Think about Aston Martin in 2021. There's going to be an EV luxury brand launched under the Lagonda name, the DBX SUV will have been on sale for a year and the hybrid, mid-engined Valhalla hypercar is going to be in production. It represents a huge diversification of the product portfolio for a marque that currently only produces front-engined, rear-drive sports cars, and will be a fascinating era in Aston's history to witness unfold.
Until then, we have the Vantage, DB11 and DBS, a trio which already make Aston as competitive as it's arguably ever been. And now there's a range flagship, the DBS Volante - a car which promises "one of the greatest sensory experiences in the automotive world" according to Andy Palmer. Moreover, with the mid-engined cars on the horizon, the Volante will be the final apex model in this mould, ending a lineage that stretches back decades.
The DB cars, the Vanquishes and the previous DBSes have all had a big engine in front, an raked cabin in the middle and drive sent rearwards. Post-DBS Superleggera, that's all going to change, so this is a pretty significant car - as well as the pinnacle of a very good range.
There's also the suspicion that this Volante could be the making of the DBS. Because while the Superleggera is a superb GT, it felt a little close to the DB11 AMR for comfort last year, a little too similar to justify the price gap. There was also the Ferrari problem; the 812 Superfast being less serene as a GT but a tangibly more exciting V12 supercar. This Volante suffers neither issue: the DB11 is only available as a V8 drop-top, and there isn't a Ferrari V12 cabrio.
There's an argument, too, that it is an even better looking V12 Aston Martin than the coupe, which is saying something. And while 170kg is a fairly hefty old weight gain, equivalent to the two adults that most certainly won't fit in the back, it's obviously a smaller percentage of what was already an 1,800kg car - one equipped as standard with 725hp and 664lb ft. So the Volante could weigh as much as a planet and still be fairly potent.
By a similar token, the DBS could be powered by a three-cylinder engine and have the structural integrity of soggy spaghetti - and you'd still want one. Because look. Ever since the Project Vanquish concept of 1998 (which of course made it to production with precious few changes), Aston has succeeded in creating a line of arresting, muscular, suave, beautiful sports cars, a theme which has wholeheartedly continued into its Second Century. If the Vantage is a little generic from the front and the DB11 perhaps not imposing enough, the DBS - and most certainly the Volante - nails the brief: it's dynamic yet graceful, attractive without being dainty and impressive without veering into intimidating. It's an absolute triumph.
That's before seeing the details up close, too; those carbon strakes by the front wheels, the incredible engine bay, the stunning paint finish, the way those 21-inch wheels perfectly fill the arches. Even compared to the rest of the AM range, and even before moving an inch, the Volante feels a more sumptuous, covetable vehicle.
On the road, the initial impression is little different to the coupe; that's what you'd hope for, of course, the convertible being very closely related, though never guaranteed when replacing a metal roof with a canvas one. Without sounding too much like the Aston press release, the coupe was a rich and evocative driving experience: there were 12 cylinders and abundant power up front, palatial luxury all around, a soundtrack from Norse mythology and handling that could have come straight from the Super GT textbook. It could be cuddly, refined and relaxed, it could cut loose like an M3 on spacesavers or it could carve through a mountain pass - it was some vehicle, all told.
By retaining much of what made the DBS great, and adding the rarefied joy of top-down Aston ownership, it's not hard to appreciate what a compelling proposition the Volante is. For a car so large, heavy and fast, it's the subtlety and sophistication that shine through brightest. The brakes have a heck of a task to do, yet the pedal is progressive, firm and confidence inspiring; the steering is excellent for EPAS, lacking the grainy feedback of before but nicely weighted and consistent; the adaptive damping, too, is a class act, perfectly supple when required and tauter as the driver requests from those wheel-mounted buttons. The idea that the DBS might be nothing more than a huge engine and drop-dead body evaporates almost immediately.
The DBS is that good, in fact, that more than twice the power of a Focus RS (and half the driven wheels) very swiftly becomes far more approachable than it should be. Traction is enormous, throttle response great, any assist intervention subtle and the balance benign; the considerable potential there to be exploited, not evaded. Surely not the work of a moment in development.
It's all the more impressive when you consider the monster that is Aston's 5.2-litre unit. There is a bit of lag while the twin turbos steel themselves, though the DBS is already motoring along quite nicely before then thanks to more than five thousand cubic centimetres of V12. Furthermore, and in keeping with theme of subtlety and rigour, the arrival of boost is noticeable though not overwhelming. Never at any point from 1,000 to 7,000rpm is more than 700hp in doubt, and never does it feel like too much either, aided by the silky calibration of the ZF automatic.
Alright, so it's not flawless. Not quite. On more challenging tarmac the roof's contribution to stiffness is noticeable by its absence, tremors evident where previously there would have been none. A back-to-back test would probably make that 170kg more discernible as well. It's possible that the Sport+ mode, for both suspension and drivetrain, are a bit much - too stiff, too shouty - and that's a shame. Finally, to be blunt, the DBS is absolutely enormous and rather hard to see out of, which makes driving around in £300,000 of Aston even more anxious work than it would be usually.
Despite those qualms, and despite an interior which features too much Mercedes-Benz and too little luxury on Bentley's scale, the Volante is the best DBS, and therefore most probably the best Aston. The Superleggera has never been a supercar, and its almost languid gait suits the Volante remit better than it does grand GT. As a coupe it occasionally suffers for comparison with Ferraris and even other Aston Martins - but the Volante is easier to grade on its own merits. And on that scale it drives far, far better than a two-tonne cabrio has any right to; arguably a more impressive achievement than making another V12 Aston hard-top merely competitive.
There's resonance, too, in the idea that the DBS Volante provides the history books with what could justly be called the zenith of V12, front-engined Astons. Previously, charm might have been deployed as the ersatz substitute for talent, but the last 20 years feels like it has been the finishing school for the manufacturer's ability to deliver across the board. The DBS is the finest exponent of that graduation, and totally captivating for it. If Aston's near future delivers vehicles as emphatically capable and supremely desirable as this, its prospects seem assured no matter how ambitious its changing strategy.
SPECIFICATION - ASTON MARTIN DBS SUPERLEGGERA VOLANTE
Engine: 5,204cc, V12, twin turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 725@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 664@1,800-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.5sec (claimed)
Top speed: 211mph
Weight: 1,863kg (dry)
MPG: 20.1 (WLTP)
CO2: 295g/km (NEDC)
Photos: Dafydd Wood