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The Aston Martin Rapide represents the ultimate four-door sports car in the world.
What better way to find out if Aston Martin's Rapide is all that it claims to be, than a drive from Sydney to Brisbane.
In Love's Labours Lost (1588), Shakespeare wrote: "Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye". One would have to look no further than the Aston Martin Rapide to see beauty in its purest form.
However, unlike some beauty which is in the eye of the beholder, the Rapide's elegance and design appeals to the vast majority of the world. I am yet to come across a single person that can hand over heart say anything even remotely negative about the Aston's look.
Without even having to drive the Rapide, you can instantly tell it's something else. Some cars have soul, some cars have power, some cars have character and some cars have beauty. The Rapide has it all.
The Rapide is the first full-scale production four-door sports car that Aston Martin has ever made, so it comes with enormous expectation and the British marquee has delivered a brilliant package.
When I recently drove the 2011 Aston Martin DB9, it became rather apparent that as good as the car was, it certainly wasn't made for more than two people.
For most buyers this may not be such a turn off as cars like the DB9 are generally driven on special occasions, but what if someone said you could have all the glory of the DB9 with the practicality of four seats?
When I hear the idea of a four-door sports car I instantly imagine cramped seats, little leg room and complete impracticality when it comes to more than two passengers. The Rapide is rather different.
Competing with the likes of the Maserati Quattroporte and Porsche Panamera, the Rapide has many noticeable advantages. Not only does it offer more class and elegance over both, it beats its Italian rival for performance, comfort and drivability while demolishing the Panamera on looks alone.
Alas, it came time to drive the Rapide. The mission began at Trivett's Aston Martin in Sydney. The idea was to get ourselves to Brisbane in comfort and style. Surely a ten-hour drive in an Aston Martin Rapide would be better than an hour-long flight.
To the untrained eye the Rapide can be mistaken for a DB9, but apart from its four 'swan-wing' doors, it does have more to offer. Measuring 5019 mm in length (309 mm longer than the DB9), the Rapide has a substantial presence on the road.
Around Sydney it effortlessly captures the attention (and imagination) of nearly everyone that sets eyes on it. Unlike some supercars from our friends in Italy, all Astons have always exuded a sense of class and sophistication over just the 'look-at-me' factor.
Parked by itself outside our office in North Sydney, the Rapide quickly attracted a small crowd of everyday people with their phone cameras out. For many, this is their first time seeing a Rapide in Australia and its extreme exclusivity only adds to its appeal.
Despite having four-doors the Rapide still looks like a race horse standing still. Its muscular stance has been conveyed well despite it's long shape.
Once the crowd had their look, it was time to begin our drive to Brisbane. Initially our plan was to take the New England highway and go through Armidale and Warwick but we changed our minds in the last minute and headed through the Pacific.
With the three of us in the Rapide, it meant that sitting in a back seat was going to be mandatory. Initially we made it a rule that we would swap every two hours so that one person doesn't have to stay too long back there. Little did we know, it was the best seat in the house!
With individual heating and air conditioning totally separate from the front system, plus an LCD screen with wireless headphones, it's first class accommodation. The rear seats are a big surprise as a full size adult can easily sit there for hours on end without the slightest discomfort. Both rear passengers can each watch a different DVD or listen to different music at the same time.
One of the highlights of driving a car such as an Aston is the sound system. Although some manufacturers like to remove things like speakers and then charge you more money for a 'light-weight' version, the British are clearly audiophiles at heart.
The 1000 Watt BeoSound Rapide sound system was designed to work in the car's shape from the very start. Bang & Olufsen and Aston Martin worked together during the car's development phase to ensure that all 15 speakers had been optimally located throughout the cabin.
You may not believe it, but so intricate is the sound system in the Rapide that it even makes use of seatbelt sensors to workout how many passengers are in the car and where they are sitting to adjust the stereo system for the best sound.
We played everything from Mozart to Beetles to Armin Van Buuren and not once was it possible to have sound distortion without risking your ears bleeding first. I have yet to experience a sound system that can match the clarity of the BeoSound Rapide.
If you do intend to go for a long drive you'd be pleased to know there is a 317 litre luggage compartment in the boot which can be further extended to 886 litres if the two rear seat-backs are folded flat.
Speaking of the boot, it's typical Aston Martin. Although all Astons are thoroughly inspected and the interior is mostly hand made, it's a pleasant thought to know that even the boot surrounds are hand-trimmed. It also comes with a carpet floor and four iridium anodised runners and tread plates.
The Rapide's front seats are new to the brand and are different to those in the DB9. They are built to accommodate leisurely drives as well as enthusiastic cornering. Throughout our ten-hour-long journey they provided excellent back support and kept us in place when a twisty road presented itself.
Just because the Rapide has four doors doesn't mean it doesn't go like an Aston. Using the company's famous 6.0-litre V12 engine, it punches out an impressive 350kW and 600Nm of torque. It will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds and hit a top speed of 296 km/h.
Australian delivered Rapides can be dealer fitted with a little switch in the centre console which opens up the exhaust from the get go. Our car was fitted with this and it delivered the most astonishing sound you can imagine. I can assure you that it's much louder than you think!
Despite being the least sporty car in the range, the Rapide is by far the best sounding. Yes, it sounds even better than the range-topping DBS. Something to do with the way the exhaust system has been formed has led to the V12 bellowing a thunder of ferocity every time it accelerates.
Even though I had a Rapide in my possession for only three nights, I did manage to empty an entire full fuel tank (90.5 Litres) in one day, just to hear the engine roar over and over and over again.
A quick lap through Brisbane's Fortitude Valley district on a busy night can seriously deafen the crowd nearby. Not that anyone minds, in fact many will beg for a repetition.
From a standing start the Rapide may not be the fastest in its class (Porsche Panamera Turbo does 0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds) but if 0-100km/h times is what you're after than you're missing the point of the Rapide.
Even with the additional two doors and all the gear for the rear seats, the Rapide weighs only 1990kg (230 kg more than the DB9). The four-door Aston is constructed with aluminium which is bonded as oppose to welded. Aptly named Vertical / Horizontal (V/H) architecture, the technology is more familiar to those in the aerospace industry.
It all results in a very sporty drive. Around the twisty roads of Mount Glorious in Brisbane, the Rapide behaves like a DB9. It may be 5 metres long but it certainly doesn't drive like it. The car uses the same steering rack as the V12 Vantage which makes for excellent steering feel. Aston Martin ran Rapide prototypes for over 8,000km around the Nurburgring to ensure it's a sports car at heart.
In saying that, this isn't the sort of car you'd drive up a twisty mountain road. For that, there is the Vantage. Nonetheless, it's good to know that if need be, it can do it in style.
Our drive from Sydney to Brisbane went by a lot quicker than we thought it would. Bar the Rapide, there is not a single car out there that I know of that can offer this level of comfort, performance and style. After 1,000+ km of straight driving, all three of us concluded that Aston Martin has lived up to all its expectations and then some.
Customers will also be happy to know that the Rapide shape is more likely to evolve over time rather than have sudden changes, this means your Aston will look new for many, many years to come.
Prices start from $366,194 for a standard Rapide or you can pay an extra $33,142 for the Rapide Luxe which comes with exclusive polished 20” 20-spoke alloy wheels, glass control switches including buttons for Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. A unique ‘Rapide Luxe’ sill plaque plus a bespoke six piece luggage set.
Additionally, some of the options such as rear seat entertainment, secondary glass key and garage door opening mirror come standard on the Rapide Luxe.
So diverse is the options and individualisation scheme that customers can specify their Rapide with over 2.5 million different combinations in options, paint and finishes.
I'd strongly encourage potential customers to go out there and test drive the Panamera before buying the Rapide, it will only give you peace of mind knowing you've made the right choice.
The Aston Martin Rapide is well and truly the ultimate in four-door, four-seat motoring.
** Comments turned off at manufacturer's request.