Stunning Beauty, Intoxicating Sound, Paltry Practicality
An intoxicating indulgence. That's the simplest way to describe the revised 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S, an entrancing supercar sprinkled with equal parts luxury, speed, practicality and frustration.
It is a four-door. A big four-door. At 117.7 inches, the Rapide's wheelbase is nearly 3 inches longer than that of the monstrous Porsche Panamera. The Rapide is also 2 inches longer overall than the big Porsche. Even its price tag is big, $220K in our case.
But it's still a sedan, so undeterred by its premium demeanor we used it like any other sedan and headed to the Monster Jam show with the 4-year-old in back. Possibly ours is the only Rapide to ever witness Grave Digger's utter dominance of this uniquely American spectacle of methanol-fueled gratuity.
But the trip triggered other, more practical, observations. Like the fact that the 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S is equally elegant navigating a parking lot awash in Coors Light, Oscar Meyer products and domestic pickup trucks as it is, say, dancing through the Welsh countryside.
Elegant or not, Monster Jam fans don't discriminate when it comes to horsepower. Their enthusiasm for this rarest of sedans was no less than it might be for a 1,400-horsepower car-crushing behemoth. And though it may have been the Coors talking, some even suggested the Rapide sounded better: an observation with which our pre-schooler agreed.
Now Even Less Subtle
Reengineered for the 2014 model year, the Aston Martin Rapide S churns out some 80 hp more than the car it replaces: the Rapide. Under the hood lies a revised 5.9-liter V12 engine good for 550 hp and 457 pound-feet of torque. Changes are vast. There's a new block, new dual variable-valve timing heads with new cams and machined combustion chambers. Bigger throttle bodies and a more efficient intake manifold combine with a higher-volume fuel pump to increase the combustibles on tap. Altogether, the engine shed 22 pounds.
What's more, the V12 sits 0.75 inch lower in the chassis to both improve pedestrian crash standards and lower the Rapide's center of gravity — a fact which neither sobered nor impressed the tailgating beer swillers.
A six-speed automatic transmission is controlled by shift paddles and directs power to the rear wheels via a limited-slip differential.
There's also a new front end design including an updated grille and revised rear haunch that decreases lift at speed.
That the Rapide S is among the best-looking sedans made today isn't a point of contention. Its undeniable similarity to the Aston coupes (OK, except the Cygnet) is infinitely more successful than Porsche's failure in marrying 911 proportions to the Panamera.
But It's the Driving That Matters
And if the 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S is good at one thing, it's driving. Steering this direct and precise is rare in dedicated sports cars and wholly unlikely in a car this big. Although not overly quick, there's immediate response without the granular road feel that often accompanies such a virtue. It's a perfectly calibrated character for a car in this class.
Though the Rapide S consistently lacks the outright speed of Porsche's Panamera, it makes its German competitor feel downright antiseptic by comparison. Both offer scalpel-precise controls near the limit, but the Aston's edge is purely emotional. Its engine sounds better during rev-matched downshifts, it's an undeniably sexier thing and it gives up nothing in feel. Its six-speed auto slams home the next gear as deliberately as you'll ever need, though the lack of a redline on the tachometer is a genuine oversight when paddling gears manually.
From behind the wheel, the driving position and control placement feel more sports car than sedan. Traditional sedan traits like an upright seating position and a tall greenhouse are sacrificed at the altar of style. But it works well enough during hard driving to be worth it.
Balance is neutral, predictable and coupled to huge grip, which yields high confidence on the road. Three-mode adaptive dampers increase control when it's needed. Sport mode (the middle setting between "normal" and "track") is amply suited to the hardest road driving and also yielded the best slalom numbers on our imperfect course.
The Rapide S offers a truly unique experience behind the wheel: the opportunity to drive a genuinely large car that feels smaller the harder it's driven.
Neither launch control (which is not available) nor any real technique are required to effectively leave the line in the Rapide S. Appropriately, the best acceleration is just a throttle stomp away. Zero wheelspin accompanies the resulting 12.9-second pass at 111.2 mph, which is 0.4 second behind but 3 mph faster than the last Porsche Panamera GTS we tested.
The difference is the Porsche's all-wheel-drive system, which also gets it to 60 sooner: Panamera 4.1 seconds (3.9 with 1-foot rollout) versus the Rapide S at 4.8 seconds (4.5 seconds with 1-foot rollout).
Handling numbers are closer still. Though its wheelbase does it no favors during transitions between cones, the Rapide S still managed a 68.5-mph slalom speed with very minimal stability control intervention. The Panamera GTS produced a nearly identical 68.6-mph pass.
Making an outright 0.94g on the skid pad is a solid number for any car, sedan or not. And that's just what the Rapide S did. All-wheel-drive grip helps the Panamera turn 0.96g here.
Our Rapide stopped from 60 mph in 114 feet and demonstrated consistent pedal feel throughout both testing and street driving.
We also measured 15.9 mpg over about 440 miles, which aligns well with the EPA's stated numbers of 13 city/19 highway and 15 mpg combined.
This Is a Sedan, Right?
The downside of a sedan whose design ethos is primarily style-driven is compromised practicality. But the trade-off comes in near equal proportion to the Rapide's emotional and visual appeal.
Rear-seat space, though functional, is laughably less than that offered in a Panamera. The Rapide's inward sloping greenhouse and minimal fore/aft legroom will discourage even medium-size passengers from occupying the rear seat for trips of significant distance. Put simply, when it comes to people hauling, you'll be better off with a Panamera.
Cargo space, too, isn't perfect. Though there's a folding shelf that divides the cargo area to more securely store large items, the folding seatbacks in our car were a problem. The rear seatbacks fold down to create a flat load floor, but, once folded, ours wouldn't re-secure in the upright position.
You'll want instruction on the Rapide's audio, HVAC and navigation interfaces before attempting to use its button-heavy controls. Its standard navigation system is a Garmin unit adapted to deploy, gracefully, we'll admit, from the dash. For this kind of money, though, we'd want a bigger screen and more elegant design.
Just starting the beast is an event. Insert the key fob into the dash, then push and hold until the engine lights. It's novel, but we couldn't help but think many buyers might more fully appreciate the convenience of keyless start.
Then there's the backward-sweeping tachometer, which would be wrong even if it had a redline painted on it.
The rest of the interior is a mix of stunning details and surprising disappointments. Among the stunning details: magnetic locators for nearly every hinged interior piece. The center console door, bin doors, rear cargo divider and deck lid cover all utilize magnets to maintain their fixed positions. Immaculate red-stitched leather covers most surfaces except the headliner, which is either suede or an equally elegant synthetic substitute.
Front and rear seats are both heated and ventilated, and our tester included the optional rear-seat entertainment package that offers screens in the seatbacks of both front seats and wireless headphones to go with them. This the monster truckers loved.
The various squeaks and rattles in the dash we observed during vigorous driving were troubling. And though those might be forgiven because our test car was an early example, the fact that hard driving made its structure creak like the Queen Mary in a monsoon is more difficult to overlook.
The Final Chapter
Starting at $202,945 including delivery, the 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S is a big ask. Aston Martin wants $220,770 for our tester equipped with interior and exterior carbon-fiber packs, 20-inch wheels and the rear-seat entertainment system. This pricing represents a decrease of about $9,000 from the 2013 Rapide, which makes the new, more powerful S model a substantial value improvement.
Measured as a practical choice, which to some extent every sedan must be, the Rapide S isn't our first pick — its packaging is too confined, its interfaces too complex and lacking in refinement, and it costs significantly more than its competitors from Porsche and Maserati.
However, few machines on the planet will trigger the emotional response produced by the Rapide S. It is at once beautiful, fast and rewarding to drive. Its allure knows no boundaries: appealing equally to the young of heart and young of mind. When considered solely as a soul-stirring device with an extra set of doors, it's hard to do better.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation