First Drive: 2012 Aston Martin Virage

March 16, 2011
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.
2012 Aston Martin Virage Front Three Quarters In Motion
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.
When a partner is always the most beautiful person in the room, you're willing to overlook dicey table manners. In the Aston's private salon, hand-lined with seven Bridge of Weir hides, the spinach-in-teeth includes a tiny, wan audio display; plasticky, basics-only seat controls, and a shortage of front-seat travel. And the Virage's new navigation system, co-developed with Garmin, still trails what you get in a $25,000 Hyundai.
2012 Aston Martin Volante Front Three Quarters
At our hotel, fronted by a Madagascar orange Virage, Aston CEO Ulrich Bez strafed any attempt to link the Virage and the DB9. "There are no comparisons," said the famously peremptory Bez, apparently excepting their bonded-aluminum chassis, basic powertrain, suspension hardware, and Siamese-twin cabins. Yet far more than the DBS, the Virage does come across as a DB9.5 -- a way to keep fickle, six-figure whales from drifting off to other brands. If that bid is transparent, it's also defensible; no different from a Bentley or any other rival that can't revolutionize lineups on a clockwork basis.
"People do like new cars," said Ian Minards, Aston product director, wearying of loaded questions over the Virage's provenance.
The gobsmacked masses who cart their own luggage to avoid tipping valets won't care where the Virage fits in the Aston firmament. They will perceive its driver as a minor God, stepping aside as they would never do for the tanned Hercules astride an Italian bull. If that mythical standing outranks base horsepower, the Virage is your kind of chariot.


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