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Classic name, all-new performance - First drive: Aston Martin Virage

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Aston Martin's new model sits between DB9 and DBS.

So, the Virage returns. The old one was a V8 that, in final form, became a 600bhp monster, the most muscular muscle car of the 1980s and ’90s. This new £150,000 Virage is something different, a ‘DB9-plus’ if you will, clearly aimed at those who fancy something more exclusive than the rightly successful DB9. It’s based on the same Aston Martin ‘VH’ architecture (the basis of which is a bonded aluminium monocoque structure), it’s powered by the same superb handbuilt, front mid-mounted V12, and to casual observers it will look the same as the DB9 too.

In fact, subtle tweaks have given it a smoother, more integrated appearance than the DB9, and it’s a step away from the less subtle body-kitted look of the DBS. The changes to its body style over the DB9 are subtle and yet every panel except the roof is different: there’s a new front bumper, with neat new single bi-xenon headlamps; the wings have a complex profile that incorporates a sharply pressed bodyline, and feature side strakes of six LEDs on either side; the new aluminium front grille, said to have been inspired by the hand-crafted grille of the One-77, works well in conveying an air of added quality; the smooth sills are a massive improvement over the more obvious sill extensions of the DBS; and the rear diffuser carries a single body-coloured blade that emphasises the width of the car. But yes, it’s clear that only we petrolheads will be able to distinguish the Virage from the DB9.

Inside, the cabin quality has been moved up a grade. It’s a small step up from that of the DB9, kitted out in Bridge of Weir leather in a new design that incorporates a pinstripe welt down either side of the fascia and along each seat and door. Little else has changed other than an easier-to-use sat-nav system, but of course the standard DB9 equipment is comprehensive anyway, and the Virage similarly features all the usual bits and pieces: heated seats, cruise control, 700W audio.

And of course the exciting bit is that the Virage has more power, sitting midway between the DB9 and DBS. The claim is that it combines the high-tech features of the DBS with the comfort and luxury of the DB9. The V12 sounds as good as ever, starting with that characteristic bark and settling into the smoothest idle. The six-speed Touchtronic II transmission, mounted at the rear in the transaxle and driven via an alloy torque tube and carbonfibre propshaft, runs a lower final drive ratio than the DB9 for punchier acceleration at the small cost of a lower top speed. Small cost? We’re talking 186mph compared with the DB9’s 190mph (0-60mph times are identical, at 4.6sec).

The change in final drive ratio is also partly to compensate for the Virage’s slightly lower torque output, 420lb ft against the DB9’s 443lb ft, but the prize is an extra 20bhp, taking the Virage to 490bhp (the DBS has 510bhp and 420lb ft).

How that translates on the road is in a sharper, sportier feel, the Virage zipping up to the red line even more rapidly than the DB9, with the smoothness that only the perfectly balanced configuration of a V12 can achieve. The extra power comes from intake tweaks, a new five-chamber plenum (without the clever air valves of the DBS) that also deepens that Aston V12 bellow.

In standard Drive mode, selected by one of a series of glass-fronted transmission buttons on the dash, the Virage slips seamlessly through the gears; in Sport mode it’s equally seamless but the sharper programmed throttle response and the fruitier exhaust (a valve opens to bypass part of the silencing in Sport) makes for intoxicating performance that’s so addictive it’s hard to imagine ever switching it off. Shifting via the steering column-mounted paddles is an option but the auto is so good you may end up ignoring them.

Unusually, even in this class, carbon-ceramic brakes are fitted as standard, and work superbly, while saving a total 13kg. Meanwhile, the revamped adaptive suspension is working hard to provide the best combination of ride and handling for the conditions. In ‘normal’ mode it chooses between five levels of stiffness, but push a button and it will nip between five stiffer-still damper settings, defaulting to the softest of these rather than going straight for the stiffest as the DBS does. It makes a noticeable difference, but never ends up bone-shakingly hard.

And that’s the Virage all over. It’s pure GT, whether in coupé or Volante form: fantastically fast but always composed. Not an all-new model but a fine addition to the range. Better, in fact, than the DB9 or DBS in our opinion.

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