This newly improved four-door flagship is even faster and nimbler now
Rapide Transit PHOTO: TORQUE

It’s been three years since I drove the original Rapide – an “extension” of Aston Martin’s DB9/DBS model range rather than a standalone supersaloon, so it’s not meant to be a post-modern Lagonda. Now there’s a revised Rapide with cosmetic tweaks and hardware upgrades. It’s simply called Rapide S.

The most obvious styling change is to the front end, which looks more aggressive thanks to the enlarged, “one-mouth” grille with the registration plate mounted directly on it. The bigger grille provides additional cooling air for the engine, too. To comply with current pedestrianprotection
regulations, there are some detail changes to the front bumper area, but these were incorporated without affecting the car’s visage. At the rear, there’s a more pronounced “ducktail” to increase downforce for greater aerodynamic stability at speed. The rest of the Rapide’s sheet metal is unchanged.

It still looks like a long-wheelbase coupe, in keeping with the original concept espoused by Aston Martin’s CEO Dr Ulrich Bez – that the Rapide is not a four-door Aston limousine, but a four-seater Aston coupe with excellent rear-seat access.

Under the bonnet and placed 19mm lower than before is a racing-derived V12 called AM11 Gen 4, introduced in the Vanquish late last year. Badged as a “6.0” but with a capacity closer to 5.9 litres, the 12-cylinder boasts significantly more power than its predecessor – 558bhp versus 477bhp, an almost 17 percent hike. Torque is up by 20Nm to 620Nm, but the mid-range is punchier now thanks to 50Nm more twisting force being available at 2500rpm.

One of the main factors bumping up the torque is the higher compression ratio (11:1 instead of 10.9:1). A new knock-sensor system allows the ignition timing to be advanced aggressively, thereby improving
throttle response at low engine speeds. Delivering the torque and power to the rear wheels, via a limited-slip differential, is an updated version of the reliable, rearmounted 6-speed ZF torque-converter automatic in the “non-S” Rapide.

The Rapide S sprints from a standstill to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds – even faster than the preceding model (which does it in 5.2 seconds), yet with CO2 emission cut by around six per cent and average fuel
consumption reduced by around seven per cent. Admittedly, these are marginal gains, but Aston engineers achieved them without downsizing or turbocharging the V12 powerplant.

What an engine – very energetic, with a very real soundtrack that doesn’t employ any sound generator/synthesiser. Each snarl and every roar come to you “live” from the intake and exhaust, and they sound even “livelier” with the windows down. This V12 is ultimately less loud and less ferocious than the one in the Vanquish, but it’s still a proper Aston motor, with attitude.

The proven ZF 6-speeder works brilliantly – suffi ciently quick with its
gearshifts to impart a sporty flavour, yet silky smooth during normal motoring/parking. Its kickdown response is most impressive during overtaking manoeuvres, and “hands-on” manual control is virtually as masterful as that of a supercar dual-clutch.

On the challenging serpentine roads around the Pyrenees mountains north of Barcelona, which seem more suited to the Vanquish, the Rapide S is up to the task. With its three-stage adaptive damping switched to Track (which gives better body control than Sport without being too stiff), the nearly two-tonne Aston tackles the twisty stretches of tarmac like a spirited 1500kg sports car.

Because the Rapide S is long (just over five metres) rather than wide, it “fits” the tight mountainside switchbacks, allowing me to carve out a racing line instead of merely following the curve of the road. The grip from the 20-inch Bridgestone Potenza S001s is phenomenal, and I need to
purposely provoke them to loosen their bite on the tarmac. And when they do, the electronic nanny (which stays out of the way otherwise)
intervenes to put things right. Progress in this car is always fast and safe.
Nestled within the tyre rims are steel Brembo brakes, measuring 398mm in the front (with 6-piston monoblock callipers) and 360mm in the rear (with 4-piston monoblock callipers). These combine great stopping stamina with superb linearity, and are better calibrated than some of the snatchy carbon-ceramic brake systems out there.

Inside the Rapide, which is essentially an extended-wheelbase DB9 underneath, the accommodation for the driver and co-driver is very good, but less so for the rear occupants. However, German seat specialist Recaro has been helpful by designing asymmetric back-seat skeletons that maximise the room “gobbled up” by the large transaxle tunnel. A six-footer might be able to sit behind, but he cannot exactly stretch his arms and legs. The individual Recaros are supportive enough, but after half an hour seated in the back while the Rapide S is speeding along, the lack of personal space might get to you.

The rest of the cabin is similar to the DB9, but it can be customised through Aston Martin’s Q personalisation programme. It lets the buyer specify his preferred colours, materials and details, so his Rapide S will be
special through and through.

Even in its standard form without fancy options that push the sticker price even higher, the Aston flagship is already deeply impressive. Watch out, Porsche Panamera Turbo.