First Drive: 2010 Aston Martin Rapide

Nick Dimbleby

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.”

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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It a great limo. The new Aston Martin Rapide is a great car. James Bond can drive this off Duty with his girl.

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