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Vancouver, British Columbia – The Aston Martin DBS Volante I recently put through its paces is the latest in a long line of highly desirable sports cars from this fabled British automaker that goes way back to the earlier part of the last century.

Over the years, the cars have earned widespread fame (not least in many a James Bond movie) and successive generations have each improved upon the last despite periodic corporate upheavals. The “Aston Martin” name, for those who care about such trivia, came from the marque’s founder Lionel Martin, who attached the prefix “Aston” in honour of the once-famed Aston Clinton hill-climb course on which he raced before and after the First World War.

2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante
2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante
2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante
2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante. Click image to enlarge

The automaker was founded in 1913 as Bamford and Martin and was always involved with sports and racing cars of one kind or another. Many notable successes were recorded by the firm over the years, including victory at LeMans and the World Sports Car Championship in 1959. More recently, class wins have been recorded at Le Mans in various Astons, including production-based models. Wealthy business entrepreneur David (later Sir David) Brown bought the company in 1947 (for less than $50,000!) and the DB of his initials lives on today, even though his involvement ended decades ago and he died in 1993. A long and fruitful period of Ford ownership was followed more recently with the purchase of Aston Martin by a group of private investors.

But enough of history lessons: Bond’s gadget-laden DB5 may have had the firepower of a WW2 fighter-bomber, but the new DBS Volante rivals the best of the best when it comes to performance, handling, refinement and – let’s not forget this – downright luxury.

“Volante” is Aston-speak for convertible and several models in the company’s lineup over the years have boasted this particular badge (though curiously, the current V8 Vantage convertible is dubbed “Roadster”). Getting one point out of the way right from the start, this car does not have one of the increasingly-popular folding hardtops, but uses a powered fabric top, albeit of the finest possible quality. It’s so well crafted and finished that somebody at Aston Martin must have snuck over to one of those megabuck Savile Row tailors in London to get advice on the task. It’s simply that well done and the red fabric on my test car was a great match for the leather upholstery of similar hue. Please don’t talk about “ragtops” with this one, okay?

The bodywork is mostly of aluminum, but there is extensive use of carbon fibre too, some of it visible, some not. The timeless Aston Martin styling that’s pretty well unmistakable has evolved from other models, but it’s evolved with subtlety and good taste. Perhaps it looks a little too much like less expensive Aston Martin models, but few will complain about that – they all look great anyway. It’s also a practical car and reasonably easy to get in and out of – but you’ll probably want to use the tiny rear seats strictly as a place to toss your Louis Vuitton briefcase or Hugo Boss jacket.

Top up or down, the DBS Volante – Aston Martin’s top model which premiered earlier this year at the Geneva Auto Salon – is a head-turner of the first rank, but of course, it looks its best when prepped for a session of wind-in-the-face motoring. The roof hides under a “fifties Mille Miglia-style” sculpted tonneau cover when it’s folded down and it’s only a matter of touching a single button and waiting 14 seconds or so. The job can actually be done while you’re moving as long as you’re not topping 48 km/h.

One of the great joys of driving this car with the top down is the way you get to hear the engine at work – especially when it’s given any kind of throttle. Accelerate hard and the Volante roars like the hammers of hell and it’s a total delight to the ears (if not for non-car fans witnessing the exercise). But drive quietly around town and the car burbles happily along with scarcely a sound to disturb the tranquility of a peaceful neighbourhood. In fact, that’s one of the strong points of the DBS Volante. You can drive it like a race car and it’ll respond with great verve, but cruising unhurriedly around city streets it’s a pussy cat and just as easy to deal with as a Honda Civic. This axiom simply doesn’t apply to most supercars.

2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante
2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante. Click image to enlarge

The source of all this sonic excitement is Aston Martin’s hand-built all-alloy quad cam V12 which displaces just inside six litres and develops a serious 510 horsepower and 420 ft.-lb. of torque. Find an open road and you can rocket the beast to 100 km/h in something like 4.3 seconds. Top speed is quoted by Aston Martin as 307 km/h, but for most of us, that will have to remain a theoretical figure. It’d be nice to try, though!

The Volante I tested was equipped with a ZF-built Touchtronic 2 six-speed gearbox with electronic shift-by-wire control, which offers steering wheel paddle shifters in addition to full automatic mode. A row of easy-to-push, easy-to-reach buttons on the dash take care of transmission modes. Quite frankly, driving the car purely as an automatic is really the way to go unless you have to negotiate winding alpine passes with what would be second-gear corners. Manual shifts are there when needed, but are probably included mainly to quieten the “full automatics are for wimps” brigade. With the car set in auto mode, there’s so much torque, more or less instantly available, that it’s easy to get lazy and leave it set that way. For those who must have a manual, a six-speed Graziano is available. Incidentally, both transmissions are “rear mid-mounted” – Aston Martin’s way of describing its transaxle setup.

2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante
2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante
2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante. Click image to enlarge

The suspension is double-wishbone all round, conventional enough for this class of car, but one of this Aston’s best features is its poise on poor road surfaces. Whatever the engineers did to tune the suspension for this challenge worked brilliantly and road undulations are ironed out with surprisingly little fuss. I took the car over some very poor roads I often use to evaluate ride quality and was mightily impressed at how well the ride held up with no handling sacrifice. Some exotic cars are almost undriveable on rippled road surfaces – hit something rough and uneven at any pace and you could be struggling to retain control. Not so with the Volante. Adding to this car’s agility and general handling prowess are a set of those wonderfully grippy Pirelli P Zero tires on 20-inch aluminum rims.

As might be expected from a car with this kind of performance, the brakes are as good as they get – dinner plate sized carbon ceramic discs that proved to be the best using this material I’d ever tried. The last car I tested with brakes like this (a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren) may have had the capability of scrubbing speed off quickly at the end of a 250 km/h sprint, but around town and at more modest speeds, they snatched and squealed so badly the car was impossible to drive smoothly. Last time I visited the Brembo factory in Bergamo, Italy, I saw a bin full of calipers with the Aston Martin logo cast into them and that’s probably where the Volante’s stoppers come from (Aston doesn’t say

The interior of my tester was finished in an opulent red leather and it looked superb. There are many who’d say red leather is an excess, but it seemed to work very well with my silver Volante. And there’s no faulting the craftsmanship in the cockpit. Every stitch seems to be flawless and quite apart from the way they look, the seats (no, not the rear ones) are comfortable and supportive. Some of the interior trim is carbon fibre, which adds a nice “competition car” touch. The instrumentation is surprisingly fuss-free for a car in this bracket. Nobody’s tried to over-impress with row after row of switches and dials – the general look in this Aston is one of simplicity and ease of use. I’m not wild about the current fad for polished aluminum fascias and trim panels, but there’s no denying its popularity. I found that it was easy to find the controls you needed even when climbing into the driver’s seat for the first time. Even the grippy steering wheel is a straightforward, no-nonsense affair.

Starting the car involves shoving an iPod Mini-shaped “key” into a slot in the dash and pressing it. This, to me, is an advancement on systems which use a push-button and a separate fob that you can’t find a place for around the cockpit.

The sound system is by Bang & Olufsen – a company at the pinnacle of high-end audio both for car and home. The system senses when the top is down and makes adjustments automatically, although for me, the best audio entertainment with the DBS Volante is the engine note.

Of course, this is a very expensive automobile indeed at $325,000 or so, but looking at the spec sheet and experiencing the performance and ambiance, it’s hard to figure out how it could have ended up any less costly. Component parts for limited-production cars are horrendously expensive. Amortizing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tooling is challenging enough with a Toyota Corolla, but when you’re talking of just a few hundred sports cars this can be near-prohibitive.

With cars like the DBS Volante, Aston Martin really deserves more consideration than it sometimes gets from “Italian or nothing”
factions of the automotive press. Perhaps it’s time for us to stop thinking about Aston Martin merely as a purveyor of James Bond’s “weapons of mass destruction” and switch to placing the British automaker where it belongs as one of the world’s great sports car builders – right in there with Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti and the rest.

Pricing: 2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante
  • Base price: $325,195
  • Options: $7,880 (2+2 seating $4,400; 20-inch alloy wheels $3,480)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $6,000
  • Price as tested: $339,175
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    [ 1389/08/25 ] [ 07:05 ب.ظ ] [ علی اسکندری ]
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