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 DRIVING RANGE

Object of Desire Ben Oliver road tests the brand new Aston Martin Rapide – the coolest four-door, four-seat supercar of 2010

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he Sultan of Brunei is unquestionably Aston Martin’s best-ever customer. During the 1990s he put around 300 Aston Martins into his collection of at least 3000 cars. Given that Aston only made 46 cars in 1992, there’s a good chance that without the Sultan back then, there would be no Aston Martin today. And its new Rapide is exactly the kind of car he likes. He and his brother Jefri commissioned Aston to build bespoke saloon and even estate versions of the old V8 Vantage, because he understood that a four-door, fourseat supercar is a spectacularly cool thing to have. Once again, Aston has turned to the Sultan for inspiration. The new Rapide won’t be anything like as rare as those Brunei specials, even though Aston’s sales, like those of all the top marques, have slowed over the past two years. In better times, Aston hopes to sell 2000 Rapides in a year, outstripping the DB9 on which it’s based and second only to the Vantage. So this is no low-volume collector-special: it’s a critical new model for the firm. The Rapide and DB9 are most similar forward of the windscreen. There’s an aggressive new double-deck eggcrate grille, but the engine behind it is largely unchanged; a 6-litre V12 made by Ford in Cologne, making 470bhp. The Rapide is 300mm longer than the DB9 and 59mm wider. Aston’s design director Marek Reichman insisted on the same single side-glass opening as the DB9, so although there is a pillar between front and rear doors, the Rapide has the world’s only glass-to-glass closure over the top of it. Close a door and there’s 16

HK GOLFER・APR/MAY 2010

an impressive half-second of glass ballet as the windows – including the tiny front quarterlight – drop by varying amounts to ensure a precise seal. Those in the front don’t have to compromise; here the cabin is largely unchanged and still gorgeous after six years. The biggest change is that the Rapide’s construction is entirely outsourced to Austrian firm Magna Steyr. But don’t worry; those Teutons haven’t gone and made it all perfect. It’s still obviously handmade, with fabulous materials and detailing, but some reassuring Aston rattles too. But it’s the rear cabin that’s really interesting. The tiny doors open up and out with the same swan-wing effect as the fronts. The individual rear buckets look wild but lack any kind of adjustment. You have to lower yourself in with the same foot-bum-foot sequence required by other extreme sports car. Once there you’re locked in place like an astronaut at lift-off, and getting out is even more inelegant. HKGOLFER.COM

But there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Aston has somehow managed to crowbar in an (optional) rear-seat entertainment system with a seven-inch screen in each seatback, as well as double cupholders and separate air-con controls for each rear passenger. There’s even a decent boot; with the flip-down divider in place you can hide 300 litres of stuff out of sight, and if you fold both the divider and the rear seats down you can get nearly 900 litres in; two sets of golf clubs won’t be a problem. But is it comfortable? At six feet tall and sitting behind a driver’s seat set for me, frankly, no; my knees and head were in full contact with the seatback and headlining. It would be tolerable for about fifteen minutes, and a shorter driver-passenger combination might be fine. But when your car looks this good, do you really care about giving your passengers deep-vein thrombosis on the way to the shops? So how does it drive? HK Golfer was among the very first to test it. At the risk of sounding spoilt, the Rapide doesn’t feel that rapide; having an aristocratic V12 out front doesn’t automatically confer any accelerative advantage. The Aston will hit 100kph in 5.3sec; Porsche’s Panamera Turbo saloon is the closest this car has to a rival and is more than a second quicker. Even a humble Mercedes E500 can take a tenth out of that time. Of course it’s still a fast car; its extra weight means it’s just not as fast as the shape and the price might lead you to expect. It does its best work beyond 150kph, where mass counts for less and that slippery shape for more. Here, its urge feels elastic, unstrained and easily good for the claimed 296kph top speed, but how often will you get to experience it? And the soundtrack isn’t as hardcore as the other Astons. The blip on start-up and the high, hard howl under load are lacking. There’s still a great mechanical thrash from out front, but it’s a little anti-climactic if you’ve driven the rest of the range. As with the cabin and the looks, Aston claims it hasn’t compromised the Rapide’s dynamics just because it’s a four-door; this, it tells us, is still a sports car. And it feels like one as soon as you move off; there’s a lot of road noise from the bigger Bridgestones, and even in the softer of the two suspension settings the Aston’s harshness on a motorway is only borderline acceptable, though it absorbs bigger road craters with a refinement early DB9s wouldn’t recognize. But if you press it harder on a back road the extra 190kgs really shows and you’ll find its limits much earlier, with heave over crests and roll through bends. Tighten the damping and it’s much better without much loss in ride quality. For such a big car the Aston stays level and composed and you can make use of the feel and accuracy of the steering. HKGOLFER.COM

The Panamera will give the Rapide lessons on performance, handling and usability despite costing less. But if you’re going to spend an eye-watering amount of money either way, would you rather end up with a stretched 911 with questionable looks, or a sharky fourdoor supercar with one of the most desirable badges you can buy? Regardless of any dynamic shortcomings, enough buyers will opt for the latter to make the Rapide the success Aston needs it to be. The Sultan would understand.

SCORECARD How much? Engine: Transmission: Performance: How heavy?

HK$3.088 million 5935cc V12, 470BHP @ 6000, 443lb ft @ 5000 6-speed automatic with manumatic shifting 5.3 sec 0-100kph, 296kph 1950kg

HK GOLFER・APR/MAY 2010

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