First Drive: 2012 Aston Martin Virage

What's in a name? That's been a question for Aston Martin, which has birthed roughly a dozen aesthetically gifted models -- coupes, convertibles, classic GTs, and a sedan -- from its Vertical Horizontal platform. This James Brown of high-dollar platforms now spins off the Virage and the Virage Volante convertible, and the name reminds us of how boutique makes like Aston must carefully carve and preserve their precious jewels: The original 1988 Virage was the company's first all-new car in twenty years.

Driven in the cliff-hung city of Ronda, Spain, where the Moors held off Christians for centuries, the Virage also buys time for Aston as it negotiates new infusions of hardware with Mercedes and other allies-cum-rivals. Starting at around $210,000, or $225,000 for the Volante, this V-12 GT slots between the chivalrous DB9 ($189,230) and the roguish DBS ($273,275) in price and performance. Styling rings more bells than Quasimodo -- ding, dong, DB9 -- but familiarity breeds no contempt for such a beauty. In fact, the Aston Martin Virage shares only a roof and door skins with the DB9, and its haughty snout draws from the One-77 supercar.

The 5.9-liter V-12 makes 490 hp -- 20 more than the DB9 and 20 shy of the DBS -- and 420 lb-ft of torque. Raising the DB9's game are standard twenty-inch wheels, carbon ceramic brakes with six-piston front calipers, and a firmer Bilstein adaptive suspension that selects among ten stiffness settings, five in Normal mode, five in Sport.

The V-12 burbles like cocktail chat in Kensington Square, with an exhaust bypass cranking up the party at 4000 rpm. Aston clocks 0 to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds and quotes a 186-mph peak. With even commoners adopting eight forward speeds, the Virage's six-speed, paddle-shifted ZF automatic can hear its own clock ticking. Shifts are fluid, but there's a pesky gap between second and third. To limit piston speeds with this long-stroke V-12, the rev limiter butts in at around 6900 rpm, just when things are getting interesting. But on steep descents in the sierras of Andalusia -- including a freak snowstorm -- the Virage conquered like a British crusader, with more secure feel and day-long stopping power than the DB9.

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