x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

V12 power at this price makes Virage the Aston of choice

The new mid-range Aston Virage is set to supplant the DBS as the darling of the automaker's lineup.

"I drove the thing everywhere with both windows rolled all the way down just so I could hear the exhaust roar every time the tachometer tipped past 4,000rpm," our reviewer says.

As far as Ulrich Bez, the chief executive of Aston Martin, is concerned, his clients do not compare their car's specifications or performance to those of any other brand.

So he takes exception to a question wondering what might be different about the new Virage tested here from the DB9 that now ranks below it and the full-zoot DBS that still tops the Aston Martin range

I am sceptical of Bez's claim of unfettered brand loyalty. Believe it or not, even those shopping for sports cars costing more than Dh370,000 sometimes operate on a budget, though perhaps larger than mine. But he may have a point when it comes to the company's more august products, the V12-powered DB series.

Once one moves into the Dh690,000 range, where all the long-wheelbase, 2 + 2 Astons reside, customers buy what makes them feel good; the car that strikes their fancy. Of course, owning what is usually a small fleet of cars means that if one of these dream cars doesn't fulfill a specific attribute, there's probably another in the multi-car garage that does.

Were I suddenly as rich as Croesus, I might have a Virage in fleet just to hear that V12's glorious roar. Oh, there are those who will claim that a flat-plane cranskshafted Ferrari V8 is more soniferous or some Maserati more sporting, but they - and this is almost certainly a "tell" of my age - are just a little too boy-racerish for me; every time I hear a 458 roar by, I always wonder whether the driver just moved up from one of those slammed Civics with a tomato-can exhaust. The Aston Martin V12, on the other hand, is a model of civility and decorum, all sweetness and light not disturbing anyone while you trundle almost regally down side streets.

Until you put pedal to metal and the revs climb above 4,000rpm, that is, when a little flapper valve opens up in the exhaust system, offering all those spent combustion gases a more direct route to the tailpipe. Then there's a glorious roar as 12 well-choreographed pistons all syncopate to a most provocative rhythm, one that I find the most alluring in motorcars today (taking over from my previous favourite, the 1992 BMW M5 inline-six). The Virage's exhaust plumbing, says, Ian Minards, the Aston Martin engineer in charge of such things, is slightly different than that of the more overtly sporty DBS, but I can't tell any difference. All that I know is I drove the thing everywhere with both windows rolled all the way down just so I could hear the exhaust roar every time the tachometer tipped past 4,000rpm.

That roar is accompanied by some serious ripping, the Virage's version of the 6.0L V12 producing a heady 490hp (base DB9s make 470hp while the more aggressive DBS boasts 510). Combined with 569Nm of torque, it's enough to motivate the Virage with alacrity. Even combined to old-tech six-speed automatic transmission (actually transaxle as the gearbox is mounted in the rear), that's good enough to push the 1,785kg Virage coupe to 100kph in just 4.6 seconds and top out at 299kph. What those mere numbers don't illustrate, though, is the utter flexibility of the big V12. Unlike the smaller-displacement Aston V8, which thrives on (and requires) high revs, the V12 is a torque monster, as happy at 3,000rpm as 6,000; save, of course, from the ripping exhaust note exiting the tailpipes. Where the Vantage S is frantic, the Virage is all about that wonderful trait usually attributed to Jaguars: pace with grace. This is an absolutely splendid powerplant; the closest one could come to proclaiming a fault being Aston's rather abrupt 6,800-rev limiter which puts the brakes on the fun just as the party seems to be hitting top gear. Like the engine, the Virage's chassis calibration lies somewhere between the DB9 and the DBS. Like all Aston Martins, it's built on the robust, bonded-aluminium VH platform, which, even in convertible format is impressively rigid.

Again, like the other DBs, the Virage has Aston's adaptive five-position suspension system, though this latest version offers more delineation between the "normal" and "sport" modes. It means that the Virage can, at once, luxuriate and strafe. Admittedly, the available range of damper compliance is not so great that Aston can coddle like a Lexus or minimise roll as well as a Ferrari or even the stiffly suspended Vantage S. But there is plenty of ability in both areas, befitting a car meant to transport its occupants great distances with dispatch and comfort.

There will be no lack of the latter inside the new Virage. Oh, one could complain that the vestigial rear seats are a joke. Or that the front buckets' adjustability is not as wide ranging as that offered in a typical Mercedes-Benz. But, the Virage is plenty comfortable nonetheless, the seats both cushioning and supportive and, combined with the compliant suspension, quite a sumptuous place to while away the hours.

The Bridge of Weir leather treatment is hedonistic, plus there's a crystal ashtray and a magnificent Bang & Olufsen stereo system with 1,000 watts of eardrum-piercing decibels and nifty, dashboard-mounted retractable tweeters à la Audi S8.

The one true flaw inside the Virage is the navigation system. The Garmin system might indeed be updated, but the screen is small and awkwardly angled, and its functionality and controls are poor. Considering the strides automotive satellite navigation systems have made in recent years, it's a travesty to pay as much as $210,000 for an automobile with a nav system barely superior to the ones on motorcycles.

Nonetheless, the estimated retail price of US$210,000 (US pricing; UAE pricing not available) is something of a bargain in the DB lineup. It's a lot closer to the DB9's $187,615 than the DBS's $271,660, despite being markedly superior to the base car and not far in arrears of the top-range model. Indeed, despite Bez's comments that Aston buyers don't compare, I think most will look at that paltry markup over the DB9 and see a bargain. I think the new Virage will quickly supplant the base DB as the Aston of choice.