2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante

Recently, a fellow editor at AOL asked me to choose "the most beautiful car on the road" for a story he was preparing. I was allowed to choose any vehicle, at any price, as long as it was a model currently in production and offered for sale. The well-oiled gears in my head only needed to turn about half a revolution before I had an answer: The 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante.

My decision was simple and my logic sound, because the two-seat Volante is jaw-droppingly gorgeous – whether in pictures or in person. Its long, slender chassis is covered in an artfully sculpted carbon-fiber skin that reeks of sexiness, power and exclusivity. In my mind, there's nothing on the road today with such exquisite lines.

But a seductive appearance is meaningless if there's no substance beneath the skin. To allay my concerns, Aston Martin invited me to Palm Springs to spend a couple of days with the car. The region's desert topography promised nice weather and spectacular drive opportunities – that is, if I could stop staring and climb behind its wheel.

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante

The insulated triple-layer cloth on the Aston will expose the sky in about 14 seconds.

Aston Martin launched its all-new 2014 Vanquish Volante at the last August's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in Monterey as the successor to its DBS Volante. This two-seater is physically and mechanically identical to the Vanquish coupe, but the fixed carbon-fiber roof of the coupe has been replaced with a power-operated retractable soft top for open-air motoring.

Before you question employing a soft folding roof on a $300,000 vehicle, let me remind you that such designs actually offer major advantages over today's folding hardtops. They are invariably lighter, far less complex, and their much more compact nature makes them easier to package without compromising a car's aesthetics. When engineered and executed properly, as is the case with the Volante, few will miss solid panels. The insulated triple-layer cloth on the Aston will expose the sky in about 14 seconds at the push of a switch, and it will rise or retreat at speeds up to 30 mph. Unlike its previous open-air executions, this is the first time that Aston Martin has built a convertible with a full-height windscreen, which means the front glass runs all the way up to the fabric roof for a much cleaner transition.

The Volante, like all of its Aston Martin siblings, shares the automaker's Generation 4 VH platform, which is company-speak for an all-aluminum monocoque chassis. Affixed to the lightweight alloy platform are carbon fiber body panels on the hood, trunk, quarter panels and doors. Unlike metal stampings, the composite material allows the automaker to construct larger panels, reducing the number of body seams (the front and rear bumpers are flexible urethane, for better impact performance). The panels' sharp lines and aggressive curves owe their existence to the composite body material, and the rear decklid with its integrated open spoiler is impressively manufactured – and painted – as one single piece.

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The brawny V12 ensures that it will sprint to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds.

Don't be misled into believing that all of the advanced carbon fiber means the Brits have pared the Volante down to a lean fighting machine. Despite an inordinate amount of featherweight materials, Aston Martin is quoting a curb weight of 4,065 pounds. That puts the Volante about 232 pounds heavier than the Vanquish coupe, which is already in the thick of the middleweight category. Nevertheless, the brawny V12 ensures that it will sprint to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and not run out of steam until it hits 183 mph.

As is the case with all late-model Aston Martins, the Vanquish Volante arrives with a wondrous sapphire crystal remote key fob that feels substantial in hand. I tumbled it through my fingers for a few fleeting seconds before pushing on the trick flush door handle, pulling open the swan door, and then dropping into the cockpit of my Apple Tree Green metallic test car.

The Vanquish provides its front-seat occupants with generous amounts of room, and my six-foot, two-inch frame was certainly content, but I did get a laugh upon peering over my shoulder to confirm that somebody, somewhere, decided that the Volante is large enough to hold four humans – there are actually seatbelts back there. In reality, the leather-lined cabin is barely a 2+2 configuration, which means there's plenty of real estate for a couple of occupants and their carry-on luggage, but you wouldn't want to put anyone old enough to voice an opinion in the rear seats. The trunk, at 9.8 cubic feet, isn't cavernous, but it's plenty useful. Its cargo capacity remains the same, top up or down, which is much more convenient than a slightly larger trunk that requires the driver to tend to a divider or move cargo each time the top is retracted.

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In reality, the leather-lined cabin is barely a 2+2 configuration.

Volante owners wouldn't expect anything but the best, so the automaker has shoehorned its updated 6.0-liter V12 powerplant under the long ventilated hood. As with the Vanquish coupe, the engine has been upgraded with dual variable valve timing, an improved fuel pump, bigger throttle bodies, revised intake manifold and fully machined combustion chambers to deliver 565 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 457 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm. Power is deployed via Aston's six-speed Touchtronic 2 automatic transmission, and a standard mechanical limited-slip differential helps to ensure the rear-wheel drive convertible faithfully sends the power to the pavement.

Aston Martin introduced a redesigned instrument panel with the Vanquish coupe, taking styling cues from its low-volume One-77 supercar. The Vanquish Volante adopts the freshened design, and its appearance is stylish and new, with logical clusters of capacitive-touch glass buttons with haptic feedback and easy-to-read dials. While most of this car's competitors are replacing primary analog instrumentation with full digital panels, the Volante boasts genuine round dials with legible sweeping needles (like other Astons, the tachometer needle spins counterclockwise, which adds some visual charm and interest). Ergonomics still fall under the "challenged" category – the pushbutton transmission selector in particular – but the layout won't take an owner more than a few days to become fully acclimated. The same can't be said of the navigation system (which has been updated but is still well behind the curve in features and operation), and not having a glovebox is bothersome.

In terms of upscale luxury surfaces, the Aston delivers the goods in all the right places. Buttery-soft quilted leather, available in a rich variety of colors (our Ivory leather seats were contrasted with Baltic Blue leather), covers the seats, door panels and dashboard. Areas not wrapped in hide are offered in carbon-fiber (twill or fishbone pattern), piano black or a variety of other bespoke finishes. The trim, vent surrounds and hardware are mostly rendered in polished aluminum to provide a pleasing contrast. The automaker also offers two different steering wheels – the sportiest has unusually flat sides, similar to the unit offered in the One-77.

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Even with Mother Nature working against me, it was impossible to not enjoy this Brit.

Aston Martin requires that the glass rectangular key be physically inserted into the top of the center console and held for a few seconds as its illumination changes colors before the V12 will fire over. Once the brief show is complete, the 6.0-liter rumbles to life and quickly settles to a tepid growl.

My plotted route would take me from the Palm Springs basin, at about 500 feet above sea level, up to more than 6,000 feet of elevation in the surrounding terrain south of the city. The weather was temperate at the start, so I initially ran with the top stowed, but a freak winter storm began dropping snow at the top of the cold mountain pass, forcing me to button things up tight in the afternoon. Yet even with Mother Nature working against me, it was impossible to not enjoy this Brit.

The Volante is a luxury GT, meaning it's at home on open highways and twisty canyons, but it isn't the family track star (those duties are best left to the V12 Vantage S). However, that won't matter to those behind its thick steering wheel, as the platform is beautifully balanced and its sporty demeanor will please even the most discerning automotive enthusiast – this car is immensely fun to drive.

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante

The robust V12 hardly breaks a sweat as it moves the sleek convertible down the road.

Highway travel is effortless, with the robust V12 hardly breaking a sweat as it moves the sleek convertible down the road. Hidden beneath the body's carbon-fiber panels is an independent suspension with double-wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bars and three-stage monotube dampers at all four corners. The standard adaptive suspension has three settings (Normal, Sport and Track), which are driver adjustable with a button on the wheel. The default mode (Normal) is on the firm side of the scale, but perfectly comfortable on the interstate even across breaks in the pavement.

On the highway, top-down driving results in very little wind buffeting in the cockpit, and conversations are easy to hold without raised voices. Aston Martin provides a wind blocker which snaps and clips into place, but it's unnecessary, even at 75 mph (long as the side windows were raised. However, those who prefer topless cruising in lower temperatures (below 50F or so) will find its installation welcome, especially when combined with the heated seats. With the top up, the convertible rivals the coupe with its low noise level, but outward visibility to the rear quarters suffers understandably due to the thick, opaque fabric pillars.

When leaving the level highways and heading into the canyons, a quick press of the "Sport" button (marked with a red "S" on the steering wheel) is recommended. While this does nothing to the adaptive suspension (it has its own aforementioned button), its activation opens baffles in the exhaust, firms up the steering and breathes a bit more youth into the gearbox mapping. In other words, the Vanquish Volante comes to life.

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Even with engine's intoxicating auditory track filling the canyons, I still noticed the six-speed automatic transmission.

Climbing the area's perfectly sculpted roads with the silken sounds of the V12 at 5,000 rpm bouncing off the rock walls is nothing short of a surreal experience. But even with engine's intoxicating auditory track filling the canyons, I still noticed the six-speed automatic transmission. Last year, when I drove the Vanquish coupe at NOLA Motorsports Park outside New Orleans, its traditional torque-converter automatic left me less-than-impressed – it couldn't crack off shifts as quickly as I wanted. But on the mountain roads surrounding Palm Springs, the Touchtronic 2 automatic in Sport mode was smooth, responsive and its shift points appeared perfectly matched to the engine – in a nutshell, it operated flawlessly. So well, in fact, that I found very little need to mess around with the column-mounted shift paddles.

The Vanquish Volante is not quite as nimble as the Vantage, but it begs to be pushed in the corners. While many automakers have made the switch to electrically assisted steering, the Volante still features hydraulically assisted, speed-dependent, rack-and-pinion steering. Initial response to steering wheel movement is direct and focused, but not too sharp – "stable" and "accurate" are the two words I'd use to describe its old-school feedback. Mid-corner stability is also a strength, with the next-generation Pirelli P-Zero tires, in staggered sizes (255/35ZR20 front and 305/30ZR20 rear), providing more grip than I was willing to explore as the weather started to go south. I have always applauded Aston's VH platform for its rigidity and balance (weight distribution of the convertible is said to be 49:51 front-to-rear), and the automaker has done a fine job exploiting its talent with impressive steering tuning and the proper tire fitment.

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante

It's hard to find glaring flaws with the $300,000 Vanquish Volante – assuming you can afford it.

To counter the sort of velocities brought about by 565 horsepower, Aston has fitted standard carbon-ceramic disc brakes with six-piston calipers (over 15.7-inch rotors) up front and four-piston calipers (14.2-inch rotors) at the rear. The immense carbon-ceramic brakes look great through the optional 20-inch diamond-turned wheels (a $5,680 upgrade), and their heat absorption capabilities make stopping pure child's play. As an added benefit, their non-metallic material is significantly lighter than a traditional cast-iron brake setup, so the reduced unsprung weight betters the vehicle's ride and improves acceleration.

Aston Martin appears to have checked all of the proper boxes when it engineered the Vanquish Volante. Its new flagship droptop goes quickly, corners well and stops abruptly. Its sculpted body has few rivals visually, and those who are fortunate enough to climb inside quickly realize that its aromatic leather smells as good as it looks.

It's hard to find glaring flaws with the $300,000 Vanquish Volante – assuming you can afford it – as this caliber of handcrafted vehicle is as much a piece of art as it is a means of transportation. In my First Drive, I called the Vanquish Coupe, "the best passenger vehicle the automaker has ever created." Now, after driving the mechanically identical Vanquish Volante and coveting its sumptuous styling anew, I'd argue that Aston Martin has surpassed itself.