The latest Aston Martin Rapide S saloon gets a thorough underbody going over. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Aston Martin Rapide S is powered by a fantastic 6.0-litre V12 powerplant and now backs that up with the fitment of a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, retuned suspension, bigger brakes and retuned electronics. Make no mistake, Aston has dialled up the sportiness quite markedly.
Aston Martin's top brass, if they were allowed a moment of unfiltered candour, would probably admit they got the Rapide wrong. Upon launch, the company claimed that it was a luxury limousine with sporting ability when required, but the truth of the matter was that there's just not enough space in the back seats for this car to measure up against luxury saloons. It was a sports car trying to be something it wasn't. And in this division, a sports car - whether it has two doors or four - needs proper power and presence. Aston delivered with the restyled Rapide S in 2013 but the company has gone much further now. With a whole host of engineering upgrades, the Rapide S really finds its stride. It's still small in the back, but now punches above its weight in other dynamic regards.
The 2013 update that turned Rapide into Rapide S wrung another 81PS out of the 5935cc V12, lifting peak power to 558PS at 5,750rpm. That endowed the big Aston the sort of pace to mix it with the real powerhouses of the division and the latest changes harness that power more effectively. In comes ZF's eight speed 8HP automatic gearbox, widely regarded as the best automatic transmission money can buy. Gearbox software changes make for a truly comprehensive selection of available driving features such as 'Drive' and 'Drive Sport' modes along with 'Paddle Shift' and 'Paddle Shift Sport' options for more engaging, sporting, shift control. The Rapide S also gets the latest Bosch Engine Management System, while a revised torque tube reduces transmission noise. The stability control has been retuned to suit the power deployment of the gearbox and the steering ECU has been tweaked to result in a more precise steering response. There are also uprated front brakes, a retuned brake booster and amended rear suspension bushes that are now 20 per cent stiffer than before. The Rapide S is still a serious performer, getting to 62mph in 4.4 seconds and it'll keep going to a breathtaking 203mph.
Design and Build
The Rapide S is an undeniably handsome thing and the latest car gets a few detail changes to keep it looking fresh. Outside there's the arrival of ten-spoke forged alloy wheel designs, available in a variety of finishes, that save almost seven kilos in weight. There are also new paint colour options including Diavalo Red, previously limited to the showstopping V12 Zagato. Inside, the cars get revised leather trim colour options including the blue-black Dark Knight, and bold Fandango Pink. There's also the option of a Duotone leather seat finish in Sahara Tan and Vibrant Red, as well as a range of headlining options that mix quilting with the finest leathers or Alcantara. One thing that hasn't significantly changed is the amount of space inside the car. A six footer sitting behind another will have trouble slotting in without sitting splay-kneed. Additional practicality is delivered by the two rear seats now folding flat at the touch of a button.
Market and Model
It's hard to know where to begin with the equipment included with the Rapide S. Clearly you'd be within your rights to expect a decent amount of gear when paying this much but there really is a lot to take in. As standard the car's finished with the usual leather chairs and walnut fascia trim, parking sensors, cruise control, memory seats and powerfold door mirrors. Then it gets interesting. The Bang and Olufsen 1000W stereo isn't going to leave you wanting. There's iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, USB and AUX-in, a tracking device, satellite navigation, a boot-mounted umbrella and a glass key to start the car. Options include diamond-turned 20-inch alloys, the carbon exterior and piano black interior packages, semi-aniline leather upholstery, a twin-screen rear seat entertainment pack, a colour-keyed steering wheel and alternative brake calliper paint finishes. With a few options added, it's likely that most cars will roll out of dealerships costing in the region of £160 - £170,000 which stacks up competitively against the likes of the Ferrari FF and the Bentley Continental GT Speed.
Cost of Ownership
By any objective measure the Aston Martin Rapide is extremely expensive to run. It's hard to know just where to start when cataloguing the costs. Depreciation is the big ticket item and at the moment there aren't any big four-seater cars that hold onto their value particularly well so that's no particular slur on the Aston. Nevertheless, you can expect your new Aston Martin to drop around £65k in value over 24 months of ownership. Fuel economy has improved with the fitment of the ZF transmission. Fuel economy rises from a faintly embarrassing 19.9mpg on the combined cycle to a more respectable 21.9mpg. Emissions improve in turn, with carbon dioxide output dropping from 332g/km to a round 300g/km. Insurance is a top of the shop group 50.
Some might argue that Aston Martin has spent a lot of money improving the one part of the Rapide S that few had any real complaints about, namely the dynamics. That's as maybe, but so good is the ZF eight-speed transmission that it would be an asset to virtually any car and it has the allied benefit of improving fuel economy and therefore range, a handy commodity in any car with grand touring pretensions. Most of all this signals a tacit admission on Aston Martins part that the Rapide model needed to change its focus. It's not a natural rival for the big supersaloons. The basic architecture of the vehicle means it's too small in the back for that. Instead, it's now being positioned as a sports coupe with occasional rear seat versatility. It's taken a long time to wriggle into that niche, but in latest Rapide S guise, it looks a car that's a good deal more comfortable in its own skin.