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Aston Martin Virage

Driven June 2011

Aston Martin Virage

The Virage is Aston Martin’s CD moment. Back when the CD first appeared in the early-Eighties, it wasn’t intended to replace the cassette but sell alongside it as a premium product. But we all knew that the cassette was marking time. The digital revolution had started.

For cassette, read DB9; for CD, read Virage. The Virage is meant to split the DB9 and DBS, offering the elegance of the DB9 with the performance of the DBS. Aston insists it will continue to build the DB9. After all, the company points out, the Rs. 90.66 lakh DB9 is bound to be much cheaper than the Virage (no price yet, but best guess is Rs. 1.08 crore) and is still selling well – about 1,000 last year, nearly a quarter of all Astons sold.

Handsome, isn’t it? The proportions are pure DB9, and that’s to be expected. But the Virage looks tougher – the sills and skirts have been bolstered, the grille is ever so slightly wider, the headlights are borrowed from the Rapide and there’s a subtle rear diffuser. The overall effect is to add visual weight low down, a mere suggestion of extra sportiness. But it’s worth knowing that in their quest for perfect lines, the designers have carefully massaged every single body panel, bar the roof and boot.

Every time an Aston is face-lifted, everyone wonders what the design team did, but those same people still adore the end result. The brand’s design is evolving, and it’s still absolutely gorgeous, so where’s the issue? If it ain’t broke...

Step into the Virage, and you’re greeted with a DB9’s interior. Or a DBS’s. Which is fine, but there was scope here for Aston to be bolder.

A customer who bought a DB9 in 2004 is going to be met by exactly the same interior when he specs his 2011 Virage and might rightly feel hard done by. Things need to move on.

But then, just as with the bodywork, you start to notice subtle differences. The quality of the materials is better, for a kick-off. The DB9 makes do with clear plastic on the switchgear; the Virage has real glass. All of the controls for the electric seats are machined out of metal in the Virage, and the satnav is now made by Garmin. This is a huge improvement on the old system.

Underneath all this sits exactly the same aluminium architecture that underpins other Astons, with the same 6.0-litre V12 attached to the same six-speed torque-converter automatic ’box. Aston has worked on the V12, so it now produces 490bhp, neatly splitting the DB9 and DBS power figures (470bhp and 510bhp respectively). 0–100kph takes 4.6secs, and it’ll hit 300kph. And this is a quick car – bang down a couple of gears, and things get very fast, very quickly – but if we were being picky, we’d like more torque, because you often find yourself swapping into a lower gear to experience the full force of that engine. It could do with more torque from lower down in the rev range – it’s responsive enough, but you feel like you have to work the gearbox a little bit harder than necessary to harness all that V12 power.

Equally, if you’re in a hurry, you’ll want the gearbox in manual and the Sport button pressed. The button does three things: it alters some valves in the exhaust so that above 3,000rpm you get a much meatier engine note (although it never really screams like a Ferrari V12), it alters the mapping on the gearbox and it sharpens up the throttle response. It’s this last point which is the most important. Best leave Sport unpressed when you want to do some GT loafing. The Virage does this job well, as the engine is loud enough to sound exciting, but not too obtrusive. Cross-continental motorway jaunts hold no fears.

And the ride is so good, too. Aston Martin seems to have experienced a moment of clarity when it developed the Rapide and undergone something of a suspension revolution. The cars now ride, steer and drive better than ever. The Virage is still firm for a grand tourer – blame the standard 20-inch wheels for that – and it jolts if you hit really sharp bumps. But there’s a compliance and poise to the suspension, which means you feel much more relaxed driving quickly. It’s less skittish – the chassis now feels more able to handle the power, and there’s no hint of it trying to spit you into the nearest hedge.

How has Aston done this? Mainly thanks to the variable dampers, and specifically the software controlling them. What all this means is that there isn’t such a marked difference in the ride quality if you press the damper button. You notice some extra tautness, but not much.

Drive quicker, and the car seems to adapt again – roll and pitch is reduced, there’s less squat at the rear through fast corners, and the back end doesn’t squirm and porpoise around nearly as much as in the DB9. There’s still movement there, but it’s not off-putting – it doesn’t make you want to back off and slow down.
And even in its stiffer setting, the Virage still rides well.

Better than any other Aston bar the Rapide, in fact. The steering isn’t the last word in feel, but it’s precise and you get a good sense of what the car is doing beneath you. Grip levels are also impressive. Despite the mass of that V12 lump pressing down on the front wheels, the Virage turns in well, and there’s a lovely, direct feeling to the chassis. The handling is snappy.

Aston has created a terrific car. It’s certainly the pick of the bunch compared to the 9 and S, because its chassis and driving experience feel much more sophisticated. As the flagship model, the DBS looks safe from the Virage’s encroachment, but the DB9... well, Aston needs the variety in its model line-up to keep attracting customers in an ever-more competitive market. But if it were our money being spent, we know where we’d be putting it. Welcome to the digital revolution.

Piers Ward

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