Aston Martin is one of those brands that ooze with nearly unquestionable appeal. The company's cars look great, sound great, have all the prestige and provenance you could want, and just happen to have a long history of being driven by one of the suavest men in movie history. That your average Aston Martin is typically more expensive and slower than its closest competition rarely factors into the discussion -- it's all about the experience.
Many experiences are heightened by the proximity of loved ones, and so, the more the merrier, right? Thus the idea of a four-door, four-seat Aston Martin. It's been tried numerous times through the decades, most recently with the Rapide. Based on the DB9, the original Rapide launched in 2010 to fair reviews and underwhelming sales. It looked nice and handled well enough for a four-door, but to find true success Aston would need to develop a car good enough to drop that qualifier.
And that's what it's attempting to do with the Rapide S. While that extra letter sounds like a sporty options package, the Rapide S actually replaces the original model, offering a small suite of remarkably effective upgrades. It's better-looking, faster, more powerful, and, get this, $10,000 cheaper than the outgoing version, starting at $199,950. Sadly, though, it isn't much smarter on the inside.
The revision list
From a distance, the new Rapide S looks nigh-on identical to its predecessor, with a low roof and steeply raked windshield that tapers into a long, long hood. You have to look a little farther forward to find the major visual refresh. The trademark Aston Martin grille now stands undisturbed, lacking the bumper that tragically split the nose on the old Rapide. That one change, plus a subtle new front spoiler, makes a world of difference -- like popping the orthodontics from a supermodel.
Mild but important changes were made behind the nose, too. The 6.0-liter V-12 is now situated 90 millimeters lower between the front wheels and is up 80 horsepower to a healthy 550. This drops the zero-to-60 time down to 4.9 seconds and brings the top speed to 190 miles per hour. That makes this one of the fastest four-doors on the planet -- and one of the sweetest-sounding, too. However, it's certainly not one of the most efficient, with a 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway EPA rating. We averaged 14 during our time with the car.
That motor is connected to the same ZF six-speed automatic transmission as before, but it's been recalibrated to provide more comfort in comfort mode and more sportiness in sport mode. As before, there are paddle shifters behind the wheel, but neither full manual nor double-clutch gearboxes are available. It's auto all the way.
Finally, there's the new adjustable suspension, made by Bilstein and borrowed from the Vanquish. With the press of a dedicated button situated down low in the center console, drivers can toggle between comfort, sport, and (with a long press) track modes. The car gets progressively stiffer with each one, of course, but there's a lot more to it than that. An accelerometer buried somewhere beneath the sheet metal detects the movement of the car and that, plus driver input and suspension compression, feeds a system that dynamically and independently adjusts each corner of the car.
On the road
The Rapide S starts up the same way as other modern Astons, with a crystal key that must be inserted into a privileged slot in the center of the dashboard. Push and hold it and all 12 cylinders spring into action, emitting a brief but punchy roar. This is a great way shake off any lingering drowsiness in the morning, but be warned that it will have the same effect on your neighbors. It's a nice ritual with a nice reward, but slotting the spring-loaded key into the dash eventually becomes a bit of a chore, especially if you're used to cars with keyless ignitions.
The transmission defaults to fully automatic out of the driveway, but a tap on either shifting paddle hands control over to you. To switch back into auto just hit the big "D" button on the dashboard. In comfort, the transmission is generally smooth and, yes, comfortable, but it does lurch a bit occasionally when pulling away from a dead stop. In sport it's a different beast, holding gears all the way up to redline and rev-matching when dropping a gear. It doesn't offer anywhere near the razor-sharp precision of a double-clutch box, nor of course the simple joy of rowing your own. It's competent, and I'll leave it at that.
I can, however, be rather more enthusiastic about the motor. It's an engine that likes to be revved, not coming into full song until you're into the upper half of the 8,000rpm tachometer. 550 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds of torque are the sorts of numbers that you'd think would make for a brute of a car, but they're delivered here smoothly and with precision. Hard launches are more or less out of the question, thanks largely to the lack of clutch pedal and launch control. This is a car that seems happier to roar its way through the revs and, believe it or not, around the corners, too.
For a 4,300-pound car, the Rapide S is a remarkably good handler. Lowering the massive motor by 90mm has helped to bring the center of gravity to a position just above the wheel hubs. That lump was also shifted as far back as possible under the hood to deliver a near-perfect 49/51 front/rear weight balance. These help, but it's the new Bilstein suspension that truly works wonders.
I've driven dozens of cars with adaptive suspensions, many amounting to little more than lights on the dashboard. Typically you hit a button on these systems and then struggle to feel any real difference. Not so here. Cruising down the highway, clunking over expansion joint after expansion joint, the Rapide S in comfort mode is supremely cosseting. We're not talking Bentley levels of isolation, but this is definitely the kind of car that is eminently capable of sucking down huge stretches of highway without you feeling remotely put out.
When things get twistier this mode starts to feel more wallowy -- not exactly sluggish, but not exactly precise, either. Sport mode is an improvement, but I found myself going straight to the track mode most of the time. Hold the suspension button down and you get the stiffest setting of the bunch, one that is, believe it or not, actually well suited for track duty. I spent a day in a Rapide S at the Atlanta Motorsports Park, a twisty little circuit better suited for Atoms than Astons, and it did remarkably well.