New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S

After three years on the market, the Aston Martin Rapide is being treated to a minor makeover that sees it gain more power and a new S designation, but thankfully does not jeopardize its status as the most stylish four-door on the market.

The design is altered, but only slightly: the grille is larger and no longer bisected by the bumper; new ten-spoke wheels are an option; and the rear spoiler has grown, the better to handle the higher top speed.

That top speed, now 190 mph, comes via a new version of Aston’s 5.9-liter V-12, seen first in the DB9 and then the Vanquish. With it, output pushes past the 500-hp mark, to 550 hp from 470. Peak torque swells from 443 lb-ft to 457 lb-ft at 5000 rpm, although the increase is actually a bit greater at lower rpms. The additional torque means you don’t have to delve as deeply into the long-travel accelerator to feel a big shove from behind in the form-fitting driver’s seat. (The factory-measured 0-to-60-mph time drops from 5.1 to 4.7 seconds.) As before, power is dispatched to a six-speed rear transaxle — a layout that helps keep this bonded-aluminum machine from feeling nose-heavy. There’s a choice of regular and sport modes for the powertrain — regular offers a very luxurious throttle mapping; sport speeds it up without making it jumpy. Attacking a long series of switchbacks, we found the transmission’s sport mode not really aggressive enough and played with the shift paddles instead. The exhaust note, however, is deep and characterful in either mode. Fire up the V-12 and the aural impact equals the car’s visual impact. Every time we entered a tunnel, we couldn’t resist lowering the windows and slapping off a few downshifts just to hear that great sound echoing off the walls.

Another change for the Rapide S concerns the adaptive dampers. To the previous two modes — normal and sport — comes a third choice: track. Aston engineers also recalibrated the standard setting to make it a bit more plush, so there’s a greater spread overall. As you might expect of an ultra-sporty exotic — and one that rolls on twenty-inch wheels with 35- and 40-series rubber — the Rapide turns in instantly and is cool, calm, and collected through fast sweepers or tight hairpins. What you might not expect is that it also manages to traverse broken pavement with no punishing impact harshness. This chassis is impressive indeed, but no aspect is more impressive than the car’s steering. The system’s effort is not selectable — instead it’s just right. Fantastic steering made this wide machine easy to place on the very narrow roads in the Pyrenees foothills.

Four swan-wing doors — they open up and out — make the Rapide a viable conveyance for four people, but we must be honest about the rear-seat accommodations. The words of Aston chief Dr. Ulrich Bez, “This is not a limousine,” are no understatement. It helps to be svelte when slipping through the slender door opening, and once inside you’ll find a pair of bucket seats bisected by a console that’s both high and wide. For a six-footer, it’s a form-fitting cocoon — albeit one that is exquisitely turned out. Fragrant leather covers the seats, door panels, and dash. Soft Alcantara adorns the headliner, the A-pillars, and the jewellike little sun visors. The ultra-high-quality knobs and buttons are both richer feeling and easier to use than the currently voguish flat panels and touch screens.

As delectable as the Rapide S is to drive, it may be more remarkable as an art object. This is a car that makes you want to dress better. So go ahead, Aston, bring on more power, but don’t upset the chassis balance and don’t mess with the looks.

Now excuse me while I try to find something decent to wear.

2014 Aston Martin Rapide S

On sale: June 2013
Base price (with destination): $202,765 [includes gas-guzzler tax]

Engine: 5.9-liter V-12
Power: 550 hp @ 6750 rpm
Torque: 457 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Curb weight: 4387 lb
Wheels: 8.5 x 20 in (front), 11 x 20 in (rear)
Tires: 245/40ZR20 (front), 295/35ZR20 (rear) Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires
Fuel economy: 13/19/15 mpg (city/highway/combined)