Rebel with a Cause : Aston Martin Rapide

Car Specifications
Engine: 
5935cc, 48-valves
Cylinder Layout: 
V12
Top Speed: 
303km/h
Transmission: 
6-speed Touchtronic Automatic
0-100km/h: 
5.3 seconds
Power: 
470bhp at 6000rpm
Torque: 
600Nm at 5000rpm

photo assay by Nick Dimbley

When Aston Martin's lifeline with Ford was severed, project Rapide (which was already shown to the public as a concept car at the 2006 Detroit Motor Show) had been consigned to cold storage. Had the project not been set aside, the Rapide could well have been ready to do battle with the Panamera as early as last year.

However Ford, who were at that time its owner, shelved the plans as they were undergoing a massive restructuring themselves to keep afloat. In 2007 after more than a year's delay the new owners of Aston Martin, a Kuwaiti conglomerate and David Richards from Prodrive eagerly gave the final green light to the Rapide project.

 

The Rapide is a four-door iteration of their flagship supercar, the DB9, and thus is unlike the Panamera... or for that matter any other ultra premium four-door supercar, a true coupe-saloon derived from a super coupe.

The styling is recognizably Aston Martin so much so it needs an informed observer to actually tell the various Astons apart but there is no denying just how gorgeous the sleek Rapide looks compared to its competitors.

Of course when this concept was first mooted Aston saw no competitors as this was their way of allowing an Aston owner the opportunity to share the Aston experience with his entire family and not just one at at time. Over time it was obvious that the Panamera would be its greatest rival but others like the Quattroporte and CLS 63 AMG appeared lower down on the radar screen.

None of these morphed from a coupe to a saloon; and none of these offered a 6L V12 engine. However by Aston Martin's own admission: because of how the Rapide was developed from the extension of the DBS VH platform and the need to keep the transaxle at the rear to maintain a 51:49 weight distribution, so as to keep the driving characteristic of the DBS intact, accommodation is at best, modest.

However they spent an inordinate amount of engineering time making economy sized seats feel like business class. The specially developed rear Recaro seats have a fold down back to allow loading of odd shaped objects like skis or golf clubs. They even have asymmetrical bolsters fashioned to flow around the transmission tunnel in order to maximize the space yet provide the same support and comfort.

They even provided small cut-out areas at the base of the B-pillar to ensure that a size 10 shoe could slip by easily yet not compromise on the side-impact crash resistance. Even the headliner has been strategically pared to the point it is literally bonded to the roof along with special insulation material to maximize headroom. Even Recaro was asked to find a way to lower the seat squab without compromising the comfort and support that was present in the original we previewed last year.

This was a setback to the launch timetable but Aston Martin was not about to release a half-baked Rapide. They wanted it to be completely sorted out from the very start so feedback at the preview was taken very seriously indeed.

Safe to say the Rapid has met and in some areas beaten its internal benchmark, the DBS coupe. In outright performance the larger (5019mm) and heavier (1950kg) Rapide is a tad slower to the century mark at 5.3 seconds and has a slightly lower 303 km/h top speed. But unless one is lined up side by side with a DBS these figures are largely academic because on the open road the Rapide feels every bit as energetic as the DBS and it still has some aces up its sleeves.

For one the longer wheelbase gives the Rapide a much better ride and more progressive handling. To our surprise the steering has much better feel and communication than the DBS and this more than anything else seals the deal for the Rapide.

It is rarely about going flat-out that endears but rather the nuances that are experienced as one trickles along country roads at the speed limit. The driver is treated to a virtual symphony of feedback when at the helm of the Rapide so one need not be driving at breakneck speeds to be enthralled by this car.

So while the driver enjoys the usual Aston Martin experience it is a new sensation to be ensconced in the back seat of one. The Recaros are nigh on perfect in terms of support and comfort reaffirming their premium reputation. They make best use of what is in reality a tight space.

In an effort to give the visual impression of openness, the designers have actually widened the gaps between the front seat head rest and B-pillars so the rear passenger can see out of the front side double glazed window a bit more. The front seats are also slim in order not to obstruct the view. And of course there is the now mandatory rear LCD multimedia screen for watching movies either form the DVD player or an iPod.

The rear passenger is also treated to another aural delight, that of the sonorous melodic exhaust note Aston engineers so painstakingly tuned for this application. It is never harsh nor overwhelming even to those seated the closest. The 6.0-litre V12 “only” produces 470bhp but the massive 600Nm of torque ensures that each and every gear ratio of the robust ZF Automatic gearbox is able to deliver satisfying acceleration.

There is no other gearbox but there is no need to lament as manual control is available through the Touchtronic 2 shift paddle system. As this is not a double clutch type transmission the shifts especially when crawling around heavy city traffic is silky smooth and the gear change is virtually as prompt.

Photos by Nick Dimbley

Fast Facts : Aston Martin Rapide
ENGINE
CAPACITY : 5935cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : V12
VALVES : 48-valve total
BORE X STROKE :
COMPRESSION RATIO : 10.9 : 1
MAXIMUM POWER : 470 bhp at 6000 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 600 Nm at 5000 rpm

TRANSMISSION
TYPE : 6 speed automatic Touchtronic
DRIVEN WHEELS : Rear

PERFORMANCE
TOP SPEED : 303 km/h
0-100KM/H : 5.3 seconds

SUSPENSION
FRONT : Double wishbones
REAR : Double wishbones

BRAKES
FRONT : Steel Ventilated Discs
REAR : Steel Ventilated Discs

TYRES
TYPE : Bridgestone Potenza S001
SIZE : f: 245/40 ZR 20, r: 295/35 ZR 20

SAFETY
ABS : Yes
AIRBAGS : Yes
TRACTION CONTROL : Yes

MEASUREMENTS
LENGTH : 5019mm
WIDTH : 1929mm
HEIGHT : 1360mm
WHEELBASE : 2989mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1950 kg
POWER TO WEIGHT RATIO:
TURNING CIRCLE : 12+m

Summary
Aston Martin's flagship 'sedan' does not come cheap but with the UK pound at a low point right now, the standard fully-featured Rapide will be pitched at the level of a fully optioned Panamera Turbo or just under the price of a Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Choices for the premium buyer have never been so interesting... - AL
Photos: 
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