Ronda, Spain • Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez obviously takes serious F. Scott Fitzgerald’s admonition that “The rich are different than you and me.” Or, at the very least, he certainly thinks the rich who buy Aston Martins are different than you and me.
Bez takes exception to a question wondering what specifically 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. He contends that Aston Martin buyers don’t compare their car’s specifications, performance or any other criteria to any other, competitive brand or not. Of course, having fielded numerous questions from current and prospective owners of the company’s lesser Vantage range as to how their V8 Astons compare with equivalently priced Porsches and the like, I’m, shall we say, a little skeptical of Bez’s claim of unfettered brand loyalty. Believe it or not, even those shopping for $140,000 sports cars sometimes have a sense of budget and value.
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 $206,765-plus range, where all the long-wheelbase 2+2 Astons reside, I think the typical customer simply buys what makes him or her feel good — the car that strikes their fancy, whatever that fancy might be. Of course, owning what usually is a small fleet of cars — as the truly wealthy often do — 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. So, if what Bez is really trying to say is that cars such as the new Virage fulfill a specific range of “wants” and therefore don’t have to be justified in the practical terms forced upon the merely affluent, then perhaps there’s a point to his intransigence.
Certainly, I would make an argument that, were I suddenly as rich as Croesus (or Bill Gates, his modern-day successor), 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 crankshaft Ferrari V8 is more sonorous or some Maserati more sporting, but they — and this almost certainly a “tell” of my aged status — are just a little too boy racerish for me. Every time I hear a 458 roar by, I always wonder whether the driver just graduated from one of those slammed Civics with a tomato-can-sized exhaust. The Aston Martin V12, on the other hand, is a model of civility and decorum, all sweetness and light and not disturbing anyone while it trundles — almost regally — along side streets.
That is, until one puts pedal to proverbial metal and the revs climb above 4,000 rpm 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 in-line six). The Virage’s exhaust plumbing, says Ian Minards, the Aston Martin engineer in charge of such things, is slightly different than the more overtly sporty DBS, but I can’t tell any difference. All I know is that I drove the damned thing everywhere with both windows rolled all the way down just so I could hear the exhaust roar every time the tach tipped past 4,000 rpm.
Said roar is, of course, accompanied by some serious ripping, the Virage’s version of the 6.0-litre V12 produces a heady 490 horsepower (base DB9s make 470 hp while the more aggressive DBS boasts 510). Combined with 420 pound-feet of torque, it’s enough to motivate the Virage with alacrity. Even combined with a relatively old-tech six-speed automatic transmission (actually transaxle as the gearbox is mounted in the rear), that’s good enough to push the 1,785-kilogram Virage coupe to 100 kilometres an hour in just 4.6 seconds and top out at 299 km/h.
What those mere numbers don’t illustrate, though, is the utter flexibility of the big V12 (originally conceived, by the way, as two Ford Duratec 3.0L V6s mated to a common block). Unlike the smaller-displacement Aston V8, which thrives (and requires) high revs, the V12 is a veritable torque monster, as happy at 3,000 rpm as 6,000, save, naturally, the ripping exhaust note exiting the tailpipes. Where the Vantage S tested last week 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 would be Aston’s rather abrupt 6,800-rpm rev limiter, which puts the kibosh 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 base DB9 and the raucous DBS. Like all DBs (indeed, all Aston Martins regardless of size), it’s built on the robust, bonded-aluminum VH platform that, even in convertible format (yes, the Virage is available as a Volante), is impressively rigid.
Again, like the other DBs, the Virage has Aston’s adaptive five-position suspension system, though this latest is an updated version that 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 minimize 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 with the goal of transporting its occupants great distances with as much dispatch and comfort as possible.
There will be no lack of the latter inside the new Virage. Oh, one could complain that the vestigial rear seats are truly a joke, or that the front buckets’ adjustability is not as wide- ranging as 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, there’s a crystal ashtray (well, now just a receptacle since the dashboard’s cigarette lighter has made way for a retractable pen) and there’s a magnificent Bang & Olufsen stereo system on offer with 1,000 watts of eardrum-piercing decibels and nifty, dashboard-mounted retractable tweeters à la Audi S8.
The one true flaw within the Virage cabin is its navigation system. The Garmin system may indeed be updated as Aston claims, but the screen is too small, it’s poorly angled and its functionality and controls are simply poor. Considering the strides made in automotive satellite navigation systems in recent years, it’s a travesty to pay (approximately) $225,000 for an automobile with a navi system barely superior to the ones offered for motorcycles.
Nonetheless, that estimated sticker price of $225,000 is something of a bargain in the DB lineup. It’s a lot closer to the DB9’s $206,765 than the DBS’s $309,530, 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 relatively paltry markup over the DB9 and see a bargain. Methinks the new Virage will quickly supplant the base DB as the Aston of choice.