Aston Martin Rapide Luxury 2011 review
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THEY say Aston Martins all look the same, and they have a point. When you spy one you immediately know it's an Aston -- they're that distinctive -- but was it DB9 or a DBS? A V8 or a V12? You seldom see two together, so it's hard to tell.
However, I'm at Phillip Island race circuit surrounded by more than 40 examples representing every facet of the line-up. It's the first track day organised by the company in Australia and could be the largest gathering of Astons down under.
Many owners have driven their cars interstate to be here, and some have flown in from New Zealand. When they're all together like this -- the cars, that is, not the owners -- it's surprising how the differences leap out at you. They're at least as different from each other as, say, Porsches.
Explore the 2011 Aston Martin Rapide range
The Aston range has just been expanded by one and it's the most different of the lot. The Rapide is Aston's first four-door sportscar after it joined the rush to design slinky sedans. This segment, pioneered by the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Maserati Quattroporte, is growing rapidly. The Porsche Panamera is another newcomer while Audi and BMW both intend to make ``four-door coupes''.
So far, the Rapide is the one that has made the transition from two doors to four with the fewest compromises on shape. A Panamera is more commodious in the rear but looks ugly from behind and bulky all over. Aston struck a different balance.
The Rapide sticks to the concept that surprised the Detroit motor show in 2006, which looked like a stretched DB9. Side by side, it's obvious there was a bit more involved than that.
It's bigger in all dimensions to the brand's pin-up 2+2, but most obviously longer, by 30cm. The Rapide retains all the brand signatures, including ``swan'' doors that swing upwards slightly to lift them clear of kerbs. But every panel is different while ingredients such as the headlights and side strakes are longer. It also gets a unique face with a grille on the lower air intake and main-beams garnished with a string of LEDs.
Aston says it's the most beautiful four-door sportscar, and it's hard to disagree. Some of the effect relies on visual tricks. The rear doors are much larger than the actual openings; some of what they conceal is structural. It's a squeeze to get in and, once there, it's tight but bearable for full-sizers, better for children. The rear seats fold for carrying long stuff, which is just as well because cargo space is a relatively miserly 317 litres.
One question mark concerns the car's assembly, which is being done away from the English Midlands at a special facility in Austria. Transplanting the brand's craft traditions appears to have worked; the car I drove was beautifully hand-finished to a high standard. As usual, what appears to be metal is metal, including the Bang & Olufsen speaker grilles and magnesium gearshift paddles behind the wheel. The Rapide just seems a little more lavish.
There are no dud notes here, although the centre console, which is borrowed from the DB9, has fiddly buttons and the control system is rudimentary compared with the best of the Germans.
In technical terms the Rapide follows the DB9, with the same engine and six-speed automatic transmission located at the rear axle. As with the two-door, most of the Rapide is aluminium and Aston claims the bonded chassis has been stretched without compromising rigidity. Weight increases are the penalty, with the Rapide 230kg heavier than a DB9 at a whisker under two tonnes.
The Rapide chalks up a few firsts for the brand, including an electronic park brake and dual-cast brake discs in cast iron and aluminium. It also installs adaptive dampers from the DBS to its double wishbone suspension.
As well as being the largest and heaviest Aston, the Rapide is also the slowest. At 5.2 seconds to reach 100km/h, it's 0.4 seconds slower than a DB9. It gives up sooner, too, with a maximum speed of 296km/h, 10km/h less than a DB9. However, among four-doors these figures are no disgrace.
With a starting price just $13,000 more than the DB9 Coupe automatic, Aston executive Marcel Fabris expects to sell 30 Rapides by the end of the year. Globally, the company will deliver 2000 a year.
My first drive is a delivery run of sorts. The night before the track day, the Rapide needs to be relocated from the brand's Melbourne showroom to Phillip Island so that it can be shown off to owners and a score of invited prospects. I've driven these 140km before and they are not very exciting. It's already dark and raining, so I focus on negotiating Melbourne's home-bound crawl and getting there without drama.
It's easy to get comfortable and the steering makes a favourable impression immediately. It's direct, precise and terrifically weighted. It makes shuffling this 5m-long, highly visible piece of exotica through tetchy traffic a breeze.
Cabin quietness and ride quality are better than expected, too, and the days when Astons came without cruise control have long gone. All the comforts and conveniences are here, including heated seats. If there's an irritation it's the control system and its small buttons, which make finding a suitable radio station a chore.
That's not an issue at the circuit the next day, when the weather has cleared and Aston owners are patiently sitting through driver briefings. More than just a chance to experience their cars at speed, this event is modelled on ones in Britain, Europe and the US in which professional race drivers ride shotgun with owners to coach them on getting the best from their car. Three instructors have come out from Britain, where the brand has been offering performance driving courses for a decade. The rest are locals with years of motorsport experience.
Under the expert guidance of Brit Paul Beddow, I take the Rapide out first. I've never driven an Aston on a circuit before and the experience is something of a revelation. The Rapide doesn't feel like a sedan but something smaller and more agile -- you could almost be in one of the coupes. The steering I liked on the road is even better here, while the brakes are excellent and gearshifts quicker than expected. This V12 engine is a lovely unit that doesn't mind working hard. It may not be the quickest Aston, but the Rapide doesn't feel slow.
During the course of the day there's a chance to sample the rest of the Aston range, and when you drive them back-to-back, as when you see them side-by-side, it's the differences that stand out. The Rapide is the refined and civilised member of the range, surprisingly relaxing to drive even on the track, yet strong and capable. Grip levels and cornering speeds are high.
The Rapide bookends the renewal that began with DB9. That car helped Aston break its habit of borrowing parts from previous owner Ford, and trading on a reputation that was part racing history, part Hollywood action hero.
After expanding its line-up with the less expensive Vantage V8, Aston's ownership base has increased enormously. It's now large enough in Australia to make events such as the one at Phillip Island possible. Most of the owners were experiencing their car on a track for the first time. And most I spoke to would do it again in a flash.
The Rapide should help expand the reach of Aston even further. The least likely circuit warrior in the line-up will make future track days more likely, not less. And when the owners turn up to put a Rapide through its paces, they will be pleasantly surprised.
While for Aston trainspotters, at last there's an easy one to pick.
ASTON MARTIN RAPIDE - $366,280 plus on-road costs
VEHICLE: Luxury sedan
ENGINE: 5.9-litre V12
OUTPUTS: 350kW at 6000rpm and 600Nm at 5000rpm
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Read more about prestige motoring at The Australian.
Range and Specs
|(base)||5.9L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$103,400 – 130,680||2011 Aston Martin Rapide 2011 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|Luxe||5.9L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$112,600 – 142,340||2011 Aston Martin Rapide 2011 Luxe Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data