I know someone who’s been in the fashion biz most of her life. Her affinity with handsome male models is not surprising, yet her insistence–a “shush” sound accompanied by a finger on their lips–that the Eye Candy refrain from voicing their opinions definitely got me thinking. Perhaps beauty and critical thinking are two circles that rarely intersect in the Venn Diagram of life?
True dat, since I can’t remember a day when Aston Martin’s historically gorgeous automobiles weren’t trampled by the performance of neighboring Jaguars or the German and Italian marques. And with the Rapide sedan, we have another stunning Aston Martin to admire. Shush!!!
The Rapide is certainly a looker. The roofline moves at illegal speeds, thanks to greenhouse’s acres of tumblehome and the muscular haunches of the rear fenders’ leading edge. Sure, the Rapide is a hunkering, swaggering affair. But unlike the earth-hugging wedge of William Town’s 1976 Aston Martin Lagonda, the Rapide isn’t a serious re-think of the traditional luxury sedan: it’s a Dachshund-ized DB9 with a significantly wider rear track. No surprise then, that the Rapide so closely resembles the coupe there’s almost no difference from the front or rear. For all the grief this website gives Detroit for its bankruptcy-worthy platform sharing, Aston Martin’s badge engineering for the D&G crowd is a slippery slope (see: Aston’s planned Cygnet).
And it’s the same inside: think Mazda RX8 with a Vantage extreme makeover. Aside from the smaller front portal, occupants receive the same decadent ambiance of the Aston coupes. Maybe that’s a good thing, as a recent redesign of the center stack has easier to use controls, a better navigation interface and a chronometer that isn’t lifted from a Ford Fusion. And the fifteen speaker Bang and Olufsen stereo has interstellar imaging, after the diva-like tweeters get over themselves and fully extend out of the dashboard. While the Panamera doesn’t share much of anything with the 911, the badge engineered Rapide is still an entertaining piece of kit: the rear seats do a folding trick to extend the hatchback’s somewhat useless space into something IKEA-worthy. Like, awesome.
Our tester came with black leather, red stitching, metal trim with polished accents: a decidedly sporty, top dollar affair that smells even better than it looks. All four seats are contoured for beautifully slender people who appreciate thin padding, albeit with the heating and cooling features deemed mandatory at this price point. The Alcantara headliner is stitched stem to stern, with no provision for a glass-paneled roof. But the miniscule vanity mirrors turn your face into a Fun House distortion: perhaps the Rapide hates being a real luxury sedan so much it wants you to hate yourself?
Self-loathing aside, the Rapide is a decent sports car from the driver’s seat. The high-strung 6.0L mill makes all the right Italian V12 noises from the rear and inside the cabin, though bystanders posted yards ahead hear the same sucking sound of a Duratec-equipped Ford. Get on the cams fast, because peak power comes far later than any top-drawer Merc or BMW sedan. Like that German competition, the Rapide’s six speed is a true automatic, but with quick up shifts and paddle controllers that work well enough to make you swear there’s a F1-style gearbox underneath. If the competition didn’t fall in love with turbocharging, the Rapide would be one sweet rocket ship.
But corners are here for a reason, and the Rapide excels in its purity of powertrain and that coupe-like chassis. The low seating position, tight steering, adjustable dampers and 20-inch rolling stock deliver a command performance of flat cornering with immense grip. I never felt the extra wheelbase or pounds of bulk, and the hindquarters rotated the chassis with zero drama and no complaints: coupe performance Über Alles.
But I was a second-class citizen when the same dynamic tests occurred in the rear seat. The intelligent dampers’ smoother-than-DB9 ride is much appreciated, because it’s loud and claustrophobic back there: the full-length console and assertive exhaust note lose their elegant demeanor after a few minutes of actual usage. The rear buckets encourage G-forces from the driver, though the terrible visibility makes rearward occupants wonder what the hell is going on. And escaping via the trap door portal (utilizing Kia-worthy gas assist struts) without scratching any leather or paint is a difficult task.
Perhaps it was operator error: the dull venue and my uninspiring clothing weren’t worthy of a typical Aston Martin owner. Expectations of haute couture aside, everyone understands how the Rapide perfectly blurs the line between coupe and sedan, but a select few feel that blend of bragging rights and disappointing compromise. That’s provided they meet the business end of a Panamera or an AMG V12, ‘natch. So the Rapide is what an Aston has always been: beautifully constructed, elegantly sculpted and behind the competition.