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2016 Aston Martin DB9 GT Volante Review

Beauty from body to soul By ,

Aston Martin has updated its stunningly beautiful albeit very well seasoned DB9 for 2016, adding “GT” lettering to its name and 30 more horsepower to its 6.0L V12. Also, look for some minor styling enhancements and a new instrument panel. 

Now with 540 horsepower and 457 lb-ft torque under its long, elegant hood, the British coupe flashes past 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds, while the 59kg heavier Volante drop-top does so a notch slower ― although with the roof lowered it feels faster, and that’s what really matters, right? 

Not if you overhear a gathering of university kids comparing specs on the latest supercars. I’m not judging, because I did much the same with my friends when I was 20-something, even if the cars we bantered about wore names like RS 200, 959, ZR-1, Testarossa, and 911 Turbo. Yes, some nameplates never die, although the 911 Turbo hardly needs 4.8 seconds to reach 100 km/h anymore. Heck, even today’s base 911 does the deed in 4.6 seconds.

Like a unicorn
An Aston Martin is a scarcer sighting, the brand normally eliciting the business of a slightly more mature buyer. After all, this Stratus White DB9 GT Volante is 50% slower than the Maranello-born supercar I just noted, and that’s just too much discrepancy for a frail young ego to accept. Still, as I cruised through Vancouver’s opulent West Side, I realized the company should’ve named the colour “Status White” instead, as it stops passersby in their tracks mid conversation, is supernaturally capable of pulling eyeballs away from phones and into the real world (if only for a moment), and causes nods of respect from those young guys with the aforementioned supercars as they pull up and stare. 

I can understand why. There are so many of the above in my neighbourhood that I hardly take notice when one blasts past, but an Aston Martin cruising by forces a certain reverential respect. And no, it’s not because the numbers on some graph rate a given Vantage, Vanquish, Rapide or this DB9 more capable than a 488 GTB, 570S or Turbo S, but rather because the Aston is so undeniably beautiful, produces the most soul-stirring sounds, and on a more personal note pulls such indelibly stamped memories from more than a few unforgettable flings over the circuitous Salinas Highway (SR 68) outside of Monterey, California that I’m immediately transported back to one of the most enjoyable weekends of my career. 

The last time I performed the feat was at the wheel of a DB9 Volante in identical Stratus White paint, and although that model’s V12 merely pushed 470 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque through the rear wheels it hardly mattered. It was all about an unquantifiable yet totally real, pure, visceral experience that few cars can match, combined with a luxuriant interior replete with layers of soft, supple leather, even softer suede and deep, rich carpeting, planks of hardwood, chunks of billet aluminum, along with plenty of analog meters and digital displays, a crystal key fob slotted into the centre stack, metal-finished primary gauges spinning the tachometer needle the wrong way just because, an actual handbrake lever at your beck and call (albeit to the left of the driver’s seat), powered seat, lumbar, memory, and heated cushion toggles on each side of the centre console, and big round push-button gear selectors on that just noted centre stack (a traditional shifter is unnecessary when paddles are at hand). 

This time around, the Aston Martin DB9’s hides were Chancellor Red instead of Kestral Tan, and the burr walnut trim was substituted for piano black lacquer. More so, the centre stack has been brought into the modern age with new ovoid control pods filled with touch-sensitive buttons for a clean, uncluttered look, plus Aston’s usual array of solid aluminum knobs. The infotainment display continues to power out of the dash top, although its screen size is smaller than most, the graphics are colourful but uninspired, and overall functionality is merely adequate, other than the Garmin-sourced navigation system that’s ideally accurate. But really, who cares about so-so infotainment? I’m driving a DB9 and even the stock audio system, which was notably worthy of installation, pales in comparison to the sound of the V12. 

Listen and enjoy
As much as my usual quest for the perfect shift beckoned, the DB9’s paddles remaining stationary on the steering column in the proper race-spec way rather than rotating around with the rim, it was an insatiable appetite for backpressure from the twin pipes that won over, the barks, burbles, and blatts combining for auditory overload. I’m tempted to say nothing comes close to those exhaust overtones when joined by an Aston V12’s ferocious snarl, but that’s getting caught up in the moment as I’ve surely said the same thing about a Ferrari’s V12, one of Maserati’s V8s, etc. The Aston’s is one of a kind and comparing it to anything else is like trying to decide if Aretha’s got better pipes than Gladys. 

With the big V12 singing and the exhaust wailing, the DB9 GT Volante’s 245/35ZR20 front and 295/30 rear Pirelli P Zero dancing shoes do their best interpretation of the king of pop. The car’s graceful form is notably more than skin deep when inescapable speed and undulating, curving roadway conjoin. This 4-passenger convertible is hardly lightweight compared to some of the models mentioned earlier, but it’s wonderfully agile nonetheless. And whereas other long-wheelbase convertibles creak and groan as they shimmy and shudder over pavement imperfections or bridge expansion joints, the DB9 GT Volante’s bonded aluminum body shell remains ridiculously rigid despite its dozen years of development. 

Yes, the basic VH platform architecture has been with us a long time, and Aston Martin fans are very much looking forward to spending quality time in next year’s DB11, but the DB9’s undercarriage is still fully up to the task. It comes down to a good initial design, while the DB9’s cloth top is actually back in vogue thanks to less weight and a smaller stowage requirement than retractable hardtops. It’s almost as quiet as a coupe at high speed, too, and said top powers up or down in just 17 seconds, while Aston finishes the underside in decadent suede, mine coloured red no less, just like the windshield frame and cross member. The workmanship is incredible. 

Solid, safe, and stable
Of course, the Aston Martin DB9 GT Volante is made safer from a reinforced windshield frame and twin pop-up roll bars hidden behind the rear seats that deploy if sensors detect an imminent rollover. The way the DB9 takes to corners makes such thoughts seemingly preposterous, but better safe than sorry. It should be noted that this convertible’s suspension is slightly softer than its hardtop sibling, with gentler springs and a narrower front stabilizer bar. The rear stabilizer bar is removed altogether. 

It doesn’t matter, because the front tires prove to be as wonderfully communicative as they are tractably obedient to turn-in, while the 6-piston front calipers framed by stunning spindle-thin alloys are even more amenable to brake pressure. The Volante’s stopping power is so immediate that it borders on violent. 

The dampers are adaptive, by the way, with a separate button allowing a firmer or more compliant setting depending on road conditions, even if Sport mode is chosen, or vice versa. And the default suspension mode allows for a comfortable ride over all but the most obnoxious tarmac. As a result, the Aston Martin DB9 is a car you can easily drive every day, unlike those weekend warriors mentioned earlier. 

Speaking of weekends, a small trunk allows for some well-packed luggage, or even more if you remove the smartly packaged wind blocker. Elsewhere, if you’d like to charge your laptop while driving, Aston provides a 12V plug within the cargo compartment. The hefty billet aluminum protective plate is particularly nice, as is the rich carpeting, all of which was in sharp contrast to the engine bay that’s positively understated in its matte aluminum finish. Don’t get me wrong as it’s still a beautifully exposed mechanical marvel in a world of unreal plastic engine shrouds, but it came across as more ready for work than time for play. 

The price of exclusivity
I suppose that last point wraps my thoughts up nicely. The 2016 Aston Martin DB9 GT Volante is a supercar that can comfortably jet you back and forth to your downtown office each day, ahead of quick sprints to weekend getaways. Regular road trips at the wheel of a DB9 GT Volante are almost too blissful for the mind to comprehend. 

So, if you have the necessary $245,000+, you should experience a DB9 while you still can, as few cars offer as much seat-of-the-pants feel, over-the-top opulence, and sheer beauty. Other machines might get you to your destination faster, but the journey likely won’t be as enjoyable. 
 

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Photos:T.Hoffman
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