Aston Martin's first four-door has been a universal hit with press and owners alike. That's a stellar achievement for a first try, but then you might expect such on-the-money success from a brand that has been building some of the finest sports cars in the world for most of a century. MotorAuthority has driven the Rapide and classes it as it's pitched by CEO Ulrich Bez: the only true four-door sports car in the world. That earns it a rating of 9 out of 10.
Based on the DB9 range, the Rapide is nonetheless its own creature. Wearing unique lines for a four-door, from some angles, it's hard to tell it's not a two-door coupe despite its length. The proportions are at once pure modern Aston Martin and completely unique. Inside, the design continues its top-notch appeal, with a more conservative style that soothes rather than shocks the occupants into appreciation.
Powered by Aston's familiar 6.0-liter V-12 engine, the Rapide generates 470 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. That's short of the 500 horsepower in Porsche's Panamera, and its 5.2-second 0-60 mph time is well off the pace, too, but it's not all about pure numbers when it comes to the Rapide. It's about the experience, and there's something pure and almost magical about a twelve-cylinder engine. Its six-speed paddle-shift automatic doesn't do it any favors in the spec-sheet war, and to be honest, it's probably the least satisfying aspect of the Rapide, seemingly calling out for another gear or two. Nevertheless, it clicks of shifts on its own or at the driver's command with ease. Press the sport button on the dash and it responds even more willingly.
Handling might not be something you'd expect of such a luxurious four-door, but Aston Martin's work on the chassis and suspension tuning have paid huge dividends. Despite its 117-inch wheelbase, it manages to feel nimble, owing partly to its 51/49 weight distribution and partly to its well-tuned limited slip differential, which helps the rear-drive Rapide apply its power and rotate the rear end on command.
The cabin is a bit tighter than you'd expect given its massive dimensions, but up front, the Recaro seats are supportive and comfortable--it's the getting in that can be a bit tough, especially for taller drivers, as the Rapide is low and its portals are narrow. That's especially true of the back seat, which also skimps on legroom, though head room is good despite the sloped rear roofline.
As far as features go, it's a modern Aston Martin. That means it offers a $200,000 price tag and the electronics and gear to go with it. A Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 15-speaker audio system, for example, drives 1,000 watts with clarity and precision. Fine leather and exotic hardwood trim are everywhere; you can make your choice from dozens of possible combinations. If there's a weak spot, it's the hard-drive based navigation system: the controls are awkward, the LCD screen is on the small side, and it's not touch-enabled.
With so many strengths and so few weaknesses, the 2011 Aston Martin Rapide delivers an ownership experience that's as rarified as its price.