DRIVEN: ASTON MARTIN VIRAGE
Is the newest Aston more than a tarted-up DB9?
Forget the negative connotations behind a name that was once attached to an elephantine sports car from 1985. Ignore (if you can) the fact that it looks, well, a bit like a DB9 Ghia XL. Because, beneath the skin and at its core, the new Aston Martin Virage is, in fact, a seriously decent car; one that if you drove in isolation, without ever having experienced a VH platform Aston before, would leave you gasping in disbelief - not merely at how quick it is (4.6sec to 60mph, 186mph) but also at how refined it is, how composed it is, how delicious it sounds and, ultimately, how damn good it is just to climb into and drive.
In our world that means the flood gates are open; publish and be damned. So we have. In the world of the man from The Sun it also means he might not be too high up on Aston's Christmas card list, if and when the next DB9 Ghia XLX VH2 is (re)introduced to the world.
For the record, the £150k Virage - which is designed to plug the gap between £125k DB9 and £175k DBS - gets a mildly detuned 490bhp version of the 6.0-litre V12 engine that powers the DBS. Its suspension has also been comprehensively re-engineered to include adaptive electronic dampers (although the basic configuration of double wishbones all round remains).
Not that there was a great deal of H2O around at the launch site in southern Spain. What there were plenty of, however, were fantastic driving roads, which was handy because that's where Virage really shines.
The engine, although slightly less monstrous to listen to and a few bhp down on that of the DBS, is still a thumping good power plant, with a lovely sense of effortlessness to its delivery and a whole heap of torque to call upon at low revs. But it's at high revs, right up above 6000rpm and beyond, that it truly makes your hair stand to attention.
The traditionalists will, of course, go into apoplexy about the fact that there is no option to change gear other than via a pair of paddles. But it's worth noting that, for a manually operated auto (ie not a full nuts dual-clutch manual), the Virage's system is admirably slick. You can even dial out the auto upshift by selecting sport, which also makes the shifts themselves happen faster.
Its steering, in particular, is quite gorgeous in the amount of feel and detail it provides about what's going on at the front tyres. You get far more information via the rim than you do in the DBS. Yet at the same time there's a sense of calm, fluid composure to the way the Virage goes down the road that makes it feel more mature than the DBS on the move. Aston describes the Virage as a GT car first, a sporting one second - and, for once, there's not an ounce of hyperbole in its claims.
Pity about the name. Then again, DB9 Ghia XL doesn't exactly dance off the tongue, either.