The Aston Martin Rapide S is a fine example of how the British luxury car maker likes to confuse the critics – insisting this more powerful new boy is the coup de grace to the old 2010 Rapide, while offering up a design that is almost indistinguishable from the original.
It’s a funny old corner Aston Martin has painted itself into: lauded for creating some of the most startlingly beautiful cars on the road, yet continuously censured for failing to alter that very design.
So while the Aston Martin Rapide S represents a much sharper instrument than its predecessor at essentially the same price (AU$370,800), there’s no doubt the faultfinders will once again decry the lack of evolutionary DNA built into this revised edition.
It seems Aston Martin likes it this way.
Its Rapide has consistently won the beauty pageant – diminishing quicker rivals like the Porsche Panamera Turbo and Ferrari FF by making them look, well, comparatively clunky. Woes betide those naysayers who would want Aston to tinker too far with something so breathtakingly elegant.
Yet subtle aesthetic changes have been made to the latest iteration of Aston’s most luxurious model and while they’re scarcely more than the usual nip and tuck of a mid-life update, the effect is nonetheless dramatic.
The Rapide S boasts a much bigger one-piece grille, which looks to have been influenced by Aston’s limited edition V12 Zagato with its similarly prominent mouth.
And while there are obvious cooling benefits from this design, it’s also a move by the Brit carmaker to further differentiate between the company’s four model lines.
It’s definitely a more imposing look (all the better for it), as is the new ducktail-style boot lid, but apart from a new set of lightweight forged alloy wheels and some extra carbonfibre bits, bodywork remains largely unchanged from the outgoing Rapide.
The interior of the Rapide S sadly misses out on the more contemporary craftsmanship of Aston’s range-topping Vanquish, although it does look good all the same.
Up front, it’s difficult to find a more in-touch driving position. The front pews are plunged deep into the car, while the uncluttered sports steering wheel follows suit.
But it’s not all good news. Despite a five-metre length, rear seat knee room still comes at the expense of that sleek sports car exterior design – only tolerable for about an hour per journey despite a highly comfortable seat design.
The Rapide S is hardly the most elegant thing to get in and out of, either. The rear doors are on the small-ish side, and the aperture is smaller still. This could be due to the fact that despite its four doors, the Rapide S is technically a five-door hatch, complete with folding rear seats that reveal a flat cargo floor.
As always with Aston Martin’s new iterations, the real forward leap is found under the bonnet - and the ‘S’ in the new Rapide’s nameplate denotes a big boost in power from its V12 engine.
The 6.0-litre powerplant has been heavily re-engineered to create the new AM11 engine. About the only thing it shares with the old unit is bore and stroke; pretty much everything else is new.
It’s also cleaner and more economical, although buyers will likely be a tad more interested in the jump from 350kW to 410kW than fuel consumption gains.
Thanks to a fatter and flatter torque curve, there’s more low-down response from the engine, especially evident when loading up the throttle when exiting corners.
There’s an extra 40Nm between idle and 4000rpm and an additional 50Nm of twist on tap at 2500rpm – accompanied by even more of that intoxicating Aston V12 engine noise as it erupts from 3500rpm.
Now, where’s that tunnel, again?
You’ll need to watch the rev-counter, too, or the Rapide S will spin up to 6750rpm and before you know it you’ll be bouncing off the rev-limiter - far too busy listening to that glorious engine note to shift up in time.
But even with the extra thrust on offer, flat-to-the-floor acceleration still lacks that killer punch you get with the lighter Vanquish, or forced-induction (supercharged or turbocharged) rivals.
It clearly doesn’t hang about, mind, but ultimately its weight trades brutal acceleration for a creamy-smooth power delivery that’s easily managed.
The six-speed automatic is likewise smooth and refined, but when you’re really going for it you’ll need to hit the Sport button for punchier upshifts.
On our mission across the wonderfully windy roads of our northern Spain test route, use of the paddle shifters was all but mandatory for the Rapide S - especially when accompanied by such delicious, bark-like throttle-blips on the rapid-fire downshifts.
Aston has seen fit to further sharpen the Rapide’s dynamic qualities. Already wonderfully responsive and beautifully balanced in the original, it’s even better now.
The steering is still cat-like quick and there’s even more feedback through the steering wheel, if that’s possible.
It might be billed as a four-door GT car, but make no mistake, the Rapide S is capable of threading endless mountain curves together at supercar pace and without a single momentary loss of traction, at least in the dry.
It feels more planted and significantly more composed under high-speed, late-braking situations. Put that down to the Rapide’s lower centre of gravity and uprated adaptive damping system.
Its 6.0-litre V12 has been pushed deeper into the engine bay for better crash deformation and engineers have reworked the Bilstein dampers.
The Rapide S also adds a third ‘Track’ mode to the car’s adaptive damping system and the collective results are indeed impressive.
Its ride/handling balance is just about perfect and a big improvement over the latest Aston Martin DB9 we recently drove in Miami, which had an infinitely firmer ride.
With the suspension set in the default regular mode, the ride comfort is exceptional, with the car ironing out the worst of compressions, while at the same time remaining rock solid and composed.
Even the cobblestoned entrance to our accommodation was largely soaked-up with ample compliance as to remain comfortable.
You would need to be moving at an almighty rate to warrant a switch to the ‘Sport’, let alone ‘Track’ mode, so for most of us there will be simply no need to go beyond the standard setting.
So the Aston Martin Rapide has been improved, but it's still best not to think of it as a four-door GT.
Think of it as a beautifully styled, fast and precisely honed sports car that just happens to have room for the kids and their school backpacks.