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Shaken, stirred by a slick supercar

NOW listen here Bond, MI6's budget isn't quite what it used to be -- I'm afraid you're going to have to lose the DBS.

But what is a self-respecting spy going to do when the diamonds aren't forever and the casino isn't so royale? Times of austerity demand sacrifices, but Bond has still got standards. Thankfully he can save Q's bean counters a few quid by choosing the new Aston Martin Virage.

Sitting a hair-trigger away on performance from James's current car, the Aston Martin DBS, the Virage's 6.0-litre V12 punches out a respectable 490bhp. Okay, it's not quite as fast as a speeding bullet, but 0-100km/h in just 4.6 seconds and a 300km/h top speed should be more than enough to escape murderous henchmen.

The new car is elegant enough to pull up outside any super villain's lair, too, with its DB9-based body gaining a few subtle styling tweaks that strengthen its lines. The Aston Rapide-sourced lights add to the Virage's assertive new look and turn night into the living daylights.

Inside it's as beautifully hand-crafted as ever, even if the ejector seat, weapons drawer and oil-slick button are curiously absent in our test car. The satnav is a bit of a revelation: better than anything Aston's ever offered before, it's quick and easy to operate, making the DB9's old Volvo-sourced system look as sophisticated as Sean Connery's radar-equipped DB5.

We're not sure you'll get any hostages in the boot, though a couple of golf bags should fit. The rear seats are next to hopeless, too -- all the better then to opt for the brilliant sports seats that demand losing the back pews, holding you tighter when you're in need of the Virage's agility. It's unlikely that Bond would go for the Madagascar Orange paintwork though, with something subtler perhaps more befitting for someone trying to slip by unnoticed.

Even in a more sober colour that might prove tricky -- as wherever the Virage goes, heads turn. Blame those neat design details, or the glorious howl coming from the 6.0-litre V12 engine. Blip the accelerator and your eyebrow will rise in Moore-esque appreciation, while the steering column paddles operating the six-speed automatic gearbox work with the precision of a well-oiled Walther PPK.

But as impressive as the engine are Aston Martin's chassis changes. Thanks to a variable damping system clever enough to impress Q's boffins, the Virage combines fine-ride quality with a more exciting drive. It'd even cope with Irish roads.

Sitting between the fine grand-touring ability of the DB9 and the heart-stopping pace of the DBS, the Virage is the best all-round choice of Aston's three DB9-based models. In short, it's all any self-respecting spy could ever need.

Sunday Independent Supplement