From England With Love
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n our last moments together, as I stood with one hand resting lightly on her body and felt the heat come off her as she slept for the first time in days, I confess I was beset by madness: Just go! Make a break for it! Where didn’t matter. We’d make it work somehow, live on the road together… I paused to consider the ways I couldn’t take care of her, how it was never going to work. When I lifted my hand, it immediately felt cold. I awkwardly put it in my pocket, turned around, and walked away. My two days with the 2015 Aston Martin Rapide S were over.
The sublime four-door from England’s legendary marque falls somewhere between the Queen’s coronation and Lauren Bacall’s smirk in terms of poise, and there’s as much substance as style here, making the Rapide S more than just pricey eye candy. But fans of Aston Martin expect this kind of power/looks combination anyway, along with meticulous attention to details and the cachet of ownership—all of which the car delivers in copious amounts from the first glint off its iconic, massive grille to final curve of its elegantly shaped rear end. The real surprise with the Rapide S comes when one starts the enormous V12 engine, pulls away from the curb and immediately forgets the extra two doors. If that’s unbelievable (and it is when you think about it), the rest of the car is simply exceptional.
Imagining an epic sports car isn’t difficult; so many textbook margins are filled with young boys’ sketches of fantasy vehicles that would bring down any concours were they to be realized. Elevating that kind of vision to include sophistication is more difficult, however, and then there’s actually building the thing. But adding rear seats while keeping the adrenaline rush and blush intact? We’d say it’s impossible, but then Elizabeth Taylor had children before she starred in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and so there are cases in which addition does not mean subtraction. Here, the back seats mean that the thrill can be shared, and the car is better for them. The longer wheelbase accommodating those seats also means more stability at speed, which likely reassured the driver who first took the Rapide S to 203mph—2mph faster than the company’s much-lauded Vanquish can manage. If James Bond ever met any of the children he might have sired, the Rapide S is how he would take them to school. Likewise, if Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg ever wanted to double date, this would be a good choice of vehicles (although we won’t speculate on who’d get to drive).
Under the broad, carved hood there’s the latest generation of Aston Martin’s AM29 V12 engine, a quad-cam 6.0-litre that makes 552hp and produces 465 lb-ft of torque. It gets the Rapide S from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds on the way to its incredible top speed and is beautifully complemented by the new ZF-developed Touchtronic III transmission. Automatic by default, it can be overridden by the driver at any point via column-mounted paddle shifters, which are perfectly placed so as not to interfere with turn signals or other controls (a pet peeve of ours when manufacturers get this wrong) and which stay put during cornering (as opposed to tilting with wheel rotation, which we also do not like). The Touchtronic III shifts faster than you can (in as quick as 130 milliseconds) and has eight gears on offer, with the low-revving upper two delivering a relaxed and near-silent driving experience once cruising at speed. In fact, aside from the audible growl of the 12 cylinders under acceleration (it’s a proper roar when the car is in “Sport” mode), being in the Rapide S is a fairly quiet affair.
All the better to hear the excellent Beosound audio system from Bang & Olufsen, which is as pretty as it is clear and balanced. The nicely designed tweeters, specifically, offer a refined bit of fun in that they rise slowly from the top of the dash when the system is engaged, then disappear when the system is switched off.
Likewise, the navigation screen only reveals itself when direction (by Garmin) is desired or when the car is in reverse, at which point the screen flips up to function as a display for the rear camera. Notably, the screen is crisp and not at all distracting when deployed, and completely hidden when closed. I wasn’t a huge fan of the manner in which vehicle settings menus are navigated, via a wheel/button kind of thing, but that was a small issue and subjective in any case. Anyway, more buttons would get in the way of the interior design, which is stunning. All four passengers get beautiful and supportive race-inspired seats that have been understandably likened to fighter jet seating, albeit from a luxury fighter jet with taut, hand-stitched leather and superlative fittings. With its luxe cockpit feel and sophisticated array of interior controls—individual climate controls for each passenger, optional rear-seat entertainment system with headphones, heated and cooled memory seats, and more—if it could fly and fight crime, the Rapide S would be the perfect choice for a stylish Fantastic Four.
Ensuring that it stays firmly on the ground, however (though still attractive to superheroes), an enhanced suspension fights dive, squat and lift while keeping the ride pleasant enough for a cross-country trip—no easy feat.
Seating position is low, befitting a sports car (and it is that), but not uncomfortably so, and the view from the driver’s seat is suitably invigorating. The aforementioned suspension and its Adaptive Damping System seemed to anticipate our every move in all three modes—Normal, Sport and Track—with changes between modes immediately noticeable, not least for the increased engine note as we left Aston Martin’s already-thrilling version of “Normal” behind and moved into Sport. The simple press of a button engages Sport, which holds gears a bit longer, opens things up and genuinely changes the mood of the Rapide S from calm James Bond to angry James Bond (a good thing in terms of driving experience). Likewise, another button just to the right firms up the suspension and provides a noticeably tighter ride, though, again, not uncomfortable.
The handling, which really is amazing and which immediately seemed to be in perfect concert with our input and driving style, benefits greatly from the positioning of the mighty all-alloy V12, which sits eight-tenths of an inch lower than last year’s model. The majority of the engine’s cylinders are behind the front wheel, which is a big contribution to the near 50/50 weight distribution of the Rapide S. In fact, the ratio is 48 percent to the front and 52 percent to the rear, an absolutely fantastic feat of engineering in a sedan of this size (197.6 inches long). Further helping us keep the epic paint unblemished (it takes 50 man-hours to hand-paint each Rapide S), the traction control never felt intrusive, even under hard driving, and so we found no reason to turn it off (not least because we were borrowing the car). And when it came time to bring things to a halt, the formidable brakes and complementary braking system were more than up to the task, providing a controlled stop in an array of conditions that included rain and gravel. If that wasn’t enough, we found the rear cargo area sufficient for four weekend bags, which means the Rapide S is ultimately as accommodating as its seating arrangement would suggest.
So… Great going, great stopping, great sound, engaging interior, plenty of options for customizations and personalizations… All of this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows Aston Martin, but top performance, epic luxury and incredible attention to details are only part of the story. There’s an emotional character to the brand that transcends the abilities of any sharp marketing or Bond appearances (though those help). Perhaps it’s down to the fact that, as opposed to machines, humans build Aston Martins, that each car is inspected and signed off by an individual whose name appears under the hood, that a group of people work hundreds of hours to produce the absolute best manifestation of our motoring potential. And in that the car stands as an example of respect, for motoring in general and for ourselves and what we can achieve. There, perhaps, is the compelling twist: that in being the best example of a car, unlike any other sports car available, an Aston Martin compels its driver to be a better man.
As ridiculous as it might seem, after two days with the Rapide S, I feel that I am.