First Drive: Aston Martin Virage

2011 Aston Martin Virage Meeting a need may satisfy the head, but satisfying the heart is the shortest and hardest route to getting people and their money to part. In the world of the luxury sports car this is an absolute unbreakable law: when the customer has more than £100,000 to spend, there’s no scope for shortcuts or half measures. If a car doesn’t deliver spine tingles from the moment they grab the key you can consider it a lost sale.

This is the tough arena that Aston Martin has to compete in, with Italian and German rivals in plentiful supply. You should already be familiar with the DB9, Aston’s four-seater sporting GT with looks to die for and performance to match. Then some £60,000 above it is the DBS, based on the DB9 but with carbonfibre, more power, drama and a place at the supercar table – not forgetting a place in a secret agent’s garage. Now there is something to bridge that gap – the Aston Martin Virage.

It clearly sits in the DB9/DBS family, sharing the basic template and underpinnings of those two cars. But the Virage distinguishes itself as an evolutionary machine with some fine details. Building on the lessons learnt and improvements seen in the Rapide four-door coupe, the Virage wears the piercing bi-Xenon headlights with LEDs and a slick grille inspired by the One-77 hypercar. Right around the base of the car there are aerodynamic aids that also give the car added presence and flag up its sporting intent. Subtle they may be but the effect is instant and significant: this is still one of the prettiest cars money can buy, but you can tell it wants to be driven and not just gawped at.

2011 Aston Martin VirageUnder the sensuous curves the Virage takes plenty of the top-notch tech you get in the DBS, such as the rear track and final drive ratio. Unlike the DBS though the Virage only comes with the six-speed paddleshift automatic gearbox, and although the purists might raise an eyebrow the reality is that most buyers plump for this option. It’s easy to see why: everyday driving is breeze when the seamless transmission is making decisions for you, and when traffic stacks up and no car can be entertaining you’ll be thankful for it.

Then there’s the 6.0-litre V12 under the bonnet. Anyone with an automotive soul will love that engine configuration, bringing with it not only mammoth power and torque but also the promise of an engine note that is sure to excite. All it takes is a push of the cut-glass key into the dashboard, and the brief whirr is followed by a menacing snarl. Punch the button to select Drive and the Virage will sail serenely away on the ample low-rev shove.

Within a few miles the Virage reveals yet more of the refinements that have moved the game forward for Aston Martin. The recently-revised DB9 is unquestionably a refined car, but the Virage is even more easy-going. Noise levels are a little more hushed, and particularly when cruising there is only a faint rush of wind and road noise to remind you of what’s carrying you along. Nothing less than a firm suspension set-up would do for an Aston, but the Virage informs you of bumps in the road rather than following every inch of them: it keeps the worst from you but you’re never in doubt about the surface of the road.

And driven in this manner the Virage would please many discerning buyers and demand very little from them in the process. Subtle tweaks in the cabin have improved the switchgear (more cut glass) the upgraded sat-nav system is much easier to use and the quality of the craftsmanship is as high as ever. But this is only half the story, and the Virage demands to be driven hard to reveal its more athletic side.

The transmission gives you the choice of Sport mode for higher rev shifts or manual control activated by paddles behind the steering wheel. The Sport button also opens up the exhaust for the full aural experience and switches to a sharper throttle setting. Instant urge is available regardless of engine revs and as it climbs towards the red line, the wail from the exhaust and the eye-widening speed meet in a crescendo punctuated only by the flick into the next gear. The Virage will push hard well into three figures and the top speed of 186mph never feels far away.

Hauling the speed down for a bend is effortless thanks to the standard carbon ceramic brakes, and the consistent steering response inspires huge confidence as you peel into the curve. Considering the relatively substantial mass it stays assured and thoroughly planted – the revised adaptive damping system keeps it tied to the road and allows you to fully exploit the power and performance.

Cynics will point and question the advantages over a regular DB9, but anyone lucky enough to drive DB9, Virage and DBS will appreciate just how much this moves the game on. It’s the best Aston to date and as an example of thoughtful evolution, it promises so much more to come from this iconic British brand.

Aston Martin Virage
Engine: 6.0-litre petrol unit producing 490bhp and 420lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 186mph, 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds
Economy: 18mpg combined (est)
Emissions: 360g/km of CO2 (est)

By Matt Joy

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