Actually – that’s something like the word of the hour: Actually, we go to the bank unmasked. Actually, we would be sitting close together in Bundesliga stadiums. Actually, we’d be on vacation in the Canary Islands. Actually there, there – and also here. Because actually other backgrounds should have passed this spectacular quintet. Adequate ones. The Furka Pass was on our to-go list, the Ardennes, even the Transgrafraaf …, the Trafsgafa …, but now: the Transfagarasan was under discussion. But then came the Corona crap and the inevitable realization that it is – actually – also quite nice at home.
Ergo, our exit doesn’t run through Romania, Belgium or Switzerland, but rather within easy reach of the A 81, winds along the not-so-rippling Jagst, up the surprisingly flat Weinsberg and then freely through the Walachia of Baden-Württemberg, where the troop definitely causes a stir.
The elderly gentleman in Neuzweiflingen, who almost lost his liver cheese in the face of the caravan, didn’t notice that two of the leading roles in the ensemble were not filled: those of Lamborghini and Ferrari. That hurts, no question, but everyone will understand that in April of 2020 in northern Italy, there were more important things to do than get a Huracán Evo Spyder and an 812 GTS to Germany. With this in mind: Andrà tutto bene, ragazzi!
All five balance act models combine free-spirited bodies with massive performance numbers and clear intentions.
But the rest of the cap-fest also dresses up the targeted theme magnificently. With their visual presence anyway, but also through their respective conception, which results in a contradiction. On the one hand, they are convertibles, i.e. the automotive equivalent of a cuddly monzette: coastal road, sunset snuggly passenger*in, you know. Their second face, however, is a different one, a grim one that hides behind terms like Speedster, Competition or the usual suspicious letters R and S, respectively, and turns the tearjerker into a thriller. Together, this results in a kind of Rosamunde Pilcher in combat gear, a mix of opposites that exclude each other. Actually!
Because in fact, what doesn’t belong together grows together here. And the more relaxed, the suggestive cruisers M8 and DBS, who put luxury cocoons over active volcanoes, seem particularly absurd. The circumstances here are more casual in that four places have to be roofed over or just ventilated. In other words, the percentage of lost stiffness is greater than with the two-seaters and requires more extensive countermeasures, which in turn increase the weight. All this then resonates like a fur coat in the driving behavior.
At some point, however, when you’re cruising along with your elbows on the window sill and a hairdryer on the back of your neck, you start to notice that the soft shell has a hard core. In the BMW, for example, the slightly noddy upper body contrasts with a pronounced musculature that is striated from the chassis parts to its own limbs via a crisscross variable all-wheel-drive system. As long as you let loose, the open-top M8 is exactly what it looks like: a vat of caramelized power. But woe betide you if you unlock the M-mode and boot into it, it tightens up internally, tightens the knuckles and, with the help of 750 highly intelligently distributed Newton meters, pushes itself pretty far out of the bounds of its apparent possibilities. But by no means with a crowbar, but with commitment. In contrast to its predecessor, the M6, which had to cope with hardly any less power with just one drive axle and used it to such excessive effect, the M8 appears to be in command. Action and reaction don’t go at each other like Hottentots, they hold hands, which has its charm. However, a 625-horsepower convertible, which competes in price with far flashier machines, is always about drama as well.
Appearances are deceptive: gray, heavy, comfortable – the M8 quickly finds itself in the cruiser corner. Two throttle jerks later, it’s rid of all preconceptions.
And that has fallen asleep a bit in the midst of this high-tech heiji-bumbeiji. Or rather, it has been discarded. In the driving dynamics menu, where the backbone of its enormous stability can be crippled at the touch of a screen: ESC off, 2WD mode on, then the 4.4-liter V8 and the rear wheels would be under each other again. Clouds of tire smoke would then drift over the burgundy tops of the interior, the solidity would be smoked out in no time, and endorphins would rain down out of the blue. But this is State Road 2321 and unfortunately not Turn 7, so we have to change our minds as quickly as possible.
Helpful here: the DBS – aka the way out of all kinds of earthly problems. Logically, oversteer is also an issue here. A truly urgent one, in fact, since Aston Martin puts even more powerful machinery on much shakier legs. However, the eroticism here is not tied to freaky driving maneuvers. You don’t have to roast a stop across the German Philology Road to get yourself going, snail’s pace will do just fine. I mean, just look at it: The design, this charisma – the beast is a cathedral of power. Twelve cylinders lie on the altar in front, the angels sing in the back, while you immediately think you’re on cloud nine despite the low seating position.
Nevertheless, the inevitable happens here as well: You are tempted, let the exhaust thunder rumble and gradually venture deeper and deeper into the gas pedal that pushes open the gate to hell. A bit too dramatic? True, it reads that way, but paraphrases the spectacle on offer quite well.
Sure, the 725 horsepower that makes the DBS the boss of the bunch comes with some foreboding. The force of the propulsion never hits you unexpectedly, but it blows you away every time. It’s not so much about the acceleration itself. 3.6 seconds to 100 – in the age of manned dream drives, we’ve become accustomed to this kind of madness. But the way it unfolds, its silky, angry character and its incredible depth are, without exaggeration, unique. In the DBS, torque is not simply generated and cranked up to the drive axle, no, it rises up out of it, swells within moments to inconceivable proportions, envelops everything, while the 4.7-meter yacht is sucked into the horizon by two gigantic turbochargers.
Sinful but desirable
Word and deed: With an unladen weight of almost two tons, the DBS is by no means a superleggera, but the V12 with 725 hp knows how to suppress the ballast perfectly.
Needless to say, the spectacle is expensive. 295,500 euros, to be precise. But as absurd as the sum may be, one tends to realize that it is invested in a way that brings pleasure. Especially since the DBS draws an advantage from the disadvantages that the convertible concept entails. At least in terms of driving style. The soft top and periphery take another 150 kilos off the meaning of its Superleggera epithet. You also notice that the tight kinematics hang somewhat in the air, that it lacks the stiffness of the body as support.
However, the lazier physique brings in the elegance that the motivated coupe version lacks in places. Aspiration and reality, which are not always the fattest of buddies at Aston Martin, are at any rate intimately in each other’s arms here: The DBS Volante is a convertible of grand gestures, an open-top tendercore sports car with slightly baroque cornering handling that not only harmonizes excellently with the sultry eloquence of the 5.2-liter V12, but also with the gentle sweeps around Berlichingen.
The AMG is quite different, literally changing your wallpaper with a machete. Belly tingling in the Aston means nose picking here. In principle, the two are very similar: front-mid engine, transaxle transmission and a correspondingly equal weight distribution as a consequence. However, the respective philosophies run in opposite directions. Aston Martin enhances the enjoyment component of a high-performance GT with the soft top, AMG draws a hardliner soft – “soft draw” in quotes. Widened airways, a martial diffuser and, to top it off, the adjustable wing that rises like an umbrella from the high-octane cocktail. There’s no doubt about it, this is the GT with the R, although the R expressly doesn’t stand for “roadster.
Race to the clouds: The soft top can’t do any harm to the hardcore design of the AMG GT R. The raw V8 suits the rough setup excellently.
Accordingly, the cornerstones are among the more stable ones. The mainstay is the eight-cylinder all-purpose engine, which produces 585 hp under the endless hood. The counterpart: 1,650 kilograms – 35 more than on the coupe, but this does not affect the power-to-weight ratio. In general, the GT doesn’t let the predetermined breaking point in the hump get in the way of the overall concept. Thanks to the direct steering, the wide-spread front axle comes very close, the chassis streams the road surface in ultra HD as usual and develops so much traction in corners that the GT sometimes even lifts its paw. In any case, there is no trace of the deck-chair atmosphere that the M8 and DBS are capable of creating. The GT R is an active vacation, a couples’ trip with a drill sergeant who never, ever lets up. The brutal gear changes keep the rhythm high, the engine is per se brushed to riot, while the exhaust roar, which, by the way, does not escape from the prominent center tailpipe but from two hidden outlets, butchers through the home movie scenery like a chainsaw.
Differences to the closed GT R? Reduced to the lack of active traction control and the wind force when driving, but not enough to completely air out the motorsport flair. At every junction we wonder whether we shouldn’t take it out of this coffee run, whether a detour to Hockenheim isn’t in order. Just briefly in, around and out again. The BMW would be there in a heartbeat – even if it’s just to unbutton its discreet shine via drift angle. And even the Aston would be animated by the knowledge that its coupe twin knew how to devour the GP circuit. But the Porsche, of all cars, is reluctant to get involved, because it was instructed at home to stay away from racetracks. And no, not even whining helped against the clear-cut message. Tenor: “You’re a convertible, so behave like one!”
Six on the beach
Whereas the convertible thing is only one truth, half of it, or rather a few percent of it. The Speedster may look like a bikini, but underneath it wears racing underwear. Namely, those of the GT3, whose organism was transplanted virtually unchanged into the buxom curves. Including, of course, the naturally aspirated four-liter engine with single throttle valves, which, due to the lighter clothing, presents itself much more openly here – as a six on the beach, if you will.
Back to the roots: After the slip in the 997 series, the 911 Speedster returns to its true values.
Remain objective? All right: The Speedster is the last act of the 991 series and probably its emotional highlight. This is partly due to the fact that Porsche is once again taking the traditional model by its name. After the predecessor was fattened up with luxury, the sixth edition is rowing back in the direction of the original Numero 356. Its nutshell atmosphere cannot be imitated with a 510-hp precision tool, but the purist intentions are nevertheless clearly recognizable. The infotainment has been retained; the soft top, which was even completely up for grabs at the start of development, can be operated by hand; and the gears don’t change automatically either. PDK? Must stay outside!
Accordingly, the gear stick stands proudly up there on its command bridge – a carbon fiber tie around the shaft and looking down at the sparsely populated center console. Besides the six gears, there’s only one harder damper setting, the multifunctional PSM, and the exhaust button, which follows up the sound with a scratchy brush. There are no driving modes to choose from, which is good in that you wouldn’t know what to change anyway: the loose back is straightened out via the stiff suspension tuning, and the steering remains the ultimate link between ideal line and intuition.
Connoisseur’s tip: always keep the revs nicely above five thousand. This not only cleans the ears, it also ensures that the Speed-ster presses more firmly into the lateral dynamics, that it mills its way into the curves, spreads itself out in the scenery with its locked rear axle, and gradually lashes its driver to the stretching bench with feelings of happiness. Pure pleasure? Already! Its peak? Well, let me put it this way: the Porsche feels more tingly than the creamy BMW, it curves far more stringently than the dissolute DBS, and it performs more delicately than the hard-hitting AMG. Compared to the McLaren, however, it too seems downright frighteningly normal.
The 720S finally unhinges the popular notion of convertible driving. Readable one morning, too, in the eyes of our editor-in-chief, who, after an interlude with the Spider, asks in astonishment for this sentence here: “It’s another world!” And you know what? He’s right! No matter what words we conjure up, they won’t be enough to fully encapsulate this experience, heck, this event. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to put the McLaren above the others. But we have to highlight it. Simply because it’s not like the others. Point one: the mid-engine design, which stows the center of gravity behind the seats, bringing you closer to the action and more deeply involved in it. As nice as it is to gaze over the picturesque hood panorama of an AMG GT, you quickly realize how little you miss that full-bodied driving experience.
Open the door: heavenly driving sensations of weightlessness and apocalyptic thrust await behind the wings.
In the McLaren, the only horizon is the one where the sun also sets. The car virtually retracts so that you’re sitting directly opposite the road – feet level with the front axle and a wild beast in the back that whips you through the countryside with 720 hp.
Romance as a waste product
The DBS already teaches us what power of this magnitude can do. Only here the resistance is half a ton less – the second reason for its unusualness. The piloted ice scraper weighs 1,468 kilograms, but it completely escapes its sphere of influence. The thrust of the four-liter twin-turbo makes straights fizzle out, the extra-shrewd hydraulic steering chops you through the weave of curves, while you have to keep looking up at the sky to make sure that this really is still a convertible. And that brings us to point three: the emancipation of open-top driving from any compromise. The loose roof section is overcompensated for by the carbon fiber monocoque, and the slim extra weight burns up in the stratosphere of the V8 engine – on the one hand. On the other hand, there is always plenty of wind blowing through the mane, and you have a full kaleidoscope of smells as well as a clear ear for the slurping noise of the waist-high tailpipe duet. And occasionally, the performance drive even gives rise to a touch of romance in the sense of the cliché. Whenever you’re chasing the setting sun and the soaring airbrake tips the reflected light into the cockpit – as a warming glow that doesn’t fit at all with the ice-cold driving dynamics. Actually.