2020 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante First Drive Review

Concept Cars

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On paper, the 207-mph Bentley Continental GT convertible is the DBS Superleggera Volante’s most obvious competitor. But on the superb, near-empty roads winding through the mountains of northern Spain, the Aston reveals itself to be an entirely different beast.

Although at 4,107 pounds, the Superleggera Volante is arguably only superleggera-ish (though generous use of carbon, including the brakes, means it actually weighs less than a DB11 Volante), it unsurprisingly feels much lighter on its feet than the portly 5,322-pound Bentley; it’s more agile in directional changes and more communicative through all phases of a corner, from initial turn-in to power exit. But it’s not just the difference in overall weight, it’s alos where it’s placed in the car. The Bentley’s front axle carries 55 percent of its total mass, while the 23 percent lighter Superleggera Volante has perfect 50/50 weight distribution. What’s more, the steering in the all-wheel-drive Bentley is unavoidably corrupted by torque flows to the front wheels. The rear-drive Superleggera Volante’s helm provides a much richer, more authentic picture of what’s actually going on where the rubber meets the road.

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The 626-hp, 664-lb-ft Bentley never sends more than 80 percent of its torque to the rear axle. In the 715-hp, 664-lb-ft Aston, the rear axle assembly and the 305/30ZR21 Pirelli P Zero rear tires have to cope with the whole lot. And, to be frank, there are times when it feels right on the edge: Nail the gas when you pull out to pass slower traffic, and you can feel the rear end squirm as the suspension bushings compress under immense loads. While the Continental GT convertible builds speed with the implacable urge of a bullet train, the Superleggera Volante feels more like you’ve lit up a Saturn V and are hanging on for the ride.

That’s not just a function of funneling all that mumbo through the rear tires; it’s also because of the way in which it is delivered by the Aston’s 5.2-liter twin-turbo V-12. In simple terms, this engine loves to rev. Not like a Ferrari 812 Superfast’s 789-hp V-12 loves to rev—there isn’t a production V-12 in the world that howls to 8,900 rpm like that extraordinary engine. But with its maximum torque available from 1,800 rpm through 5,000 rpm and its peak horsepower stampeding home at 6,500 rpm, the DBS Superleggera V-12 feels more lively than the Bentley W-12, especially once the tach needle swings past 4,000 rpm.

The weak link in the Superleggera Volante’s powertrain is the eight-speed automatic transmission. Although it’s smoother at slower speeds than the Bentley’s Porsche-developed eight-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission, it’s nowhere near as crisp and responsive when you’re hurrying the Superleggera Volante down the road. Kick-down response when passing slower traffic is its Achilles’ heel: Bury your right foot, and there’s a pause-two-three while the box thinks about shuffling down a few ratios, then an almighty thump, followed by a sonic explosion as the V-12 wakes up and hurls the big Aston at the horizon. Fanning the transmission paddles is mandatory if you want to make quick, concise progress along a winding two-lane, even with the powertrain switched to Sport+ mode.

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It’s easy to focus on the 12-cylinder Bentley Continental GT convertible and wonder whether with an MSRP of $329,100, the faster, lighter, more dynamically involving Aston Martin is worth almost $100,000 more. But it should also be remembered the Superleggera Volante costs at least $72,000 less than the languid Rolls-Royce Dawn Black Label and at least $130,000 less than a Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster, which is only a second quicker to 60 mph and just 6 mph faster overall.

The Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante is anything but a rational automobile, but in the overall scheme of things, what V-12 convertible is? More involving than the Bentley, more athletically extroverted than the luxury-focused Rolls-Royce, but not as extreme as the shrieking Lamborghini, the Superleggera Volante arguably hits the sweet spot among this group in terms of price, performance, and style. It just happens to be a very tiny sweet spot.

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