Location: The southern region of Spain.
Model tested: Aston Martin Virage Coupe and Volante: 6-litre V12 48 valve front mid mounted with Touchtronic II automatic transmission - Coupe: $371,300 (Manufacturer's List Price), Volante: $399,797 (Manufacture's List Price)
It’s a big car this Aston Martin Virage, especially when blasting along these extra-narrow roads in Spain at warp speed, not knowing what lies around each of these countless blind bends. Mind you, I'm not complaining. It’s about as close to sports car heaven as it could possibly get.
The speedometer is frequently nudging the 160km/h mark between some of the point-to-point curves, but the general pace is utterly ferocious. Did I mention that we’re currently driving the Volante? That’s the drop top version, but you’d never know it from a chassis perspective, as this car has the same level of composure through the bends as the substantially lighter Virage Coupe.
Grip level from a GT car of these proportions is simply unreal. It’s impossible to convey just how quick this thing is moving along these precariously cliff-locked roads. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard you plant the throttle, it not only asks for more, but the limpet-like grip never lets up. Good thing that too, as I’m trying not to think about the massive drop offs, or the dodgy-looking wooden barriers that separate heaven and Earth.
Aston Martins have always been objects of beauty, and UK-based Nick Dimbleby is one the foremost automotive photographers in the world when it comes to shooting new car launches and international motor sports events such as Le Mans. His colleague, Dave Shepherd, isn’t bad with his box brownie either.
But the fact is, as good as these two guys are with their tricky-dickey high-end digital SLRs, they simply can’t capture all the subtle design cues and highlight lines that are clearly visible to the naked eye. That’s especially true of this particular Virage, and how sunlight can accentuate the special purple hue in the clear coat lacquer.
Up close, or from any distance at all, it’s difficult to think of a more beautiful automotive form.
In the metal, the Virage is simply stunning. Listening to Aston’s design director, Marek Reichmann, on the subject, you would think this car was a living breathing object, as he talks about the movement of each and every line and crease as being crucial to flow of the car. Like all Astons, the widest points of the car are the hugely wide shoulders. It’s part of the famous ‘S’ line styling on these cars, which has been designed to make the wheels look like they are literally pushing out of the skin.
The new rear diffuser is about the appearance of pushing the car down to the ground from both a technical and visual perspective. Even the countless individual dots on the vents either side of each of the exhaust tips, actually follows the curvature of the metal pipe itself.
He’s absolutely right. The Virage may be the most elegant automotive form that exists today, but it’s also one of the most masculine looking cars ever built. It’s positively intimidating, especially the sight of one of these in your rear vision mirror, as it looms up on you at warp speed.
It’s too crass to say that Virage has had a few steroid injections to muscle up, above and beyond its Aston Martin DB9 sibling, but there are a few key changes that give the car a more powerful stance although these amount to a subtle evolution rather than revolution.
Take that Aston of all Aston design cues, the side strake. It’s been part of the company DNA since the year dot, but on Virage, it now sits at the top of the vent for a cleaner line through the car. By the way, that vent is metal-on-metal, there’s no gasket between the surfaces. Talk about precision engineering.
Marek himself admits that such detail might be considered sheer ‘madness’ by anyone outside the design studio, but it’s precisely that kind of attention to detail that is so crucial to why this brand is revered by enthusiasts and punters worldover, and is a regular in the prestigious ‘Coolest Brands’ hardcover edition each year.
The front splitter has been designed to look as though it’s hoovering the road up in front of it, and the five fins that make up the famous Aston grille are formed from a solid aluminium billet. The radius of each fin is designed to perfectly reflect light. The level of intricacy is difficult to comprehend, but I suppose that’s why it looks so damn good.
What if I told you that the LED light blades inside the taillights have been individually machined, and that there are no join lines with the 3mm contrasting pinstripe on the seats. The obsession with minute detail is everywhere in this car, and far too extensive to list in this article, but the word bespoke has new meaning when applied to the Virage.
It’s also simple and uncluttered in nature too, with a single Bi-Xenon lens serving as the headlight assembly.
It’s precisely the same bespoke story inside the Virage; everything you touch and feel is exactly what you think it is. The switchgear is metal, the leather is real hide, and plastic is a forbidden word in the employee charter at Gaydon.
Marek is suitably proud in pointing out that the switchgear on facia isn’t acrylic or plastic, but real polished glass. This is what hand made is all about.
While high performance has always been a big part of Aston Martin’s DNA, there’s a tendency to overlook the luxury side of the brand. It’s what differentiates Aston from the likes of Porsche and Ferrari; they don’t have quite the same luxury cachet.
Bespoke luxury is everywhere inside the Virage. There’s hand-stitched leather everywhere, but what stands out most, is the extraordinary detail in the aluminium switchgear and the quality of needle work with the contrasting stitching. These are the small things that set this brand apart from its competition.
The leather pews look like something you might see at a major international design show. There are all kinds of interesting bolster layers at play on these seats that look as though they could have been designed with input from an eminent chiropractor. The proof is they provide race car levels of torso support, and at the same time offer an extraordinary level of comfort, even after hours behind the wheel.
If I had ‘real’ money and a large enough lounge room, that’s where this thing would be parked (the wife’s permission notwithstanding). There’s no need for a Picasso on the wall, when you can have an Aston Martin Virage in 3D as your centrepiece. What’s more, you wouldn’t need to buy an expensive sound system, just open the door and crank up the Bang & Olufsen unit for that real-world concert hall effect only 1000W can deliver. If that doesn’t do it for you, you could always fire up the V12 for a live concert.
It’s almost time to make our way across the incredible scenery that is the rocky mountain outcrops of southern Spain, but there are a couple of things to cover off on the Virage.
Power is up 15kW on the DB9 to 365kW, while torque is a respectively strong 570Nm. Actually, it’s better than that. Eighty-five percent of those Newton-metres are available at 1500rpm, which takes overtaking ability to new levels - like a B-Double and five cars in one clean pass.
The transmission is still a six-speed ZF auto, which Aston calls ‘Touchtronic II’ and while it’s nowhere near as quick-shifting as the latest generation dual-clutch box, it does offer a good compromise between performance, comfort and weight.
Active suspension with adaptive dampers that figure out your driving style and the the way the car behaves on the road, is part of the Virage package too, which allows for ‘normal’ and ‘sport’ mode settings, and yes, there is a noticeable difference between the two although, surprisingly, the ride compliance in sport mode and the hardest damping setting, is exceptionally good.
The critical suspension test came at close to 160km/h in these twisty parts, as the car hit a well hidden and crumbling dip in the road. In any other performance-based car, such an event might have had catastrophic ramifications. Not so with the Virage. We drove straight over this impediment (unusual on this stretch) and there was plenty of travel left in the dampers and a good deal of absorption.
What was also remarkable was that despite the obvious rigidity of the chassis, the car kept its critical line through the S-bend, without so much as a single shudder through the body.
In-gear acceleration from the V12 is massive, but the delivery isn’t at all violent. Power to ground is always a smooth and well-behaved affair. That said, you could feel the load on the rear tyres as all 570Nm of industrial-grade torque is fed to the rear wheels.
Several times I jumped back on the throttle with a little too much haste, and you could feel the massive 295/35 rear tyres start to slip, but it was so easily controlled that the DSC never became active.
There are no complaints with how the Virage steers either. It’s direct, quick to respond, and there’s plenty of communication through the steering wheel. Interestingly though, you might have thought that given the Virage’s skew towards more performance, that they might have borrowed the 15:1 steering rack ratio from the Rapide, given how amazingly agile that thing is around similar roads.
It’s a fair assumption, but Aston’s engineers say they didn’t feel it necessary to make such a dramatic change, but rather altered the steering bushes instead. After a few hundred kilometres across a variety of different road conditions, I’m inclined to agree with them.
Jumping into the Coupe, the car immediately feels a whole lot lighter (95kg), but not necessarily any more composed than the Volante through the twisty bits. That said, there are bound to be performance and handling advantages with the Virage Coupe, but we just didn’t get time to drive the same route or distance to make a proper comparison between the two cars.
Because the Virage is capable of such huge speeds between these snake like bends , we tended to carry that speed right up to each corner and then hammer the brakes like no tomorrow. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of these punishing brake applications we performed throughout the day, without so much as a hint of fade. That’s because the Virage is fitted with standard carbon ceramic discs with six-piston calipers, and the hotter they get, the better they work. They are also considerably lighter at each wheel, making for a crisper turn in.
It might be billed as a big, comfortable, grand tourer, but make no mistake, the Aston Martin Virage performs like a full-blown super sports car; and that’s in the twisty bits. Open it up on the straight, and there are be very few cars in the world that could touch it, while providing the same level of bespoke luxury and comfort.
Stay tuned for our track/road test of the new Aston Martin Vantage S at Ascari, with hot lap video footage to follow.