Aston Martin Virage review: Aston Martin Virage
The Aston Martin Virage is one of the best long-distance cruisers money can buy. It's hugely comfortable, surprisingly luxurious and acquits itself admirably when driven hard. It's let down only by its unintuitive cabin-tech user interface.
Back in the late '80s, Aston Martin unveiled the Virage -- a car designed to replace the company's ageing V8 and DBSV8 models. The response was muted to say the least. Some glanced at it and shrugged, pieces of tumbleweed rolled by and almost everyone, with the exception of the super-rich, spent their £120,000 on more important things. Like houses.
Fast-forward 20 years or so and Aston Martin has resurrected the Virage name for a brand new car. Its task this time around isn't to replace an existing model, but rather to marry the best aspects of the soft, glamorous DB9 grand tourer and the more hard-core DBS. But has Aston Martin succeeded in its mission? Is there space in its line-up for yet another Virage? Will anyone even bat an eyelid? We hopped in the £150,000 coupé edition to find out.
The new Virage doesn't look wildly different from anything else in Aston Martin's range, barring the bonkers One-77 and the Cygnet. You'll have trouble picking it out of an Aston Martin line-up unless you're intimately familiar with the range.
The Virage's single-lens headlights, which sport an LED light strip, were first seen on the Rapide. Its bonnet and front grille are borrowed from the DB9 and its rear-light clusters look like they were sourced from a box labelled 'Vantage'.
There are some unique features, though. The splitter below the front air intake is exclusive to the Virage, as is the rear exhaust housing, which provides a pleasing middle ground between the extreme-looking rear diffuser seen on the DBS and the understated backside on the DB9.
The design probably isn't different enough to convince existing Aston Martin owners to upgrade, and there are many who will feel disappointed by the company's reluctance to design something outside of its comfort zone. That said, the Virage is so incredibly gorgeous that those with qualms about its design really are missing the point. Aston Martin's stumbled on a magical formula for creating drop-dead gorgeous cars, and the old adage holds true -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
There are few surprises on the inside of the Virage. The interior is largely identical to that of almost all the company's existing cars, with the same curvaceous, muscular dashboard, forged aluminium speedometer surrounds, and a designer key-cum-starter-button made of crystal.
The car also comes with an Aston Martin-branded Lamy Pico pocket pen, which slots into the centre console. It clicks securely into place and doesn't rattle about. Don't lose it, though -- a replacement will set you back a whopping €80 (£70).
Also new is a motorised navigation display that flips open from the centre of the dashboard. This 6.5-inch unit is larger than the 6-inch display that came before it, and has a noticeably higher resolution of 800x480 pixels -- up from 480x234 pixels on the previous screen. It's not in the same league as the 15-inch display set to feature in the Tesla Model S, but the screen is a big improvement on those that came before it, thanks to crisp, modern-looking, easy-to-read graphics.
The Virage's sat-nav, provided by Garmin, is a massive improvement on the Volvo-sourced nav system in previous Aston Martin cars. The graphics look fabulous, and it supports full seven-digit postcode entry, which eliminates the need to enter lengthy street names. It even comes with a couple of apps, including a world clock and a calculator.
It's by no means the most advanced nav system we've encountered. It lacks the live, real-time traffic info of some of the most sophisticated standalone nav systems, and the joystick used to control inputs is still as fiddly as ever. Still, it's a huge improvement on the outdated Volvo system seen in previous cars.
Sadly, Aston Martin hasn't updated the rest of the Virage's cabin tech. It uses the same horrifically unintuitive control interface as other cars in the range, which means you get a tiny LCD display, six fiddly mode buttons and a wobbly central joystick whose function changes depending on what mode you happen to be in.
The secret is to ensure you've pressed the relevant button to activate the music, phone or audio modes before controlling the cursor on the tiny LCD screen using the joystick. Indeed, the mode buttons are backlit to help show you which one has been selected, but each button is so incredibly small and fiddly, and the LCD screen so reflective and so unreadable in direct sunlight, that getting the Virage's information and entertainment systems to work first time is like trying to fly a space shuttle while blindfolded.
It's an interface we've become familiar with over the years, but our interactions with the system always seem to degenerate into prodding randomly at buttons, praying, rather than expecting, that something will happen.
Speed of sound
If you somehow manage to activate the car's audio system, you'll be thoroughly rewarded, particularly if you've chosen to upgrade to the £4,500 Bang & Olufsen set-up.
Like the units produced for the Vantage and DBS, the B&O system has a total power output of 1,000W, channelled across 13 separate speakers, including two 'acoustic lenses' that rise automatically from the dashboard when the system is powered up.
According to B&O, these lenses allow a wide, 180-degree horizontal dispersion of high frequencies, spraying treble and the higher registers of Mariah Carey's voice more broadly across the cabin than ordinary speakers would.
In typical B&O tradition, the system also uses a specially optimised digital-signal-processing unit that 'stage manages' your music, tuning it to account for the acoustic properties of this particular car's cabin.
It's all very clever, but the bottom line is that the Virage's audio system sounds brilliant. It's loud and powerful enough to handle the grimiest dubstep yet refined and well-balanced enough to do justice to genres of music that requires greater levels of acoustic finesse.
Our only issue with the stereo is the fact it doesn't support very many sources. AM/FM radio can be played, as can music sourced from an iPod, CD, USB device or auxiliary input, but there's no DAB option and wireless Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming is conspicuously absent.
If Aston Martin designed the Virage to provide the performance thrills of the DBS without sacrificing the comfort and luxury of the DB9, then it's succeeded.
On the one hand, it's a snarling, aggressive beast of a car. Push the start button and its 490bhp, 6-litre V12 engine explodes into life, snorting angrily through an exhaust system that's almost musical in its delivery. It goes like stink too -- 0-62mph takes just 4.6 seconds and Aston Martin tells us it'll keep pushing until it hits a top speed of 186mph.
As well as this sensational performance, you also get a fabulous sense of luxury. Sitting inside the cabin is like lazing around in a sofa that's been contoured specifically for your bum. We spent days carving through the mountainous back roads of Andalusia, racking up hundreds of miles. Not once did driving this car become tiresome. The Virage eats up the miles like you wouldn't believe -- so much so that you could head out to the local shops and end up in a foreign country.
Twist and shout
The Virage's exceptional comfort means it does sacrifice some of the raw-edged performance you'd expect from a supercar, such as its DBS cousin. The ride is softer and more forgiving, and the stodgy, occasionally ponderous gear changes -- via the same Touchtronic II paddle-operated, seven-speed gearbox seen in the Rapide -- aren't befitting of a hard-as-nails racer.
That said, the Virage acquits itself admirably around twisty circuits. Throw it into sport mode and activate the harder suspension setting via dedicated buttons on the dashboard, and it'll tackle twisty B roads with aplomb, slightly understeering only when provoked. The brakes, hewn from ventilated carbon ceramic rather than the more common and less efficient steel, scrub off speed at a fantastic rate.
The Aston Martin Virage is fabulously well-balanced. It's easy to drive and luxurious, yet pushing this car to its limit is also very rewarding. It's not as aggressive as the DBS or as soft as the DB9, but it's arguably the most satisfying car to drive of the three.
Edited by Charles Kloet