Driven: 2012 Aston Martin Virage

By Seyth Miersma

April 04, 2011

(Photo credit: Bruce Benedict)

—Pahrump, Nevada

Pahrump, Nevada doesn’t sound like a very good place to drive an Aston Martin, does it? Say the place name out loud and, if you’re like us, you’re liable to hear something like the sound made by a drunken circus elephant sitting down in a muddy field. In fact, with apologies to Crapo, Maryland and Fleatown, Ohio, Pahrump is one of the least romance-inspiring place names we’ve come across.

Good thing about that whole judging a book by its cover bit, then, as Pahrump, in addition to its being conveniently near glittering Las Vegas, happens to lie within a ten minute drive of some seriously wide open spaces. And, critically for us and for the Aston Martin Virage we were handed the key to, said spaces are crossed by long, lonely stretches of road that simply beg for triple-digit speeds. Just the kind of tarmac that this unfailingly pretty British sports car was designed to decimate.

Driving through the desert in any car with a decent exhaust note is pretty satisfying, and doing so with your foot to the floor in Aston’s newest V-12-powered GT is hauntingly beautiful. The 6.0-liter twelve is well known to the motoring community, and Virage does a fine job making music from the release of all 490 of the horsepower on tap. Though rather mellow and subdued while simply cruising along, when we call up more serious accelerative force via our right foot, the car consistently responds with a beastlike blat from the rear quarters. As speed begins to pile on—and quickly now—the motive tones rise in harmony with the pace, with a never-rough pitch that serves to spur us forward. Satisfying, and rich, and utterly remarkable, the Aston soundtrack has us hooked from idle speed clear through the closest we allow ourselves to get to its lofty top end.

Stunning musicality taken as read, then, it’s fair to say that the Virage’s V-12 doesn’t push quite as hard as you’d expect, nor probably as you’d want for your $200K investment. This, as every Aston, is a strikingly quick car. But, today’s world happens to be very full of quick cars, and the numbers game isn’t one that Virage will ever win. Much less expensive 911 Turbos and Corvette ZR-1s will always offer more impressive 0-60 times for less money. Does that matter? The Virage accelerates hard enough to push you back in your seat—from a standstill and/or from 90 miles per hour—and will run all the way up to 186 mph if you let it. Clearly, the car’s aptitude for speed is a major reason behind its desirability, but buyers that are mostly interested in ultimate (and pretty abstract) performance numbers will look somewhere else. Allow us a moment of British cheekiness to say that the Virage is, certainly, fast enough.

Attached to Virage’s glorious motor is a gearbox that is probably most notable for being merely adequate. We don’t love or hate the manually shifted six-speed automatic transmission—it does its best to not get in the driver’s way, and mostly succeeds in that task. But the transmission doesn’t add much to the total package, either, and definitely won’t win many points for the car in terms of our Involvement Index. In standard drive mode, we didn’t find the autobox hunting around for gears at any point, nor did it surprise us with especially rapid downshifts when throttle was fed in. Stick to using the column-mounted paddle shifters for more aggressive driving. Or, better in keeping with the classic GT spirit of the thing, put your faith in the meaty 420 pound-feet of torque and the flexibility of everyone’s favorite third gear.

Slotting into the Aston range above the quite pricy DB9 and below the billionaire-boys’-club DBS, the Virage is a test to the idea that there is indeed a discreet market for ultra-lux sports cars over $200,000 but below $270,000. There’s probably some legitimacy to that notion—the explosion in size of model ranges for Aston, Lamborghini, and even Ferrari over the years seems to bear it out—but we still maintain that any car north of two-hundo had better drive, look, and feel like a chariot of the gods.

Virage certainly gets the “look” part of that equation very right. Yes, we agree that the group of cars in Aston Martin’s current range looks a lot alike, but that doesn’t stop them all from being sexy on their own. We’re a little unclear about the high-end British translation for the descriptive term “panty dropper,” but each one of the modern Astons could make use of it. In both coupe and convertible form, the Virage is simply stunning.

Driver’s are also likely to enjoy both the look and the feel of the interior treatment here, so long as they aren’t too tall or, god forbid, attempting to make use of the ludicrous rear seats. The driver’s seat is a comfortable but tight space in the Virage coupe—your very tall test driver had just enough clearance for his head, legs, and long arms. Big and tall passengers should be warned that the right-hand seat isn’t adjustable for height, meaning a slightly less accommodating perch from which to view the majesty of that long hood, and the rapidly passing scenery. We must mention that the Volante manages to make these tight quarters a little bit worse, not better—the tops of tall heads had best be prepared to get blown around.

Once situated, the driverly controls of the Virage are damn near perfect. The transmission may not be our favorite piece of work, but the paddles used to operate the thing are both beautiful and fine to touch. Better still, the steering wheel manages to offer up really high levels of feedback, both on center and when loaded into a corner, that kept us fully plugged into the road surface beneath us. Steering response, while not nearly as quick or razor sharp as in truer, lighter sports cars, is utterly fluid, and very appropriate for this large, fast grand tourer. Complexes of corners can be dispatched with very little drama, and a lightness that belies the Aston’s stout curb weight. Only the most aggressive of drivers will push the Virage hard enough to sense the latent understeer beneath the top layer of balance.

And, though we expected no less at this price, we’re happy to report that the Volante felt every bit as stiff and composed as its coupe counterpart. We weren’t able to find a speed or road surface that would send even the smallest of shakes through the structure of the convertible. Buyers are free to make the tough choice between coupe and droptop based on use case and aesthetics—the two cars are dynamically indistinguishable.

As much as we loved the core driving experience of the Virage, the best we could do with the rest of the controls and technology was attempt to ignore them. Aston has replaced the car’s navigation system with a new item, developed with Garmin, that is absolutely an upgrade over the outgoing item. Sadly the system must still be accessed via Aston’s extremely finicky central control joystick, and hasn’t been programmed to integrate radio, iPod/USB, or HVAC controls. Non-navigation systems are available through tiny buttons and a secondary display that looks absolutely out of place in a car that costs as much as a three-bedroom house. With the rest of the Virage interior, as in all Astons, being a place of utter, hand-stitched quality, the technology suite comes off as being even more out of place. We hate to be the guys complaining about how badly the satellite radio tuner is in an otherwise brilliant car—we really do—but technology is a big part of luxury these days, and it’s definitely Aston’s Achilles’ heel.

Complaints considered, then, we understand that Virage sales won’t likely be hampered much by an unintuitive nav system. This is a car for lovers of rich things—cars command attention without having to rely on bells or whistles. At its heart, Virage is like every great Aston: subtle, and fast, and substantial, and utterly self-confident. Good enough to elevate even Pahrump as an extraordinary destination, for drivers.

2012 Aston Martin Virage
Engine: V-12, 6.0 liters, 48v
Output: 490 hp/420 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.6 sec
Top Speed: 186 mph
Weight: 3935 lb
Base Price: $209,995
On Sale: Now