2014 Aston Martin Rapide S Review

Astons are Forever

2014 Aston Martin Rapide S Review

Aston Martin is a proud British brand that’s best known for building sultry super cars, and of course for being James Bond’s vehicle of choice. The company’s products are known for their speed and styling, with rakish bodies and thunderous 12-cylinder engines.

FAST FACTS

1. A 6.0-liter V12 sends 550 HP and 457 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels.

2. One transmission offered: a six-speed push-button automatic.

3. The Rapide S has room for four passengers but the rear seats are cramped.

4. The model provided for AutoGuide’s evaluation cost $217,449.

Arguably, Aston Martin is most famous for its two-door and drop-top cars, products like the DB9 or Vanquish Volante. In fact they only build one sedan, the Rapide S, but just because this car has twice as many access portals as other Astons doesn’t mean it’s a disappointment. It’s still a design masterpiece with performance that’s difficult to beat.

A VIEW TO KILL

The Rapide’s body is tremendously sculpted, with wide hips, a tapering roofline and long hood that seems to stretch outward to the horizon and beyond. Its bodywork is simply gorgeous. This is a car that doesn’t just get looks from passersby, it commands attention from pedestrians and other motorists. It’s a wonder there aren’t more crashes near it because of distracted drivers trying to snap pictures with their cell phones.

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Like other Aston Martins, the Rapide’s exterior door handles are flush mounted with the body skin. They require a light push of the finger in order to pop out the graspable portion of the lever. It’s an exceedingly cool touch that makes the car feel that much more special and probably aids in aerodynamics as well.

Of course all of this loveliness hasn’t escaped the eyes of people at Aston Martin. Their consumer website boldly proclaims the Rapide S to be “The World’s Most Beautiful 4-Door Sports Car.” Is that an overstatement? Perhaps, but walk around it a few times and you might be inclined to agree with them.

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The Rapide S is built atop the company’s bonded aluminium VH architecture, which stands for “vertical horizontal.” It’s a nice, stiff structure that rewards the driver in many ways.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Have you ever carved a pumpkin? You chop the top off and scoop the guts out, leaving a fleshy squash husk to embellish with intricate cutouts. The Rapide S’s interior feels much the same, but instead of hollowing out a gourd engineers stripped a cow of its innards, leaving nothing more than a supple leather hide behind.

The Skyfall Silver Rapide S provided for evaluation was dressed to kill, as was its interior. The cabin was trimmed in buttery soft leather; just about every surface was covered in the fragrant material, from the dashboard, to the seats to the door panels. The vivid crimson hue splashed throughout is called Chancellor Red (it’s one of more than 30 available colors) and it’s accented with contrast stitching.

For all of the interior’s opulence there are a few curious missteps. The radio and climate-control display for instance is pixilated and grainy. It would look more appropriate in a decade-old Toyota Camry than in this six-figure supersedan. The same is true of the small screen in the instrument cluster, which is reminiscent of a graphing calculator, though the 220 mile-an-hour speedometer proves this car means business!

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The key slots into a mortise located at the top of the center stack; you push it in and hold it to start the engine. This slot is flanked by a series of push-buttons that control the transmission.

Though not quite claustrophobic, the driving position is narrow and confined. Similarly, the view out is obscured by large blind spots. The windows are small and looking through them is like holding a hand in front of your eyes and peering through the gaps between your fingers. A backup camera and ultrasonic parking sensors do make things a little easier.

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While far from a machine designed to haul cargo the Rapide S does offer a surprising amount of room for luggage, given how tight its passenger accommodations are. The rear seatbacks fold down as does the cargo divider, which provides a nice, flat storage space that’s probably generous enough for a pair of golf bags. Still, this car is designed to haul ass, not junk.

LICENSE TO THRILL

And if posterior could be packaged into uniform-sized parcels the Rapide S would be able to transport a lot more than many other road-going vehicles. It’s powered by 6.0-liters of naturally aspirated displacement spread across a dozen cylinders.

This powerplant is extraordinary; it’s one of my favorite engines EVER built by any manufacturer. It’s so unbelievably smooth and linear. No matter where the tachometer needle is pointing there are absolutely no lumps, bumps or jerks; it’s almost completely free of vibration and harshness. Best of all it sings like a choir of angels, with a melodious exhaust snarl that forces you to rev it up just to hear the glorious cry.

Hyperbole aside this machine delivers an advertised 550 brake horsepower with 457 lb-ft of torque. All of those goodies are routed to the Rapide’s rear wheels through a well-mannered six-speed “Touchtronic 2” automatic transmission.

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Other manufacturers have moved beyond gearboxes with only half a dozen ratios but this unit is hard to fault. It’s silky smooth when you need it to be, but can bang off rapid-fire up-shifts when you want it to.

The transmission conspires with the car’s V12 to deliver a zero to 100 km/h sprint in just 4.9 seconds. There’s enough time to swing by Grace Bros. for a ready-made suit and still make it home for afternoon tea. Mr. Humphries, are you free?

LIVE AND LET DRIVE

The steering is devoid of friction and appropriately weighted for such a high-performance machine. The massively wide tires provide impressive grip; even in wet conditions they’re unwilling to spin.

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Because the engine is so smooth and so linear in its power delivery, the Rapide S doesn’t feel all that fast. You nail the accelerator and hold it there waiting for some sort of sledgehammer to shatter your sternum but it doesn’t happen. Glance down a couple seconds later and you’re already speeding along at 90 miles an hour… or more. It’s almost like some sort of time portal or wormhole transports you hundreds of feet down the road without your knowledge.

Not that I explored terminal velocity, but the Rapide S has a claimed top speed of 190 miles an hour. For now I’m just going to take that at face value.

When cold, the brakes are particularly noisy, making all kinds of high-pitched ruckus every time the decelerator is depressed. Get a little heat in the pads and things quiet down. Late October in Michigan probably isn’t the best time for keeping the binders warm.

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

In spite of how enjoyable the Rapide S is to look at and drive it does have an Achilles’ heel; it fails rather miserably as a sedan. Don’t let those four doors fool you; when it’s time to shuttle people this is no replacement for something like a Buick LaCrosse.

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The back seat is teeny-tiny and it’s dominated by a gigantic center tunnel that probably houses massive parts of the drivetrain. Topside, it’s home to various items catering to rear-seat riders, things like a storage cubby, cup holders and climate controls.

The back buckets are strangely shaped and quite uncomfortable. The lower cushion is lumpy and kind of misshapen. Headroom for even moderate-height riders is scarce as well.

It’s best to think of the Rapide S as a coupe with space for a couple extra riders on rare occasions rather than as a full-blown sedan. There are much better vehicles if you regularly haul people.

THE VERDICT

The Aston Martin Rapide S has sex appeal few sedans could ever hope to match. It’s beautifully designed and pampers passengers with a sumptuous cockpit… front-seat riders, at least. On the road it’s an amazing machine to drive. It’s fast and refined, with a wailing V12 that draws attention like handing out free hundred-dollar bills at the mall.

But the real magic of this car is how it makes you feel. After a short time behind the wheel I felt like a million bucks, and all it cost was a mere $217,449. By my calculation that’s a bargain, and some serious return on investment.

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