DRIVEN: First Drive: 2010 Aston Martin Rapide

February 5, 2010
It’s bound to happen. Somewhere at Porsche’s headquarters in Zuffenhausen, a secretary will sign the DHL delivery slip for an enormous crate sitting in the parking lot. When a crew of overall-clad Porsche workers finally dismantles the box, the gift inside will be revealed: a 2010 Aston Martin Rapide with a pretty red bow on the windshield and a teensy, handwritten card that says, “Now zis is how you build a four-door, suckers. —Bez.”
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Aston Martin’s personable CEO, Dr. Ulrich Bez, is a zany guy with a good sense of humor, but when it comes to his cars, he doesn’t mess around. And Bez has reason to want to upstage Porsche’s first-ever production sedan: he himself was responsible for development of the Porsche 989, a late-1980s, front-engine, four-door sports car that never made it to production. Twenty years later, Porsche’s Panamera beat his Rapide to the showrooms—and probably outpaces it around the Nürburgring, too. It also has a bigger back seat. But in terms of overall appeal, the Porsche just can’t compete. In fact, the Maserati Quattroporte’s long-lived reign as the most seductive sedan in the world is over, too.
We first saw the stunning Rapide in concept-car form at the 2006 Detroit auto show. At the time, Aston Martin hadn’t decided whether to produce the car, but everyone blessed with the gift of sight crossed their fingers and hoped real hard. It worked, and a production version was shown at last fall’s Frankfurt auto show. There are only minor differences between the concept and production show cars, and there are even a few tweaks between the car shown at Frankfurt and the actual production Rapide, all of which are to improve rear-seat habitability.
It’s important to note that changes made to the Rapide from show floor to showroom were done to maximize the space available within the constraints of its gorgeous design, not to design a car whose rear-seat spaciousness would rival that of other similarly sized sedans. That’s a key distinction between the Aston and the Porsche Panamera, and it results in their dramatically different forms. Amazingly, the two cars are strikingly similar in dimensions and weight, even though the Porsche is loosely derived from a nearly three-ton SUV and the aluminum-structure Aston is a stretched DB9 sports car.
The Aston isn’t a marvel of packaging efficiency. It’s a very big car (one inch wider and just two inches shorter than a BMW 750i but five inches lower), but the interior feels two sizes smaller. Up front, the Aston feels intimate, with wide Recaro seats that feel luxurious in their width but sporty in their thin padding. A tall, wide center tunnel adds to the cocoonish feeling, either doubling as an armrest or severely compromising elbow room, depending on your proportions. No matter what your size, you can’t see much out the sloped, high rear window—and sadly, no rearview camera is available.
That omission is one of several shortcomings in the Rapide’s electronics. Like other Aston Martins, the cockpit is a bit of an ergonomic disaster zone, with a difficult navigation system and controls often placed where you’d least expect them to be. And, of course, the instrument-panel needles spin backward. But the gauges themselves, like the blacked-out Bang & Olufsen tweeters that emerge slowly from the dash—and indeed every other part of this Aston’s cabin—are highly intricate, absolutely gorgeous works of art.
In the rear, two deep bucket seats are separated by a high, bulbous center console that houses an auxiliary heating and air-conditioning unit and two leather-lined French-stitched cupholders. Any dreams of limousine-like rear accommodations are thwarted the second you open the swan-wing doors. Or at the least, when you try to swing your legs in through the narrow openings. These are real back seats, and they do fit real humans—although snugly. The view forward is almost completely blocked by the front seatbacks, but there’s no reason to look outside when you’re surrounded in such sumptuous style: from the leather and stainless-steel grab bars that use magnets to hold their position against the B-pillar to the optional LCD screens beautifully integrated into the front seatbacks, every surface, control, and detail in the back seat is exquisitely crafted.
A parcel shelf behind the rear buckets helps to mitigate any feelings of claustrophobia. A collapsible divider helps isolate passengers from the luggage stored in the trunk—or the sounds coming from behind. The seats can be folded (individually or together) to create a substantial 31.3 cubic feet of cargo room, up from a smallish 10.6 cubic feet with the seats up.
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The aging 5.9-liter V-12’s sound isn’t especially melodic from inside the car, but it’s loud enough outside to scare pedestrians half to death with a prod of the throttle. And you’ll need to do that fairly often: the Rapide can scoot to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, according to Aston, but thanks to a delicately calibrated accelerator pedal; long, widely spaced gear ratios; and a pronounced dearth of low-end torque, the Rapide feels almost lazy around town. For smooth driving, this is a boon. Inelegant, impatient maniacs like your author can hit the Sport button, which switches to more aggressive throttle and shift maps.
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It also instructs the ZF-supplied six-speed automatic transaxle to allow the driver to touch the rev limiter should he have tugged on one of the fixed magnesium shift paddles to engage manual mode. Next to SPORT is another button, one with a pictogram of a shock absorber on it. Press it, and the Bilstein adaptive dampers firm up noticeably, transmitting every pavement ripple through the rock-solid chassis without ever being harsh. With an overall ratio of 15:1, the Rapide’s steering rack is Aston’s fastest. It transmits huge amounts of on-center information to the driver’s hands and remains perfectly precise as lateral loads increase. So communicative is the steering that you’ll clearly feel the aggressive limited-slip differential trying to tug the front of the car around. A true sports car, the Rapide pummels mountain roads with ferocious speed and a bellowing exhaust note that can be heard from—literally—a mile away.
If there was any doubt that Aston Martin put 5000 development miles on the Rapide at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, it’s gone the second you hit a back road. Should it at any time during a spirited romp through twisting mountain switchbacks occur to you that you’re driving a car the size of a Mercedes S-class, your mind will simply be blown. Does not compute. Syntax error. Please reboot. From behind the wheel, the Rapide is the incredible shrinking Aston.
From behind the cash register, it’s another story. The Rapide rings up at a not-insubstantial 200 grand, although only two significant options are available: the aforementioned rear-seat entertainment system is $3395, and $1595 will supplement the four seat heaters with coolers. It’s quite a bit more expensive than either the Panamera or the Quattroporte, landing in the same price league as the Bentley Continental Flying Spur. None of those is a direct competitor, however. There are other cars that are the same price, produce similar horsepower, or are (nearly) as gorgeous. But there is no other sports car in the world that marries this combination of exclusivity, performance, and elegance with the ability to carry four passengers.
There has been endless discussion surrounding the Panamera and its potential impact on the Porsche brand —but we’ve heard none about the newest Aston. The Rapide is a perfect example of how an automaker can grow in volume without compromising brand identity. In this regard, Aston Martin is clearly the winner. Dr. Bez, sending that Rapide to Porsche is completely unnecessary—please mail it to Ann Arbor instead, no bow needed.
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Design Analysis
By Robert Cumberford
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Of all the exotic four-door sedans proposed in the recent past, Aston Martin's Rapide comes the closest to its marque's stylistic traditions, and it is also the most graceful and by far the best-looking of the bunch. The concept car was brilliant but tight inside. The production car is a bit thicker, with surface and detail changes galore, but the excitement and the charm are still present and accounted for. The biggest single surface change is the rib on the doors derived from the front-fender air vent. The glass roof is gone, but the essence of the concept remains. Aston Martin design director Marek Reichman has done a great job.
1 The roof has been raised a little to accommodate rear-seat passengers but without Porsche Panamera awkwardness.
2 There's no longer a transparent roof, but Aston promises that it will become available later if you really, really want to be uncomfortable in the sun.
3 This rib carries through the doors, stiffening the panels and adding visual interest to the side view.
4 Eliminating side inlets cleaned up the entire front end.
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5 The traditional black steering wheel is much more appropriate and practical than that in the concept.
6 The central console has been completely revised for production and is now simpler, easier to build, and very elegant.
7 The deck-lid lip is higher than before, but the straight line from the taillights across the back end is much cleaner and better organized.
8 Not exactly a racing diffuser, this detail is simple, straightforward, and helps reduce the visual height of the rear.
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2010 ASTON MARTIN RAPIDE
price (base/AS TESTED) $201,300/$206,290
Powertrain
engine: 48-valve DOHC V-12
displacement: 5.9 liters (362 cu in)
horsepower: 470 hp @ 6000 rpm
torque: 443 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
transmission type: 6-speed automatic
drive: Rear-wheel
Chassis
steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
suspension, front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Control arms, coil springs
brakes: Vented discs, ABS
tires: Bridgestone Potenza S001
tire size f, r: 245/40YR-20, 295/35YR-20
Measurements
L x W x H: 197.6 x 76.0 x 53.5 in
wheelbase: 117.7 in
track f/r: 62.6/63.5 in
weight: 4387 lb
FUEL mileage: 12/18 mpg (est.)
Performance
0-60 mph: 5.1 sec*
TOP SPEED: 188 mph*
*per manufacturer
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