Aston Martin DB9 Volante
by Dan Strong
No wonder James Bond had his DB5 kitted out with gadgets to beat the baddies. If ever there was a car to make a secret agent stand out rather than blend in, it is a new Aston Martin.
Now the experience is being elevated to a new level with the Volante, a convertible DB9 that allows you to hear your admirers as well as see them.
There is no doubt the DB9 is one of the best-looking cars on the market, and the drop-top's roof mechanism is neatly packaged. In reality the Volante is pretty much a car in its own right, as it was developed independently of the coupé, despite the fact it shares much of its technology with the hard-top.
The 6.0-litre V12 offers 450bhp and feels awesomely powerful. A six-speed automatic promises refinement, as does the fact that the suspension is slightly softer than the coupé's.
Settle into the leather bucket seats and the engine crackles into life with a press of the starter button. There is no gearlever, only a series of buttons to allow you to select forward and reverse. Drivers can change gear manually with steering-wheel mounted paddles, while sport mode sharpens the shift further. The 1,800kg car's rate of acceleration is phenomenal, while the torque offered by the V12 means that even in top gear the Volante pulls like a train.
However, head off the motorway and the DB9's flaws reveal themselves. Ignoring the softer suspension - which offers a compliant ride at the expense of some body control - we cannot help feeling the engine and gearbox combination undermines the appeal.
The chassis is every inch as impressive as any open-top rival's, but the engine is truck-like, and aside from the glorious exhaust note, lacks genuine character. The paddleshifters do not really help - they promise a sporting edge that is not really there.
These are small problems in an excellent car, but there is no avoiding the fact that minor faults are quickly magnified by the DB9 Volante's £112,000 price tag and 12-month waiting list.
James Bond would be better off on the bus, but the Volante offers an unforgettable experience for the man on the street. Anyone lucky enough to be able to put an order in is unlikely to be joining the queue for public transport.
Consider yourself lucky if you can get behind the wheel of a DB9 Volante. Not only does it offer a spine-tingling drive, it looks sensational, too. But while passers by will be green with envy, you might feel a little bit frustrated. The £112,000 drop-top isn't perfect, but with competition growing in this sector, it really needs to be.
AT A GLANCE
* The DB9 Volante offers four seats, complete with three-point belts. However, probably the only thing the tiny rear chairs are ever likely to carry is Harrods shopping bags.
* Engine: 6.0-litre V12, 450bhp
* 0-60mph: 4.9 seconds
* Top speed: 186mph