ASTON MARTIN RAPIDE REVISITED
Chris-R casts a curious eye over Aston's latest four door
I went to look at one the other day and had a friendly chat with the owner as to whether rarity should confer greater value on it than the sum (and condition) of its oddly multiplied parts. Sadly we disagreed, so although sorely tempted, I was spared having to explain another dubious acquisition to a sceptical missus-R.
But my brush with the Hustler did leave me wondering why it is that so many automotive novelties remain just that, in spite of an often obvious 'schoolboy' appeal. Most people don't share my latent enthusiasm for 'amphibians' either, although who could argue with the premise of a car that drives on water?
The Rapide may not share its angular ancestor's radical concept car styling, but the fundamental philosophy is perhaps even more idiosyncratic; the new model arriving to fill a previously unnoticed niche in the market place for a genuine four-door sports car. So how did everybody miss that one for the last 100-odd years?
There's no doubt it's a beautiful car in the metal - a low, swoopy, exotically surfaced machine that is about as close to an automotive sculpture as you'll find in production, especially in our test car's 'hewn-from-metal' grey. Is it as beautiful as the DB9 coupe from which it has been developed though? Well, that's a tough call, but I'd say the Rapide seems a teeny bit more contemporary at least, with the extended side strake and crisply drawn doorlines adding a dash of dynamism to that extended side profile.
One reason the Rapide looks so stunning, of course, is that it's all so close to the ground. We parked it next to our Jaguar XFR and the usually sleek saloon 'bulked up' noticeably in the Aston's presence. This lowness is accentuated by the Aston's significant 5m length, but there's no issue with proportion - the Rapide just looks 'right'.
The trade-off for all this wanton design comes on the inside which is less-than Tardis-like. I'm an unusually large specimen at 6'4", but there's a big floor-to-ceiling central pillar that you don't find on a DB9 and I suspect the front doors are a tad shorter, too. With the seat all the way back, and the wheel fully extended, it became a bit of a chore to get in and out. I wouldn't have minded straining to get into a 'traditional' supercar or coupe so much - it comes with the territory - but isn't the point of four doors to increase the practicality, not lessen it? I sat in the back seat briefly just to prove I could, whereas PHers Garlick and Stuart claimed to fit comfortably and both reckoned they could have lasted an hour or so before claustrophobia or the need to stretch set in.
The luggage area under the rear hatch is interesting too, with fold flat rear seatbacks and an extendable floor to cover both them and the rear centre console. Thus equipped, the Rapide offers a significant amount of load space - at least for an exotic 2+2, if not for a 5m saloon. (Somehow I can't bring myself to refer to an Aston as a hatchback.)
Once out on the road, the Rapide genuinely offers performance worthy of the Aston brand. Its low centre of gravity means the car corner will corner hard and fast, and with very little body roll. There's a sport mode for the damping, but it takes the edge off an otherwise superbly supple ride and seems a little out of kilter with the four-door concept. The steering is direct and well weighted, and the six-speed auto transmission changes swiftly and smoothly in auto or paddle-shift manual modes. You can read more about the driving experience here, which next to the styling is the Rapide's strongest suit. The Aston V12 sounds glorious when extended, too.
Don't get me wrong, I think this is a fabulous car that looks terrific, drives superbly and drips with exclusivity. But I don't expect to see many Rapides travelling 'four up', and I can't help but wonder whether the limited extra practicality it offers over a 2+2 will really add up to proper raison d'etre once the novelty has worn off.