2012 Aston Martin Virage: First Drive

You'd think any car expected to muscle in between Aston Martin's debonair DB9 and its cinematic, covert-ops-ready DBS would have seriously sharp elbows. What the new Virage lacks in elbows, however, it makes up for in bra-unhooking charm.

Full disclosure: Aston Martin wanted us to drive the 2012 Virage (as well as the Vantage V8 S and Rapide) so badly that they flew us to Las Vegas, bought us a nice lunch and a fine dinner at a late-model casino. The next morning they drove us out to the desert, where we had two hours to wing the Virage out to Death Valley and back, so we could spend the early afternoon with the Vantage S and Rapide at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, NV (more to come). After that, they whisked us to the airport by late afternoon so we wouldn't have to suffer the red eye back to NY.

Introduced in 1989, the first Virage was a replacement for the Aston Martin V8, then the company's top model. Now, with Aston joining other boutique automakers in expanding its lineup by tweakery, it's no shocker it would revisit the Virage (French for a bend in the road) name to grow its V12 franchise by one.

Because our test drive was a two-hour cram session. I've gone with bullet points on this one. Here are a few things I've learned from driving the Aston Martin Virage out to Death Valley and back to Pahrump, Nevada:

[gallery 5788455]Bridge of Weir is a place in Scotland. It's also the leatherworks that fabricates the Virage's swank interior out of seven hides. That sounds quaint, like the skin was tanned and stitched in candlelight to the sound of bagpipes by Mary Helen MacGregor of Comar, but BoW uses high-tech data systems to track each hide from delivery to finished product. The result is the kind of leather Patrick Bateman would have fetishized in American Psycho.

The highway through Death Valley isn't pancake-flat. Once in a while there's a stretch of motocross-ready whoop-dee-dos. Here, the Virage keeps composed even at triple-digit desert speeds, even while ululating like a dory boat in rough chop. The winner here is Bilstein, whose two-mode adaptive system uses presets for normalcy and for sport.

Like all late-model Astons, I'm in love with the steering feel. Not too twitchy, with good heft and direct responses and good information flow. Every automaker should benchmark Aston Martin steering.

2012 Aston Martin Virage: First Drive

Naturally, like the DB9 and DBS, the Virage uses the company's stiff "VH" bonded aluminum and composite architecture, which also makes the Rapide four-door feel about a foot shorter than it is (thanks to some other tricks, too).

A shear stress is one applied parallel or tangential to a face of a material, as opposed to a normal stress that's applied perpendicularly. Engineers fitted the convertible with shear panels at the front and rear subframes to provide extra stiffening, compensating for the lack of a roof. Oh, and the coupe has them too.

In a world of big-bucks GTs and supercars, where 500 horsepower is merely the opening shot, the Virage's 490 horses are about 10 roasted ducks shy of a Peking dinner. But the company's longstanding 5.9-liter V12 sounds great and pulls adequately. It's not all about getting from 0-60 in under four seconds (the Virage does it in around 4.5), is it?

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The Virage gets the DBS's carbon-ceramic system from Brembo, with pizza-sized vented rotors in the front (15.7") and slightly smaller pizzas in the rear (14.2). Six piston calipers in the front, four in the rear. Having switched cars at the 1-hour point, and having driven a route requiring very little braking, we didn't give them much of a workout.

The Virage comes in either 2+2 or 2-seater configurations. Both only seat two, unless you're driving two leprechauns home on St. Paddy's day.

The six-speed, Touchtronic II automatic transmission, despite the the algorithmic gear-holding and quicker shift times in Sport mode, is still a bit of a compromise to anyone looking for pure performance.

So what's the Virage's killer app? Looks. There's nothing on the road that turns heads like an Aston Martin Virage in lady-killer orange and those fat Pirelli P Zeros (245/35s front; 295/30s back). It's tailored Armani in a Men's Warehouse world. Short of that, it's the "big Astons'" typical ease of high-speed long-distance travel. Next to modern GT car in the Book of Awesome, there's one of these.

The Virage coupe starts at $209,995; the Volante at $224,995. Compare that with the base DB9 at $187,615 and entry DBS at $271,660, and you get that there's a $225,000 sweet spot in the market.