July 10, 2014
Vehicle Style: Four door sports sedan
Price: $370,800 (plus on-roads)
Engine/Trans: 412kW/620Nm 12cyl petrol | 6spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 14.3 l/100km | tested: 22.1 l/100km
With some of the most beautiful cars ever to hit the road, Aston Martin will always have a difficult job when its models come in for an update.
Alter it too little, and they’d be criticised for not being adventurous enough. Fiddle with it too much and they’d be crucified for messing with a successful formula. Like Joseph Heller’s book, it’s a perfect 'catch 22'.
So, when we were collecting our test car for the week, the Aston Martin Rapide S, it was with a careful eye that we looked over the subtle changes. And, we’re pleased to report, it’s still stunning to behold.
But under the skin, the changes are more substantial. More power, beefed up suspension, better throttle-response and more room are the highlights. But while some changes are welcome, others still haven’t been enough.
Quality: The Rapide S is now built at AM HQ in Gaydon, unlike the first Rapide which was built in Austria. The original car was good, but the quality of the new Rapide S really is stunning.
The leatherwork is as superbly trimmed as you’ll find anywhere (in this uber-premium sector), and the softness and quality of the hide is top shelf.
Everything about the interior feels solid and well-finished (with the exception of the indicator and wiper stalks which are a little flimsy), and there’s beautiful attention to the way things marry up at the joins and surfaces.
Comfort: Hop into the sculpted front seats and you’ll be right at home.
The shaping and bolstering is perfect for a grand tourer, and while the cushioning may seem less-padded than you’d expect, they proved quibble-free after some long-hops at the wheel.
The back seat, as you’d expect, is tight. Like, grease yourself up to get in, tight.
It’s obvious why when you swing open the doors. The rear opening is far smaller than the door which covers it.
While the actual legroom has increased slightly from the previous Rapide, the same-sized door makes the in-and-out process just as difficult as the last car.
Styling has won this battle, so to help the process of getting seated, there’s an unusual addition to the Rapide S’s interior.
In a nod to the expert saddlers who work in the Aston Martin leather shop, there’s a hide strap with a weapon-like metal knuckle which hangs against the B-pillar.
To extricate yourself from the back seat, you grab it and swing yourself out.
The wide and tall centre console running the length of the cabin can make things a bit claustrophobic for small kids, but it makes a good elbow-rest for adults.
In all, the Rapide S offers a perfectly comfortable front row, and an “it’ll do” back row.
Equipment: One thing you’ll note about the Rapide S is the lack of upgrade for the switchgear and instrumentation.
It’s still a beautiful, but unintelligible, collection of buttons and dials set into piano black. What it loses in ergonomics, it makes up for in aesthetics.
On the negative side of the ledger, it’s 2014 and Aston Martin still hasn’t fitted the Rapide S with Bluetooth streaming - perhaps the biggest sin in a $370K car.
But there is an iPod/iPhone cable (the older style) and it now comes with digital radio.
There’s always the theatrics of the amazing Bang & Olufsen stereo as it starts up, with those expertly machined tweeters rising slowly out of the dashboard.
Being a luxury tourer, there’s other kit on offer. All four seats are heated and cooled, the mirror dims automatically, there’s a Garmin-based integrated sat-nav, tyre-pressure monitoring, cruise control, adaptive suspension, three-mode traction control and, unlike the rest of the range, an electric park brake.
Option it up though, and it can add to the bottom line. The twin-screen entertainment pack for the rear seats, for example, comes in at an eye-watering $6620. Maybe load up the kids' iPads with movies instead?
Storage: With a boot that either closes off with a lift-up carpeted panel, or opens up with seats that fold flat to create a large load area, the Rapide S’s storage options are better than you think.
It starts out at 317 litres but grows to 886 litres when the back seats are folded down.
There are other nooks and crannies about: under the front elbow-rest is a small, flat space for a wallet, mimicked in the rear. Add to that some very narrow door pockets and two cup-holders in the back and one up-front.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The startup sequence is an event in itself. Take the glass key out of its leather pouch, slide it into a slot in the middle of the centre stack, push down hard and listen to the whirr rise in pitch as it spins up.
The 5.9-litre V12 growls and blips, letting everyone know it means business.
It’s a push-button automatic, so pressing 'D' puts it into drive and away you go, the electric park brake automatically releasing on take-off.
The last car had to make do with a ‘measly’ 350kW, so with a tickle here and a fettle there, the lessons learned from the Vanquish have made their way under the bonnet of the Rapide S.
Now with 412kW underfoot, and 620Nm to play with, this 1990kg beast has the power to match its looks.
Previously, the Rapide needed a fair prod to get up and going, but the extra torque helps the Rapide S to slip quickly and cleanly into each successive gear.
It can be driven by anyone, it’s that easy. It almost feels too lazy, such is its propensity to climb the gear ladder, settling into higher ratios and using its wave of torque to trundle around town.
Press the Sport button on the bottom right of the centre stack however, and things change... a lot.
Throttle response is sharpened, the gearchanges become snappier at the redline and the exhaust flaps open up. Then, this near two-tonne vehicle will howl its way to 100kmh in 4.9 seconds.
In the world of supercars, that doesn’t sound quick, but the Rapide S builds its speed in such a linear fashion, licence-losing speeds creep up a lot quicker than you expect.
It is, in fact, very athletic on road.
Paddles fixed to the steering column allow manual control of the transmission, and, in sport mode, upchanges are suitably quick.
It still takes too long on downshifts, and the move later this year to the ZF eight-speed auto will undoubtedly help its cause.
Left by itself, the traction control can be a little intrusive, especially in the wet.
Press the traction control button once and it enters 'track mode' which allows for a small amount of controlled slip and a bit of oversteer action, but will stop you spinning out if you’ve overcooked things.
Press and hold it down and it switches completely off, allowing for long, controlled, smoky slides if you’ve got the room (and the appropriate surroundings).
But if you spin this car, it’s through sheer lack of talent.With such a long wheelbase and fabulous steering, it telegraphs its intentions so early it’s completely controllable.
Refinement: Featuring double-layered glass, the Rapide S is pretty quiet, especially when driven sedately. There’s a tad of road noise from those beautiful 20-inch wheels, but it’s acceptable.
Press Sport, and tickle the throttle, however, and the V12’s glorious howl becomes the dominant noise. Got a problem with that? Didn’t think so.
Ride and Handling: The adaptive suspension button alters between Normal, Sport and Track modes.
This is the same system used in the Vanquish, but unlike that car, only Normal and Sport are useful. Normal brings a fabulous ride, even on these huge wheels, and Sport sharpens up the handling enough to hustle it along a deserted road.
In reality, however, who’s going to take their Rapide S to a track day?
It is a big, heavy car, so don’t expect it to handle like a Vantage.
It prefers eight-tenths enthusiasm, and needs a bit of room when you’re really pushing it (it’s over five metres long, remember).
Where the Rapide S outshines its competitors is in the steering. Without all-wheel-drive to dull feedback, the feel through the wheel is pure and unadulterated.
Every twitch, every rock being trampled - the message gets transported to your fingertips. With no artificial over-assistance, you can really feel the weight of the car, ensuring you always keep it within the car’s (and your) limits.
Braking: The front employs dual-cast discs, 398mm diameter with six-piston monobloc calipers, while the rear is the same set up with 360mm diameter discs and four-piston monobloc calipers.
ANCAP rating: The Rapide S hasn’t been tested by either ANCAP or EuroNCAP.
Safety features: Alongside the three-mode traction control, there’s anti-lock brakes, brakeforce distribution, electronic braking assist, and parking sensors. A black mark is that a reversing camera is an expensive option ($2648).
Dual stage driver and passenger front airbags, front-seat side airbags, head protection airbags for both rows, plus pretensioning seatbelts make up the rest of the safety features.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Service costs: Don’t go looking for capped price servicing here. Service costs will vary between dealers, so it’s best to contact your local dealer for pricing.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Bentley Flying Spur ($423,160) - Beautiful quality, matched with a super-quick turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 makes the Flying Spur a luxo-express that matches space, grace and pace.
It’s a fair bit quicker than the Aston, but doesn’t steer as well, or look as pretty. (see Bentley reviews)
Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG ($385,000) - With turbocharged efficiency and an engine note that is impressive, the S 63 drives a lot better than its size suggests.
Its interior is a lot more roomy and it’s quicker, but falls down on sex appeal. It matches the Aston for cachet however and is definitely worth a look. (see S-Class reviews)
Porsche Panamera Turbo ($382,400) - Visually challenging, but convincing on the road, the Panamera’s trump card is its combination of driving involvement, outright speed and room. Did we mention its awkward looks? (see Porsche reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There’s no denying the Rapide S is one of the best looking four-door cars ever created. Photos don’t do it justice; in the metal that grille really compliments the car’s gorgeous lines.
The extra power has made it even more liveable, using the bulk of the torque to ease the car off the line and coast through all six speeds. But you can access it all and that heavenly sound at the press of a button.
And oh, what a sound that is. And that’s what the Aston Martin badge is famous for - cars that look and sound fantastic.
If it’s style, driving involvement and four doors you’re after, then the Rapide S is your car. There’s no performance sedan - anywhere - with this sexy appeal, but you do have to be prepared to sacrifice some liveability for that beautiful lusty aluminium skin.