2011 Aston Martin Rapide
    MSRP
    $207,895 - $226,850
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    2011 Aston Martin Rapide Expert Review:Autoblog

    The following review is for a 2010 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    2010 Aston Martin Rapide - Click above for high-res image gallery

    Do you like noir? No, not the perfume, the literary and film genre. You know, hard-boiled crooks, wise-cracking private eyes, Los Angeles under cover of night and blondes so blonde they'll kill you dead. Those blondes are, of course, are better known as femme fatales, and in truth, the color of their hair doesn't really matter. Think Theda Bera, Rita Hayworth, Mary Astor, Barbara Stanwyck and Marlene Dietrich. And let's not forget the lovely Lana Turner – she's the one, in a case of life imitating art, with the daughter that killed Mickey Cohen's strongman/goon Johnny Stompanato. In other words, women so pretty you'd throw your life away just so they know you're throwing your life away.

    Here's the free, online-encyclopedia definition of femme fatale in case you're still wondering: "An alluring and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous and deadly situations."

    Let's state up front that the 2010 Aston Martin Rapide is not, to our knowledge, unsafe in any way, shape or form. But man, oh man, is it seductive enough to make us overlook every single bad thing about it. That, or walk into an uncovered manhole cover while staring at it. Anyhow, "irresistible desire" and "compromising situations" are this British superstar's raison d'etre. Philip Marlowe would eat his fedora just for a ride. Thankfully, we had to perform no such theatrics: Aston Martin simply let us borrow their car.



    Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.



    Calling the all-new Rapide beautiful is akin to saying water is wet. Its allure is so instantly obvious, so fist-bitingly apparent that the point is moot. Still, until the car was parked in my driveway, just how pretty (fine, stunning) wasn't clear. When in traffic other cars look like refrigerators and washing machines. When parked it's like a Rodin on four wheels. The Rapide, then, is another case, and perhaps the ultimate case, of pictures not doing a car justice. This is not meant as a slight against our ace photographer Drew Phillips, who did a bang-up job capturing the Rapide on digital film. It's just that when compressed down to only two dimensions, many of the achingly gorgeous curves are flattened out. As such, I spent perhaps thirty minutes staring at nothing but the Aston's curvaceous front fender. During that time I had no thoughts of anything else.

    Nor should I have. Many pundits have been bemoaning the downward slide of car design since Federal regulations mandated five-mph bumpers and side marker lights. For a ton of reasons too varied to get into here, they're right. The Rapide, however, is a big time, major groundswell of an exception. People were stopping us on the street to guffaw. During the photoshoot, deep in Santa Clarita's meth country, a patrol car with a pair of officers rolled up to hassle us. After "Bad Cop" questioned us and checked our IDs, "Good Cop" jumped out of the Crown Vic, proclaiming, "I can't take it any more" and began snapping his own iPhone shots of the Rapide. This car is beyond lovely; so comely in fact that all its flaws (and sadly, there are flaws) are quickly – if not instantly – forgiven by all the blindest and most aesthetically dead. As such, we're going to structure this review as something of a Choose Your Own Adventure. If, like many, we figure, you don't care about how the car drives, its interior or any of the small stuff and are only interested in the Rapide's luscious shape, skip on ahead to the end. For the rest of you I-dotters and T-crossers, here we go.



    One of the reasons for the Rapide's arresting good looks is its length, a length necessitated by the rear doors. That's right, this is the first four-door Aston Martin since the equal parts loved and bemoaned Lagonda (1976-1989), a car, by the way, that Aston Martin weirdly seems to deny ever existed. What to do then with the "first ever" Aston Martin sedan? I decided to show off the Rapide at a gas station where I've made friends with the owners over the years by showing off all the pretty cars I get to drive. The Rapide blew their minds. So much so, that they insisted (insisted) on giving the Aston a free wash and hand detailing. I think they just wanted to touch it. Rightly so, but here's the thing. When you open either of the rear swan-doors, the back windows automatically retract all the way down. Meaning that your freshly washed windows are automatically streaked if anyone climbs in the back seat. A small trifle, of course, but odd, no?

    Then there's the backseat which might just be the world's loveliest torture chamber. There's almost no foot room, no shin room, no knee room, no head room and just barely enough hip room for a man. Ladies, look elsewhere. All that said, the Rapide's rear sure is a gorgeous leather and Alcantara dungeon to be packed into. The front thrones are worlds better in terms of comfort, however, the cockpit ergonomics are a disaster. The most prominent control is, of course, the seat heater/AC puck. Literally, your right hand (or left in Britain) most easily comes to rest on a large dial that in any other luxury sedan would control some sort of iDrive-like system. In the Rapide, it's the butt-warmer. Or butt-cooler as the case may be, and you'll never know during the day as sunlight totally washes out the tiny red or blue indicator lights. But don't worry, all of the gauges are illegible when the sun is shining. Speaking of ill-placed controls, the buttons to turn on the beautiful, private jet-style interior lights are positioned right above the fan knob.



    Particularly strong hisses and boos are reserved for the pop-up navigation system. First of all, not only is the display tiny and hard to read, but it looked like an afterthought when Aston Martin first did it in the DB9 with left over Ford parts. Guess what? The Byzantine, near impossible to work system is still an afterthought and it's still based on a bunch of junk from the old Michigan parts bin. The worst part? There's no way to close the ghastly thing while the car is turned on (it automatically folds back down when the Rapide is switched off). A hammer and nails might keep it hidden, but in reality, you're stuck with it. I should say that perhaps there's a way to close the nav-screen, but we couldn't figure it out. And we tried. Also, the pop-up display's square, panel-gapped slice into the center of the dash's otherwise lovely wood is gauche. Speaking of gauche (and Ford), there's still way too much Blue Oval inside the Rapide. From the window switches to fuel gauge to the traction control button lifted straight out of an F-150, there is way too much Dearborn in this upper-crusty house. Luckily for Aston Martin, most Rapide owners would rather eat their own ascots than sit inside a pickup truck, so they'll never know the difference. But still...

    Besides the binnage, there are just some cheap and screwy things that are out of place in a $211,095 car. For instance, the all-leather and thick carpet Blue Haze and Cream Truffle interior is outstandingly good looking, but why the basic black leather wheel? At least why isn't there any contrasting cross-stitching like one might find in the 2011 Kia Sportage? Perhaps those are options, but why are all of the controls plastic instead of metal? Also, you have to see the dinky, three-inch tall sun visors to understand the joke. Then there's the tiny, gray-fonted readout used to display everything from fan speed to radio information to phone connectivity that would have been considered inadequate in the 1990s. Worst of all, when the Bluetooth connection to your phone fails (and ours failed constantly), the screen says, "Connection Failed," and continues displaying this obvious piece of information until the car is turned off, no matter how many buttons you whack. Not exactly cutting-edge luxury.


    Then there's the matter of the push-button automatic transmission. It works just fine, but really? Push-buttons? There are four of them, P for park, R for reverse, N for neutral and D for drive. Easy enough to use, but we question why D is closer to the passenger than the driver. In truth, the Rapide is kind of a dog until you stick it in Sport mode by hitting the big button with an S on it, which shifts less often by holding the gears longer. Thankfully, Aston Martin saw fit to equip the Rapide with proper, column-mounted paddles. When you flip a paddle, the transmission moves out of automatic into full manual mode until (and again) the car is turned off or unless you know enough to re-press the D button. Fine by us, but we image a surgeon's wife or two will be cheesed off when she inadvertently knocks a paddle and is forced to drive to Barney's in first gear at 6,500 RPM. Speaking of 6,500 RPM, that's a tick past redline, and the point where fuel cutoff occurs. We only mention this because according to the tachometer, there is no indicated redline. You might get the impression that the engine's top spinning speed is a lofty 8,000 RPM, but it simply isn't.

    But enough grousing – what a mighty bomb of an engine. Six-liters, twelve-cylinders and all the fury such a configuration suggests. Rated at 470 horsepower and 443 pound-feet or torque, this all aluminum mill is unquestionably a perfect fit for the Rapide. Yes, of course, there are faster, more powerful V12s out there on sporty four-door sedans. The BMW 760Li for instance, makes 535 hp and 550 lb-ft from its twin-turbo 6.0-liter V12 and can hit 60 mph a full second quicker than the Aston Martin (four seconds bests the Rapide's five). But the big Bimmer looks like a pickle vat when compared to the Rapide, and it sounds like a German engineering convention. Whereas the British V12 is impossibly sweet sounding, endlessly sexy and flat-out wonderful. Biblical, too – especially for a four-door – either an angel's trumpet or a devil's trombone, depending on how far you bury your right foot. Even better is at low speeds when just a little kick from your Bruno Maglis sets off an explosion in the pipes pre-muffler that sounds like its coming out of the rear seats. Of course, that could just be your passenger, screaming from atrophy. To reiterate, the noise this V12 makes is not only intoxicating, but the kind of sound you wish all cars made.


    It gets better. I was expecting the big-ish Aston to be straight-line fast, but daft, loose and wobbly in the bends. I'm not really sure what that assumption was based on, but there you have it. I was wrong. Even though it should have been obvious, the fact the Rapide is essentially all the good stuff from the DB9 – potent V12, rear-mounted six-speed transaxle, lightweight VH architecture and near 50/50 weight distribution with new sexy metal and an extra foot of length grafted on – had slipped my mind. Until the corners came. We took the Rapide over the same treacherous canyon road that we used for our V6 sports car comparison test. The Aston was a honey, dancing across the pavement, sashaying through the bends all the while sending essential feedback to my fingertips. Most coupes can't do this; the Rapide is a four-door sports car at last. As our own Michael Harley said in his first drive, "The Aston Martin Rapide is a sports car first, a sedan second." He ain't lying, not one bit.

    But it's not a sports car in the modern sense of the word. You see, the Rapide trades brutal, tire-overwhelming, shoved into the seatbacks, traction-control tripping power for understated grace. By no means a light car (4,387 pounds, or about 500 pounds more than a DB9), the biggest Aston does weigh less than the bulk (no pun, no pun) of its super sedan competition – especially its fellow Brits. It is therefore able to glide around a corner rather than murder it. There's no need for manhole cover-sized brakes because the Rapide can carry more speed through a turn. Additionally, since the handling is so predictable and neutral, you won't find yourself caught off guard (or camber) and needing to slam on the stoppers. This Aston Martin, then, at least compared to its German rivals, is dignified in the way it handles back roads. You'll never find yourself in the weeds, so to speak. The Rapide's modus operandi is not a matter of programmers versus asphalt, but rather a consilience of machine and road. For those wondering about ride quality, it's a little stiff though never impolite. "Properly sporty," is how I'll term it. In fairness to the Rapide, we spend 99 percent of our time with the suspension set to Sport. In fairness to our assessment, pushing the sport button didn't seem to make too much difference.



    If you decided to skip ahead, here's the point where you can rejoin the narrative. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what future Rapide owners will mentally do. Crap electronics, commoner switchgear, comical sun visors, a tight back seat – what could matter less? If you have the briefcase stuffed with the cash necessary to purchase a Rapide, worrying about all that nonsense would be like not purchasing the Monet because you hate Claude's signature – you're missing the point. Like any great femme fatale worth her ill-gotten diamonds, the Rapide floods your mind with a lake of irrationality. Kiss logic goodbye. And that's okay. As of 2010, no car is as sensual, as erotic, as wordlessly desirable, as flat out cool. Which leads to my final point: Forget about the gumshoes. If James Bond's love interests would stop dying, the Aston Martin Rapide is undoubtedly the car he would use to drop the kids off at soccer practice. Lucky brats.



    Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

    2010 Aston Martin Rapide – Click above for high-res image gallery

    The world's best-looking four-door sedan beckoned us from Miami. Enticed, we boarded a jet and paid the 2010 Aston Martin Rapide a visit. Our task was to shuttle Aston Martin's first four-sedan up the coast to Palm Beach – someone had to do it. Of course, we took the circuitous route and spent the day blissfully putting her through the paces as we leisurely motored our way north.

    Why did the British automaker design a sedan – and what is hiding under its skin? What is it like to drive? How are those rear-seat accommodations? Most importantly, how does the Rapide measure up to the Porsche Panamera and Maserati Quattroporte? The answers and more after the jump...



    Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.



    The Aston Martin Rapide is a sports car first, a sedan second.

    Those exact words may have never been spoken or alleged while the Rapide was under development. Nevertheless, that mantra subconsciously repeated itself countless times during our day with the British manufacturer's first four-door vehicle since the angular William Towns-designed Lagonda left the world stage.

    Even to the uninitiated openly-gazing public, the Rapide is purely an Aston Martin. The family resemblance – to the DB9, DBS and Vantage – is unquestioned thanks to Aston's world-renowned and incredibly sexy, sleek silhouette. The designers have done such a noble job hiding the extra 12 inches of length and two inches of height that only on second glance do most realize that this isn't another coupe. Regardless, in a compliment to the designer, most will still believe the Rapide is a stretched variant of the DB9. In truth, all of the body panels on the sedan are new – none of the sheetmetal is shared.


    With that in mind, it is no surprise to find that under the skin, Aston Martin has utilized its V/H platform – shared with the DB9, DBS and Vantage – to construct the Rapide. Using technology borrowed from the aerospace industry, the British automaker employs adhesives to bond – not weld – aluminum components together. The front quarter panels are composite, while the doors and roof are aluminum. The rear quarter panels are steel. The end result is a chassis that is very light and extraordinarily stiff. The curb weight of the Rapide is 4,387 pounds – about 500 pounds heavier than the DB9 coupe. Thanks to the engine being set low and back in the front of the platform and a rear-mounted transaxle, the Rapide's weight balance is a nicely proportioned 49 percent front, 51 percent rear.

    Under the long hood of the Rapide is a hand-assembled all-alloy 48-valve V12. Displacing 6.0-liters, the normally-aspirated engine is rated at 470 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) and 443 lb-ft of torque (at 5,000 rpm). Power is sent rearward through a carbon-fiber propeller shaft within an alloy tube to the mid-mounted gearbox. The transmission is Aston Martin's "Touchtronic 2" with electronic shift-by-wire control (that's an overly eloquent way of saying it is a traditional six-speed slushbox with a torque converter and overrides for manual control). A standard limited-slip differential ensures power is sent consistently to each rear wheel. While the four-door shares a powertrain with the DBS, it has been customized for the Rapide, including its own unique final drive ratio of 3.46:1.



    The Rapide's suspension is comprised of independent double-wishbones on all four corners. A standard Adaptive Damping System (ADS) automatically adjusts the suspension settings based on road conditions and driver inputs. If needed, a "Sport" button in the cabin allows the driver to instantly set all dampers to their firmest positions – and damage your kidneys. Debuting on the Rapide is Aston Martin's first-ever dual cast brake system with rotors rendered in iron and aluminum. Weighing nearly 20 percent less than traditional all-iron rotors, the lightweight brakes reduce unsprung mass to improve performance, and they reduce brake corrosion as an added benefit. Six-piston calipers hide inside 20-inch alloy wheels up front (wearing 245/40R20 tires) while four-piston calipers, and a dedicated single-piston parking brake caliper, reside in the rear 20-inch wheels (wrapped in wider 295/35R20 rubber). The standard tire fitment is the Bridgestone Potenza S001.

    Most of this reads much like a DB9 or DBS review – until now.

    The Rapide's two rear seats – le raison d'être – are accessed via the two rear "swan doors" that swing 70 degrees wide (the same angle as the front doors) and rise rather dramatically upward a full 12 degrees. The twin rear passenger hatches are rather short and stubby, but they allow excellent access to the individual bucket seats on each side of the rear cabin. An immense center console swathed in more leather houses dual cup holders, lighting, seat and cabin climate controls for the rear occupants. A twin-screen entertainment system offers DVD video and wireless headsets for those who somehow find boredom in the back seat of an Aston Martin.


    Thanks to those same rear seats, the luggage capacity of the Rapide isn't all that bad. Lift the manually-operated tailgate and access to the trunk is painless. A system of collapsible carpet-lined panels folds up and down to isolate cargo from passengers, if needed. We toted a roll-on bag, a computer bag and a camera backpack with space to spare. When more room is desired, the rear seats bow elegantly forward at the touch of a button to lie nearly flat. The space is generous, but don't think the Rapide is going to haul ripped bags of potting soil in this "cargo configuration" as there are yards of expensive leather left exposed and vulnerable. However, the Rapide will effortlessly bring home that priceless oversized framed Monet you purchased with pocket change at auction.

    Our test car wore a deep skin of Quantum Silver paint over Obsidian Black leather with contrasting red stitching. The wheels were finished in graphite, which really completed the package. As this was an early production model there was no window sticker in the glove box. However, Aston Martin has released pricing on the Rapide. The base MSRP of cars bound to the States is $199,950. Since our vehicle had several options (graphite wheels, Rapide logo in headrests, rear seat entertainment, etc...) it was likely touching $210,000.

    Pressing on the leading edge of the Rapide's flush-mounted exterior door handle exposes the lever to the rest of your hand. Pull, and the door opens – it's the same manner of gaining entry into a private jet. With the door swinging wide and high, climbing into the cabin isn't difficult. Our six-foot two-inch frame fits comfortably and with plenty of room to spare (we actually moved the seat forward a bit). The steering wheel adjusts manually with a lever underneath, while the various seat controls are mounted on each side of the center console. It takes less than a minute to get settled in the driver's bucket seat and the gorgeous scent of tanned leather is very strong.


    Front passengers sit low in the four-door, mirroring the driving position common to every other Aston Martin vehicle. In a rather coupe-like manner, arms and legs are outstretched forward, which is racy and aggressive but also comfortable. Although the rear window is very small, the exterior mirrors offer excellent coverage over the flanks when properly adjusted. Unapparent from the exterior, the view outward isn't particularly challenged.

    Rear passengers are faced with less comfortable accommodations – deliberately. That same determination that successfully maintained Aston Martin's sensual profile has applied the pressure to those in the second row. While the seating area is beautifully appointed, it is simply too small and claustrophobic for your average adult male. Without question, the Rapide offers more rear seat room than any other car in Aston Martin's history, but we know that's not saying much. However, thanks to that to-die-for styling, it willfully falls short of the competition. We barely fit back there. Instead, we chose to drive.

    Like all late-model Aston Martins, the Rapide features a crystal key that is slid into a central slot on the dash – it illuminates, the engine cranks over, and the key remains in place as a piece of glowing artwork on the console. With the starting ceremony complete, the V12 settles into a pleasant rumble. The transmission buttons reside on each side of the arty key. Release the electronic parking brake, press the "D" button, and the Rapide is ready to roll.


    Acceleration is strong, but not neck-snapping. Holding the Rapide's accelerator to the floor rewards passengers with 60 miles per hour in just under five seconds – robust, but a number that is no longer very impressive in this stratospheric segment. It is a world filled with forced induction competitors that exhibit immediate torque off idle, yet the Rapide's V12 breathes air at atmospheric pressure. In the real world, most won't care about the numbers as the sound emanating from the 6.0-liter twelve-cylinder engine sends chills decisively down each passenger's spine. The unhampered exhaust spouts gloriously from the twin pipes under throttle, and it burbles during downshifts. In other words, the Rapide offers a sensational bark, but a mid-pack bite.

    The Rapide doesn't drive as big as it looks (still, tight slaloms are best done wide to compensate for the added wheelbase). Notwithstanding, any sedan-like driving characteristics are left in the parking lot as the Rapide magically morphs into a coupe at speed and becomes truly enjoyable to command.

    We covered a couple hundred miles in the Rapide over the course of a day. It was raining most of the time (thank you, Florida), but sealed inside our leather-lined cocoon, we were isolated from everything nature had in store. The platform is remarkably solid, as if it had been CNC-milled from a forged ingot of titanium. Not only is the cabin completely free from squeaks and rattles, but triple-digit velocities allow only a whisper of wind noise to our ears (the window glass is laminated specifically to improve noise insulation).



    The paddle shifters, electronically triggering the six-speed automatic, are easy-to-use and very effective in operation. While it is not today's popular dual-clutch setup, the "Touchtronic 2" mated to the V12 cracks off quick shifts enjoyably and without drama. Even in fully automatic mode, we never found ourselves questioning its decisions.

    Straight-line speed is effortless in the Rapide, but so are the curves. Again, in coupe-like fashion, the Rapide dives right in without hesitation. Excellent chassis tuning, a responsive automatic damping system and optimal weight distribution make the four-door an absolute joy to toss around. Reigning in the inertia are overly capable brakes. Thanks to the weather, we couldn't find a surface with enough grip to put them to a vigorous test as ABS would stop our game well short of their true threshold. Still, their application was accurate and easy to modulate.

    We must mention the stereo as the Aston Martin Rapide has the best mobile audio system we have ever heard – hands down. Yes, it is standard equipment. Credit the Danish Bang & Olufsen team with engineering a 1,000-watt system that pumps auditory bliss out of 15 strategically-placed speakers throughout the cabin (the system is officially called the "1000 W BeoSound Rapide"). Not only does the custom setup include those two ultra-cool "Acoustic Lenses" that rise like dueling conductors out of the dashboard, but the electronics actually monitor each seatbelt to determine how many occupants are in the vehicle (and where they are sitting) so that the sound may be tailored perfectly within the cabin's acoustic chambers – now, that is cool. With our iPhone plugged into the system, we had Rush's Tom Sawyer blaring so loudly that you would have sworn Geddy Lee was wailing at us inches away, Alex Lifeson was strumming in the passenger seat and Neil Peart was hanging out in the rear hatch smashing a full complement of drums. Our ears rang for hours that night.



    We genuinely liked the Aston Martin Rapide, but it didn't leave us breathless. A peerless execution of a sedan cleverly disguised as a coupe – or arguably one of the best-looking sedans on the planet – the four-door isn't the sportiest within its niche (the Porsche Panamera takes that honor), or the most luxurious (the Maserati Quattroporte is more swank). However, neither of those cars would win even a first-round beauty contest against the Rapide. With that sole factor in mind, Aston Martin has successfully delivered its objective.

    On a level playing field, it is wrong to measure the Rapide against a Panamera or Quattroporte – Aston Martin's objective wasn't to dip into the rarefied sedan segment and skim sales from the Germans or Italians. This British automaker was seeking to offer its exclusive owners a four-passenger option, something it had never truly delivered. Today, an Aston Martin customer standing on a marble showroom floor looking for something a bit larger and more accommodating than a DB9 or DBS, yet with nearly identical driving dynamics, has a viable option. Without compromise, the pampered clientele will steer themselves towards the four-door Rapide.



    Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

    All-new luxury sedan perfect for a married James Bond.

    Introduction

    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. 

    Lineup

    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. 

    Walkaround

    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. 

    Interior

    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. 

    Driving Impression

    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. 

    Summary

    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. 

    Model Lineup

    Aston Martin Rapide ($199,950). 

    Assembled In

    Graz, Austria. 

    Options As Tested

    cooled front and rear seats ($1,595); twin-screen rear-seat entertainment system with 6-disc DVD player, auxiliary input, wireless headphones and remote control ($3,395); leather color contemporary ($750); carpet color contemporary ($450); exterior paint contemporary ($750); mahogany veneer ($750), matching wood door inserts ($750); silver brake calipers ($450); alarm upgrade ($295); first-aid kit ($145); smokers kit ($220). 

    Model Tested

    Aston Martin Rapide ($199,950). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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