Seldom have Aston Martin's road cars been about turning out top performance numbers; rather it’s built its name around producing some of the best grand-touring coupes in the world—ones with a surprisingly communicative driving experience crossed with a higher maturity level than anything from Ferrari or Lamborghini. And that's what you get in the 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S—with four doors.
Even before you climb in and start the engine, 'savagely beautiful' is one of the best ways to sum up the look and feel of the Rapide. The smooth, swept-back silhouette has the proportions of a true sports car—meaning that its hood is long, with the cabin hunkered back just ahead of the rear wheels. This year's changes actually serve to enhance that look. Aston's added a larger grille that moves rearward in a controlled fashion as part of those pedestrian impacts (or others, we imagine); yet with new aero work and a new rear lip spoiler, plus new wheels and a few other changes, the Rapide S looks more serious.
Unlike the Porsche Panamera Turbo S, which the Rapide S is probably most immediately going to be compared to, the Rapide S hasn't sacrificed its shape or its sports-car roofline for the sake of back-seat space. And while the Panamera Turbo S offers more straight-line performance, the Rapide offers more sensory delights—from the baritone song of its naturally aspirated 5.9-liter V-12. With no turbochargers, no direct injection, and a redline over 7,000 rpm, this engine builds to a frenzy as you rev it, and there's something more rewarding about it than the all-the-time torque from competing turbos—even if it's not quite as fast by the numbers.
That engine—through a number of improvements—now makes 550 horsepower (and 457 pound-feet of torque) for 2014, enabling 0-60 mph times of 4.7 seconds and a 190-mph top speed. The ZF six-speed automatic and solid column-mounted paddle-shifters allow good manual control with very quick but well-isolated shifts. Meanwhile, a multi-mode damping system now has three settings, including a Track mode; and with the Track mode in the stability control system, as well as the Sport mode for the powertrain (permitting sharper tip-in, delayed shifts, and a glorious exhaust bypass), this car's now begging for a little weekend track time now and then.
Meanwhile the interior is more refined than ever. Comfortable yet firm racing-style seats envelop you as you settle into a rather upright, well-supported driving position, and the front and rear frameless 'swan' doors open upward at a slight angle, saving you from curb scratches; meanwhile the windows zip up or down to set a tight cabin seal. As for those two back seats, they're only for smaller passengers, for short trips across town, perhaps, but they may come in handy. As a five-door fastback, actually, a long hatch opens to expose what's actually a decent cargo space, with a flip-up divider good for keeping items from rolling around.
With its unique, race-derived bonded-and-riveted structure, the Rapide is derived from the same underpinnings as the DB9 and Vanquish. Body panels remain a mix of steel and aluminum. But this year, compared to the previous Rapide, Aston Martin has gone through the car and made all sorts of structural and chassis refinements.
By modern-car standards, the Rapide’s instrument panel feels a little unfocused, and depending on your outlook it may feel either charming or frustrating. You shift from Park to Drive, Reverse, and such with large elevator-style buttons across the dash. And while the navigation system has a beautiful, high-contrast screen, making selections involves looking down to the list of buttons first, to press one (‘nav,’ for instance) before you rotate through the menu. Switchgear feels good, on the other hand, and fit and finish are far better than in Astons of the not-so-distant past.
To extrapolate a bit, the Rapide S is even closer to what it promises: an exclusive classic touring-car design with quintessentially British styling, and the driving experience of a sports car.