On a Rapide ascent into the realms of driver fantasy
Is there any point in owning a four-seater Aston Martin? Neil Lyndon tests the supercar and can barely conceal his joy
'Isn't this car a contradiction in terms?" mused my sister-in-law, as she sat beside her husband in the new Rapide with me and their 10-year-old son in the back seats.
"Surely the point of an Aston Martin is to be an indulgence for one person and a means to show off to one other person? Who is going to want a four-seater Aston Martin?"
May I diffidently raise my own hand? During a long weekend loan, the Rapide proved that it would suit me to a t. I have a family of four at home. Sometimes, we take a car away on holiday.
I frequently have to drive our two growing children to school or transport them and their friends to clubs and parties and such. The idea that an Aston Martin might be capable of satisfying all these humdrum requirements and yet remain one of the most beautiful cars ever made and an exhilarating, electrifying machine to drive is utterly compelling. It's as if Aston Martin created a completely convincing and practical case for having your most exotic dream come true every day -- like a Nobel laureate's robe that you could wear to pop out to the supermarket.
Aston Martin is not the first to come out with this confection. The Maserati Quattroporte, the Porsche Panamera and, arguably, the Mercedes CLS are all offering a similar blend of high performance in a four-door four-seater.
But the Rapide brings an element to the competition that the others cannot match: it is one of the very few cars now in production that can confidently be declared an instant classic.
Most cars lose all their appeal within five years and all their value within 10 years. If eggs are eggs, however, we can be certain that the Rapide will be coveted and haggled over for decades to come. If past experience is a reliable guide, it's a reasonable bet that this car will be worth at least as much in 50 years.
Why so sure? Because the Rapide attains a degree of integrated beauty that eludes the others. As they prove in their different forms, the lumps tend to stick out of the body when you try to cram four seats into a sports car or the roof may look alarmingly low when you try to give a large saloon the aerodynamics of a sporty coupe.
In the body of the Rapide, however, Aston Martin's chief designer, Marek Reichman, has drawn lines that flow with unbroken purpose from nose to tail and make the Rapide look as if God had it in mind to sketch a car like this but had not picked up the pencil.
The underpinnings of the Rapide are less original, but Aston's engineers have given them a character all of their own. The six-litre V12 engine and six-speed transmission, which are familiar from the DB9 and the DBS, are imported into this car but softer damper settings smooth out the harshness in those models and provide the Rapide with a lovely, smooth, mellifluous ride. That fabulous engine still barks and howls when pushed hard past 3,500rpm and, if the suspension is switched to its sports setting, the two-tonne Rapide can be thrown into corners and booted out with an edge of control that only the most advanced supercars can exceed.
As a birthday treat, my brother-in-law took the wheel while I inserted my six-foot frame into a rear seat. Getting big feet over the high sill and under the seat in front demands that you have kept up your Pilates; but, once in, you could be comfortable for hours. Four people couldn't take golf bags in this car but the ingenious, folding partition in the load space would accommodate their briefcases.
Best of all, as my 10-year-old nephew observed: "This car is faster than a rocket-propelled banana." How's that for a contradiction in terms?