Saturday, November 14, 2009

Aston Martin DBS Volante Road Test

I am aware that there are people in the world who can afford to buy an Aston Martin with about as much thought as they would buy a set of underpants, and I look forward to becoming one of their number in the near future, but for now the idea of any car whose price tag extends way, way into six figures is a slightly intimidating one, so I would expect the DBS Volante to be pretty damn special.

Aston Martin DBS 07 - Volante.

And so it is, even in Aston Martin's own terms. It is the more expensive of the two DBS models the company makes, the roughly £9000 difference between the Volante and the CoupĂ© being accounted for by the Volante's folding roof, which incidentally reduces luggage capacity from a mere 186 litres to an even merer 135 litres. If that matters.

The two are mechanically identical, having a 510bhp six-litre V12 petrol engine and a choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or, for an extra £2900 or so, a six-speed Touchtronic automatic. The Volante is 105kg heavier because of the strengthening needed to compensate for the lack of a solid roof, but strangely Aston Martin quotes identical performance (impressive) and fuel economy and CO2 (embarrassing) figures for both.

Aston Martin DBS 08 - Volante.

The Touchtronic gearbox doesn't seem to affect performance figures and actually improves fuel economy slightly, not that this is going to make any difference whatever to someone for whom the price of the gearbox is about as significant as the effect of being asked, "Would you like fries with that?"

All other considerations aside, I would personally go for Touchtronic every time, not because I dislike manuals (quite the reverse) but because I have a bit of a problem with the DBS Volante's clutch. For some reason I find it very difficult to feel the biting point, which means I either stall the car and look like an idiot, or move very slowly from rest with the engine roaring and the air becoming suffused with clutch smoke. I think I have managed about one decent start in four, so you can see why I find Touchtronic a tempting option.

Aston Martin DBS 09 - Volante Rear.

Even so, this might seem a strange choice for such a high-performance car, but the DBS is not really intended for sporty drivers. Aston Martin itself describes the Vantage as its sports model, and considers the DBS to be more of a grand tourer. It's a fair point. The DBS looks very racy, and its straightline performance is appreciably better than that of the Vantage, but it is altogether softer and more suited to cruising along flowing roads than to being hustled along tighter ones.

The one respect in which the DBS has considerably more appeal to the Vantage to the enthusiastic driver concerns the sound quality. The V8 engine of the Vantage is a bit of a disappointment in this area, since it doesn't sound like much in particular until you start revving it hard, but the V12 in the DBS sounds great no matter what it's being asked to do.

Aston Martin DBS 10 - Volante Interior.

Among its other qualities, the DBS has an interior which is a triumph of the art, though I'd be inclined to avoid choosing red upholstery myself. Too brash. In theory, four of you can revel in the sumptuousness at the same time, since the DBS has back seats, but there is so little space in the rear that they seem like a waste of upholstery. Maybe it's for the best, though - it would be difficult to maintain the feeling of superiority which the DBS undoubtedly provides with an audience of as many as three people.

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