Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why a car exists. Take the 2016 Aston Martin Rapide S, for example.
In fact, ever since this British brand’s first model was built in 1914 it has specialised in open-top or swoopy-roofed vehicles. It wasn’t until 1974 – 60 years after the first Aston Martin was built – that the company tried something other than a two-door production car.
The model that broke the drought was the Lagonda, an ungainly looking thing by today’s standards, but a sedan that was at the height of style for its time. This was around the same time the Leyland P76 came out, after all.
So why does a four-door, four-seat model exist?
According to Aston Martin, the aim for the car – which has been updated comprehensively for 2016 – is “to reassert its position as the world’s most beautiful, and beautifully balanced, four-seat sports car”.
That’s a big claim. Think of the other four-seat sports cars on the market: Porsche 911; Ferrari FF; Bentley Continental; Maserati Granturismo. All of those only have two doors. Then there are the four- (or five-) door rivals to consider: Audi RS6; Audi RS7; BMW M5; BMW M6; Mercedes-AMG CLS 63 S (Coupe and Shooting Brake); Porsche Panamera... The list goes on. And now there are even SUVs to contend with.
Look, we could pick apart the claimed purpose of the Aston Martin Rapide S all day, but the thing is that it has something that most – if not all – of those cars have. It’s that Aston Martin-ness.
It may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but there really is something awe-inspiring about the winged badge, the shapely grille and the swept headlights. From front-on, it’s so sleek it looks like a coupe, and the Ultramarine Black paintwork gleams in the sun… until you touch it, then it shows every filthy fingerprint.
Side-on gives the impression of a long coupe, and the small rear doors offer access to the extra bucket seats. The rear-end is reminiscent of the Vantage and Virage, with boomerang-style lights and a planted rear-end.
Does it look the price that Aston Martin is asking – $382,500 plus on-road costs? We’ll leave that up to you, but without being droll, there are A LOT of other luxurious four-seaters you can buy for that much cash. You could potentially buy a couple of them, even.
Back to the Aston…
Under that long bonnet – it’s long for a reason – is a 5.9-litre V12 petrol engine with 411kW of power (at 6650rpm) and 630Nm of torque (at 5500rpm).
However, the numbers are below what you may expect of such a big engine, especially at a time where turbocharging is seeing engines with much smaller capacities produce much more grunt.
But this is a tickled version of the 5.9-litre (which the brand insists on calling a 6.0-litre, much like Mercedes-AMG calls its 6.2-litre a 6.3L), and it's up in grunt numbers over the existing model. The previous version of the Rapide S had 410kW and 620Nm, and the figures are up significantly from the first version of the Rapide (before it was the S) that had 350kW/600Nm.
Further, it now sprints from 0-100km/h quicker than before, with a claimed time of 4.4 seconds (was 4.9sec originally).
Shifting gears is a rear mid-mounted eight-speed ‘Touchtronic III’ gearbox with shift-by-wire controls, which is accompanied by a set of paddleshifters mounted on the steering column. The Rapide S is rear-wheel drive, where competitors are increasingly moving to all-wheel drive to harness all the grunts.
But while rivals may have their windmilled, smaller-output engines that outdo the Aston Martin on paper in terms of power and torque and theoretically out-stick it with AWD, the Brit hits back with engine refinement, linearity and flexibility, and composed and balanced road manners that some of the all-paw force-fed fraternity simply can’t match.
Strong is too weak a word to describe the pulling power of the V12, which is buttery in the way it helps the car build speed. There is superb refinement, massive torque and an excellent linearity in the way the engine revs.
It can do so from ridiculously low in the rev range, too. At freeway speeds the Aston will cruise in eighth gear at just over 1200rpm, and if you’re in manual mode and leave it in top gear, the engine will haul you towards the horizon – almost from idle – without any hesitation.
Away from the dullness of the highway, though, is where the real fun can be had with the Aston Martin V12 engine. With eight gears at the engine’s disposal, you find yourself staying in the lower gears to make the most of the fun you can have (legally) on Australian roads. Let’s be honest, with a top speed of 327km/h, it’s hardly going to be driven at the limit.
As well as making the Rapide S brutally fast, the V12 sounds brilliant too. Sport mode is a must for the best aural experience, and after exploring the high-end of the rev range, you will find yourself wondering if there is a better noise than a V12 screaming towards 7500rpm.
The gearbox shifts between ratios rapidly and smoothly, which is a hard combination to get right. The paddleshifters – though poorly finished, with mis-cut leather – are brilliant in their trigger response.
The steering wheel itself moves around quite a bit in the driver’s hands, particularly over rough roads. That’s good and bad, in that it really lets you know what’s happening at the front axle through corners, but also the tiller can be shaken from your grip over mid-corner bumps.
Thankfully the grip at the front is bewildering on the right surface. Smooth surfaces aren’t as favourable as coarse-chip, believe it or not, as the 20-inch wheels coated in Bridgestone Potenza 245/35s up front and 295/30s at the rear offer better driver communication on the rougher surfaces.
The steering itself is sharp, precise and very involving. You can make intricate adjustments mid-way through corners and know exactly what to expect, and while it is a bit hefty around town, it’s still easy to park this 5020mm-long saloon.
The adaptive dampers have three modes – Normal, Sport and Track – and the difference is notable between the former two. We didn’t go on a track, so we left that ultra-firm setting un-used.
In Normal mode the suspension – which is double-wishbone in design at the front and the rear – is supple, compliant and comfortable in most situations. It even remains pretty well sorted over potholes, though you’re obviously best taking speedhumps at walking pace (or slower), as it’s quite low.
In Sport mode the dampers firm up, reacting more aggressively to changes of surface and transmitting lumps and bumps to the cabin. But it does feel sportier.
What was most surprising about the handling of the Aston Martin Rapide S is that – unlike some other sizeable super sedans – it shrinks around you. At a glance this is a car with an intimidating size and stance, but from the driver’s seat you soon find yourself pushing harder, trusting the grip at the front and the traction at the back.
The brakes, though, seemed to struggle a bit with the size of the car. The front 398mm discs with six-piston calipers and 360mm rear discs with four-piston calipers help pull the car up fine in normal driving, though in some instances we felt a little quicker initial brake response would be welcome.
The drive experience is one thing, but what about the accommodation?
Well, people expecting the ultimate in luxury for the price tag asked here will need to reassess their priorities.
There are elements of brilliance to the cabin – the beautiful quality leather trim on the doors, dashboard, quilted seats, console and even the quilted headlining makes this cabin feel like a palace on first impression.
But the Dark Knight interior theme doesn’t necessarily make the cabin feel cavernous – and despite being a four-seater, the space is poor for adults. Anyone taller than about 165cm will find their knees touching the seats in front, while those with wide hips will feel hemmed in, too. Tall occupants may also find their hair touching the headlining, and big-footed occupants will struggle to get in and out due to the high sills.
The rear seats get their own climate control zone and fan system, though, as well as seat heaters (along with the front seats). Up front, there’s a single-zone climate area.
Further, while there has been an update to the centre console, the pop-up media screen features a mapping and menu system identical to what you’ll find on the screen of a $99 stick-on system. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, though, as it is simple to use and quick to load.
Navigation aside, the media system – with its bespoke menu system – is easy to use through the rotary dial controller in the centre of piano black centre stack, while there is an array of buttons below to choose specific functions that run through the screen. And those buttons feature a funky little reverberation when you hit them, like a micro electric shock.
The controls take a little while to learn, and there are a few oddly placed controls, but they are easy to read and use, and you will find yourself learning them after just a few hours in the car. The cruise control system – which has steering wheel-mounted buttons that require you to hold the set speed down button to activate it – is a bit nonsensical.
Still, apart from the paddleshifters, there’s a really solid feel to the cabin fit and finish, particularly the magnetised console bin lids and the magnetic rear grab handles.
From a practicality standpoint there is limited cup and bottle storage, and the door pockets are slim. The centre console up front houses twin USB inputs, and it’s big enough for a wallet and large smartphone, too, which can be hooked up via cord or Bluetooth, with call and audio streaming standard. The rear centre console is where you can hide the remote control and headphones for the integrated entertainment system for those in the back.
There’s a DVD player in the boot, and the load space itself is on the narrow side, but has a clever fold-down divider, and the rear seatbacks can be flipped down if required.
There are shortcomings in terms of safety, too – Aston Martin doesn’t have the same nannies that the big names boast. There is no radar cruise control, no lane keeping assistance, no blind-spot assistance, no forward collision warning or auto-braking.
There is a reverse-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and the airbag count is passable (dual front, front side and full-length curtains).
Look, when it comes down to it, if you can afford an Aston Martin Rapide S and you want one, you’ll probably buy one. And there are good reasons to do so, as this review has made clear.
But with so many high-performance luxury four-seaters on the market right now, and with the packaging of this particular model lacking some thought, it would be advised that you shop around if this is just one of the cars you’re considering.
Or maybe just buy an Aston Martin two-door.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Christian Barbeitos.