WITH ITS four doors, its pair of plausible rear seats and its theoretically functional boot space, the Rapide has always been the sensible man’s Aston Martin. Indeed, so long as you were prepared to weather a few raised eyebrows from the sceptics, you could just about spin the selection of one of these witheringly pricy, hand-tooled performance objects as a matter of family-oriented pragmatism. (“It was this or a VW Touran, to be honest, and when I took a good hard look at the economy figures . . .”)
At the same time, the extent to which the Rapide represents an Aston Martin man’s Aston Martin has always seemed to invite heavy and daunting debate. Where did this giant tourer sit within the company’s fundamentally sporty lineage? Was it proper? Did this abrupt interest in the carriage and comfort of passengers stand for the natural extension of the brand’s core values or their stark abandonment?
The arrival of this peppery new Rapide S should at the very least narrow the scope for argument. At any rate, it felt pretty proper to me. There’s nothing different about the body, unless you count some new paint options, but underneath, the car has been thoroughly reappraised. It now comes blessed with the eight-speed ZF gearbox that’s also gone into the punchy, two-door and unquestionably Aston Martiny Vanquish. You get your two extra gears at the cost of no extra bulk and in a package that is apparently lighter than the outgoing box. The system is capable of making its shifts in 130 milliseconds, meaning the car’s fibres twitch faster than anything Lewis Hamilton’s muscles could muster, even in a blind panic.
Power from the V12 engine rises to 552bhp. Down comes the 0-62mph time, crashing by half a second from 4.7 seconds to 4.2 seconds. And up goes the top speed, from a trifling 190mph to a truly pugnacious (and, of course, starkly illegal) 203mph. And to hold it all together, there’s a new Bosch engine management system, a stiffened rear suspension and some significantly fatter front brakes. All of which enables Aston Martin to herald “a significant step change” for the model — or, as we used to say, in the days before corporate blather, a significant change.
Either way, the effect is transformative. In an illusion worthy of David Blaine, both those rear seats and their surrounding cabin seem to vanish as you drive and the car appears to shift and plummet around the place like some kind of grippy, whippy two-seater, all that additional coachwork becoming a mere reflection in your rear-view mirror.
As for that gearbox, it’s a thing of wonder whose skills seem to encompass mind-reading. Brake and hold onto the downshift paddle and the gear most appropriate to your newly decelerated speed will be conveniently available to you by the time your foot gets back to the accelerator. Whether in normal drive mode, or in the booted-up, more growly Sport setting, it would require some fairly serious operator error before the Rapide S allowed you to look like a bad driver.
Of course, these refined and reassuring pleasures come at a refined and reassuring price. After a blissful saunter through sun-dappled British countryside, I spent a few quiet moments alone with the optional extras list and was duly sobered. It turned out that I had been aloft on deliriously handsome, 10-spoke, diamond-turned wheels. Price to you: £3,495. (Imagine the first time you kerbed them — and exactly how long you would subsequently spend at the roadside with your head in your arms, weeping.)
Meanwhile, the carbon fibre paddles at which I had been tugging away with gay abandon had come in at just under two grand. My back had been lightly ventilated through the seat leather at the price of £995 and I had been sitting on four hundred quid’s worth of Cream Truffle, which sounds sticky but is actually the name given to the stitching on the upholstery (done by hand, naturally). Incredibly, it had cost just shy of £2,500 to quilt the underside of the roof. (Done by machine, actually — but hey, quilting is fiddly. Ask a Shaker.)
I could probably have lived without the quilting, pretty though it was, and also without the head-rest embroidery — especially at an additional saving of £495. But I would have been reluctant to leave behind the delicious Blue Haze leather which, in any case, seemed a relative bargain at £1,000 — the same price, incredibly, as the colour upgrade for the carpeting. So much for the old wisdom about always asking the dealer to toss in the floor mats for free. It was sobering to reflect too that it had cost roughly twice as much to carpet the minimal acreage of this Aston Martin as it did to carpet my entire sitting room last time out, including paying the fitter.
In total, the model in which I had been having my casual fun had been souped-up with nearly £18,000 worth of extras and, as pragmatists will no doubt be quick to point out, you could get a decent new car for that. Almost a VW Touran, indeed. But, of course, it wouldn’t be an Aston Martin Rapide S, and that’s the drawback.
0-203 in four seats: you know it makes sense
Aston Martin Rapide S specifications
- Engine: 5935cc, V12
- Power: 552bhp @ 6650rpm
- Torque: 465 lb ft @ 5500rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Acceleration: 0-60mph in 4.2sec
- Top speed: 203mph
- Fuel: 31.0mpg (combined)
- CO2: 300g/km
- Road tax band: M
- Price: £147,950
- Release date: On sale now
Aston Martin Rapide S rivals
- Maserati Quattroporte GTS, £108,185
For More agile than most big cars; chic image; rapid pace; comfortable ride
Against Poor economy; cheap interior
Click here to search for used Maserati Quattroporte on driving.co.uk
- Porsche Panamera Turbo S, £131,152
For Supercar acceleration; luxurious
Against Expensive; some say it’s ugly
Click here to search for used Range Rover Evoque on driving.co.uk