There are few pleasures in life that can match the sheer, unmitigated joy of open-top driving, as anyone who has taken to the road in an Aston Martin grand tourer can attest. In the DB11 and DBS, the marque produces GTs designed to inspire you into setting off on a thousand-mile adventure. The notion of a grand tourer is an enduring one and rightfully so. It conjures up notions of winding expeditions through the Alps and vast odysseys across America — or even the more traditional expedition from England into mainland Europe, heading south for the first flickers of summer. We still talk of cars having “continent-crushing” performance, despite the realities of long days on the autoroutes, ever vigilant for speed cameras or mired in traffic. However, even if you merely want to cross, rather than crush, continental Europe, the romantic vision we aspire to is best served by a car like the new DBS Superleggera Volante.
There are many pockets of Europe where you can appreciate Aston Martin’s lasting faith in the road trip and discover the surprisingly broad abilities of the DBS Superleggera Volante. For a start, this car is more than capable of serving up the requisite levels of comfort and sophistication for motorway stretches when required — the ride is extremely smooth, not by the standards of a 715 horsepower V12, but by any benchmark — but this car is capable of so much more.
Our journey begins at the Prades mountain range north of Tarragona in Spain and extends west-southwest towards the country’s vast interior. Away from the main routes down the coast or inland towards Madrid, several protected natural areas are encountered that, while ostensibly designated with their rich ecology and natural beauty in mind, have also created a heavenly environment for driving. If you do plan to cross Europe in a super GT, it is best done by chaining together these paths less travelled. Up here, you’ll find a mix of pine forests and open hills, lazy rivers and little canyons all connected by a perfect balance of sweeping bends and long straights — and barely another soul on the roads. Criss-crossing the sierra are dustier, twistier, steeper roads — and I’d be bending the truth to say you don’t start to notice the DBS Superleggera’s dimensions on cliff-edge, second-gear bends, but this is where you realise the breadth of the car’s portfolio.
The chassis is taut and nimble, giving you real confidence in the corners without any real sense of compromise from having the roof down. In fact, I’d swear that on the road, you won’t notice a dynamic difference between the Volante and the DBS coupe. According to the figures, the car is only five per cent less stiff with the roof down and nigh-on identical with it up, despite it being a soft top. Aston Martin has stiffened the rear springs to deal with the additional weight of the roof mechanism, but has done so without depriving the car of its ability to prowl through roughly cobbled streets in comfort. Such is the magic of the GT/Sport/Sport Plus button under your left thumb.
Did I say the roads were quiet? Well, they were until we arrived. Like many of you surely will, I have fond memories of the Vanquish S Volante for its ability to really whip up a storm from its exhausts — its high-revving V12 was a thing of beauty. The DBS Superleggera, however, has moved things on in every department; where the Vanquish S was a good car with an outstanding engine, the DBS Superleggera is an outstanding car with an engine to match. When it comes to the noise — a vital part of the Volante experience and the primary reason why I kept the roof down despite Spain experiencing some of its hottest temperatures of the year — it has a couple of knock-on effects. No, the 5.2-litre V12 doesn’t rev as high as the old 6.0-litre used to, but that’s okay because thanks to the monstrous amounts of torque on hand (663lb ft from as low as 1800rpm), you will drive the DBS Superleggera Volante in a very different way. In Sport or Sport Plus modes especially, the engine sounds brutal and menacing, crackling and rasping at every opportunity.
The chassis is taut and nimble, giving you real confidence in the corners without any real sense of compromise from having the roof down
At higher revs and the heady speeds that come with them, what isn’t drowned out by the wind still sounds fierce; one of the defining qualities of the coupe was its ability to keep piling on the power when you think it should surely start to taper off and in the Volante that delivery becomes even more visceral. If you do the sensible thing and keep the windows and rear wind deflector up, there isn’t too much buffeting in the cabin, but we left sensible far behind on the autovia. If it does all get a bit much, or you run out of factor 50, the roof goes up in just 14 seconds and if you wait until you hit the next village you won’t even have to pause, as it can be opened again at speeds of up to 30mph.
To incorporate the folding canvas roof, Aston Martin’s design team has managed a subtle but no less magnificent feat of engineering — the final silhouette of the car is very similar to the coupe. Small details such as the reduced size of the rear lights become apparent side-by-side, but the golden ratios of the design and the muscular proportions have been preserved. That meant rotating the fuel tank through 90°, moving a number of elements around and then re-shaping the rear panels to fit. The result is a wide rear deck and a smaller aeroblade lip than the coupe and while the devious aerodynamics of the coupe had to go, overall downforce is just 3kg less than the hard-top DBS Superleggera. More important, I feel, than the numbers is the impression that this is hands-down the best-looking luxury convertible on the market and, perhaps not a trait it shares with Aston Martins of days gone by, looks its best in big, bold colours like the “Cosmos Orange” pictured. It’s worth remembering that the DBS Superleggera Volante is the only drop-top in Aston Martin’s range with a V12 and that not only means it’s the fastest convertible in the company’s history (211mph roof down; 215mph roof up), but reinforces its place at the top of the range.
And that, really, is the thing. Aston Martin’s Second Century plan has brought a burst of activity to the brand and a host of phenomenal cars, with the Aston Martin Valkyrie, Valhalla and DBX just around the corner. But of course, powerful grand tourers are an essential aspect of Aston Martin. In the DBS Superleggera, it has a flagship that’s as balletic as it is ballistic and the introduction of the Volante brings you that much closer to the action. So while the dream of the grand tour lives on, we owe it to cars like this to make the effort. The results are more than worth it.