This is what all the great philosophers--Deepak Chopra, Dr. Andrew Weil, Paul John Teutel--meant by enlightenment. I'm cruising some little Spanish town with my own senior-citizen section cheering me on from a park bench, in Spanish, which means I'm hearing it in italics.
The air smells sweeter. Music sounds better. It may have been for but a few fleeting moments, but I know my whites looked whiter and my colors were brighter.
Here's how you get to the same utopia. Even if you're exhausted from a week of running around Geneva looking for a cab that doesn't cost $80 one-way to the auto show, you take Aston Martin up on their offer to go drive their latest achingly fabulous sportscar near the ancestral home of bullfighting. Even though it's fracking cold outside. Even though it hails on you. Even though it means you'll miss the first few rounds of the NCAAs while you're strapped in a coach seat, fighting a dead iPad battery and a gassy Irishman for consciousness.
You endure because, even though Spain looks kind of like southern California, and vice versa, this won't be some half-assed two-hour run around Lancaster to the In-N-Out. This will be worth its weight in Facebook posts. Because it's a new Virage. By my count, through old dog-eared copies of Car and Driver, that's only happened twice in a lifetime.
2009 Aston Martin DB9
The Virage coupe and its Volante convertible spin-off are born as the DB9 starts to do a graceful age-out. It's a still a stunning touring car in its own right--if you need proof, look up--but the DB9's been on the block a while, and in most ways the Virage twins supersede it.
Pair them side by side or even just on screen, and it's clear how much the Virage owes to the DB9. It's also been cruising through some of the vapor trails left behind by the gorgeous Rapide and the raging One-77. The swan doors are pure Rapide; the blocky haunches, the tornado line and long fender vents should wear One-77 labels inside their couture linings. In contrast, the Virage gets a taller hood and a slimmed-out front fascia, a more abrupt conclusion to its rear side windows, and so, so many LEDs. It's clean, impressively spare, and it doesn't need the chromed jewelry that masks flaws on the surfaces of some other exotics.
2012 Aston Martin Virage
Aston Martin Virage
The go-to Aston V-12 doesn't exactly languish underhood, though the spec sheet isn't quite up to the numeric greatness of a 911 Turbo, or even a CTS-V. The 490 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque feel like plenty, and the Virage ladles out all over a massive powerband. It only gets more urgency from an improved, ZF-engineered six-speed automatic that ushers the power to the back wheels, with quicker shift responses than in the DB9, and with a pair of paddles that let your fingers pull and flick the Virage into a gear of your choice, hanging in there until it blips up against the rev limiter.
Aston quotes a 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds, and a top end of 186 mph, but it's hard to quote the locomotive feel of the powertrain. It's pure gravy, no lumps--and still, it's obvious the Virage only gets better in the near future when Aston swaps in a new ZF eight-speed automatic for today's six-speed unit. Shorter gears, and more of them, could pull that 0-60 mph time down a few ticks, at least.
It's even tougher to capture the way the Virage begs you to race it up the tach, for the pure aural thrill. Aston's fitted a new intake plenum in the Virage for even better sound, the car equivalent of hiring Amy Winehouse to do overdubs on the next Adele album. Press the Sport button on the dash and the throttle turns into more of an on-off switch, with even faster-paced fuel delivery--which in turn puts you even closer to that muscular waveform at any given moment.
The haters who hate probably will fixate on the Virage's size and mission, and color it with the same brush they used against the ravishing Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. No doubt, it's a big car, and that's why it rides so smoothly and impressively. It's long, with enough mass to hone down poor-quality pavement to a gentlemanly smoothness. It also sports adaptive shocks that let drivers select normal or Sport settings, which the system then tailors from among five settings nested within those modes.
And still, the Virage tucks into tight 15-degree turns with the fluency built into its almost perfect steering. It coasts over cobbled pavement in taut control of its ride motions. It even has carbon-ceramic brakes for huge, deep braking capability and staggered wheel and tire sizes for amazing grip. "Sportscar" is for something more basic, more essential. The Virage is more a grand tourer, emphasis on the grand.
2012 Aston Martin Virage
Physically then, it's much larger than the manic-fantastic DBS, and just about identical in dimension to the DB9, down to its teensy rear seats.
Don't worry so much about those while you're driving or navigating. The Virage's perfectly bolstered front buckets will fit broad shoulders, and only need a simple recline and tilt switch to position themselves for all kinds of drivers. The steering wheel telescopes, giving long-limbed owners some much-needed distance from the dash. Otherwise, the Virage doesn't offer much additional space--or wasted space, depending on your engineering philosophy.
It's especially true in back, where the detailed stitching makes the buckets so visually appealing, while they're completely useless to anyone over nine years old. Ten and up won't even fit in the minuscule 6.5-cubic-foot trunk in the coupe, and they will definitely complain in the Volante, since it's smaller by one more cube yet.
What space is there is inside, is trimmed out in the highest grade of leathers and woods and metals, with the most sophisticated sense of style of any car on earth. There are no Predator-style vents like in the Panamera, no smarmy retro cues, just some occasionally maddening touches like the satin-metal jimmies that do unimportant things, like change radio stations. The cabin reads so clean and so absolutely pricey, you wish it were bigger so it could double as a rehab clinic for all of Chris Bangle's proteges.
The miscues are nearly invisible to civilians. The tilt/telescoping wheel doesn't have power actuation; the navigation system is difficult to learn and to operate, even with a new joystick-style controller. The handbrake rides to the left of the driver's seat, where it easily can be forgotten until it smokes out your attention.
The compensation for those penny troubles is the best sound system on the planet, a 1000-watt optional Bang & Olufsen unit with tweeters that lift out of the dash like pedestals for Solid Gold dancers. Exquisite, accurate audio kicks out from every corner, with sound so pure you'll want to dump your AAC files for uncompressed WAVs while you're clearing out old spouses and bank accounts.
Astons are acquired tastes that make us want to acquire more of everything--more money, more French-milled soaps stolen from fancy boutique hotels, but mainly, more Aston Martins. If you're significant enough to play around on the Forbes 400, the Virage's base price of just more than $210,000 for the coupe, and just over $226,000 for the Volante, won't land like a moment of silence like it does around this house.
It'll sound like a big V-12, singing its heart out, winning you over.