It wasn't optimal weather for tooling around in a convertible, but the Aston Martin DB9 Volante shone even under brooding skies as I guided it through a foliage-lined course. Though I wasn't able to get across the pond to drive it in old York, I found a suitable testing ground in New York's Saratoga National Historical Park, where the scrappy guerrillas picked up a decisive victory over the Crown in 1777. As the car held steady on sharp corners, I considered myself fortunate that the United States buried the hatchet with its former royal overlords, allowing American drivers like myself the privilege of manning the Volante today.
Since the DB was introduced after World War II, it has starred in a handful of James Bond flicks and evolved from a four-cylinder model that hit 90 miles per hour to the Volante's V-12 with a top speed of 186. The Volante uses paddle shifters on the steering wheel and a clutchless gearbox that's both brawny and brainy. Downshift too early, and the electronics will override and wait for an acceptable speed. With a new aluminum bonded frame, the hand-built DB9 Volante is an aerodynamic marvel unfettered by unnecessary accoutrements like bumpers. Those are replaced by pressure zones, hidden beneath the fascia.
Fortunately for me, there was a break in the rainy afternoon long enough to test the automatic soft top, which, at the flick of a switch, fully retracts in 17 seconds. That's doable at a long stoplight. Safely nestled under a respite of sun, I pumped up the crystal-clear 950-watt Linn stereo (it fought the wind noise to a draw) to traverse the battlefields with a rollicking U.K. mix of the Clash, Queen, and Lady Sovereign.
$175,400; $185,045 as tested
5.9-liter 450-hp V-12 engine; six-speed automatic transmission; 13/18 mpg
The interior is upholstered in buttery Bridge of Weir leather with accents in your choice of bamboo, walnut, or mahogany. I also enjoyed the translucent glass starter button that glows red and the umbrella stashed in the trunk. Thanks, Aston Martin; I'd forgotten mine.
The V-12 engine means woeful gas mileage, of course, and the stereo lacks a jack for an MP3 player. Though the DB9 Volante officially seats four, the blokes in the back seat would have to be nearly emaciated to fit.
"The DB9 is special because very few cars have a V-12 and even fewer are this elegant," says Gary S. Vasilash, editor in chief of Automotive Design and Production. "It's like a wolf in a tuxedo."