In the past, a plaque on the doorsill of an Aston Martin that advertised "Handbuilt in England" would have been a warning. But now that Aston has moved from its traditional home in Newport Pagnell to its high-tech factory at Gaydon in the English Midlands, persistent quality problems have been left behind. The renowned sports-car maker has made a remarkable transition from hopeless cottage industry to high-tech, top-class niche manufacturer.
In a summer rich with new upscale ragtops such as the Ferrari F430 Spider and the Porsche 911 Cabriolet, the Aston Martin DB9 Volante tops the heartbreaker charts, looking equally addictive with the top up or down. This car radiates an infallible sense of occasion, and yet it is neither loud nor lascivious. The Volante has great centerfold appeal-just look at the perfectly sculpted body panels; the polished, multispoke, nineteen-inch alloy wheels; the trademark grille; the lateral air vents; and the concealed pop-up door handles. It's a lot of car for what is essentially a two-seater with a tiny 6.1-cubic-foot trunk, but then there are twelve cylinders to be accommodated and almost two tons of weight to carry.
Since it is the only convertible currently to wear the winged AM badge, this particular DB9 cannot be confused with the slightly smaller V8 Vantage or with the slightly bigger Vanquish. The snug fabric roof creates a couple of larger-than-life blind spots, but it is extremely well insulated, features a heated rear window, is fully power-operated (the whiz-and-whir show takes seventeen seconds), and it will disappear beneath a solid cover when folded. When erect, the soft top adds a few decibels of wind noise and is tight for headroom, but the mohair and Alcantara-lined top cocoons the occupants and is color-keyed to perfection.
Supersized people will find the Volante an even tighter fit than the coupe. The cockpit is a slim-line affair that boasts a superwide center console, scant legroom, a windshield frame that arcs down to meet your forehead, and a beltline so high it mimics an Italian motor yacht. It's the usual fashion dilemma of drop-dead gorgeous to look at but just a tad impractical to wear. The tiny rear seats come with belts, headrests, and pop-up protectors but are-at best-scaled for preschoolers.
Aston certainly knows how to get the best out of its materials. The leather still looks, feels, and smells like the real thing. The wood has been treated with care rather than with paint and lacquer. The anodized aluminum is delicious to the touch. Aston's newfound self-confidence manifests itself the instant you turn the weighty ignition key. In the left instrument display, the Aston Martin logo lights up proudly. Simultaneously, in the right cluster, a moving dot matrix presents the message "Power, Beauty, Soul." You've got to love the crystal starter button, a rev counter with a needle that swings counterclockwise, and the truly intuitive controls-you can button-shift from D to R in no time at all, unlike in a Ferrari. There are some niggles, though, such as the handbrake hiding out of reach in the canyon between the cushion and the sill and the way the main dials are obscured behind the fat-rimmed steering wheel. And it seems crazy that you need genetically modified fingertips to operate the buttons on the pretty but overstyled center console.