Up to now we’ve managed relatively few words on the subject of Aston Martin. It’s probably time we remedied that.
It wasn’t necessarily a matter of prejudice, but I suspect a degree of ambivalence might have crept in. Certainly in recent years under the leadership of the over-rated Ulrich Bez, the storied British marque came to rival Bentley as purveyors of overstyled and increasingly vulgar trinkets for the well heeled and indolent.
Almost but not quite – even as the almost perfectly realised DB9 was thoughtlessly pummelled into the decidedly aftermarket Vanquish before itself becoming the subject of what can only be described as a decidedly amateurish facelift, one was left pondering whether Marek Reichman’s appointment as styling chief was ill-judged. Taste and judgement certainly appeared to be in short supply during the Bez years and it’s only since his departure that we can discern how deeply his influence was felt.
Since Andy Palmer assumed control 2013, the serially troubled car maker appears to have turned a corner, both in commercial and product terms. Central to this has been the advent of the DB11, the first of a new family of traditional Aston Martin models, which will ultimately sit alongside additional vehicles, aimed at moving them into new markets and the sunny uplands of profitability – a concept which has never amounted to much apart from a fervently held aspiration up to now.
The DB11 was refreshing not only because it was handsome, but also because it was daring. In fact, it was (and remains) almost as polarising (and brave) a piece of classically contemporary automotive design as Jaguar’s unloved (X351) XJ. Like the Jaguar, it contains visual elements which appear to have been incorporated intentionally to create dissonance, so while it is a vehicle of immense (and it really is huge) presence and appeal, it falls short of outright beauty.
DB11 is also illustrative of a number of other factors. Firstly, that Reichman actually seems to be in possession of a cogent creative vision for the marque; one (it seems evident now), the Yorkshireman was unable to express publicly with the genius from Bad Cannstatt at the helm. Secondly, DB11 also makes clear that for all its modernity and visual risk, Aston Martin and by default, Reichman remain in thrall to the Callum protocol©.
Because seen in close quarters, if DB11 resembles anything, its a larger F-Type – or (to stretch the analogy close to breaking point) the stillborn replacement XK model Callum was recently quoted as having overseen several years ago at Whitley. As we know, Aston Martin’s design path diverged rather abruptly in the early 90’s when the DB7 was created out of the ashes of Jaguar’s stillborn XJ41 programme and on current form has yet to fully re-establish its own path. So while DB11 is fine looking machine and a creditable attempt at moving the conversation forward, Reichman has not as yet crafted a wholly divergent narrative.
Which brings us to the newly (well, two weeks ago now, but you know, spin cycles and such…) announced DB11 Volante; a car that drops neatly into that rather short list of convertibles which look significantly more attractive than their fixedhead counterparts. Why? Well, obviously the loss of that polarising floating C-pillar arrangement has tidied up the lines, but there’s something else – something intangible that the roof’s loss has lent the 11, which elevates it further.
The colour choice doesn’t hurt of course, but the DB11 Volante as shown elicits the lost romance of bonafide Grand Turismo travel in a manner the Bentley Continental, Ferrari Portofino or heaven help us, Mercedes-Benz SL could only secretly imagine – and then only for about an hour and a quarter on a slightly moist Tuesday afternoon in April. A lineal successor to the suave, impossibly elegant and tastefully expensive GT’s of a bygone era, the Volante offers a vastly more appealing proposition to this avowed fixed-head aficionado.
Aston Martin has had more than its share of ups and downs over its turbulent past, but on paper at least now appears to have both a plan and the necessary backing to see it to fruition. And while I couldn’t necessarily see myself owning (putative Euromillions win notwithstanding) this manner of vehicle, the fact that in the DB11 Volante, Aston Martin offers the only car in this sector with even a screed of elegance or grace, lends them and their creators a degree of credibility I would have previously considered unthinkable.