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First drive review: Aston Martin Vanquish Volante (2013)

Beware, it has a licence to kill joy

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THERE are few ways more likely to set alarm bells ringing in the head of a motoring journalist than for someone who’s driven a car to warn that it’s not as good as a cheaper model. Of course we shouldn’t be swayed by such opinions, but when that person is the chief executive of the company making the car, it’s hard not to listen.

“Don’t misunderstand me,” says Ulrich Bez, chief executive of Aston Martin, over dinner in Palm Springs, California. “The Vanquish Volante is a great car. But if I wanted to drive around here, I would take a DB9 Volante. I wouldn’t need the extra expense.” The convertible Aston Martin Vanquish Volante is the company’s new flagship and costs £199,995 — more than £50,000 above the price of the DB9 Volante, or enough to put a new, entry-level Porsche Cayenne outside your house for when it rains.

Then again, sitting in the street bathed in early-morning Californian sunlight, the car looks a million dollars. The Vanquish Volante is actually quite a different machine from the DB9, and not just under the skin. Its styling is more modern and aggressive — achieved by making every body panel from carbon fibre, a material capable of producing shapes into which the DB9’s aluminium panels will not bend.

And because the car is a convertible the terrific cabin is on full show, with its full-grain leather upholstery, thick contrast stitching, and a centre console tumbling like a waterfall down the middle of the interior. Capacitive glass buttons — like the touchscreen of an iPhone — complete the effect.

The Vanquish has the edge in performance too. While the DB9 has to make do with a piffling 510bhp from its 6-litre V12 motor, its costlier sibling offers 565bhp from an improved version of the same engine. Plus it has a more rigid platform to help mitigate the structural shakes to which all convertibles are vulnerable.

Our gentle early miles could scarcely have been more convivial, though I could have done without a squared-off steering wheel reminding me of the “quartic” one fitted to the Austin Allegro in the 1970s but it’s an option you don’t have to take. The good folk of Palm Springs — median age 51.4 years — beamed indulgently from their patios while the V12 cooked up some suitably encouraging woofles and pops for their benefit and spat them through its fat chromed tailpipes.

This being a Vanquish, I had expected a sporty ride quality, but Aston engineers recognise it is also a Volante — and therefore of lesser appeal to have-a-go heroes than its hard-topped sibling — and have softened the suspension accordingly.

And if you ask no more of your convertible, the Volante will suit you well. The problem is that it is also an Aston Martin, and the most expensive you can buy, at that. Looking and sounding the part as you pootle through a vast retirement community is important, but there has to be more.

To find it I headed into the mountains, where a mile above the sea the air is as thin as the traffic. Up here you can play to your heart’s content —even in a 565bhp Aston — without disturbing a soul.

Hurling the Vanquish along these roads quickly revealed the car’s limitations. At the presentation the night before, Bez made much of the fact that this was a GT car and now I knew why: it might look and sound like a sports car but it doesn’t feel like one.

The performance is impeded by the engine’s need for high revs and even more so by an old and inadequate six-speed automatic gearbox first fitted to the DB9 a decade ago. Aston Martin claims a 0-62mph time of 4.3 seconds but it doesn’t seem nearly that quick: very informally, and quite possibly without using the launch control properly, I timed it at a little over five seconds — and that’s how it feels: fast but hardly feral.

I’d hoped the Vanquish might prove more fun in the corners too. Objectively, it barely puts a foot wrong: the brakes are magnificent and grip levels fully commensurate with the performance. It’s just not much of a laugh. The steering feels remote and the chassis inert, and while it’ll go where you tell it with reasonable accuracy, in the end it feels like not much more than a point-and-squirt machine.

Back on the interstate it made more sense. Aston Martin has done an exceptional job with the hood, so with the roof up at the steady 70mph everyone does in California, it seems as quiet as a coupé.

By the time I reached the hotel I could see what Bez was driving at. The Vanquish Volante is a quicker car than a DB9 but for the driver who just wants to waft around and soak up the attention and atmosphere, the DB9 will do it just as well for less money.

That still doesn’t mean you should choose the Vanquish for speed, though. The V8 Vantage roadster with its brilliant Sportshift seven-speed gearbox will keep you far more entertained while, I would be willing to bet, proving far quicker from point to point.

True, it won’t have rear seats but in effect neither does the Vanquish — they’re too small to be of practical use. Plus the Vantage roadster costs only slightly more than half what Aston is asking for the Vanquish Volante, a car that for all its stunning looks and great sound is delivering too little to earn our highest recommendation here.

 

Verdict★★★☆☆

Others are both cheaper and better, including Astons

Factfile

Price:
£199,995 (correct at time of publication)
Engine:
5935cc, V12
Power:
565bhp @ 6750rpm
Torque:
457 lb ft @ 5500rpm
Transmission:
6-speed automatic
Acceleration:
0-62mph in 4.3sec
Top speed:
183mph
Fuel:
19.6mpg (combined)
CO2:
335g/km
Road tax band:
Dimensions:
L 4788mm, W 2067mm, H 1294mm

 

Aston Martin Vanquish Volante rivals

Bentley Continental GTC, £149,350

For Very fast; extremely civilised; beautifully built Against Looks quite plain compared with the Aston

Aston Martin DB9 Volante, £143,080

For Still the most classically beautiful convertible on the market Against Small boot; unworthy gearbox; infuriating minor controls