This beautiful Virage features a second-generation Bilstein-derived active damping system with stiffer overall shock rates to go along with stiffer springs, stiffer front suspension bushings, and 20-in wheels shod with Pirelli P Zero tires. The active dampers will progressively work through five stiffness settings, depending on how the car is being driven. A sport setting is also available – also with five separate stiffness settings – but unlike the first-generation active damping system fitted to the DBS, the Virage’s setup will automatically always try to default to the softest of the sport settings, which is roughly equivalent to the midpoint of the normal settings.
The result is a ride that’s firm and beautifully controlled, yet impressively quiet and supple, even on some of the washboard sections of road we encountered on the drive route in southern Spain. The P Zero tires are a little noisy on coarse tarmac, but not intrusively so, and they offer terrific grip. The relatively long wheelbase and minimal body roll means the Virage transitions through turns with delightful fluidity, and the chassis defaults to mild understeer when pushed hard. The steering, though not quite a match for the Jaguar XK-R in terms of its delicacy and precision once you pull the wheel off-center, is nicely linear and communicative.
A new inlet manifold has liberated an extra 20 hp compared with the DB9, pushing the output of the hand-built 6.0-liter V-12 under the hood to 490 hp at 6500 rpm. The extra power has come at the expense of some torque — it’s down 23 lb-ft compared with the DB9’s V-12 — but the shorter final drive ratio appropriated from the DBS helps make the most of the engine’s appetite for higher revs. Aston Martin claims the Virage will cover the 0-60-mph sprint in less than 4.5 seconds, and on the road it delivers smooth, elastic thrust right through the rev range.
The engine drives through a rear-mounted six-speed automatic that has been cleverly calibrated to approximate the precision and controllability of an automated manual transmission. The shifts aren’t quite as crisp as the best of the dual clutch manuals, but you do get manual control the moment you actuate one of the paddles, and the car will stay in the gear you select, even with the V-12 nuzzling the rev limiter. A sport mode button sharpens the shifts, altering the shift algorithms when the transmission is left in Drive, and changes the throttle mapping as well.
Carbon-ceramic brakes are standard on the Virage, and they probably account for a sizeable chunk of the price increase over the regular DB9. Few Virage owners will actually drive their Astons fast enough to justify stoppers good enough for a Le Mans racer – face it, most of these things will spent their lives mooching around the Hamptons or Holmby Hills. But if you’re one of the handful who will drive this big Aston hard, you’ll appreciate their utter imperturbability under pressure. No matter how hard you nuke ’em, they just keep coming back for more.
The Aston Martin Virage is fast yet relaxing to drive, regardless of the road conditions — the hallmarks of a great GT. It’s not without its faults, however. The Bridge of Weir leather trim — seven hides in total — has a new stitching pattern and looks sumptuous, and everything that looks like metal, wood, or glass in the interior is real metal, wood, or glass. But if you’re much over 6 feet tall, you won’t be able to get the driver’s seat back quite as far as you’d like. The minor switchgear on the center stack is still fiddly to operate. And although the sat-nav is now Garmin-powered, it’s still nowhere near state-of-the-art in terms of functionality and graphics.
The Aston Martin Virage is a better car than the DB9. But is that enough? The answer to that question is in the hands of the 12,000 people who have bought a DB9 since it was launched way back in 2003. The Virage is a car with considerable appeal to someone who wants to replace their DB9, but doesn’t want to step up to the harder, edgier, 510-hp, $270,000 DBS. For a company that took 70 years to sell its first 10,000 cars, that pool of DB9 owners is a huge group that already understands the appeal of this relatively exclusive, uniquely British sports car. Maybe there’s method in Aston’s madness after all.