The Aston Martin Virage may have had a low key birth but beneath that bushel is one of Aston's brightest lights. Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second Review
Another Aston Martin that's all but impossible to distinguish from its brethren? I could understand a certain fatigue but take the time to delve a little deeper and you'll discover that the Virage seems to have purloined the best bits of each current model and combined them in one comparatively well-priced and extremely handsome package.
If ever a case study was required in how not to launch a car, Aston Martin's Virage could be a prime contender. Launched at a motor show that saw the limelight stolen by the Lamborghini Aventador, Ferrari FF and the E-type Jaguar's 50th birthday, the Virage was off to a bad start. Compound that problem with a cramped stand, a show car in an unflattering colour and with styling that most found virtually indistinguishable from the DB9 - a car that continues in the Aston Martin line up - and you have a recipe for a tough start to life. The original Virage was a bull of a car; the last hurrah for the classic Newport Pagnell monsters and will remembered for its final thrashings and furious railings against the inevitable tide of modernity. Modernity that's embodied by this Virage, a sleek and sophisticated GT car that squeezes its slim hips into the Aston Martin range somewhere between the DB9 and the DBS flagship. Had Aston Martin dubbed it a DB10 and quietly retired the DB9 it would have made more sense, but here we are with a range of lookalike front-engined V12 cars all running on bonded aluminium chassis. It's an odd product planning call.
While we can question the place of the Virage in the Aston Martin line up, it's hard to find fault with the product itself. Scarily so, in fact. So good is the Virage that it predictably makes the DB9 appear somewhat passe. A little more unexpectedly, it also calls into question the wisdom of paying an additional £25,000 for the DBS. Depending on how you look at it, the Virage is powered by it either a tweaked version of the DB9's 6.0-litre V12 or a modestly detuned version of the DBS's similarly sized unit. Either way, it has 490bhp at 6500rpm and generates 420lb ft at 5750rpm, which slots it conveniently halfway between the 470bhp DB9 and the 510bhp DBS. Despite giving away a few kilograms to the DBS, the Virage is barely any slower in real-world scenarios. It rides a lot more quietly over poor surfaces thanks to adaptive electronic dampers and its Sportshift six-speed paddle-shift gearbox is also the superior item. Performance? You can expect to launch it to 60mph in 4.6sec and it'll only run out of puff at 186mph. As impressive as the numbers are, they give no clue as to how well sorted the chassis is, Aston having poured huge resources into getting the balance of the car fundamentally correct. With a perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a 'Sport' button on the fascia allowing the driver to select a sharper throttle response and faster gear changes, the Virage is no bloated boulevardier. Compared to the Newport Pagnell bruiser that first bore its name, the tactility of the current Virage is from another planet.
Design and Build
When even experienced motoring journalists need a crib sheet that explains how to visually distinguish the Virage from the DB9, it's perhaps a clue that your styling direction has become a little hidebound. The Virage is undoubtedly a handsome car but Aston Martin seems guilty of rebadging the same handsome lines time and time over. Some will point out that it's a tactic that seems to have worked for Porsche but the Aston range has an even more extreme Russian doll look to it. Aston Martin CEO, Dr Ulrich Bez, counters by pointing out that "100 years of automotive history has demonstrated that evolution delivers the best solutions in time." Evolution can also branch off into dead ends though. The front wings feature side strakes each housing six LEDs forming the side repeaters. Custom side sills carry the simplicity of the front bumper through to the rear diffuser which houses a body-coloured blade accentuating the width of the car. Open the swan wing doors and you'll find hand-stitched Bridge of Weir leather with a pinstripe welt that flows down either side of the fascia and along the seat and door, drawing your eye through the car. You'll be relieved to know that the clunky Volvo-sourced satellite navigation system has been replaced with a fully integrated system developed in conjunction with Garmin, operated via a four-way joystick and outputting mapping information to a 6.5 inch high resolution display.
Market and Model
An asking price of around £150,000 for the coupe version might not seem an immediate bargain but bear with me here because the Virage does a good job of justifying that figure. It's fitted with a set of fiendishly powerful carbon ceramic brakes that, were they fitted to a DB9, would raise that car's price to £135,000. Suddenly paying £15,000 for a more powerful engine, a classier interior and a far cleverer suspension system suddenly seems good business. Factor in the beefier residuals of a newer model and it amounts to a no-brainer. Equipment levels are as good as you'd expect for a vehicle carrying this price tag and which features a grand touring remit. A full-grain leather interior with alcantara headlining, walnut fascia trim, iridium silver centre console and electroluminescent displays set the tone and there's a whole host of electronics to play with, chief attraction being the 700W Dolby Pro Logic stereo system with integrated iPod connection. Customers also receive a tracking device, a hard disk for the sat nav, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a glass key and even a boot-mounted umbrella.
Cost of Ownership
Despite the decent value proposition it offers, the Aston Martin Virage is never going to be an inexpensive vehicle to own. Even if it holds 60 per cent of its new value after three years, that's still £60,000 it will have sloughed off, all of which suggests that its 18.8mpg fuel economy figure and 394g/km emissions showing will be of peripheral concern, not to mention the Group 50 insurance rating.
While the styling of the Aston Martin Virage is not immediately arresting, beneath the familiar lines is an uncommonly talented vehicle that takes a bigger step forward than many will realise. With a brilliant chassis, a much improved transmission and an engine note to die for, the Virage is a car that could get under your skin. Perhaps Aston Martin isn't chasing the sort of extrovert who clearly wants to be seen in the most headline-grabbing vehicle of the moment, preferring instead to let its styling lapse into an old money familiarity. Objective complaints are few. The 78-litre fuel tank could be bigger in a car this thirsty yet which claims to be a grand tourer. After that I'm struggling for anything substantive. It may have arrived with a pphut rather than a bang, but the Virage is anything but a damp squib.