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Aston Martin DBS Volante: The head-turner that'll leave you white with car fever

It's a vehicle that could be perfection itself with its 6.0-liter V-12 engine, 510 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque. Too bad the audio and climate controls are pathetic for this caliber of sports car.

August 28, 2009|DAN NEIL

I understand the Aston Martin DBS Volante is not for everybody. Not everyone will care for a $300,000, 12-cylinder, open-top super car that looks like love feels and sounds like whiskey tastes.

But if you are one of these people -- these nugatory finger-waggers, these buzz-killing harpies of righteous socialism -- please, sit next to someone else at dinner. I will stick a fork in your eye.

Yes, of course it's a car for rich jackasses, preening showoffs and enviro-criminals. Really, what part of Aston Martin don't you understand?

But here's the thing: Aston will build only about 500 of these cars a year for the whole wide world; that's about 1 DBS Volante for every 400,000 square miles of dry land on Earth. These cars will, with rare exception, spend perpetuity in collectors' garages, venturing out only for the occasional weekend drive or jaunt to the polo field. Unless you live in Bel-Air or Abu Dhabi, your odds of seeing one in the flesh are slimmer than the chances a Nigerian oil minister will deposit millions into your bank account.

The DBS Volante is not, in other words, a real car, in the sense that it doesn't exist in the same Chevy-and-Honda world that you and I occupy. It's a legend, a myth, a beau ideal, a 510-hp unicorn of an automobile. You don't have to like it. You don't even have to believe in it. But you've got to concede the world is a more wonderful place for it.

I mean, just look at it.

Lathed from solid envy, thick with menace, low with conspiracy, wide with mayhem, the DBS Volante sends other motorists into a lane-crossing frenzy as they dive for their cellphones to take pictures .

It's tremendous fun to run up behind an SUV with adolescent boys in the back and watch as, their noses pressed against the rear window, their little minds become permanently warped with car fever. Their mouths go slack, their eyes spin. The Aston is the end of automotive innocence for them. Xbox will never be the same.

And then, shift down a couple of gears and stomp the throttle: The 6.0-liter V-12 starts murdering air and gas, the tailpipes tear the veil off reason and common sense, and the car . . . just . . . disappears.

Mommy, I want an Aston Martin!

The Volante is the convertible version of the DBS Coupe (James Bond's car in "Quantum of Solace, by the way), which is itself a high-performance version of the DB9. The DBS coupe gets 40 more horsepower than the DB9, as well as a thorough stiffening of the chassis and suspension. The Volante backs off a bit from the coupe's flinty, pure sports-car character. For one thing, the folding top mechanism adds about 200 pounds to the weight of the car. Also, the Volante is a 2-plus-2 car whereas 2-plus-2 seating is only an option with the coupe.

Typically, when coupes are turned into convertibles, manufacturers have to reinforce the chassis to compensate for the loss of structural rigidity provided by the roof. (That's why convertibles are always heavier than their coupe siblings).

The lungs are the same -- both the DBS Coupe and the Volante use the same race-bred 6.0-liter V-12, with 510 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque. My test car was equipped with a six-speed, paddle-shifted ZF automatic transmission -- not an automated manual, like the Ferrari California. The automatic works beautifully, of course, but enthusiasts might miss the sharper edge of manual transmission.

Both cars have Aston's variable-length exhaust system. In the Volante, under acceleration, when the engine revs reach about 3,800 rpm, a bypass valve opens up and wild, feral decibels come pouring out, though not exactly a snarl. It's more refined, brighter, more metallic, richer and more musical; the chain saw you'd use to cut down the Enchanted Forest. Like if you could somehow catch the Perseids on a tea service . . .

The top mechanism itself is excellent. The acoustically matted canvas top retracts in a brief 14 seconds, more than quick enough to lower the top at a stoplight (the top will also operate up to speed of 30 mph). The deck tonneau integrates low humps for the roll bars that pop up if the car senses an incipient rollover "event" -- and what an event that would be.

The interior is beautifully constructed and highly imperfect. For starters, the small LCD navigation panel that emerges out of the dash is dated and not all that user-friendly.

Also, the interior's piano-black wood reflects blinding sunlight into the driver's eyes, top up or down. Aston's audio and climate controls and LCD display are pathetic for this caliber of car. To the good, my test car was trimmed in gorgeous chocolate-brown leather hand-stitched with thick cord. Sensational.

How does the Volante drive? Exquisitely. Big, powerful, quick and seriously, three-digit fast. The steering is razor sharp. The carbon-ceramic brakes are freaking land anchors. There's serious grip everywhere. But the Volante is never less than utterly, magically refined.

If there's a complaint to be made it's that this stupefyingly expensive sports car never really boils one's blood. There's no warning, no address of adrenaline, no clue you're going too fast -- until you hear the sirens wailing behind you.

Love hurts.

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dan.neil@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante

Base price: $286,500

Price, as tested: $310,000 (est.)

Powertrain: 6.0-liter DOHC 48-valve V-12 with variable valve timing; six-speed automatic transmission; rear-wheel drive

Horsepower: 510 hp at 6,500 rpm

Curb weight: 3,990 pounds

Torque: 420 pound-feet at 5,750 rpm

0-62 mph: 4.3 seconds

Wheelbase: 107.9 inches

Length: 185.9 inches

EPA fuel economy: 12/17 mpg, city/highway (est.)

Final thoughts: Don't hate it because it's beautiful

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