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Photos Nick Dimbleby (the good shots)& Anthony Crawford
Day 3 - Drive to Lladro factory then south to the Albufera Lake area where rice is grown for Paella (pronounced Pa-ya), Spain’s national dish
Even in the wet the Rapide proved it is was every bit the high-performance sports car that Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez, had promised.
Acceleration, handling and brakes, it's all there and it's all top notch, but the Rapide is as much about a lifestyle as it as about outright performance.
Fortunately, the rain had stopped for a while, which meant dry roads and finally an opportunity to unleash the power of the V12 without fear of the rear end loosing traction, as was the case several times during our mountain route in the rain and snow on the previous day.
Better still, it was my turn in the driver’s seat and despite carrying two additional passengers, I had no intention of backing off on the throttle, given the mostly dry road conditions.
But first thing’s first. Aston Martin’s communications team had organized a special tour of the Lladro factory, world famous for their unique hand made porcelain figurines and one of Spain’s most iconic brands.
There are few objects in the world today, which qualify as properly hand made, an Aston Martin is one such object and porcelain figurines by Lladro is another. Certainly both companies share the same kind of detailed craftsmenship required to create their respective forms.
I don’t know how many pieces are made in the Valencia factory each year, but it's many thousands and all are individually hand made down to a minute flower petal or a single finger, which can be less than one centimeter long.
It’s that same bespoke build process that separates Aston Martin from rival sports car manufacturers such as Porsche.
To put that into perspective, Porsche builds over fifty thousand cars per annum, which in terms of giants such as Toyota and Hyundai, is still relatively low volume, but certainly not hand made
Aston Martin on the other hand, will produce only its 50,000
car this year since the company began life in 1914 in a small London garage.
And yet despite the thoroughly modern facilities at both Gaydon and Gratz in Austria, where the Rapide is built, Aston Martin still hand build their cars, with only 2000 of this particular model planned each year.
But it might take a little time for passengers to get used to a four door Aston Martin, and that includes a few of Aston’s own employees.
One particular staffer, who was riding with us on the final day of the launch, became puzzled when I didn’t open my door to allow her access to the rear seat. She tapped on my window several times, summoning me to open the front door, until I politely pointed to the rear door.
Put that confusion down to the almost perfect form of the Rapide, you just don’t notice that the car has two extra doors.
And while they might look small and unfriendly, the opposite is in fact true.
Like all current Aston Martin models, the doors open upwards or swan like, thereby reducing the aperture required for easy ingress and egress.
And unlike most other car manufacturers, each door is supported by an individual strut, meaning the door can be opened on an incline or decline and will hold in any open position you require.
To be perfectly honest, I was a little dubious of the rear seats myself, “would there be enough room back there for a couple of adults and how long could one survive a trip back there?”
Long enough and comfortable enough, is the short answer. My passenger and I spent two hours being chauffeured around in the back of the Rapide, with no nasty side effects.
There really is plenty of room back there, and the individually designed pews are exceptionally comfortable and easy on the back.
Moreover I was pleasantly surprised by the extent of leg and headroom. It’s sufficient enough to provide a comfortable ride for those just above 190 centimetres.
But it’s more the feeling of space and overall vision from the rear seats that surprised me most about the Rapide. Not once, during my two-hour trip did I feel 'squeezed in' or in any way constrained, despite thinking otherwise before climbing aboard.
The reason for this sense of personal liberty in the rear seat is the clever shape of the seats, and large pillarless side window design. There’s also plenty of elbowroom with the centre console continuing from front to back, complete with mandatory twin cup-holders.
There’s also an airline style rear seat pocket, which I used to relive my jeans of wallet and iPhone, particularly useful on those longer trips.
No point in building a four door Aston Martin without sufficient luggage space for all passengers. That might include golf clubs or travel bags.
The Rapide has plenty of space behind the rear seats for all that and more, which is easily accessible to passengers in those seats, without the need to stop the car and retrieve such goods via the rear hatch.
As a rear seat passenger in the Rapide you sit every bit as deep in the car as those up front do. Its all part of that sports car experience, so once the roads were dry, our driver must have forgotten that he had two passengers on board, as we quickly hit 230km/h into a sweeping bend (not considered particularly quick on European motorways) with complete lateral support.
The Aston Martin Rapide maybe a no compromise sports car of stunningly beautiful proportions, but let me assure you, it’s also a four-door passenger car, which even the Queen of England might find acceptable.
Marek Riechmann and his design team have pulled it off, big time. They have created a four-door high performance and luxurious sports car with 100 percent Aston Martin DNA, and a superb chassis with super sharp response rates. Unbelievably, the Rapide feels more nimble than its DB9 sibling (and that's with the Sports Pack option).