JAMES Bond drives an Aston Martin, and that's almost good enough for me. Almost. But when the pricetag of the Aston in the driveway hits $470,000 - drive away, no more left to pay - the rules change a bit. 

That sort of money buys some truly great cars but I cannot help comparing it with the Ferrari California.The Aston scores with brilliant convertible styling, all the luxury you can really want in a two-plus-two convertible, and rock-solid credentials that include two years as the coolest brand of all in Britain.

It sits alongside the Virage coupe that costs $371,300 in a 13-car range that starts with the V8 Vantage at $250,272. But the fresh-air Ferrari is more tactile, more emotional, and it doesn't have a paddle-shift automatic gearbox that somehow quits shifting on me for a time during a straightforward run to the newsagent.

VALUE

Once again, the colossal pricetag of the Virage means it's impossible for an ordinary person to make a true judgement call. People with half a million for a car that's a toy are more likely to be shopping it against a boat or another holiday house than 24 Hyundai i20s, or pitching it up against the California or Benz SLS roadster in  the driveway next door. 

But the mid-range Aston - yes, there really are other models that are even more costly, right up to the limited-edition 1-77 at something beyond $2 million in Australia - makes a reasonable case against car like the Jaguar XK-RS, California, Audi R8 Cabriolet and other exotica. 

TECHNOLOGY

Aston makes a lot of noise about the car's lightweight aluminium construction, even though it thumps the scales at close to 1900 kilos. So imagine what it could have been. What the alloy structure brings is incredible rigidity, especially for a convertible, and the sort of rock-solid feel that convinces you the car will go on for a long time.

And you cannot say that about a Maserati GranCabrio, although the R8 - with its racecar layout, against the Aston's front-mounted V12 - is impressively taut. The British car has its hand-assembled 6-litre V12, adaptive damping in the suspension, carbon brakes, and even an exhaust with bypass valves that mean it can be shoosh quiet around town but howl on the open road.

Or noisy all the time if the owner asks for a special switch . . . But an old-school automatic gearbox, even with paddle shifts and six speeds, is off the pace in 2012. 

DESIGN

It's hard to fault the Virage Volante, except that it looks a lot like the all the other Aston coupes and convertibles. It's a great looking family, but it can be hard to know if you're out on the town with Alec or Billy or Daniel, if you draw a comparison with the Baldwin brothers. It is a droolworthy shape that is beautifully finished, right down to  gorgeous wing mirrors and giant wheels that sit just right in a body  that's almost draped around the rubber. 

The dashboard looks great, and the steering wheel and other controls have a solidly chunky look and feel, but the car is let down by the details. The satnav screen is too small, although the mapping system is updated and greatly improved, and the digital readouts - including the speedo - wash out badly in harsh Australian sun.

And that's before you drop the top. The top itself works extremely well, and seals well to keep noise levels down. The boot is not particularly big, and the back 'seats' barely qualify for anyone with legs, but it's pretty much the same as others in the class.

SAFETY

ANCAP is never going to whack an Aston into a wall, so there is no star rating. Based on Carsguide experience it would probably be a four-star car, and it does have lots of nifty electronics to keep you out of trouble and airbags for both front seat occupants.

DRIVING

Wheel time in an exotic always gets personal, because the possible play things - remembering that could be a Bentley or a Porsche or a  Ferrari or whatever - are so very different in character. The Aston scores because of its Bond-like strengths, from the masculine styling to the macho V12 and the chunky way it sits on the  road and handles corners. 

Strangely, and despite 365 kiloWatt and a sprint time of 4.5 seconds to 100km/h, it doesn't feel particularly quick. It's definitely not as big a hitter as the twin-turbo V8 AMG E63 currently in the Carsguide garage, but it does waft along pretty briskly. It's not helped by that weight.

The steering feel is good, the brakes are strong, and it's nice as a tourer, but push harder in tight corners and the front wants to push wide until you are hard on the gas. It's definitely not best in class if you want to muscle it around. 

But switch the adaptive damping to the sport setting and it wakes up and comes alive, with much more bite at the front end, more general composure, and the extra pace to bring a smile. With the engine tweaked to sport, and extra crispness in the throttle to match the barky exhaust, it does a lot better. 

But it's still not a match for the California, either in punch or personality. And, when the paddle shift goes awol for a while, I wonder again about famed British reliability. The FM radio reception is pretty poor, too.

So the Virage Volante is a good car, and a very distinctive one, but a few pennies short of a pound. It's not nice for a Bond-style arrival, but not something to try and outrun any baddies. If I had the money and the choice, and I wanted a speedy droptop to make me feel really good, I'd go for a Ferrari California.

VERDICT

One of the best lookers on the road today is not as good as it looks.

Aston Martin Virage Volante 

Price: estimated $470,000 on road
Engine: 6.0 litre V12, 365kW/570Nm
Body: two-door convertible
Weight: 1890kg
Transmission: six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive