• Mar 16, 2011
Uncovering The Real Mission Of Aston's New Coupe And Volante

2012 Aston Martin Virage - Click above for high-res image gallery

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.

2012 Aston Martin Virage side view2012 Aston Martin Virage front view2012 Aston Martin Virage rear view

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.

2012 Aston Martin Virage engine

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.

2012 Aston Martin Virage interior2012 Aston Martin Virage seats2012 Aston Martin Virage paddle shifter2012 Aston Martin Virage instrument panel

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).

2012 Aston Martin Virage headlight2012 Aston Martin Virage logo2012 Aston Martin Virage wheel2012 Aston Martin Virage rear detail

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.

2012 Aston Martin Virage group2012 Aston Martin Virage driving

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.

2012 Aston Martin Virage driving2012 Aston Martin Virage driving

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.

2012 Aston Martin Virage rear 3/4 view

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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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      I love my 2009 Vantage, and I think it looks much better than this car. The vantage is much stubbier. But anyway, this should have been a package for the DB9, not a new car.
      However, there is no arguing that this is breathtakingly beautiful.
        • 3 Years Ago
        totally agree. but aston martin can do whatever it wants in my book :)
        • 3 Years Ago
        It is basically a sport package for the DB9, but less ostentatious than the DBS.

        The Vantage S is a sport package on the Vantage, but less than a Vantage V12.

        I think it got a new name, rather than just DB9-S for two reasons.

        1: to not be confused with DBS, which is still another trim level with more power and more scoops and vents.

        2: to introduce a new NAME that Aston can build on. I think DB9 as a name will be succeeded by the Virage name completely for the next generation version, rather than stepping to DB10. Maybe David Brown's legacy will continue as the DBS version of that car.

        Vantage - Vantage S
        Virage - DBS
        Rapide - Rapide S

        I think that might be somewhat like the next non-alpha-numeric Aston lineup might look like, with convertibles continuing to use Volante in addition.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Well, not really a "sport package", as there is already an option for that. My Vantage has the "sport package", which tightens suspension, adds a new exhaust system, as well as lighter wheels. This is also available on the DB9. However, Aston want to market the Vantage S, and Virage as separate cars, rather than having them be a new and improved sport package. That, I do not understand.
      • 3 Years Ago
      so....is this the new DB9? It looks like an evolution rather than a revolution
        • 3 Years Ago
        This is a new model, not the DB9 replacement. Confusingly enough it slots between the DB9 and the DBS.
      • 3 Years Ago
      DB9? DBS? Virage? Who said buying a beautiful car had to be easy? Honestly, I wouldn't *want* it to be easy... all those confused extra minutes in the showroom trying to decide...

      It's not *meant* to be the same as buying a Civic with a fart can.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I know in my head that I can buy better cars for the money I would spend on an Aston Martin, but there's nothing out there that stirs my loins in quite the same way.
      • 3 Years Ago
      absolutely stunning, but I think the term "all new" is a bit off—evolutionary change to be sure, which is all AM needed to do.

      I think a change in the window profile could have been done though. A longer rear side window, perhaps following the C pillar line as the late '80s Virage used, would work for me and would more clearly differentiate this model.

      I agree with those that have V8 Vantages here. The shorter, stubbier body on those is the best interpretation of this design language. In my mind there is one sitting in my driveway right now, lol, and I'm sitting in it taking in the heady aroma of the leather AM uses. It's as intoxicating as the car itself.
        • 3 Years Ago
        the leather aroma?
        what you smell is mostly the chemicals, like silicone, etc used in treating the leather

        but I degrees

        i am getting bored of looking at the same car for over 10 years now
        they desperately need something new, same was true for Porsche but now they have the cayman and their sedan suv's. AM is standing still in design and that means creativity has gone out the window in their design department
        someone must buy it to support the change they need - maybe mr Ghosen can look into it

      • 3 Years Ago
      This thing has a 5,935 cubic inch engine?! Good lord. That'll help the performance gap. (Just a minor copyediting heads up to Autoblog.)
        • 3 Years Ago
        Hey, we told you it was fast... fixed.

        - Mike
        • 3 Years Ago
        I was wondering when Aston Martin started making marine engines.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm going to start telling people that my Ford Taurus is half Aston Martin.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Oh look, at the bottom of the page AOL Autos has some Aston Martin Autos for me to buy! I think I will, thank you!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Guess I know what I'm buying after I hit that MegaMillions jackpot tonight.

      But seriously, absolutely gorgeous car. Sex on wheels.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm getting bored of the same car sold under different names, evolve the design language already, they all look exactly the same!
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