2014 Aston Martin Rapide S first drive review Page 2

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A separate Sport mode engages a throttle mode with more aggressive tip-in, as well as a somewhat more aggressive shift strategy. Dip deep into the throttle and the six-speed automatic (ZF) transmission smacks through the gears in a way that’s damped just enough to feel luxurious yet direct enough to feel racing-influences. Nail it to the firewall and you’re pushed back in your seat in a seamless, luxurious way, as the powertrain delivers a throaty baritone engine note with an audible crackle at each shift.

Despite its ridiculously short 35-series sidewalls in front, the Rapide manages to damp most minor bumps and improve its composure down jittery backroads—a testament to the damper system. And the hydraulically boosted power steering is tuned for a firm, communicative feel that puts most modern luxury-performance sedans to shame.

Handling and poise to savor... but leave the parking and maneuvering to others

It's not an easy car to park or maneuver in tight spaces. At nearly 198 inches long, the Rapide S is a bit longer than U.S. mid-size cars. However its cabin feels decidedly compact. Yes, it has four doors, but getting into or out of that rearmost position involves squeezing, stretching, and contorting—even for average-height adults.

Yet with just a short time driving and really getting to know the Rapide, all of this is quickly forgiven.

The Rapide S weighs about 4,400 pounds, but you’d never know it given the way it can hold the road fast and close, when switchbacks and esses become a sort of dance, as they did on roads that skirted the Pyrenees. This is an exceptionally wide car (84 inches)—and you feel that on narrow country lanes—but from the cabin and driver’s seat it drives small and you can place it very precisely. There are no multi-mode settings for the steering, which has a surprisingly quick ratio, but it always feels right for the personality of the car.

Staggered-width Bridgestone Potenza tires—245/40R20 front and 295/35R20 rear—assure levels of grip that we didn’t dare truly test on public roads. Additionally, huge vented disc brakes (six-piston in front, four in back) scrub off speed with no sweat.

A wider, more bulbous face is part of the Rapide S improvements, as well as a refined hoodline and frontal bodywork, but even these changes aren’t completely cosmetic. Designed so that the car can meet comprehensive EU pedestrian-impact regulations, the Rapide S has a slightly different hood curvature (Aston’s actually dropped the engine more than a half-inch to accommodate that, which helps dynamically by lowering the center of mass). And those changes left space for a new cross-brace system across the top of the engine—further stiffening the structure and improving handling. Further aiding aerodynamics is a larger, lipped rear spoiler.

The Rapide is built on the same VH platform, with a bonded-and-riveted structure, that now underpins everything in its lineup—“albeit with varying degrees of V and H,” as a company official put it. Body panels remain a mix of steel and aluminum. And with the S, Aston Martin has gone through the car and made all sorts of structural and chassis refinements.

Beautiful inside, and a little quixotic

Flush door handles require you to press on one end to flip out the lever, then pull; it’s not a practical setup but one that looks good on the outside. The frameless doors then unlatch with a light zip, coordinated with a tuck-down of the windows, and then swing outward and upward, with a uniformly damped, fluid motion that lets you easily stop at any partial point. You get into one of those front seats, and comfortable yet firm racing style seats practically envelop you.

Those two back positions involve some ducking to get into and may prove even tougher to get out of—we'd draw the line well under six-footers, by the way. And in back, the long hatch opens to enough space to stow, on a cargo floor that's not fully flat but has a pop-up divider where it changes levels.

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