Aston Martin DBS 2020 superleggera volante

2020 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante review

International first drive

The fastest soft-top in the world might also be one of the best. Start saving.
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The Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante is an excellent car, but not an honestly named one. DBS is fine – first used in 1967 and with the provenance of being driven by one Jimmy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Volante is similarly justified, having a long tradition on open-topped Astons stretching back to 1965. It's the bit in the middle that's telling porkies.

Because while the Volante is many things, superlight isn't one of them. On Aston's numbers it tips the scales at 1863kg, 100kg more than the already chunky DBS Coupe, and despite both an aluminium shell and carbon-fibre bodywork. Although the Superleggera name is officially there to celebrate the construction technique that Zagato used for its custom Astons in the ’60s, and because it sounds cool, it is also lying.

Not that the open-topped DBS ever feels fat. The company has taken the most simple expedient to improving the power-to-weight ratio: adding to the left side of the equation. With 533kW, the Volante uses the most powerful version of Aston's twin-turbocharged V12 so far, in identical tune to the Coupe.

It barely notices the extra podge: Aston quotes a 3.5-second 0–100km/h time and a 6.7-second 0–160km/h time, those numbers just 0.1 and 0.3 seconds behind the metal-roofed version over the same benchmarks. Aston also reckons the Volante can manage 340km/h flat out – identical to the Coupe – with that figure achievable with the roof either up or down. As such, it's the fastest soft-top in the world.

It certainly feels it. The DBS is one of those cars that is just fast everywhere, with huge low-down torque, a snarling mid-range, and a top end that gets truly brutal. Under a stamped throttle, the Volante can provide acceleration that delivers genuine physical discomfort. It might be a big, well-appointed GT, but in a straight line this is an Aston that could keep supercars honest.

In terms of total dynamic experience, you'll be unsurprised to hear that the Volante isn't quite as good as the DBS Coupe. You can feel the extra weight, which requires more effort to turn and stop as well as accelerate. And although the open-topped body is impressively strong, it isn't as torsionally rigid as the sturdier Coupe. On Aston's numbers, the Volante scores 23kN/degree of deflection against 34kN/degree. But the perceived differences are fractional, and overall the Volante gets impressively close.

In recent years, Aston has become increasingly good at broadening the bandwidth its models function with, and the DBS Volante is probably the best example yet of this combination of iron fist and velvet glove.

With the dynamic mode selector left in its least-aggressive GT setting, and the switchable dampers in their softest mode, the Volante is the effortless open-topped grand tourer: the suspension pliant, and the powertrain delivering effortless waft with a bass-heavy soundtrack. Faster progress is never more than a flexed right toe away, but the Volante definitely doesn't need to be driven hard to be enjoyed.

Switching to Sport or Sport Plus transforms the car. The exhaust note grows harder-edged and gains some pop and crackle on the over-run, the steering gets heavier, throttle response sharper, and the eight-speed auto ’box changes its mission from hands-off to hands-on – prodding the big engine to work harder with aggressive downshifts. Tightening the dampers takes the flex out of the suspension and delivers properly lashed-down body control, albeit at the cost of the plush refinement the car was enjoying a moment before.

Fully sportified, the Volante becomes both angry and very fast. The launch event in Spain featured some of the twistiest mountain roads that Catalonia could offer, and although the DBS's sheer size limited confidence on the really tight stuff – it's hard to carry speed into a blind corner when you're taking up more than half the road – it proved capable of bringing huge speed to even the shortest straight. And also to put up a remarkable resistance to understeer in even the sort of tight hairpin turns that send most hefty GTs squealing towards the verge.

The carbon-ceramic brakes are excellent, removing speed without drama or graunch, and the ZF eight-speed auto does a remarkable impression of a cog-swapping twin-clutcher under manual control.

The DBS tolerates tight and twisting stuff, but it clearly prefers faster, sweeping roads. Aston says the Volante matches the Coupe's trick of producing positive downforce at speed, and although I wasn't going quickly enough to experience the 177kg it reportedly makes at V.max, even at considerably lower speeds there's enough to boost confidence and to make the car feel more stable.

Refinement with the fabric roof up is good, although it is not as quiet as something like the S-Class cabrio. Rear visibility through the narrow screen is terrible, though. Our test car was also fitted with a clip-in wind deflector that reduced buffeting with the roof down, but also made it near impossible to see anything in the rear-view.

As with the DB11 Volante it shares its core structure with, practicality is limited. The rear seats are definitely better for luggage than people. Even the novelty of riding in an open-topped Aston won't encourage any but the very shortest to try to squeeze in.

It's also a bit disappointing that, aside from some more expensive materials, the cabin feels almost identical to that of the considerably cheaper DB11. The switchgear doesn't do anything to hide its Mercedes origins, and there are noticeably fewer toys than in a fully laden Bentley Continental GT cabrio. The plasticky, cheap-feeling centre air vents are also barely forgivable in a car carrying such a senior price tag.

Yet, the DBS Volante also has a neat niche-within-a-niche appeal that makes it truly unique. It's an open-topped grand tourer that can do a remarkably good impression of a sports car when called upon to do so. Wherever Aston's brave new direction takes it – the brand will be launching both an SUV and mid-engined hypercar next year – it is vital that it never stops making cars like this.

SPECIFICATION – Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante

  • Engine: 5204cc, V12, twin turbocharged
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
  • Power: 533kW @ 6500rpm
  • Torque: 900Nm @ 1800–5000rpm
  • 0–100km/h: 3.5sec (claimed)
  • Top speed: 340km/h
  • Weight: 1863kg
  • Economy: 14L/100km (WLTP)
  • CO2: 295g/km (NEDC)