| Patrick C. Paternie
Stunning 2011 Aston Martin Rapide takes the sport sedan to a whole new level as STRATOS rips through the Spanish countryside for a test drive.
When it comes to high performance, highstyle motoring, Aston Martin owners have never had to consider taking a back seat. Until now. The 2011 Aston Martin Rapide is the newest model to wear the storied winged badge, and the first four-door sports car to do so.
We were anxious to see how Aston Martin had met the challenge of doubling the occupancy of a DB9 without marring its styling or sporty handling. We didn’t have to wait long as our first road test of the svelte looking V12 powered four-door took place while comfortably ensconced in one of the two leather wrapped high-backed sport seats tucked into the rear quarters. Space is limited but not confining with the seats slightly elevated to provide a panoramic view of the road ahead. It’s similar to being in an executive jet peering over the shoulder of the fight crew.
The view in this case being the narrow streets and alley ways of an historic section of Valencia Spain on the way from the Hospes Palau de la Mar, our chicly modern hotel spa within a 19th Century palace, to the Casa Montana, a 150 year old wine and tapas bar that counts celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Tyler Florence among its devotees. Count us, too, after an evening of great food, olive oil and wine. The drive there and back also let us appreciate how much of the Rapide’s sporty feel and handling could be felt and enjoyed by rear seat occupants. It also provided a preview of the attention and approving looks that the car would elicit from the locals over the next few days as we moved up to the driver’s seat to tour the surrounding countryside.
Sun-drenched Valencia is a perfect background for showing off the Rapide’s attributes, which are a unique blend of modern sleek styling, high performance, and aerospace quality materials with Old World craftsmanship in terms of hand-stitched leather and elegant wood trim. Not unlike Valencia where vibrant 21st century architecture and action such as Formula One motor racing and the America’s Cup yacht races meet two millennia of history and tradition in the form of hand crafted porcelain and ceramics, the origin of paella, and the resting place of the Holy Grail.
Just as Valencia is like no other spot in Spain, the Rapide neither looks nor behaves like a four-door luxury car. Although it bears a family resemblance to its siblings, designer Marek Reichman penned bold new headlights that provide a sweeping arc of light flowing into a sculpted edge that runs the entire length of the car then wraps itself along the top edge of the trunk. The classic Aston Martin side vent is extended toward the leading edge of the rear door and the doorsills extend closer to the ground that, along with 20-inch alloy wheels, give the Rapide a sporty, low-slung stance. This draws visual attention away from the extra set of doors and enhances its coupe-like appearance. Adding to the visual deception is an uninterrupted expanse of side window glass and pillar-free “swan-wing” style doors, socalled because they swing up and out for easier entry and exit.
To accommodate the rear seating area, the wheelbase has been extended 12.2-inches over that of a DB9, but Aston Martin is quick to point out that the Rapide is not merely a “stretched” DB9. Its aerospace derived extruded bonded aluminum chassis is all-new from the bulkhead rearward, including a new fuel tank and commodious luggage compartment even with the rear seats raised. Body panels are a mix of aluminum, magnesium alloy and composite materials for both lightness and strength.
A mid-front located 470 hp, 6.0-liter V12 (same as the DB9) and a rear-mounted 6-speed automatic transaxle result in a 51/49 front to rear weight bias to give the Rapide the agility of a sports car rather than a 4300-lb four-door. Twostage adaptive damping and responsive steering further enhance the feeling of driving a smaller car. A Sport mode can be selected for more aggressive throttle response and transmission shifting. Very handy for making time on the crooked mountain roads we traveled in the region’s wine country.
With production limited to 2,000 cars a year worldwide, and a base price of $199,950, the Rapide buyer travels in rather exclusive territory compared to Mercedes-Benz CLS or Porsche Panamera customers. These cars qualify more as sporty sedans than sports cars with much higher production numbers. The Rapide is also one of the most beautiful cars on the road, while the CLS is beginning to look dated and the Panamera — well, let’s just say it’s not a looker.
Rather than a penalty box, the rear seats of the Rapide do provide occupants with a stylish and enjoyably speedy way to travel. End of day, however, when you mash the throttle and the Rapide springs from 0 to 60 mph in a tick over 5 seconds emitting a muted but powerful growl from the exhaust, the driver’s seat is still the best seat in the house.