Sci-Tech

Aston Martin Virage: The art of the car

By Deon Schoeman 17 February 2012

All sports cars are desirable – some only more so than others. The Aston Martin Virage is certainly a head-turner, exuding a heady mix of sensual styling, lavish interior appointments and no-holds-barred performance. At R2.8-million, it also carries the burden of huge expectations. The question is can it deliver on its obvious promises? By DEON SCHOEMAN.

There’s a certain mystique surrounding Aston Martin – a British brand first rescued from the brink of bankruptcy by mega-automaker Ford, and returned, quite ironically, to its former glory by German genius and motoring aficionado, Ulrich Bez.

Bez built his reputation as a hard-nosed, focussed automotive engineer at Porsche and BMW, experiences that stood him in good stead at the helm of a brand that attained iconic status under his guidance. In a world saturated with premium automotive brands, Bez saw a gap for an aspirational sports car that could combine authentic heritage with styling, tangible craftsmanship and ease of use.

Aston Martins are highly aspirational, indisputably handsome and expensive enough to restrict ownership to high net-worth individuals. But they’re not nearly as intimidating as the notoriously temperamental Ferraris, or as hard core as Porsche’s best.

That’s as true of the entry-level (in Aston terms) Vantage as it is of the flagship DBS or the four-door Rapide. But the positioning of the Virage is not quite as clearly defined. It’s not that different from a DB9, although it looks more muscular. Nor is it as pugilistic, or downright aggressive as the DBS. Instead, it steers a careful path between the two.

However, there’s no denying that it’s unmistakably Aston Martin. The shape is sleek and sporty, with the long prowling nose and a short, high rear deck so characteristic of the marque. But at 4.7m long and 1.9m wide, it’s imposing rather than wieldy. Not that imposing in the Virage context suggests a bloated or ostentatious execution. The car’s shape exudes a convincing sense of balance, with strong, clearly drawn lines crafting a classic sports car profile.

Big wheels, flared wheel arches, sculpted flanks and a low, crouching stance conspire to create an almost feline, predatory appearance. In short, the Virage looks rapid and dynamic from every angle.

Take a closer look and you’ll see the massive ceramic carbon brakes, the twin exhausts jutting out from the rear apron, the typical aluminium-finished grille and the low front spoiler. But there’s also something indulgent and alluring about the subtle brightwork. Daytime running lights underscore the Aston’s contemporary status.

While the aesthetics may be enough to turn heads, they’re only one part of the package. And it stands to reason that performance potential is high on the bragging list too. Sure enough, the Virage is hardly short of muscle: it packs some serious firepower!

The V12 under that long, swooping bonnet is a lusty unit. It squeezes out 365kWof maximum power, combined with 550Nm of torque. That considerable urge is delivered to the rear wheels via a carbon-fibre propshaft and a six-speed automatic gearbox.

The engine is mounted far back to assist weight distribution and is hand-built to exacting standards. Since it is normally aspirated, with loads of low-down torque and muscle, throttle response is instantaneous, with a linear stream of power when you floor the throttle. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of all is the sound!

It’s a sonorous soundtrack that starts with a deep, almost visceral growl and progresses from octave to octave in an ever-intensifying crescendo until, almost unwillingly, the red line’s limiter calls time – in that gear, at least. By the time you’re in sixth, the speed has transformed the surrounding scenery into a blur and the road ahead into an ever-narrowing ribbon of tar.

But there’s more to savour here than the stirring sound of a V12 in full cry, or the sheer velocity of the beast. For many would-be owners, the interior will be a key attraction. Bespoke is perhaps the easiest way to describe the cabin. It’s really only a two-seater, as the rear pews are not even suitable for toddlers. But the execution is flawless, and the craftsmanship tangible.

And yes, it is very, very comfortable.

Spend a bit more time inside the Virage, and you’ll find that there’s a lot more to the cockpit than an initial glance suggests. For instance, no less than seven hides are used for the hand-stitched upholstery. The alloy-faced instruments are a nice touch, too. Visibility from the perfectly contoured and bolstered seats is good and electric adjustment ensures a satisfying, ergonomically sound interaction between car and driver.

Not unexpectedly, the standard kit list is expansive, and covers all the luxury must-haves: remote central locking, climate control, surround sound, Garmin-sourced satellite navigation, and more.

Even the key is a sculpted, miniature work of art – a huge improvement on the generic Ford-style key that used to be standard Aston fare. The new car’s key is encased in glossy resin, and slots neatly into the custom slot provided on the dashboard.

In all, it takes a team of craftsmen about 70 hours to finish one Virage interior – an impressive statistic, but one that’s hardly top of mind when you start exploring this sports car’s dynamic capabilities.

It comes as no surprise that the sleek and elegant Aston is no slouch in dynamic terms. The car races from rest to 100 in 4.6sec, while the top speed is an eye-watering 299km/h. But the kerb mass of almost 1.8 tons underplays just how quickly the car gathers speed. It’s utterly effortless.

Of course, straight-line dynamics is only one element of the bigger Virage picture. Because of all that aluminium and a stiff, rigid chassis, the coupé feels responsive, and even the gearbox – a perennial source of irritation among hard-core sports car enthusiasts – reacts with greater zest than before.

More good news is that the chassis is well balanced, that the big disc brakes bite with hungry ardour when needed, and the Virage always feels more composed than its in-your-face presence suggests. Indeed, the Virage really shines when pushed through the twisties. The steering has decent heft and feedback, and there’s loads of grip. The adaptive suspension ensures that there’s no shortage of composure either.

The Virage’s entire existence relies on its ability to be something of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. For concerted enthusiasts, it needs to deliver high grip levels, precise turn-in and instant throttle response. Others may want to adopt a more relaxed driving approach, treating the Virage as a grand tourer.

Either way, the Aston shines, with music to match. That six-litre V12 sounds unlike anything else on the planet and it truly enjoys being piloted with gusto. The auto box still isn’t the best in this league, but it does swap gears a lot quicker than before.

As supercars go, the Aston Martin Virage is one of the most approachable. It’s rapid enough when you want it to be, but not at the cost of creature comforts. The styling is sleek without polarising opinion and the cabin offers all the bells and whistles. Most of all, it’s automotive aristocrat through and through!

That big V12 is an apt heart for a car that fuses sex appeal and dynamic intent in a single package. And,yes, it’s no slouch, either. Add the evocative shape, the attention to detail and the luxury and the Virage becomes a very desirable purchase.

It epitomises what the vast majority of buyers in this category demand: comfort, exclusivity, performance and sex appeal. And those traits are compelling enough to endow the Virage with our vote of confidence. DM



 

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