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Aston Martin has always been known for producing some of the most beautiful sports cars in the world. It shares its exclusivity in the upper realm of the market with relative newcomers Porsche and Ferrari. Yes, Aston Martin has been around for almost 100 years, making the iconic British company much older than many of its competitors.
A few years ago when Aston Martin announced it would be introducing a four-door sedan, many enthusiasts greeted the news with concern. However, those in the know are aware Aston Martin has produced four-door sedans in its past. Okay, they were mostly sold under the Lagonda badge, which became part of the Aston Martin company way back in 1947. Indeed, the company's full name is Aston Martin Lagonda Limited.
The last time the Rapide name adorned a car was between 1961 and 1964 when just 55 Lagonda Rapides were produced. It was based off the Aston Martin DB4.
Aston Martin is a far better known name than Lagonda so it was only natural that the company chose to call its all-new 2011 sedan the Aston Martin Rapide. This time it is based off the DB9 sports car.
And what a car it is. The Rapide is powered by the same 470-horsepower 5.9-liter V12 engine found in the DB9 and Volante models. And, as one has come to expect from Aston Martin, the Rapide has beautiful lines and a super luxurious interior.
Despite its high performance capabilities, the Rapide is docile at low speeds and is quite capable of being used around town as a family car or for carrying four average-size adults on a longer trip. With all four seats in use there is room for some luggage but if it's just the driver and passenger the rear seats can be folded down to provide a respectable amount of space on par with the trunk space in a midsize station wagon, albeit with the seats up.
Although the EPA fuel economy rating of 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway is not bad considering the car's performance and prestige it still gets hit with a compulsory gas guzzler tax of $2,100 which ups its official sticker price to just $50 shy of the magical $200K mark.
The 2011 Aston Martin Rapide ($197,850) comes as just one model with a long list of options. The four-door sedan, strictly speaking it's a hatchback since it has an opening tailgate, is powered by a 470-horsepower 5.9-liter V12 with a 6-speed Touchtronic 2 automatic transmission driving the rear wheels.
Interior appointments include Bridge of Weir leather, Bang and Olufsen BeoSound Audio system, Hard Disk Drive Satellite navigation system, Bluetooth telephone connection, Satellite Radio and an umbrella. Options include special customer specified paint schemes ($750 to $3,785) and different colors of leather.
Safety equipment includes a full complement of airbags plus front and rear parking sensors, ABS, electronic stability control and traction control plus emergency brake assist.
The 2011 Rapide is one of those rare cars that is a joy to look at. If you're lucky enough to stumble upon one in a parking lot, you'll find yourself wanting to walk around it just to enjoy it's flowing lines.
The front is virtually identical to the sensuous DB9. Usually when a two-door sports car is turned into a four-door sedan the proportions go bad. However, Aston Martin's designers were able to extend the roof line of the two seater DB9 back to a large tailgate and bring the lines down to the rear bumper maintaining its sexy sports car lines. As if by magic they've turned the extra length and extra doors into a positive aspect of the design.
Indeed, in the eyes of many the Rapide is the best looking four-door sedan currently on the market. Period. It's a sentiment we agree with.
Anyone who has enjoyed the exotic interior of an Aston Martin will not be disappointed in the Rapide. Opening the front doors it's immediately obvious this car is different as they swing out and up, sawn wing doors, as Aston Martin likes to call them. All four seats are covered in leather and the same leather is used to trim the console and door panels. Nice low-gloss wood veneer covers the upper portions of the center stack.
Once you ease yourself inside you'll immediately catch another difference: there's no gear shift lever. Instead there are four big buttons below the heating vents in the center stack marked P for Park, R for Reverse, N for Neutral, and D for Drive. In the middle you'll find a slot for the large ignition key.
Unfortunately, some of the switch gears and buttons are awkwardly placed and some do not have a rich feel to them. The navigation system is displayed on a relatively small screen that pops up in the top center of the dashboard, and it is not as good as those found in many other luxury cars.
The Recaro front seats are comfortable and offer plenty of adjustments. Both front seats are heated and as an optional bonus they also cooled us in the Rapide we tested.
The rear seats are a snug fit. The rear doors are small so getting in and out is a squeeze. Once seated there is not a lot of legroom or wiggle room. However, the ambience and view is tremendous. The car we tested had the optional rear-seat entertainment system, which incorporates two TV screens in the back of each front seat.
Luggage space is generous and accessed through the rear hatch. The rear tailgate opens wide and there is 11.2 cubic feet of luggage space with a luggage barrier in place. The rear seats can be folded down and the barrier can be removed to give a total of 31.3 cubic feet of cargo space. In effect it transforms the car into a honest Grand Touring two-seater sports car with plenty of space.
The Rapide is not your ordinary luxury sedan. For starters, unlike most modern luxury and a growing number of not so luxury cars, you do need to use the ignition key in order to start the car. Okay, it's not a regular ignition key but you still have to insert it into a slot atop the dashboard and firmly push it, in order to fire up the engine.
The V12 then roars to life with a wonderful burbling sound that everyone loves. Once the revs get above 3800 rpm bypass exhaust valves open and the car comes alive. The sound is even more intense.
Then, wait, there's no shift lever! But, on each side of the ignition key slot there are four big buttons. Put your foot on the brake pedal and push the button far to the right, marked D, and you're in gear.
Put your foot down on the gas pedal and the Rapide rapidly moves forward. There is plenty of power immediately available. Shifts are smooth and thanks to the torquey V12 it does not need to shift gears much. The ride is smooth. True, someone used to a Lincoln Town Car might say it's stiff but anyone getting out of a Corvette would say it's soft.
Since it seemed so appropriate, we cruised around Beverly Hills one Saturday evening in the Rapide. It was perfectly docile, and glancing at the reflections in the storefront windows on Rodeo Drive showed the car was in its element.
Creeping along the freeway at 65 mph the Rapide slotted right in and did not feel too big or too small. It's actually about the same size as a BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo.
After leaving the freeway we sought out a nice twisty canyon road. It was time to take more control. The paddle shifters on the steering wheel deliver pretty rapid gear shifting, perhaps not as rapid as in some other high-end sports cars but certainly far better than ones you'd have found in similar cars a few years ago. Unlike some cars, where the transmission switches back into automatic mode after a while, the Rapide continues in manual Touchtronic mode; you have to push the D button again to return to fully automatic.
Press the Sport button on the dash and the Adaptive Damping system stiffens up the shock absorbers and the shifting points become more aggressive. The Rapide is now a real sports car with excellent neutral handling thanks to an almost 50/50 weight balance due to the transmission being located in the rear of the car, which also allows the engine to sit nearer the center of the car. As you drive along twisting roads it's easy to forget that there are two seats behind you as the car grips the road and takes you through corners with nary a whimper.
With an official 0-60 mph time of 5 seconds and a top speed of 188 mph, the Rapide is not quite up there in supercar status but it comes pretty close. A supercar such as a Lamborghini Gallardo might be a pure sports car but it's not as pleasant around town nor can it carry four passengers or anything more than a small bag. The Rapide, which has been raced in near stock form, delivers almost as much bang for the buck so to speak while also delivering a tremendous helping of practicability. Perhaps it's fair to say the Rapide is a real sports car for the person who wants to share the experience with others.
Of all the cars we've driven recently, the Aston Martin Rapide has drawn the most rave comments from observers. Of course many did not know what it was, but they all described it as a beautiful car. Even those who don't care about cars were impressed. Better yet, from a car enthusiast's perspective this is a car that is wonderful to drive, whether crawling along crowded boulevards or blasting along the freeway at a high rate of speed. And there is room for four adults and a fair amount of luggage. It is the ultimate Grand Tourer. If James Bond were to start a family we're sure he'd be more than happy to drive the Rapide. It's a fitting car.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie filed this report after his test drive of the Aston Martin Rapide around Southern California.