First Drive: 2012 Aston Martin Virage
Few automakers sell sexy as well as Aston Martin.
Others may try, but competition demands they back up their stellar good looks with performance – oh, the burden. Take Ferrari and Lamborghini, the two Italians, as an example. Their sensual bodywork drops jaws at one hundred yards, but they also have to shoehorn in uber-powerful engines or else consumers will cry foul. Audi is another example. The German's luscious R8 was just that, but needed a V10 to truly stand proud. It seems that consumers simply won't tolerate sleek bodywork unless there's performance to substantiate it.
Yet, for some inexplicable reason, Aston Martin seems to have escaped the wrath. None of its models offer the most powerful engine in their class, or the best performance. We don't need to tell you that Astons aren't the best at anything. Well, except looking, smelling and feeling damn sexy.
Times are changing. Customers are demanding more substance behind the style, more bang for their buck and innovative, modern technology. Seeming to acknowledge that life is much more than a beauty contest, Aston Martin has introduced the all-new Virage Coupe and Virage Volante.
Continue reading First Drive: 2012 Aston Martin Virage...
Photos copyright ©2011 Michael harley / AOL
The new-for-2012 Virage is built on Aston Martin's "VH" architecture. The lightweight bonded aluminum and composite platform debuted way back in 2004 (under the skin of the DB9), but it's still an impressively stiff platform. As such, the British automaker makes good use of it. In addition to the new Virage, it is also used as the backbone of the Vantage, DBS and Rapide (the low volume One-77 is constructed with a full carbon-fiber monocoque chassis).
Sharing the same wheelbase and silhouette, the new Virage looks like a monozygotic twin to the DB9 and DBS. However, closer examination reveals that the Virage wears its own unique skin of aluminum, magnesium and composite body panels. Sculpted with aggressive simplicity in mind – clean surfaces with wide flares to emphasize the width of the platform – the front fascia features a five-vane grille (inspired by the One-77) and the rear wraps around with a body-color rear lower diffuser. As is the case with all late-model Aston Martins, the Virage features LED illumination for the daytime running lamps, turn signals and rear lamps, while the headlights are bi-xenon projector beams.
Models? Yes, there are two of them. The fixed-roof two-door is known as the "Virage Coupe" while the drop-top goes by the "Virage Volante" moniker ("volante" means "flying" in Italian and Aston Martin first used it on the Short Chassis Volante in 1965). Virage Coupes are offered in 2+2 or 2+0 configurations, so choose your preference. Keep in mind both only seat two. Convertible Volante models lose the fixed roof in favor of a completely automatic power-operated retractable folding cloth top. Additional reinforcements to the rear subframe, and front and rear shear panels, help to increase rigidity. The multi-layer top features an extra layer of Thinsulate material to improve isolation from outside noise.
Both the Coupe and Volante pack the same heat in the form of Aston Martin's familiar hand-assembled 6.0-liter V12 (it's technically a 5.9-liter, at 5,935 cubic centimeters). The naturally-aspirated all-alloy 48-valve engine, which is basically two Ford 3.0-liter Duratec V6 engines end-to-end, makes power the old fashioned way, sans direct injection, variable valve timing or variable-length intake manifolds. Regardless, it's a spinning jewel rated at 490 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque (the same engine is tuned to make 510 horsepower in the DBS and 470 horsepower in the DB9/Rapide). The engine's plenum has been painted black to identify its unique "five-pillar design" that reportedly improves sound quality and helps to deliver 85 percent of available torque at only 1,500 rpm.
Like the other VH-based models, power is sent rearward through a carbon-fiber propeller shaft within an alloy tube to the mid-mounted gearbox. The standard transmission is Aston Martin's "Touchtronic II," an electronically-controlled wet six-speed automatic sourced from ZF (the transmission and final drive ratio of 3.46:1 are shared with the Rapide sedan). While most drivers will prefer to leave the gearbox in Drive, Aston Martin has fitted leather-clad magnesium shift paddles to the steering column with the right paddle handling up shifts and the left paddle doing down shifts. A "Sport" button mounted on the lower center console can be pressed to increase shift speeds and hold gears at the electronic engine revolution limiter without an upshift, and a mechanical limited-slip differential is standard equipment.
Aston Martin fitted an independent double-wishbone suspension with monotube adaptive dampers at all four corners. The Adaptive Damping System (ADS) suspension (also shared with the DB9/Rapide) includes sensors that "read" the road, combining its own data with information from on-board yaw, accelerometer, steering wheel, throttle and brake (ABS) telemetry to constantly adjust the ride at each corner.
Aston Martin says the system has been tuned for the special "sporting GT" character of the Virage, and ten different suspension maps are used to achieve that end. Five are reserved for the normal default mode, while the other five are activated when the driver taps the console-mounted "ADS" button (it simply has a pictograph of a suspension strut). For the next five seconds, all damping is set to firm ("...providing the driver a tangible difference," says Aston Martin). After the five seconds have passed, the button remains illuminated and the system reverts to a firmer mapping for sporty driving.
As for braking, carbon-ceramic stoppers are standard on the Virage Coupe and Volante. The braking system is configured with 15.7-inch drilled rotors up front (six-piston calipers) and 14.2-inch drilled rotors in the rear (four-piston calipers). Aston Martin touts better progressive stopping, improved driver feedback through the pedal and greater fade resistance with the carbon-ceramics, but the greatest benefit on the Virage is weight savings: The lightweight rotors removed nearly 28 pounds of unsprung mass to improve ride comfort and handling. Whirling around the brakes are 20-inch alloy wheels wearing standard Pirelli P Zero rubber (245/35R20 in the front, and 295/30R20 in the rear).
Add up all the goodness and the curb weight of the 2012 Aston Martin Virage Coupe is 3,935 pounds distributed with a 50:50 weight balance (the Volante comes in at 4,166 pounds). Thanks to the smooth V12, Aston Martin claims the Coupe will sprint 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds (figure 0-60 mph in just under 4.5 seconds) with a top speed of 186 mph.
We were fortunate enough to sample the Aston Martin Virage siblings in southern Spain, the same weekend we drove the 2011 Aston Martin Vantage S at the Ascari race circuit. This worked out well, as it allowed us the opportunity to drive all three vehicles back-to-back.
First on our agenda was a long drive in the Virage Coupe. Handed the polished metal/glass keys to a black-on-black two-door (with bright yellow brake calipers and yellow upholstery stitching), we set out from our base on the outskirts of Rhona towards the south on A-369, a route sending us through the Andalucian Mountains. The pre-planned route was spectacularly brilliant, if the weather decided cooperate.
Under ominous cloudy skies and sporadic rain showers, we climbed up the curvy roads with mild aggression. The Virage didn't seem to notice the falling outside temperatures, the strong gusts of wind or the broken sections of pavement slamming across the tires. Nestled inside its cabin with our jeans resting on one of the seven hand-sewn ''Bridge of Weir" hides (it's a shame cows don't smell this good when they are alive) and the climate control set to a tropical 80 F, we were unbelievably cozy. In true grand touring manner, the Virage Coupe isolated us from the unpleasantries of the real world.
The power of the V12 is always just fraction of an inch under the accelerator pedal, with the ZF-source six-speed automatic more than willing to play the passing game with a signal from the right foot or a flick on the left paddle. Slower cars were dispensed of quickly and without drama. The roads were very slippery, keeping the electronic nannies busy slapping our wrists. We could turn them completely off with an extended press of a button, but they aren't very bothersome (they allow a fair share of slip before intruding).
We found Aston's trick ADS suspension was best left in the "normal" mode, where it can work its magic automatically (the firm settings are more unsettling than anything else). We also liked the transmission's "sport" setting, as its increased aggression improves throttle response. It certainly doesn't hurt anything other than fuel economy. Impressed with the overall driving dynamics, we were feeling good. Things were going well.
Then it started to snow.
Aston Martin is proud of the Virage's new flat wiper blades (replacing the age-old whippletree design), and this was an opportune time to test them out. As the temperature hovered at freezing, and it's really not supposed to snow here according to historical climate reports, the big flakes didn't stand a chance on the pavement. They melted upon contact with the windscreen too, and the new wipers swept away the residual ice/water effectively.
Down at lower altitudes, with rain still falling, we made our way back into historical Rhonda with help from the new Garmin-based navigation system. It features a prettier display, but is no less frustrating to use as it retains the Aston Martin's original maddening interface. Many of the cobblestone streets are old and challengingly narrow as Rhonda has been around a very long time (it was first established by the Celts in the 6th century BC). The wide Virage Coupe somehow squeezed through, thankfully allowing us to catch the tail end of lunch.
Later that afternoon, after a couple hours behind the wheel of the new Vantage S on the track, we took another Virage out for a spin on dry roads. With track adrenaline still in our veins, our driving was spirited. We appreciated the twelve-cylinder engine, quick transmission and the unflappable carbon-ceramic brakes, and the steering felt great. Again, things were going well... until we grossly understeered through a corner. The platform is good to a point, and then its mass, long wheelbase and street-tuned suspension draw the line. The Virage is a very good sports car, but it's not an effortless canyon carver.
So, what exactly are the Virage Coupe and Virage Volante, and where do they fit? Pricing is a very telling indicator as to where the models really place into the grand scheme of things. Official dollars and cents were announced today. The Virage Coupe starts at $209,995 with the Virage Volante following at $224,995. That slots the new two-door models far below the entry-level DBS ($271,660), but only a slight stretch above the base DB9 ($187,615).
Dr. Ulrich Bez, Aston Martin CEO, says the Virage, "...is the next level of evolution in our VH architecture strategy and it does everything with the perfection that you would expect today."
We say the new Virage models are wonderfully-executed GT cars with rigid squeak-free platforms, bullish engines, marvelous interiors, sensual styling and alluring driving dynamics. While the accolades are well-deserved, the Virage represents more to Aston Martin than just another freshly-cloned model or two. With a bit of fresh luxury and performance, the Virage embodies the awaited "DB9.5" of sorts – a reskinned, modernized, refined, polished reinvention of the car that has been with us for eight years.
Of course it's still captivatingly sexy. But, we never said there was anything wrong with that.
Photos copyright ©2011 Michael Harley / AOL
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