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The Aston Martin Virage is a very good car, but it could have been a great one

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There are a number of ways to look at the Aston Martin Virage. The cynical among us might see it as an unnecessary model that fills a too-narrow gap in Aston’s range – merely another sporting GT that doesn’t differ enough from the DB9 or DBS, which share the same platform and 6.0-litre V12 motor and which book-end the Virage in the company’s line-up.

Or the more optimistic might see it as the Aston that we’ve all been waiting for. Sharper, more powerful and more sophisticated than the DB9, but less brash than the DBS, and with appropriate lashings of the classic Aston grand tourer character and style. All the good bits condensed into one mid-range model.

The Virage is only available with an auto gearbox - the only model in the Aston range without a manual option

Aston calls it a gentleman’s GT car. Which explains why so many of the processes used to perfect the Rapide’s excellent - but more sedate - chassis and suspension have been revisited to create the underpinnings of this car.

That makes it a refined GT car first and a sporting one second – although, having said that it does feature a number of styling features that are remarkably similar to those of the DBS, even if they clothe a car that is clearly less thrusting in its personality.

Coupe and Volante models are offered, and can only be had with a six-speed auto through which the V12 sends its power to the rear wheels alone. Sounds like a simple recipe for a front-engined GT car, but at £150k for the coupe and £160k for the Volante, the needs to prove that it is much more than the sum of its parts.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Aston Martin Virage rear

There’s no denying that the Aston Martin Virage is a beautiful car. This classic, evocative styling is what Aston specialises in, and it has done some of its best work yet with the Virage.

The Volante is intentionally more subdued than the DBS, but a front grille inspired by the One-77 and deeply sculpted side skirts ensure that it still looks purposeful. Its overall shape aids the impression of aggression, being marginally shorter and wider than the DB9.

With the windows up and the roof down, the Virage Volante offers good protection from wind buffeting, even at speed

Beneath its beguiling skin lies some strikingly familiar engineering. Up front is the formidable 5.9-litre V12, which is tuned in this installation to provide 489bhp at 6500rpm and 420lb ft at 5750rpm. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a rear-mounted, six-speed ZF torque converter gearbox.

Underneath is a modified version of the bonded aluminium chassis that underpins the DBS and DB9, and the Volante also gets a rear subframe to aid rigidity. One of the most significant updates is to the adaptive dampers, which we have seen before on the DBS but which have been adapted for the Virage’s more relaxed nature.

The driver has a choice of only two damper modes, being either the car’s default setting or a firmer setting which the driver has to select. But within these two modes there are five individual settings – softer ones in Normal and stiffer ones in Sport – that are selected automatically, depending on the road surface and driving style. The system is standard on both Virage models and complements the double wishbone suspension at the front and rear.

INTERIOR

Aston Martin Virage dashboard

It is an odd effect of Aston Martin interiors that you can simultaneously be taken by the appearance and sensations brought by the high-class leather, glass buttons and general luxury, and also be disappointed by the plastic indicator stalks and the cheap feel of some switchgear.

Every Aston Martin currently in production has been criticised for parts of its interior finish, and the Virage is no exception.

The gearbox reverts to manual mode whenever the car is started, requiring a push of the ‘D’ button to activate the auto setting

Elements of it have been improved drastically, most notably the new high-definition sat-nav system, which has been co-developed with Garmin. But beyond this, the Virage’s interior is remarkably similar to those of the rest of the Aston range.

It’s the same central unit in which a glass key is placed to start the car, the same big, square air vents and the same not-quite-good-enough rotating dials and unintuitive wheel-mounted buttons.

The gripes don’t end there. Oddly, the Volante must be had as a 2+2 - the coupé can be had with either seats or a parcel shelf in the rear of the cabin.

Because of the more restrictive roof on the Volante, the rear seats are unusable for anything with legs and a head. Still, they make for useful luggage space, which you’ll need.

In either bodystyle, the boot is good enough for light use but it is hardly spacious. The Volante gives 32 litres to the coupe's 184 litres, and you’ll have to lose the collapsible wind deflector that takes up most of the room when stored in the boot.

The driving position is also hit and miss. Despite the 10-way adjustable seats, it’s difficult to get a comfortable position, and the very solid (if nicely supportive) seats are not the best we’ve seen in top-end GTs.

Even with all these niggling frustrations, the Virage cabin is aesthetically lovely and in keeping with the sumptuous, over-indulgent nature of the car. There’s no doubt it could be better, but for most buyers the interior will only emphasise the Virage’s aspirational quality.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

5.9-litre V12 Aston Martin Virage engine

It sounds slightly perverse to describe a car that cradles a 489bhp V12 under its bonnet as relaxed, or even lazy, but that is the overwhelming sensation as you rumble down the road in the Virage – despite the 0-60mph sprint time of 4.9sec we achieved. For the record, that time was achieved in a Volante. Both it, and the coupe, record official times of 4.6sec to 62mph. 

This isn’t meant in a derogatory way. It’s more a case that, despite the seemingly high revs required to reach peak torque and power, the Virage puts out 370lb ft at just 2000rpm and so feels delightfully over-endowed with urge, even in distinctly non-urgent use.

The dampers on the Virage use two separate valves to offer five different settings in both the normal and the more sports-oriented mode

In this sort of situation, with the gearbox in full auto mode and Sport mode off, the Virage is impressively laid back and yet absorbing transport. It’s easy to drive but never lets you forget that it’s a supercar, and that it’s just one driver input away from being fully focused on making life thoroughly dramatic.

In which state the Virage is equally rewarding. Putting all the adaptive elements to maximum attack doesn’t so much transform the Virage as wake it up. Everything becomes more alert, the exhaust baffles open earlier to incite all kinds of irresponsible behaviour, and with gearchanges controlled via the standard column-mounted paddles, the driver becomes much more involved.

This ability to shift between relaxed, easy-going cruiser and a wholly more intense experience is something that differentiates the Virage from its nearest siblings, giving it a broader ability in both disciplines rather than a specialism in either. It’s marginal but still a tangible and defining element of the package, and one that’s made to work mainly because of the depth and reward on offer from the V12 motor.

Which isn’t to say that it’s flawless. The gearbox, although acceptable, is still too slow to react when you want every last ounce of performance, occasionally pausing too long and generally lacking the polish and speed that you might expect of such a high-end car.

RIDE & HANDLING

Aston Martin Virage cornering

This area more than any other should, according to Aston, set the Virage apart from its brethren. The adaptive dampers work best in the default Normal mode, when the body is kept under control but the dampers soak up the worst of the road’s scarring at any speed.

Although the suspension can jar uncomfortably over sharper surface disturbances, the vast majority of the time the firm but well resolved ride quality is a more than acceptable compromise.

Active dampers give the Virage one of the most comfortable rides in the class

Set the dampers to Normal, and there is a breadth of ability that allows the Virage to be calm and comfortable one moment and taut the next. It shades the DBS, previously considered class best in this respect.

Handling is equally impressive. It is never as sharp or responsive as the most focused cars in this rarefied price bracket, but its chassis is well sorted. There is enough feedback through the steering and enough natural poise that you can really lean on the Virage and it will reward.

It has a wider range of ability in terms of its ease of use but comes perilously close to matching the DBS’s level of response when pushed. The Virage is not so much in a different class from the DB9 and DBS as intruding on both.

The standard carbon-ceramic brakes provided outstanding stopping power and resistance to fade.

There is noticeable flexing in the Volante due to the lack of a solid roof, and although its firmer damper settings proved worthwhile on track, they were never necessary or beneficial on the road. Which isn’t a criticism of Aston’s decision to include the firmer settings so much as praise for how able the active dampers are in Normal mode.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Aston Martin Virage

The coupe has a £150,000 price tag and the Volante is around £10k more. And it would be easy to suggest that those with the means to buy a car such as this consider the costs involved over and above the original purchase price peripheral factor.

Whether that’s true or not, we’re duty bound to point out that the Virage is expensive by any standard. A Ferrari California is substantially cheaper to buy than the Volante, for instance, and also benefits from much gentler depreciation.

Aston Virage has a touring range of less than 300 miles despite a 78-litre tank

On our test, the Virage Volante model returned 15.6mpg. That included a track figure of 7.0mpg, but on our longer, more varied touring route we returned 24.4mpg. The official combined figure is for both the coupe and Volante is 18.8mpg.

From its 78-litre fuel tank, a range of around 268 miles can be expected based on our touring figure.

Predictably given its list price and luxury positioning, the Virage is very well equipped a standard. Options extend to extras such as different alloy wheel designs, exterior and interior trim flourishes, and an upgraded Bang and Olufsen sound system.

One handy option in the coupe is 2+0 seating; the rear seats are pretty unusable anyway, so their removal leaves a handy extra storage space, which you’re going to need. The Volante is 2+2 only.

VERDICT

3.5 star Aston Martin Virage

It would be easy to get carried away with all the intangible delights on offer in the Virage. And with good reason, because there is very little point to this sort of car other than to make its keeper feel good, and Aston is world class at that.

Were you to add the Virage’s carbon ceramic brakes alone to the spec of a DB9, this would raise the price of that car to within £15,000 of the Virage. If you then add the Virage’s vastly superior suspension, its more powerful engine and its extensively better-equipped cabin, it suddenly seems like pretty good value.

The V12 is an old engine now but it's still a joyous motor to use

So although there may be a whiff of familiarity about the Virage – not just in name but in its concept and execution – this is, without question, a very fine GT car.

Unfortunately, though, there is more to it than that. In most objective ways, this car has moved the game on for Aston, but only marginally. The Virage is far from a revelation.

It is, in fact, very much a more broadly talented take on the same recipe. And improved or not, some of the major elements of the interior are still unforgivably poor for a car of this price, the optimistic nature of which is the final element that deprives the Virage of higher recommendation.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Aston Martin Virage 2011-2012 First drives