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Day 2 – Collect a spanking new Rapide from the City of Arts and Sciences and drive north to the picturesque mountain village of Alcudia del Veo
Photos - Nick Dimbleby & David Shepherd
I’m not sure what’s going on, but this is the second time my driving partner from South Africa’s Top Car Magazine has ended up behind the wheel for the first stage of a drive route.
What’s even more frustrating, is the fact that this lovely chap from Cape Town seems to get all the best roads to drive, which are miraculously devoid of any traffic whatsoever. I mean not a single car!
But almost without fail, I either attract too much freeway driving and not enough of the twisty stuff, or worse still, an impossibly slow tourist in front of the Aston Martin Rapide along one of the best sections of road in the world.
Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem if you happened to be in a 1.3-litre Fiat 500, but it’s a whole different story if your piloting a new V12 Aston Martin with 470 bhp (350 kW) and a weapons grade 600 Newton-metres of chassis twisting torque.
But first thing’s first, and breakfast at Valencia’s famous Central Market is a must if you’re visiting this wonderfully vibrant city.
However good your own markets are in whatever city you hail from, I doubt they’ll compare with this virtual “city of epicurian delights” in downtown Valencia.
There’s just so much to choose from, that it’s simply overwhelming. Hundreds and hundreds of permanently fixed stores selling the freshest fruit, bread, pastries and Jambon, only to be washed down with some of the sweetest fresh-squeezed orange juice you’re ever likely to taste in your lifetime here on earth.
And while I could write another ten pages describing what style Jambon to have with which type of bread and cheese, there’s a fleet of freshly polished Aston Martin Rapides sitting below the equally spectacular City of Arts and Sciences building.
While Sydney’s iconic Opera House may have been the centre of attention for over thirty years, when it came to enthralling architecture, Valencia-born Santiago Calatrava has created some truly spectacular buildings, which look more like the lost city of Atlantis, than an arts centre.
The underground car park below this creation feels like a clandestine set from a James Bond film, complete with our own ‘Q’ to run through the car’s features prior to us tackling our covert mission en route to the magnificent Campo Anibal country restaurant.
I’ve also ended up with one of the prized Aston Martin grocery baskets full of left over Brie (a regrettable decision in the end) and Jambon, along with our own bags and camera gear.
Of course, space for that sort of gear isn’t an issue with the Rapide, as there’s a stack of room behind the rear seats.
Collapse the rear seats though, and the load area more than doubles to a spacious 886-litres.
Even under poor light, the four-door Rapide is a beautiful form, with the two extra doors almost hidden in the overall shape of the car.
Marek Reichmann and his design team have done well to create a sports car with room enough for four adults and their luggage, without upsetting that unique design DNA that makes up that instantly recogniseable form, that is Aston Martin.
After weeks of sunshine and balmy temperatures in Valencia, or so we are told, this was going to be a cold and rainy journey, with several light snowfalls forecast.
These are not ideal driving conditions for a high-powered, rear wheel drive sports car, but no one around here seems to be complaining.
The specially designed front seat Recaros are beautifully supple and very supportive, with plenty of side bolster to hold one in place during some quick driving, despite the slippery conditions.
The combination of hand stitched leathers, Alcantara headliner, and superb metal switchgear, is what separates Aston Martin from its closest rivals.
If Savile Row were charged with the design of a luxury car’s interior space, it would probably be no different to what Aston Martin provides in each and every one of their hand-crafted sports cars.
The Rapide is much less a four-door car, than it is a proper sports car, which is why I’m sitting particularly low down in the car, but with plenty of vision over the forward dashboard.
Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez, was typically passionate in his simple explanation of a four-door sports car, when he said, “sports car design is not defined by the number of doors, but rather how you feel in the car, how low you sit, the power...”
We’re traveling at high-speed with the left hand needle pushing north of 220km/h and the ride quality and comfort is surprisingly good. The car also feels beautifully poised on the road, and even at this speed the Rapide feels like it's out for aleisurely morning stroll.
It’s a pity we weren’t on an unrestricted German Autobahn, as both of said that we’d be quite comfortable settling in to a 270km/h cruise mode, regardless of the rain.
There’s also a complete absence of wind noise through the front quarter window area, something affecting many high performance sports cars at this speed, including previous Aston Martins.
That’s quite achievement and clearly demonstrates the attention to detail and problem solving by the technical team at Gaydon, who have developed a specially designed front quarter window which employs a small cam, which drives the triple side window setup further upwards for a total seal.
Not only that, the side glass is laminated, which reduces cabin noise by up to 50 percent.
Even in the front passenger seat, I can feel how precise the car is on the road. My drive partner is certainly not making it any easier for me, with the incessant praise of the steering ratio and how planted the Rapide feels .
My turn behind the wheel will come soon enough, but for now, my job is to navigate without getting us lost, and that’s quite a feat for me.
As usual, Pierre has as at least 30 kilometres of twisty mountain roads ahead of him, and although it’s starting to snow, the pace has just got decidedly quicker.
Despite carrying considerable speed into the corners, there is barely a need to move your hands off the trade 9pm-3pm position on the steering wheel and the weight seems perfect, if not, better than the DB9.
Regardless of the four-doors, the Rapide feels more precise like than its 2+2 siblings, and for good reason. The steering rack ratio has been tightened with a 15:1 ratio as opposed to 16:1 on the DB9 and the difference means a slightly quicker pace through the bendy sections.
And after a brief espresso and pastry stop in a local village, it’s my turn in the drive’s seat as we push on north towards Campo Anibal.
Pierre’s right, this doesn’t feel like any four-door car I’ve ever driven, in fact, I’ve already forgotten about the two rear seats in the back as we set the pace for this next leg of the journey.
There’s a an awful lot of torque finding its way down the rear tyres, so you’ve got to be ever so gentle with the throttle out of the frequent blind corners in these wet and slippery conditions.
Nonetheless, on a couple of occasions I let enthusiasm get the better of me, but no cause for alarm, as the Rapide is a very easy to catch when the rear end decides to slip.
I can’t get over how precise the steering is, it's an absolute treat and already I’m dreading the end of today’s drive program and having to climb out of the driver’s seat, or worse still, hand back to Pierre.
These kind of mountain roads demand the use of paddle shifters rather than the more relaxed auto mode on the Touchtronic 2 six-speed gearbox, as well as the stiffer damper setting and sport shift setting, which dramatically changes the cars response rates.
Clearly, we haven’t had the best conditions to fully exploit the car’s capability, but I'm already thinking that the Rapide may well be one of Aston Martin’s all time cars.
Day 3 – means some time lengthy time in rear seats and some quicker freeway driving.
Yes, sadly, it’s still raining in Valencia.