First Drive: 2006 Aston Martin DB9 Volante
Top Drawer: We'll spare you the "topless" cliches--this elegant V-12-powered convertible will help create a few new ones
By Andrew Frankel
Photography by Richard Newton
You should always judge a car not for whether it strikes a chord with you personally but for how well it does the job for which it was designed. "Fitness for purpose," it's called. Well, for the four days and three nights the new Aston Martin DB9 Volante was at our disposal, there wasn't a single time--not one--when there wasn't at least one person staring at it.
There, we've said it: The typical Aston Volante prospect now has all the information he needs to confirm what he suspected from the moment he first saw photographs of this car: It is, indeed, a good place in which to drop $168,000. There are cars that attract attention because they look silly or have simply never been seen before. But none has had the instant effect on so many people from so many different backgrounds as does the DB9 Volante.
This is more than just an attractive car: It's the rarest of things: a convertible that's at least as good looking as the coupe on which it's based. More astonishing still, its looks aren't even ruined when the fabric roof is up. So there you have it: The Volante is the best-looking convertible on the market.
But that's not quite enough, is it? However much something is designed as a fashion statement, if it doesn't fulfill its original purpose, it's not worth having. Imagine a Patek Philippe that didn't keep time or a Paul Smith suit that wasn't comfortable to wear. Ultimately, there has to be some substance to go with the style. And with the DB9 Volante, there is. Factory sources say the softtop DB9 hits 180 mph and accelerates to 60 mph in just under five seconds.
Under the aluminum hood is the same 6.0-liter, 444-horsepower V-12 engine used in the coupe, with a choice of the Italian-made Graziano six-speed manual (similar to that used in the Ferrari 575M) or ZF's smooth 6HB26 six-speed automatic with paddle-shift control that artfully blips the throttle on downshifts. Both transmissions are mounted between the rear wheels to help ensure near-perfect weight distribution.
The DB9's extruded-aluminum spaceframe has an inner beauty all its own. The windshield surround is cast aluminum, and magnesium is used for the steering-column assembly and door inners. The engine/ transmission structure is tied to the central tub by way of cast-aluminum subframes that also carry the forged-aluminum double-wishbone suspension arms and the aluminum-bodied shocks. The steering rack is ZF and mounted ahead of the front axle line to give better control under extreme steering loads and heavy braking. The 19-inch alloy wheels are flow-formed rather than cast, reportedly saving a couple pounds per wheel in unsprung mass.
Were there nothing else to say here, the DB9 Volante would be as thrilling, rewarding, and just plain fun to drive as the coupe--but as you know already, something's gone missing. You probably reckon the primary purpose of a car's roof is to keep the rain out; if you were an automotive engineer, you'd say it was to provide torsional rigidity. This is critical to understanding this car; so imagine the DB9 were not an exquisite automobile but a shoebox. If you left the lid on the box, took each end, and tried to twist the box, you'd find it difficult. Take the lid off, and it's easy. The DB9 Volante has had its lid removed, and the rigidity enjoyed by the coupe has gone with it.
This affects everything. To retain some stiffness in its structure, Aston Martin has had to strengthen the rest of the shoebox, so the result is the DB9 convertible is about 100 pounds heavier than the coupe. It's not a lot, but enough to take the edge off performance and fuel economy (Aston claims the coupe is three-tenths of a second quicker to 60 mph and six mph faster overall.) More significant, however, is the fact that no convertible, however much added bracing it receives, can ever be as rigid as a coupe. This means more vague handling and an inferior ride.
You notice this more in the DB9 than in other current convertible supercars, including the Porsche 997 Cabriolet, Ferrari F430 Spider, and Mercedes-Benz SL65. On pitted urban roads, or rutted country lanes, the ride is just plain harsh and interferes notably with the suave, sophisticated image you're trying to project. The Volante still handles well, but there's no doubt its responses have been slightly blunted.
Even cruising with the roof up (Aston Martin boss Ulrich Bez says the company eschewed the trend toward folding metal tops in favor of cloth because it's lighter and takes less space to stow), you can feel the structure jiggling beneath you while wind-noise levels are higher than you'd hope from a car with such lofty Grand Touring aspirations. So it's best to drop the roof--which happens in 17 seconds--and listen to one of the best exhaust notes in the business.
2006 Aston Martin DB9 Volante
Base price $168,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD, 2+2-pass, 2-door convertible
Engines 5.9L/444-hp /420 lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12
Transmissions 6-speed man; 6-speed auto
Curb weight 3850-3900 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 107.8 in
Length x Width x Height 184.9/73.8/51.9 in
0-60 mph 4.9 sec (mfr est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 12-13 / 18-19 mpg
On sale in U.S. Currently
How Aston Martin got the DB9 through the various noise tests it has to pass before being certified as fit to sell is a mystery novel, but you'll be glad they managed it. Although there's some humble Ford buried deep in its DNA, the Aston V-12 makes one of the best noises you'll hear from any new car: Probably only a Ferrari V-8, Porsche flat-six, and Lamborghini V-12 sound better.
If you're a hard-core driver, you'll go for the sharper, edgier coupe, which is expected to account for half the 400 or so DB9s that are allocated to the U.S. over the coming year. But the expensive, exclusive DB9 Volante is the only choice if you want to make the biggest splash in South Beach, the Hamptons, or Malibu next summer. That's exactly what it was designed to do.