When Aston Martin announced a few years back that they were aiming to stretch their signature sports car design into a full blown four-door sedan, reactions ranged from intrigued curiosity to pure horror. Having not produced such a car since the singularly boxy and oft reviled Lagonda of the 80s, Aston hardly qualifies as an expert in luxury sedan production, but the possibility that the new car would turn the marque’s sleek and purposeful design language into a bloated train wreck was the real cause for concern. Similar efforts, including Porsche’s Panamera and concept show cars from Lamborghini and Bugatti, have visually suffered from just such an inability to reconcile taut sports car profiles with adequate passenger space and amenities.
All of which is why I report with great relief that the new Rapide, which has recently begun taking deliveries, is not only a smashing success from an aesthetic point of view, but maintains the marque’s track record for producing race-bred driver’s cars that offer refined luxury sensibilities. Riding an all new platform and wearing its own aluminum and steel body panels, the Rapide extends the visual cues of the DB9 without actually integrating any of its stablemate’s frame or body components. Both cars utilize Aston’s signature 6 liter V-12, though given the Rapide’s heavier weight, the new car takes a little longer to reach 60 mph (5.0 seconds). Despite not being the quickest car in its class, the Rapide is still a blast to drive, with joyful torque, spirited Sport Mode paddle shifting, and precise handling that is largely attributable to the car’s near perfect weight distribution (49% front, 51% rear).
Visually, the Rapide is as arresting as any recent Aston model. With its pillarless intersection of front and rear windows, the car possesses the outward physical spatial geometry of the brand’s coupes, and indeed can easily be mistaken for a coupe at a mere glance from certain angles. The rear doors are in themselves works of sculpture whose trailing edges curve up into the rear fender’s haunches. All doors open at a gentle upward 12-degree angle in a design that Aston is calling “swan wing” doors. Fit and finish are typically fantastic, and though our test car was trimmed in Quantum Silver over a Chancellor Red leather interior, Aston says that between paint, interior and feature options, the Rapide can be customized upon order to the tune of over 2.5 million combinations.
It is the luxury features of the Rapide, however, that truly reveal the degree to which Aston has turned up the haute. Stitched leather upholstery and an alcantara headliner dominate the interior surfaces. Passenger comfort is ensured with electronic memory seats that feature a range of adjustable lumbar support, as well as individually heated and cooled front and rear seats, a $1,600 option. Once again, Bang & Olufsen has provided a sound system that is nearly without peer. Designed specifically for this car, the BeoSound Rapide features a 1,000 watt amplifier and 15 speakers, including the mood-setting 2” acoustic lenses that rise magically from the corners of the dashboard when the system is turned on. The rear entertainment system, a $3,400 option, allows rear occupants to watch DVDs from small screens located on the rear surface of the front seat headrests. The system includes a remote control and two pairs of wireless headphones, and is even capable of discreetly showing a separate DVD on each screen, care of the front console’s 6-DVD changer.
It’s doubtful, of course, that anyone sitting in the rear will actually care to watch a DVD while the car’s performance potential is being explored by the driver. Likewise, sporting drivers will probably not often find themselves in the backseat watching a DVD. In other words, this is a car that is definitely trying to do two things at once, and more or less succeeding in the process. The question remains, though, how many customers who buy a Rapide will really explore both ends of the spectrum?
These philosophical notions aside, the Rapide is for our money the most successful translation yet of a sports car design into a sedan configuration. And while Maserati’s Quattroporte and Mercedes’ CLS offer more traditional sedan values, neither delivers the sporty profile or fine English sensibilities inherent in this tuxedoed throughbred.
Base retail price: $197,850
Price as tested: $211,840
All alloy quad overhead cam 48 valve 5,935 cc V-12
Rear mid-mounted ‘Touchtronic 2’ six-speed gearbox with paddle shifting
Max Power 470 bhp at 6,000 rpm
Max Torque 443 lb ft at 5000 rpm
Acceleration 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds
Max Speed 188 mph