Rating: 7.9
Bottom Line:
Typical for Aston Martin, the new Virage coupe offers big power, exclusivity and a sleek exterior hot enough to melt stone. Still, some subpar features and regurgitated looks put the highly polished Virage at risk of flying under the radar.
Pros:
  • Exhaust tone is sonic perfection
  • Classic Aston Martin curvaceous shape
  • Standard ceramic brakes
Cons:
  • 6-speed automatic is outdated
  • Exterior, while nice, doesn’t stand out
  • Navigation system not up to par

The latest Aston Martin model, the Virage, sits smack dab in the middle of the "entry level" DB9 and high-performance DBS in the historic British marque's sports car lineup. Unsurprisingly, it perfectly halves both the price and power differences between those two models.

With an attention-getting V12 burble and smoothly sculpted bodywork, the modern Aston Martin bloodline is unmistakable in the Virage. But does it have enough to stand on its own amidst ever-evolving competition?

Model Lineup
The Virage is available in two flavors: the standard coupe and the topless Virage Volante. Both feature a soulful V12 mounted onto a bonded aluminum structure and display classically svelte Aston Martin looks. A number of wheel options are available, all 20 inches in diameter and wrapped in low-profile rubber.

Aston Martin used experience gained from the V8 Vantage when creating the Virage Volante. Featuring a solidly mounted rear subframe and a highly stiffened chassis, Aston claims there was no compromise to the Virage's rigidity when removing the fixed roof for the convertible top.

Under the Hood
The powerplant in the Virage is a hand-built V12 engine, six liters in size and creating a stout 490 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. Although torque peaks at a fairly lofty 5750 rpm, 85 percent of it is already available at just 1500 rpm, making for a flat and very usable torque curve.

The engine sends its power through a carbon-fiber prop shaft, mated exclusively to a 6-speed automatic transmission mounted in the rear for optimal weight distribution. Co-developed with the transmission experts at ZF, the Touchtronic 2 gearbox features column-mounted paddles for manual gear changes.

With this engine and transmission, the Virage is good for a zero-to-60-mph run of 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 186 mph. The front-mid placement of the engine, as well as the rear-mid placement of the transmission, help make for a perfect 50-50 weight distribution.

Inner Space
True to Aston Martin form, the Virage's interior is one of elegance and luxury, rather than the performance-oriented cockpits found in its similarly priced competition. Each cabin calls for large amounts of fine leather and requires 70 man-hours to create.

Inside, the Virage is comfortable and mostly well designed, featuring impressive fit and finish and attention to detail. Particularly noteworthy are the hand-stitched leather surfaces, tasteful aluminum accents and center console. Aston Martin's signature polished-glass buttons are also a welcome addition.

The standard 700-watt premium sound system produces crisp, punchy audio, albeit at the expense of hearing the Virage's magnificent exhaust tone. The pop-out, Garmin-designed GPS unit, however, feels tacked-on and confusing, and simply is not up to the standard of those offered by other manufacturers , particularly in this price range. There are some signs of possible cost-cutting in the form of cheap-feeling buttons, knobs and even fonts, which are made even more obvious by the juxtaposition of other beautifully crafted elements.

On the Road
Aston Martin sent us to the Nevada desert to sample the new Virage. While the broken local roads turned out to be a tough fit for the high-power coupe, we were still able to experience the car fully and get a solid understanding of its personality.

The first thing we noticed was the rumble coming from the large, traditional V12 engine. In fact, it'd be impossible to not take notice of this simply incredible exhaust tone — loud, raw and angry, without a hint of annoying.

Once out on the road, the Virage displayed smooth manners and competent handling, although we would've liked a little more weight to the steering, particularly right on center. When pushed into hard corners, it gripped well and provided decent feedback, but its 2-ton weight was equally evident. Thankfully, the tremendous ceramic brakes did a fantastic job slowing the slightly hefty Virage over the broken asphalt. Despite all attempts, we were unable to get the large brakes to fade; they achieved consistent stopping performance and feel time after time.

The hand-built V12 may be fairly old-fashioned in design, but 490 horsepower is still 490 horsepower, and when coupled with such a wide torque curve, this kind of power makes for plenty of very usable speed. While it's obvious Aston Martin didn't intend for the Virage to be a track monster, it's still quite fast, with triple-digit speeds creeping up alarmingly fast and with nearly comical ease. Although smooth and peaceful when cruising, a quick dip into the Virage's accelerator will unleash an intoxicating mix of chest-pushing torque and sonic fury.

On the other hand, that raw, naturally aspirated power must be channeled through an unfortunately uninspiring automatic transmission. Sure, it produced smooth shifts and was well programmed to the car, with minimal gear-hunting annoyance. Admittedly, the V12's bountiful torque helps out here, and as traditional automatics go, this one is great. Still, with the standard in transmissions quickly becoming crisp-shifting, multiclutch gearboxes with seven or eight forward ratios, the six-speed in the Virage produced somewhat of an antiquated experience.

As enjoyable as our test drive was, we found ourselves wondering if the world has somehow moved on from cars like this. Five, maybe even 10 years ago, this car would've set the bar for the luxury GT class, but new breeding has since changed the game.

Right for You?
If you're considering purchasing a car like the Virage, then it's a fair bet that you've done your research and largely know what to expect. It's an impeccably made grand touring car that packs plenty of power, refinement and passion. Essentially, it's a tremendous option for eating up highway miles in style and comfort, but probably won't appeal to those looking for the latest in automotive technology and performance. In many ways, it's an old brute of a GT car, and while it does a great job at that, it's far from revolutionary.

With the price for the fixed-roof coupe starting at $209,995, make no mistake that you're paying for status and exclusivity, elegance and desirability. You aren't buying a weekend track toy. The Virage, while beautiful and fast, simply stands no chance against much of its competition in terms of sheer performance. At its price point, alternatives from Ferrari, Lamborghini and now even fellow British manufacturer McLaren, vastly outclass the Virage on the track. Thankfully, it's obvious that lap times and bleeding-edge technologies aren't the goal here. The goal that Aston did set, however, is expertly achieved: It's another gorgeous, competent GT car from England for buyers with a taste for refinement — nothing more, nothing less.

(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Aston Martin provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.