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Aston Martin Rapide 2011 Review

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YOU may not be familiar with the name Fritz Tscherneg. In fact, unless you live in Graz, Austria, he is to the world an anonymous collection of 14 letters.  But Mr Tscherneg's name is under the bonnet of an Aston Martin Rapide in Perth, carrying on Aston's tradition of identifying the engine builder. So you can ring him up and go off your nut if anything goes wrong, presumably.

But the Rapide breaks Aston's tradition in one important way: it's not made in England like its ancestors but in Graz, hence the sudden prominence of Mr Tscherneg.

A handful of trainspotters picked up on his name in the tiny Benedictine town of New Norcia, 120km from Perth and 13,246km from Graz, as Australia's first Rapide opened itself up in WA's countryside.

Body and appearance

This is Aston's first four-door for almost four decades – and it is everything you expect from Aston but with a slightly different spin.  For those who go weak at the knees at the sight of an Aston Martin, they will be similarly enamoured by the Rapide. 

The most striking and unexpected - feature is the integration of four doors within the familiar and beautiful C-pillar, flanks and boot line.  It is a remarkable job and at first glance, could be mistaken for a two-door Vantage or DB9 coupe. The style leads to comparisons with the Porsche Panamera that, side by side, looks bustle-tailed, awkward and heavy from the same rear three-quarter angle.

The Aston is all about aesthetics. The Porsche is about purpose.  Porsche applies a clinical technique to its products. There is almost an arrogance in its relationship wit the buyer, captured in the 1970s by serving up its 911s is a rather uncomplimentary colour palette from baby-poo brown to Kermit green and traffic light orange. Later, it unveiled the Cayenne SUV.

Aston Martin doesn't share its rival’s philosophy. It is, by comparison, a very small company that is privately held. It is acutely aware that the risks of travelling the less-worn path in car design could wipe it out.

So, like Jennifer Hawkins, its look is its fortune. For that reason, the nose cone and the forward section of the turret are DB9. The signature C-pillar and shoulders that brood over the massive 295mm wide Bridgestone Potenza rear tyres are also lured from the pen of the DB9 designer.  The boot lid is long, creating a hatch as in the Panamera, though its yawn isn't as obviously large when snub tailgate is closed.

It would be easy to say the Rapide is a DB9 that has been stretched. It isn't. It sits on a new platform incidentally about 250mm longer than the DB9 - that shares its extruded aluminium design and some suspension components.

Interior and fit-out

But sit in the driver's seat and what is ahead of you is all Aston DB9.  The push-button selection for six-speed auto gearbox is above the cente of the dashboard. Minor switchgear is similarly familiar, as is the gauges and console.

Turn around and there's a repeat of the front cabin. The seats are the same deeply scalloped buckets, though the backrest is split halfway to fold to boost the modest luggage capacity.

The centre console extends, rising between the front seats to create individual vents for the rear passengers. Those in the back get separate airconditioning controls and volume for the Bang and Olufsen Beosound 1000-Watt audio, cupholders, a deep centre storage bin and DVD monitors with wireless headsets - set within the head restraints of the front seats.

More importantly, they get room. The shape of the Rapide doesn't accurately reflect the available headroom good enough for a 1.8m passenger and though the legroom is at the whim of the front seat occupants, only tall people may feel constrained.  Rear seat comfort, however, is unlikely to be top criteria for owners.

Driving

This is a car to drive. The doorstop-heavy glass key slides into the gap in the centre console, just below the gear selector buttons. Press hard and there's a pause, like a conductor's hesitation before his baton is struck down and the orchestra erupts in full noise.

There's 12 angry pistons sliding in 12 honed cylinders and their concert puts out 350kW and 600Nm of torque and lots of booming, staccato bass background.  You select either the D for drive button or pull on the steering wheel's right-hand paddle shifter.

And despite the near two-tonne mass, the Rapide jets to 100km/h in a respectable five seconds in a blur of exhaust roar.  That's not as quick as the DB9's 4.8 seconds and the specs show that while they share power and torque, the Rapide's extra 190kg trims back its acceleration just a touch.p>Not that you'd really notice or care.  It's a beautiful power delivery, full of noise and torque. The speedo and tacho needles swing in opposite directions, so it's not an easy set of gauges to glance at and get a feel of what's happening beneath the bonnet. It's that mix of engine and exhaust noise that'll guide the driver.

But it's not just the engine. The gearbox is a simple six-speed automatic unit no clutchless manual here that gets the power down smoothly and relatively quickly.

The steering is well weighted, so it transmits the feel and contours and all the irregularities of the road to the driver's fingers, so the driving experience becomes tactile.

And the brakes are colossal, firm to press but responding with confidence.  It doesn't take long to dismiss this as a four-door, four-seater express car. It feels like a two-seater coupe.

The balance is lovely and the ride is surprisingly compliant and except for tyre roar on coarse-chip road sections very quiet. Communication with the rear passengers is absolutely no effort, even at the legal road speed.

Where it shines on the open road there are some dull points in the city. It is a long car and it's low, so parking requires patience and familiarity. The turning circle is large, so it's not a nimble car.

Live with it. For a car that bore snickers and sneers when showcased as a concept, the Rapide shows that simple, traditional cars can find a place and that bespoke manufacturers can win the throw of the dice.

ASTON MARTIN RAPIDE

Price: $366,280
Built: Austria
Engine: 6-litre V12
Power: 350kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 5000rpm
0-100km/h: 5.0 seconds
Top speed: 296km/h
Fuel economy (tested): 15.8 l/100km
Fuel tank: 90.5 litres
Transmission: 6-speed sequential automatic; rear drive
Suspension: double wishbone, coils
Brakes: front - 390mm vented discs, 6-piston calipers; rear 360mm vented discs, 4-piston calipers
Wheels: 20-inch alloy
Tyres: front - 245/40ZR20; rear 295/35ZR20
Length: 5019mm
Width (inc mirrors): 2140mm
Height: 1360mm
Wheelbase: 2989mm
Weight: 1950kg

Score: 90/100

Rivals

Maserati Quattroporte GTS ($328,900) 87/100
Porsche Panamera S ($270,200) 91/100
Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG ($275,000) 89/100

Pricing Guides

$136,895
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$121,550
Highest Price
$152,240

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 5.9L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $121,550 – 139,700 2011 Aston Martin Rapide 2011 (base) Pricing and Specs
Luxe 5.9L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $132,440 – 152,240 2011 Aston Martin Rapide 2011 Luxe Pricing and Specs
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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