TESTED 2012 Aston Martin Virage Volante WHAT IS IT? An opulent 2+2 convertible, finely tailored in Britain. HOW DEAR? SGD815,000 (without COE) WHAT’S UNDER THE HOOD? A 6-litre twin-cam V-12 with 490 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed automatic is mounted at the rear axle. IS IT THIRSTY? If you have to ask, you really don’t get it. But its EPA rating of 13 mpg in town and 18 on the highway. REVIEW No matter the circumstances, the arrival of any new Aston Martin ranks as a memorable occasion. My personal introduction to the 2012 Virage Volante, though it took place in a parking garage rather than during the car’s debut at the Geneva auto show last winter, was no exception. A meticulous delivery briefing began with the signing of various agreements – which included a promise that I would not conduct any 0-to-60 acceleration tests – and culminated with the handover of the elegant electronic key. “Don’t lose this,” I was told. “It costs USD2,800 to replace.” That sum, by the way, equals what I spent for my last Volvo station wagon in the US, a warrior that survived five years of Ikea sorties and lumber yard runs. But an Aston Martin convertible – and on the clear blue days of fall you should not consider anything but the Volante, as convertibles are known in the Aston lexicon – would hardly be a family’s only car, so there are matters more pressing than practicality. Like where this well-rendered shape fits in Aston’s universe. This is important because the models are so similar in shape and size. The sports car line begins with the Vantage, steps up to the DB9 and then to the DBS. Deliveries of the top model, the limited-edition One-77 supercar are just starting. The Virage slides in between the sporty DB9 and the racier DBS. A close look at a Virage parked between those cars would reveal differences, notably in the headlights, rocker panels and side vents, but only a serious student of the marque could make a quick ID when passing one on a city street. The output of the refined V-12 engine is also a tweener, falling midway between the DB9’s 470 horsepower and the DBS’s 510. The Touchtronic transmission – no manual is offered – is controlled from steering wheel paddles after initially engaging the gears with pushbuttons in the center of the dashboard. This odd positioning is about the only unsettling detail inside the cabin (all right, there is the matter of that useless rear seat), where Trump-worthy materials have been lavished and the craftsmanship is impossibly perfect. For philanthropy-minded owners there is a coin holder in the console, which I believe was designed to hold kruggerands intended for squeegee men. But if the optional Bang & Olufsen audio is flexing its full 1,000-watt muscle you may never notice that someone is smearing the windshield with a greasy rag. The notes flow magically from the center of the dashboard, and even with the top down each chord comes through clearly. Considering that cars in the Virage’s price class include exotics like the Ferrari 458 Italia and the Lamborghini Gallardo, it is reasonable to ask what sort of driver this car would suit. Sure, the Virage has hugely powerful carbon ceramic brakes (which produce some odd chirps at low speeds) and a bonded-aluminum chassis, but it is not the likely choice of a person whose closet holds more Nomex than Armani. Still, it is not all British reserve. A bold statement is broadcast by the 20-inch wheels; amber LEDs in the fender vents put on a light show when the flashers are activated; and the exterior door handles do a gee-whiz pivoting act. What Aston Martins have, in abundance, is class. Despite spinning out a bewildering number of variations from the same basic shape, the marque has maintained its specialness. An Aston draws attention, yet is uncommon enough to make people ask what it is. Somewhere deep in the marketing department at Aston Martin, I am sure there is a fresh-faced MBA looking enviously at the pop culture cachet attained by other high-end automotive brands. Let us hope that whoever oversees this ambitious young number-cruncher understands how fortunate it is that Aston’s illustrious name is still more closely tied to 007 than to 50 Cent. – Norman Mayersohn © 2011 New York Times News Service

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