to run through here, suffice to say there’s plenty on both of them. There’s nothing to suggest that a standard DB11 wouldn’t tickle your fancy, and yet the options added to our test vehicle mirror what the typical Aston buyer would want.
Those options round the total out to $485,979 before on-road costs – or near enough to half a million once you get rolling. Some of those options include: special paint for the body and brake calipers, the convertible roof material, 20-inch wheels, interior leather colour, carpet colour, contrast stitching, the floor mats with leather binding, the seat backs, the trim inlays, and various comfort and tech packs.
Now, first things first. There is an obvious tendency to criticise the amount of options and the cost of them. We thrashed it out in the CarAdvice office at length in fact. To my mind, though, it’s an integral part of the Aston experience. Why would you even bother buying an Aston if you didn’t have the ability to customise it, make it feel different, special, bespoke? It’s part of the buying experience, as much as it’s part of the ownership experience.
At a time when cars are more cookie-cutter in so many ways than they’ve ever been, the fact you can still customise a vehicle to suit your tastes is something we should rejoice in. That might sound naff, given the Aston shares an AMG engine, but it still makes sense if you think about it.
Most interestingly, the blue-on-blue test vehicle sliced opinion right down the middle. There was no fence-sitting, people either loved it or hated it. I don’t know that I’d have the John Smalls to order my Aston with a matching blue interior, but there’s absolutely no doubt it’s an eye-catching alternative to cream, grey or black.
The leather smells amazing – it’s got that old-world feel you’d expect from an Aston or Rolls-Royce, and the cabin experience is all the better for it. The leather trim, the stitching, the way it is finished is immaculate – it’s soft-touch and complemented by carbon-fibre trim and stained open-pore ash timber.
The back seats are useless, believe me we tried, so I’d advocate removing them altogether. The front seats, though, low-slung and luxurious, are a beautiful place to be. And the more time you spend behind the wheel, the more you relax into the groove, which is just how a GT should reward the driver. While the seating position is low, and extensively adjustable too, the bolstering and seat design err more on the side of comfort than outright sporting pretension – fine by me.
The controls, displays, mapping and infotainment all seem a little outdated in this brave new world of smartphone integration and bang up-to-date electronics. They do, however, work impeccably and Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming were faultless. The satellite navigation is quick and accurate, the controls easy enough to work out (including the steering wheel controls), and the audio system exceptional in its clarity too. While it might seem a little behind the pace, it certainly doesn’t suffer for quality.
I’d contend that the switchgear should be better for the price. The mix-and-match nature of the Mercedes-Benz controls, and the pushbutton gear selector is a little fiddly. You get used to it, but it could be more elegant – especially for half a million dollars. Still, it feels different, and Aston buyers want that. Strangely, the boot and bonnet have electric soft-close functionality but the doors don’t? That seems a little weird to me – again it's something you could rightly expect at this price point.
Boot space is heavily compromised by the folding of the eight-layer roof, but again, there’s enough storage for soft bags. Beware, though, that the higher position of the exhaust turns the boot into an oven, so unless you want perishables warmed up for your picnic lunch, keep them in the cabin.
Press the starter button, though, and the genteel facade is blown away. The engine note (which does have a quiet-start feature) is deep, sumptuous and addictive – even in GT mode. At idle, there’s a nasty edge to the V8 that gives some of the intent away. It doesn’t jar with the GT experience, though, not at all.
Drop the roof (an exercise that takes just 14 seconds), head for a twisty country road, move to Sport or Sport+ mode and the savage bellowing of the exhaust as you hit redline makes you grin like a loon. It crackles and pops, firing soundbites off the rock walls on downshifts, adding theatre to the whole experience. The DB11 isn’t the kind of GT that you’ll want to thrash, but you can if you desire. Putting the roof back in place takes 16 seconds and can be executed on the move too.
There’s a solid chunk of mid-range power on offer, and the engine revs hard to redline if you keep the boot in. The power is accessible, the throttle response sharp, and the grip prodigious unless you try to unhinge the rear end – especially in the softer GT mode. The DB11 never feels skittish or loose, and it's perfect for the segment. The claimed 0–100km/h time of 4.1 seconds is fast, and the excellent eight-speed automatic plays its part in keeping everything churning along as briskly as possible.
Chunky 255/40/20 front and 295/35/20 rear tyres help the DB11 to bite into the tarmac almost all of the time, and they fill the guards beautifully, assisting with the sleek, wide, low profile of the Volante with the roof up or down. This is a drop-top that does look just as good in both guises too.
There’s genuinely savage acceleration on offer should you want it, and the gearbox sharpens up in Sport and Sport+ modes, where you can light the rear tyres up with frivolous throttle application. Extra bracing and suspension that is tuned more for comfort than outright sportiness might indicate that the DB11 isn’t capable of being pushed hard. It is, and you can drive it hard if you really want to, but the payoff from the suspension tune is a comfortable ride on awful roads – way more comfortable than you’d ever expect.
So, the handling is better than we expected of a GT, and the steering, which is slower than sportier offerings, works beautifully in connecting sweeping country roads, but if you push right to the outer limits, you will start to feel the heft and length of this big convertible. It is 4.7m long and 1870kg after all. I’d contend that there’s no point driving that hard anyway, as the DB11 really is a quality cruiser that does so with panache.
While it’s a big car, it’s never intimidating like a big GT car used to be decades ago. There’s no doubt, though, that the DB11 is more willing to change direction precisely than we thought it would be going in. The brakes are sensational too, pulling the 1800kg DB11 up from speed quickly and repeatedly. We had a little bit of squeaking intermittently at low speed, but nothing that was too annoying.
With the top down, the aero design does a fantastic job of reducing wind noise and buffeting to an absolute minimum, and with the windows up, you can roll around on a cold night with the top down too – heated seats on, of course. The heated and cooled seats are near perfect under any driving conditions.
The DB11 Volante is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance for the duration as well.
So, does the DB11 do what it needs to do to coax buyers out of Ferrari and Porsche showrooms? That might not matter too much given the limited nature of them in Australia anyway. Almost certainly there will be more demand than supply. A mate of mine who is in his second Bentley couldn’t be convinced to switch over when I showed him around the DB11, but he might not be the target buyer either – Bentley buyers are a very specific breed.
There’s no doubt the DB11 is an exceptional GT car. It does what it needs to do to fill that brief with aplomb. The fact that, to me, it doesn’t quite feel as special as the price indicates from behind the wheel is a moot point. Aston fans (and potential new Aston fans) will love the DB11, and that’s exactly what Aston Martin wants.