View the different silhouettes of these cars and you might wonder why we're comparing a mid-engined supercar, a front-engined grand tourer and a grand four-seat cabriolet. They may be wildly expensive, excitingly potent and capable of opening up in more ways than one, but the Aston Martin DBS Volante, Bentley Continental GTC Speed and Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder are about as comparable as an elephant, a rhino and hippo; they're rare, potent and capable of deploying all kinds of mayhem, but at heart these are different beasts.
But like the aforementioned quadrupeds, they are creatures of character. They are configured to provide the kind of richly intense experience that you have a right to expect when turning upward of $250,000 into a set of wheels. And gloriously disparate though they are, the capabilities of these three are more closely matched than you might think. All three set out to provide ultimates, of performance, luxury, dynamics, style and, above all, sensation. So which, we are wondering, is the most beguiling?
There's one contest that the DBS Volante wins straight away, and that's the race to strip for alfresco action; its fabric roof lofts, furls and sinks below the rear deck in just 18 seconds, to the Bentley's 21sec and the Lamborghini's 22sec. That's no surprise when you examine the roofs and their mechanisms, mind you, for there's at least double the fabric to pack aboard the GTC, while the Gallardo's conversion to rooflessness requires that the engine lid rise and reverse to allow its compact canopy to hide. The gymnastics performed by the Volante's hood need not be as ambitious.
The differences in roofing arrangements illustrate the differences in the conception of these cars. But the effectiveness of these approaches is not all we are assessing here. There's also the issue of whether removing the lids from these cars compromises the capabilities of vehicles that put out 500hp to 600hp apiece, lunge to 62mph in around five seconds, flirt with 200mph, and have sporting pedigrees and styling.
All three of these models have a few years behind them now – assuming that you consider the DBS to be a grander, reworked version of the DB9 – but are new in these guises. This is the first roofless Volante version of the DBS. Aston claims that it retains an impressive 75 percent of the closed car's torsional rigidity, while putting on a relatively modest 254 lbs.
Equipment includes active rear rollover bars and a Bang & Olufsen stereo that automatically alters its output when the roof is down. But mechanically this is the most conventional car here; its 510hp 6.0-liter V12 drives the rear wheels via a six-speed gearbox, which in this case is the optional paddle-shift automatic.
The Bentley also has 6.0 liters and 12 cylinders, although these are arranged in a W formation and boosted by twin turbos to drive all four wheels. The Speed option has recently been extended to the GTC convertible, gaining you 48hp and 74lb ft of torque, retuned Servotronic steering, lowered suspension, a more upright grille, a larger lower air intake and a new rear spoiler. Inside, the most visible alteration is the quilting of its leather upholstery, while radar cruise control and carbon ceramic brakes are options (the latter are fitted to our test car). They're claimed to be the largest of any production car's, and their 44-lb saving counters some of the convertible's 300-lb gain.
The Gallardo puts on 309 lbs to go roofless, though overall it's usefully lighter than the Aston and massively so than the Bentley. This is the Spyder version of last year's reworked all-wheel-drive Gallardo, with an all-new 5.2-liter direct injection V10 that's 40hp and 44lb ft more potent, and 18 percent less thirsty. Suspension and steering have been revised, as has the 40 percent swifter-shifting automated manual transmission. A minor restyling includes more emphatic front air intakes, new headlights, fresh tail-lights and a diffuser claimed to improve stability in fast curves.
And we'll be hunting plenty of these over two days in the Welsh countryside. Our mission for these cars is among the severest you can throw at a convertible, a trial guaranteed to tease out the flaws in any high-performance car burdened by the blow to its structural integrity that lopping its top of represents.
All three get off to a great start in the visuals department. The DBS is a fussier-looking confection than the DB9, and it loses the elegantly languid sweep of the coupe's roofline, but its long nose is still counterbalanced by a pert tail and a roof that neatly stows to create the classically glamorous sports car of a million dreams.
It has presence, but nothing like that conveyed by the Bentley's loftier mass and mesh grille. Like the Aston, the GTC looks as appealing with the roof up as it does uncovered, and its hood disappears with the tidiness to satisfy any obsessive compulsive.
The Lambo is a mechanical monster that appears to snuffle along at half the height of the Bentley. The roof is a bit hat-like, and its absence emphasizes a dramatic long-tail, short-nose silhouette. And in the case of this Gallardo, going topless allows you to get a faceful of an emergency-orange leather interior that's fabulously impractical and rather desirable.
There is a load more to like once you've dropped into the Lamborghini's road-scraping embrace. Its V10 bellows like a jungle animal, and with plenty of range, issuing a deep-chested chug under load at low revs until you reach 3800rpm, when it lets rip with a trumpeting yell that never fails to inspire.
Not that the Bentley is short of orchestral appeal, for the whomp and woffle of its rifled exhausts is a soundtrack entirely appropriate to its pomp. Oddly, the engine itself sounds more ordinary when revved, but its capacity for shoving the Bentley down the road at obscene speeds is anything but average.
The Aston's exhaust sounds intriguingly reedy at high revs and has a bass bellow that encourages thorough exploration of the power curve. It needs stretching to give its best, and more than the peakier Gallardo, because the Italian car weighs less. The Lamborghini offers more immediacy to its power delivery, though nothing like the earth-moving might of the Bentley, which steps off the line with startling zeal.
The Bentley's huge thrust is enough to trigger irrepressible grins, but it's the deft way that the GTC can be threaded at an improbable country-road pace that amazes. It is nimble, precise, supple, stable and eager, boosting your confidence with exquisitely judged steering effort.
True, this praise is applied partly in the context of its bulk, but even in absolute terms this car handles with astonishing aplomb. It's the sheer unlikeliness of it that charms, and it delivers all this with almost no quiver or quake; the shudder of a front wheel hitting a pothole is almost its only vibratory foible.