This is the new Aston Martin Rapide S. It’s a facelifted version of the famed British company’s super-saloon, timed perfectly to coincide with the launch of the new Maserati Quattroporte and facelifted Porsche Panamera.
What’s new? The enlarged singleframe grille is big enough to make an Audi designer jealous, the 6.0-litre V12 boasts an extra 80bhp, and there’s a three-mode damping system that offers stiffer Sport and Track settings.
Read on for our first drive review of the new Aston Martin Rapide S.
The new Aston Martin Rapide S has an extra 80bhp? That’s quite a hefty increase…
It is, and it’s the main reason why the old Rapide has become the new Rapide S. The latest AM11-spec 6.0-litre V12 has 17% more grunt than its predecessor, which means power has jumped from 470bhp at 6000rpm to 550bhp at 6750rpm. It’s a mere 15bhp behind the flagship Vanquish, which stays ahead in the horsepower stakes only thanks to its flat-valve airboxes.
Peak torque is up too, from 443lb ft to 457lb ft at 5000rpm, but there’s also an extra 30lb ft delivered between idle speed and 4000rpm. Three-tenths are shaved off the 0-62mph time (now 4.9 seconds) and the top speed has climbed from 183mph to 190mph.
Buyers of petrol-engined V12 limos probably won’t care too much about the fuel they’re burning, but consumption improves from 19 to 19.9mpg and CO2 emissions have fallen by a whole 3g/km – but most importantly it’s a cleaner engine overall and complies with strict EU6 regulations.
Does that big V12 sound good?
Slot the glass key (or Emotional Control Unit, in Aston parlance) into the top of the dash, hold it down, and the 6.0-litre engine wakes with a filthy snarl, impressing passengers and startling pedestrians. And on the road, with the Sport button pressed (which opens the valves in the exhaust) and the right pedal pinned, the twin pipes emit a glorious crackling bark.
The Rapide can refined too, and if you drive around gently with the gearbox in D and don’t floor the throttle, then the V12 never really announces itself.
But just as we found with the outgoing Rapide, it’s the moments between gently cruising and hardcore thrashings when the noise can be sporadic. In this middle ground there doesn’t seem to be any consistency to when the exhaust stays mute or starts barking loudly.
What else is new on the new Rapide S?
If we’re mean then this is just a facelifted Rapide, but actually, forthcoming pedestrian-protection regulations have forced Aston to substantially tweak its entire V12-engined range. Which means the DB9, Vanquish (nee DBS) and Rapide S all have new engines mounted 19mm lower in the chassis, and to help meet the ped-pro regs there’s also a new (patent pending) front-end construction too.
That lowered engine lowers the centre of gravity, but it also means everything under the bonnet needs revising. Ditto the chassis set-up, especially as there’s a new three-stage damping system too.
The Bilstein dampers offer Normal, Sport and Track modes, the latter the new setting and a rather odd choice for a four-door sporting saloon. The spring ratings remain the same as the outgoing Rapide, and the trade-off for underlying hint of firmness is great body control for a two-tonne limo. Air-sprung Panameras (our long-term GTS included) feel like they’re lurching around when you make sudden mid-corner adjustments, but the Rapide S always remains impressively flat.
As for the dampers, they’re constantly adjusted by an ECU that takes data from the steering angle, throttle and brake positions and vehicle speed. It means Normal is the best setting for over 90% of your driving, but the ride doesn’t massively deteriorate if you switch to one of the firmer settings.
Without the option of four-wheel drive to handle all that power and torque, Aston has tuned the Rapide S to stop it being a scary proposition if you’re just cruising around. That means a long-travel throttle so you can carefully metre out the power, and unhurried gearchanges.
But if you’re gentle with the throttle, sometimes your right foot can nearly be in the thick carpet before the Rapide S responds. So best to the Sport button for a sharper pedal, otherwise you’re forever waiting for the revs to rise or the auto ‘box to downshift.
And even then, although there’s no doubting the Rapide S is properly quick, without a few turbos (as per the Porsche Panamera Turbo S or new Maserati Quattroporte) this Aston needs a few revs to really deliver.
The Sport setting doesn’t mess with the weighting of the steering, but it does feels a little lighter and slicker than the gritty helm we’d usually associate with an Aston – but then with snow on the ground our test car came shod with winter tyres so they could easily be the cause.
So if James Bond has a brood he’d have this?
Only if 007 was as cruel as Ian Fleming’s books suggest. The Vanquish’s boot is actually bigger (though the Rapide’s seats do fold) and you’d best be a child or the size of Kate Moss if you want to squeeze through the narrow rear door aperture.
Once inside the bucket-style seats are actually quite comfortable, the high-rise transmission tunnel clearly marks out you’re in something special, and there are even a couple of screens if you want to stick on a set of headphones and watch something rather than listening to that V12.
Coated in leather the rest of the cabin feels special too, and for once we’re grateful for an electric handbrake – it replaces the confusing fly-off item found rest of the Aston range.
But it’s far from a perfect cabin: the dials are hard to read, the buttons on the dash are hard to press, and the sat-nav (despite being new) remains almost unfathomable.
The cabin remains rather a muddle, and the Rapide is no limo. Of course it’s not a direct rival for the S-class, 7-series and A8, but the Rapide S pitches into a massively varied market – it can count everything from the Porsche Panamera and Maserati Quattroporte and both potentially do the sporting saloon thing better than Aston.
But if you want a practical Aston Martin sports car, then the Rapide fits the bill. Plus there’s never been much wrong with the way the Rapide drives, and the new Rapide S only improves that experience.