According to one of professional sports’ occasional truths, sometimes the greatness of an athlete is less defined by his own traits than his ability to match an equally powerful rival. Simply put, the greatest competitors are often defined by their adversaries as much as themselves. While this is somewhat true in team sports (think Celtics/Lakers or the Braves/Yankees match-ups of the ’90s), it is particularly relevant in an individual sport like boxing, where an off night cannot be overcome by the efforts of a teammate. Would Muhammed Ali have been “the greatest” without Joe Frazier? Ray Leonard as “Sugar” without Roberto Duran? And as indestructible as he currently is, was there not a more dramatic flair to Manny Pacquiao during his ferocious battles with Erik Morales?
In that great tradition, the latest grand touring offering from Aston Martin, the Virage, deserves a foe worthy of its powerful V-12, dynamic handling, and poster boy good looks. Which is exactly what Southern California’s Angeles Crest Highway provided for the 3,935-pound, Gaydon, England-born 2012 Aston Martin Virage. The 66.87-mile stretch (sporting brand new asphalt) in L.A., CA is the infamous stretch of California Route 2, for our non-Angeleno readers out there.
Long treasured by local motoring enthusiasts for its non-stop switchbacks through the San Gabriel Mountains, the Angeles Crest Highway was closed following the 2009 Station Fire, which destabilized the soil around the road, causing mass erosion when the inevitable rainy season arrived. Fortunately, the road was recently repaved and finally opened for public use this past June—just in time for twelve rounds with the pedigreed Aston Martin.
The Virage’s tale-of-the-tape requires slightly less explanation. If you’re familiar with the DB9 or the DBS, then you already understand what makes the Virage tick. Like those other cars, the Virage is envisioned as a grand touring Aston Martin (even though its rear seat is suitable for little more than a carry-on bag), as opposed to the smaller, less luxurious but more overtly sporting Vantages that also inhabit the current model line-up. Placed between the DB9 and the DBS price-wise, the Virage employs the same 5.9-liter V-12 as those cars, though in a state of tune halfway between the comfort-oriented DB9 and the balls-out DBS (which was James Bond’s most recent choice of rides). Developing 490 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, the Virage also features the DBS’ intricate stability control programming, with its adaptive damping and springing, as well as a number of suspension modes that range from positively luxurious to daringly sporty.
So how would the agile looker, which wears a new fascia derived from the untouchable One-77 supercar, stand up to the challenge of the dangerously curvy and freshly paved chutes that make up the Angeles Crest Highway? (And just to clarify, dangerous is no exaggeration—the road claimed three accident fatalities within as many weeks after re-opening!)
In the first round, so to speak, the Virage came out flying. Aston Martin claims the car reaches 60 mph from standstill in just 4.6 seconds, and it felt at least that fast as the car leapt into the foothills that preface the highway’s rise into the mountains. Eighty-five percent of the Virage’s 420 lb.-ft. of torque is available at only 1,500 rpm, translating into gobs of butterfly-inducing acceleration. Drivers can enact a series of features that tune the car to increasingly sporty plateaus. Primarily, the dashboard-mounted glass button marked “S” activates a Sport mode that stiffens the suspension and revises shift points of the default automatic transmission setting of the 6-speed Touchtronic 2 gearbox. Not enough? Then just a tug of either of the column mounted paddle shifters will seamlessly put the car in a manual transmission mode, allowing for lightning quick shifts, complete with automatic throttle blips. With the exception of a downshift to 1st gear, perhaps, there’s no transmission lag or lurch to be found here.
But if that level of driver involvement isn’t quite enough, the Dynamic Stability Control button beckons. As another of the ornate glass buttons on the dash console, the DSC function can be held down for four seconds to engage Track Mode, the system’s most encompassing and sporty setting. As an indication of just how serious Track Mode is, the digital speedometer within the beautiful jeweled analog gauges disappears, replaced with an announcement that Track Mode has been activated. Though Aston Martin claims Track Mode merely delays electronic assist in the technologically astute suspension, it actually felt lower and more in touch with the road. Communicativeness is an overused term in the description of sports car suspensions, but it’s warranted here, so pronounced is the difference from the default mode.
Truly brave souls can go all the way with a second push of the DSC button, which turns the system off entirely. “Not necessarily recommended,” as the delivering vehicle handler told me, and while I was later looking down huge gorges with little room for error, I couldn’t agree more. Nevertheless, if you can get the car out on the safety of a track, there’s no harm in trying to throw the rear end out a little, though good luck with that, given the Virage’s literally perfect front/rear weight distribution of 50/50.
As the fight wore on, Angeles Crest’s series of jabs and counterpunches were of little effect on the Virage’s impregnable defense. Only once did I feel the need to tone down my speed a little, while trying to pursue a rabid Porsche GT2 that was clearly as eager as I was to tear up the highway’s new asphalt. The Virage gamely hung with the Stuttgart track star for a few miles (there’s nothing like finding yourself in the company of fellow fight fans!) before I remembered whose car I was driving. In addition to the howling GT2, the highway played host that day to caravans of whining Japanese crotch rockets, tricked-out tuner car convoys, and a delightful spate of vintage Austin-Healeys out for a rollicking tour.
When the final bell sounded, it became clear the Virage had earned a majority decision. Never ruffled and certainly not bloodied, the new V-12 Aston presents as impeccably as its stable mates, with comfortable 10-way electronic sport seats, Alcantara headliner, and exquisitely jeweled analog gauges that impart both sophistication and tradition.
Top-of-the-line Bridge of Weir leather and a 1,000-Watt, 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system round out a list of options that complement stellar new standard features, like walnut fascia trim, single bi-xenon headlamps, and rising swan-wing doors that have been lifted from the Rapide sport sedan (great for preventing curb rash).
Perhaps tale-of-the-tape dissections and round-by-round breakdowns were never necessary to determine the nature of this match-up, for the winner was already clarified in the young challenger’s name: Virage – French for “bend.” If there’s any truth to the phrase, “fight fire with fire,” than what better way to conquer the bends of Angeles Crest than with a car named “bend.” The dangerous Angeles Crest Highway may not literally be a Joe Frazier-like rival to the Virage’s Ali, but if the car were to suddenly go into verse about how it’s the greatest, no one would disagree.
Base retail price: $207,895.00 As tested: $228,700.00
All Alloy Naturally-Aspirated Quad Overhead Cam 5,935 cc V-12
Rear Mid-Mounted Touchtronic 2 Six-Speed Automatic Gearbox with Paddle Shifting
Max Power: 490 bhp at 6,500 rpm
Max Torque: 420 lb.-ft. at 5,750 rpm
Acceleration: 0-62 mph in 4.6 seconds
Max Speed: 186 mph