“The Panamera is not the Rapide’s rival because, well, we make beautiful cars.” There’s a cheeky smile on his face but Marek Reichman, Aston Martin design director, isn’t kidding. The four-door model, a bold move by Aston, was always painfully pretty and now Marek is lovingly poring over every minute detail of the revised Rapide S. He has every reason to make such a daring statement because in the swoopy sports saloon segment, nothing comes close to this in terms of visual drama, not by a long way.
“The grille,” he continues, “is the face of Aston Martin; we are using all of the knowledge of the One-77 in terms of creating a full face application of the
grille and putting that in the Rapide S.
It gives the car more presence and there’s no problem telling what car this is as it comes towards you.” Oh, but there is. And that’s because it’s now so potent that it’d whoosh past before you knew it was even close and it’s thanks to that letter S.
We’ve been invited to the heart of Catalonia in Spain to get a closer look at the still-as-elegant-yet-now-far-more-powerful sports saloon. The Rapide was launched three years ago and so the time was nigh for a refresh. However, the lightweight aluminium skin still looks young and tight, therefore the nip and tuck has taken place under the bonnet of this ever-so-graceful four-seater. Apart from a revised front grille and tweaked rear deck profile that enhances aerodynamics, the five-metre-long exterior remains largely the same. That, however, cannot be said for the 6.0-litre V12. The appearance of the Rapide was never in question, but its performance may have left a few wanting. Not any more.
The 12-cylinder has undergone a significant overhaul; it boasts a new block, variable valve timing, a stronger fuel pump, throttle bodies with greater throughput and a host of other developments to produce 550bhp — that is, 80 horses more than before. Mash the throttle into the plush carpet and the sensation must be akin to being walloped in the chest by each of those angry horses’ hooves. And there’s no doubt that the new Gen 4 AM11 engine is a torque monster; the 620Nm unleash their fury with devastating effect; the sticky rear 295/35 Continental rubbers will come to an equally sticky end each time you prod the loud pedal with Track mode deployed. With a 0-100kph sprint over in 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 306kph, the Rapide S is indeed much more rapid than before and worthy of that new letter.
“The S is for Sport,” confirmed Marek earlier in the day, and I was left in no doubt, having spent some time driving the supercar/limousine along the shadow
of the Pyrenees mountains. Now there is much more response low down and the Rapide S manages to summon up more energy all the way to the 6,750rpm redline. And with your toe to the floor, your ears are treated to that great Aston exhaust note, which grows even angrier when you push the Sport button. But even with this engaged, I found the six-speed tranny a tad lethargic and so flicking the aluminium paddles on the steering became a necessity to kick down quicker than the automatic would. But this made for a far more enjoyable and involving drive while the soundtrack emanating from the tips would certainly be a chart-topper.
But it isn’t just fast. It handles incredibly well for what is a 1,990kg car. Part of the reason for that is because the motor sits 19mm lower in the engine bay than before, which helps create a centre of gravity closer to the road while the weight distribution is a very agreeable 48:52 front rear. This, along with the new adaptive suspension that offers you three settings (Normal, Sport and the aforementioned Track), helps the S make the most of its newfound comfort and power.
But there’s a problem. “You will not speed in the cars as there are many cameras around the area,” ordered Dr Ulrich Bez, CEO of Aston Martin, the night before I was handed the glass-trimmed key fob. What he’d make of my current pace then, a blistering 200kph on the highway leading up to picturesque mountain passes overlooking Llagostera, Manlleu and other quaint towns and villages as I make my way to the lunch stop in Ventola, I just don’t know. In my defence, it feels like I’m doing half of that hurried rate, for the new Aston is proving to be absolutely rock steady. It is silky smooth too; the shocks soak up all the little bumps and imperfections on the narrow winding roads, but no matter how sharp the hairpin, and there are quite a few on a stretch around Valfogona, there is hardly any body roll to be detected.
This is basically a sportscar with four doors bolted on, but you soon forget all about them, the extra seats and all that weight, thanks to the way it drives, which is spirited to say the least. The grip is astounding too, especially when you consider the kerb weight and my hefty physique thrown into the mix, but none of that transpires to the hydraulically assisted steering that offers great feedback all the time. Along with the new motor, it’s what makes the Rapide S such a blast; the fact that you can control such a sizeable car at high speeds. You may just wonder if you’re behind the wheel of the Vanquish.
The handmade cabin is sublime; it’s bathed in rich full-grain leather, Alcantara and piano black trim, not to mention lots of real glass switchgear on the centre console. But it’s the latter that lets the car down a tad; it’s dated and in need of a proper refresh while the Garmin sat-nav screen could be bigger. What’s more, with a throaty V12 offering dangerously high levels of aural pleasure, I suspect the 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen Beosound system will be rendered a bit pointless. Meanwhile, if you can convince two adults to willingly sit in the back seats, they’ll have their own DVD player and TV screens, which may ease the pain of being in cramped quarters. Regardless of what the Aston engineers tried to tell me — and they were keen to point out that being in the back isn’t that bad — it wasn’t the nicest experience being sat there, and certainly not for long periods.
If you are looking for a luxurious GT to ferry the bigwigs around town but need something to complement the weekend track beast, look no further. In fact, you may just slap a ‘for sale’ sign on the sportscar as the Rapide S will satisfy the speed freak in you. “It’s the best of British. If you have a sense for power, refinement and control, then you will have a lot of fun with this car,” said Bez over dinner at the glorious Mas De Torrent hotel. He failed to mention its superb looks in his summary, something the Rapide’s rivals lack, and how! It was probably on purpose as I suspect, from now on, we’ll be talking more about how potent this grand tourer is than just how good it looks.