Style & Culture

Jasmine Jasmine

Mon Nov 18 2013 20:00:14 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

WSJ's Auto columnist Dan Neil writes about the new Aston Vanquish. Me wantee!

Aston Martin has pulled from the stone a kingly blade named Vanquish Volante: 15.5 feet long and barely 4 feet tall, a cloth-top convertible with a windswept carbon composite body over a glued/riveted aluminum and composite chassis. Under the never-ending hood is a naturally aspirated, 5.9-liter V12 producing 565 horsepower and a clamor like Britons overrunning your battlements. This is a noise Hadrian's dogs would have recognized.

For those with $300,000 burning a hole in their pockets, here's the executive summary: front-midmounted, 48-valve, port-injected V12; six-speed automatic transaxle (no manual transmission nor dual-clutch gearbox); 49/51 front/rear weight distribution; two tons; 0-60 mph in 4 seconds, topping out at 183 mph. She's fast enough for you, old man.

The Aston is big, torquey (457 pound-feet at 5,500 rpm) and dragon-eyed. It has kick-down passing acceleration that feels like you just caught a ride on the crosstown catapult. It almost doesn't matter if the car is sitting at a red light, murmuring softly or roaring off down the road with an unholy rattle and contrails of Pirelli tire smoke. This car gets a lot of attention. I estimate its blast radius of awesome at about a half-mile.

If you are looking at the Vanquish Volante—i.e., the convertible version of the company's grand touring 2+2— you probably are also looking at the V8-powered Ferrari California, which is a tick quicker and conspicuously less expensive, by about $100,000. The California is in subtle ways a more refined automobile, more livable, easier to operate and, with the retractable hardtop, more buttoned up against the elements.

The Aston, meanwhile, is filled with the marque's eccentricities, beloved and otherwise: the push-button automatic transmission system, for instance; the fiddly, matchbox-sized crystal key that must be plunged into the console to start the car; the "Fortress of Solitude" interface. The touch-sensitive switches in the car's center stack aren't, particularly; the knurled aluminum multifunction dial (audio, navi, settings) is in a bad spot ergonomically; and the Garmin navi is anachronistic.

If the human-factors engineering and broadband connectivity of an Audi are important to you, run, don't walk, away from the Aston.

Having said that, between the California and Vanquish Volante, it isn't a close call. The California is effeminate—there, I said it. The Aston looks like it is about to father a nation.

Just to break down one formal element in the exterior design, consider the car's radical carbon-fiber-to-glass ratio. The fuselage is practically draped across those muscular fenders, which are themselves engorged with 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, carbon-ceramic brake discs, Spa-yellow monoblock calipers, and Pirelli P Zero tires. The windshield is laid down at a desperate angle (note the flush glass, "headerless" design, with no body-colored transverse element connecting the roof pillars). The side windows are mere slits, only about 20% the of car's vertical proportion. When the canvas top is deployed, it is almost perfectly horizontal and barely intrudes on the silhouette. Hasbro never sold anything half so slinky.

“ The coup de grâce is the cut waistline, with lines drawn taut as if the car were laced into its doublet by a disgruntled valet. ”

At 52 inches high, the Ferrari is 1 inch taller than the Aston and a half-foot as long. The Maserati Grancabrio is 52.8 inches tall.

The Volante's proportions—which it shares with the fixed-roof Vanquish coupe—are hard to pull off in production automobiles, for reasons of sight lines and interior headroom. And yet one of the surprises of the Volante is how pleasantly uncrowded one feels in the cabin, even with the top up. The car is pretty easy to see out of— excepting parking, low-speed maneuvering, anything that involves reverse or requires one to judge the nose of the car. Here's an interesting fact: the luggage space for the Volante is the same—9.8 cubic feet—as it is for the fixed-roof coupe. Typically, convertible tops compromise luggage space.

When the Volante's lid is lowered (a 14-second operation allowable at speeds up to 30 mph) the Hermès-quality, stitched-leather rear headrest nacelles are exposed, flowing in lines of aerodynamic coherence across the length of the extended rear deck toward the car's hoop-style carbon-fiber spoiler.

Price, as tested: $310,000.

Powertrain: Naturally aspirated 48-valve 6.0-liter DOHC V12 with variable valve timing and variable exhaust system; sequential six-speed automatic transaxle with paddle shifters; rear-wheel drive with limited-slip differential, and launch control

Horsepower/torque: 565 hp at 6,750 rpm/457 lb-ft at 5,500 rpm

Lgth/wght: 186.1 inches/4,065 pounds

Wheelbase: 107.8 inches

0-60 mph: 4 seconds

Top speed: 183 mph

EPA fuel economy 13/19/15

Cargo capacity: 9.8 cubic feet

The coup de grâce is the car's cut waistline, with character lines drawn taut in shallow warp just ahead of the rear-wheel arches, as if the car were laced into its doublet by a disgruntled valet.

It has been noted that the Volante violates the sacred proportions of big GTs. Instead of a long hood and short rear deck, the Volante has a long, curvaceous rear deck. Some might even call it hippy. But I love this car's conformation. It reminds me of early 1960s-era long-tailed, open-top Maseratis. Our test car arrived having recently been dipped in a magic paint can filled with "Ocellus Teal." It is pretty fabulous.

Aston claims a 14% increase in the car's torsional rigidity over the outgoing DBS Volante and the Vanquish Volante does indeed have deep sturdiness about it. Pump the wheels suddenly over a railroad crossing or what have you, and nothing in the cabin twitters or creaks. The top mechanism cycles flawlessly.

The driving experience is unfailingly, even routinely, delightful, as one might expect with a 12-cylinder ultraluxury convertible. You reach for the door handle (actually, you thumb the flush-fit handle to get it to pop out) and the lightweight, carbon-intensive door pivots out and upward, the company's swan wing hinge. Slot the crystal fob into its illuminated receiver and the engine fires up with trenchant, 12-cylinder throb. The Aston's traditional ratcheting handbrake, situated to the left of the driver (in left-hand drive cars) on the floor, features a lustrous aluminum grip, which is one the car's many classic motoring notes.

The Volante isn't positioned as a hard-edge sports car—the ride quality through its range of suspension adjustment, from Normal, Sport and Track settings, is pretty civilized—but it is low and wide on stupendous tires, so the cornering grip is ferocious. The steering is bright and pinpoint. Dialing up the dynamics software also frees up the car's exhaust system bypass valves.

It gets louder, in other words, but more than that. With the Volante's top down, you can hear in the snarling wind something older, something martial. Disciplined, grave, pagan. Yet a sound to swell the heart of any good Englishman, which for this week, at least, I am.