Test Drive: 2011 Aston Martin Rapide

14 Dec

The Aston Martin Rapide is an astoundingly beautiful car. More beautiful than a Maserati Quattroporte or a Jaguar XFR. In company like this, the Porsche Panamera may as well put a brown bag over her head.

A 5.9 liter V12 four-door coupe, the Rapide is best for the businessman who needs a luxurious and powerful four-seater for city driving, or for a youngish couple who want the option of inviting friends to the country for the weekend. Rapide is a 470-horsepower sports car with great duality: it’s hotter (and a lot more expensive, sure) than a BMW 5-Series or S-Class, but it’s more practical than the DB9 or GranTurismo or Continental Supersports.

The one I drove last weekend in Manhattan and New Jersey came with rear-seat entertainment, complete with two pairs of plush headphones and in-seat LCD screens ($3,395); heated and cooled front seats (available only on the Rapide); leather trim and wooden door inserts ($750 each); a special “Quantum Silver” paint job ($1,895); and 20-inch multispoke silver rims ($2,270).

One cool thing you notice right away about the car is its doors–they hinge upward as they open, and they have a steadying component that means they stay in place wherever you leave them. They don’t ever slam shut. Inside, four big round buttons lined up on the dash denote Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive functions (6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters comes standard); a button to engage Sport mode sits lower down on the center console. The start button sits in the middle of the drive buttons and works only when a smooth rectangle key fob is inserted fully into the slot and held down. Do note: Parking attendants and valets tend to have a difficult time figuring that out. It helps to explain how the ignition works before you walk away from the car. Something else: It’s notoriously difficult to park this car even in midtown Manhattan, as many parking garages refuse to assume the insurance risk associated with a $215,000 vehicle. One guy told me, “If we scratch your bumper, it’ll cost me $10,000 to have it fixed. I can’t handle that.” (On the other hand, you will have men rolling down their windows in traffic to ask about the paint job, the rims, the engine, you name it. Be ready to talk comparisons with the DB9.)

The front seats in the Rapide are snug, deep and form-fitting. The two bucket seats in the rear are the same, but a dearth of leg and hip room in the back means large men or overweight women will likely find it uncomfortable back there after a short period of time.

Small details like aimed reading lights in the back, a hidden button to open the gas tank, auto-dimming interior lights and bar-shaped door handles that you have to push in to use are clever touches to the relatively simple dashboard, console and interior layout. (I’m against an overabundance of unnecessary and distracting technology, aren’t you?) A ledge behind the rear seats is good for storing lightweight things like magazines or jackets; it also folds down to provide a longer pull-through directly to the generous trunk.

When you start the Rapide, it lets out a roar will impress everyone within earshot–it’s quite distinctive and loud and sounds promising. But the car isn’t quite as fast on the uptake as you might expect. It goes 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds, with a top speed of 184 mph. By comparison, the heavier Panamera Turbo does 0-60 in 4 seconds, with a top speed of 188 mph. Panamera is priced much cheaper than the Rapide, at $135,300. The $126,250 Maserati Quattroporte S is also less expensive than the Rapide, and it has just slightly slower drive times (0-60 in 5.3 seconds; 174 mph top speed) to match.

True, Rapide is very smooth to drive, and I loved the smallish steering wheel and close quarters of the cockpit–that real driver feel is there for sure. The suspension is taunt, which is great if you’re using the car as a coupe but not if you’re using it as a town car. Braking is alert and receptive; handling is fine going around corners, shooting through side streets and negotiating traffic.

But for 200 Gs, shouldn’t handling be more than fine? Yes. Panamera and Quattroporte hold their own against (and in the Panamera’s case resoundingly beat) the Rapide when it comes to overall performance, and they do it for significantly less money.

For the beautiful Rapide, looks go a long way toward smoothing over such comparisons.

Via Forbes

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