For a lesson in how not to make a four-door GT car, take a sneaky peak at the bulbous Porsche Panamera. A sickeningly stodgy, podgy people mover that makes a Ssangyong Rodius look well-proportioned, it’s hard to comprehend how that motoring monstrosity and the 911 come from the same maker.
Thankfully, Aston Martin employed a design team with eyes to pen the Rapide. To be fair to Porsche, their rivals did have a stunning starting block to begin with. The DB9 is an automotive great, a timeless shape that’ll look good for years to come. Extending it slightly to incorporate two rear seats and a second set of doors was never going to do it that much harm. But quite how good it looks is still a surprise.
For the family man, the Rapide makes sense. Those rear seats are a little cosy if you’re a fully grown adult, but for children – even teenagers – they’re fine. Hugging and sumptuous, each rear seat is a cocooning pod to enjoy the delights of the drive from.
The Rapide is wonderfully appointed. Rich leather, decadent wood finish and classic design touches are plentiful. While simply firing it up is an occasion – push the Emotion Control Unit (aka the key) into the slot in the centre console and it becomes the starter button, firing the V12 into life with a spine-tingling bark.
My first stint in the Aston wasn’t until the morning of our cover shoot, three days into the road test. For the first two days I’d been enjoying the delights of the Audi and Porsche, which meant slipping behind the wheel of the Rapide came as a bit of a surprise. This is one big car and on roads like these it certainly feels it.
Where it really excels is on fast, flowing A-roads – it’s here you can stretch its legs and let the gun crack exhaust note ricochet off the scenery. As the revs rise over the magic 4,000rpm mark, butterflies in the exhaust relax to allow all 470 horses to clear their throat. It’s a God-like stomach rumbling that’s combined with melting countryside as the future rapidly becomes the present.
The Aston’s ability to pile on speed is breathtaking. On clear, open sections, mashing the throttle results in true sportscar reactions. Okay, it’s not as lithe or as nimble as say the Boxster Spyder, but it’s still capable and remarkably quick. That 470bhp from the glorious V12 is enough to punch you and your three passengers to 60mph in 5.1 seconds. A DB9 cracks the same speed in 4.8 – not much of a difference, is there?
The steering does feel heavy, but it’s a pleasant weight, reassuringly expensive in its feel. Response can be a little lethargic, especially when you’re plodding along in ‘normal’ mode. However, click the chunky button marked ‘Sport’ and activate the sports suspension and the Rapide makes an incredible transformation. Throttle response is sharpened, steering quickens and the whole car feels as if it’s risen on its haunches. In this mode it’s as if the car’s shed pounds as it lunges forwards.
The semi-automatic paddle shift gearbox is met with mixed reactions from the RTOTY team. Some like its ease of use, the fact the fully-auto mode allows you to be as lazy as you want. I, on the other hand, am not so keen. On more than one occasion quick shifts confuse the ’box and the change is disappointingly slow. I’d prefer a manual – if only they did one…
The roads begin to get narrower as we penetrate the Welsh valleys and the Rapide starts to feel a bit big; slightly out of place. Whereas the others have hunkered down and cracked on, I’m struggling in the Aston. On one side I’m trying to keep it out of the bushes while on the other my back’s being redesigned as the alloys bump over cats’ eyes. Not to mention a few buttock-clenching on-coming traffic moments.
This Rapide is for city centres, motorways and A-roads – not skirt hitched-up pre-dawn jaunts along single-file country roads. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable – it is – the Rapide is an Aston Martin after all, and even in this company had more interest from petrol station looky-loos than the Audi and Porsche. This supercar just excels in other arenas – and none more so than in making big look beautiful.
See the Aston Martin Rapide in action in our video by typing bit.ly/rapide2 into a web browser.