Beauty might lie in the eye of the beholder, but a sure sign of the Aston Martin Rapide's styling success is when a beautiful blonde in a ragtop Maserati draws up next to one at a traffic light and drools over it. Few other cars draw such a favourable reaction from onlookers, and any Aston Martin definitely makes its driver feel like a boss. The boss's boss, in fact.
Aston Martin Rapide S ImprovementsRefreshed for 2014, the new Rapide S ushers in a raft of improvements. The slinky styling remains largely as is, with only a new grille and the re-profiled tailgate's integrated spoiler to show for its surgery, but the big changes happen under the skin. The steering system receives a new, quick-ratio rack, and the revised engine is now mounted lower in its bay, improving weight distribution.
Combined with re-calibrated adaptive damping, these changes result in a really engaging driving experience. It eagerly attacks corners, and the stability control system only intervenes to keep a clumsy driver's no-claims bonus intact. The steering is talkative and direct under duress, but nicely muted when cruising, in keeping with the luxurious-yet-sporty positioning of the Aston Martin Rapide S.
Aston Martin Rapide S CabinDo not be deceived by its four-door fastback layout, because this is really a 4-door 2+2 sports coupé. The individual rear seats are too small to be useful over even medium distances, and cabin space is limited. It's like a proper luxury limo back there, with separate climate- and audio controls, and DVD screens in the front headrests, but built to two-thirds scale. Any of its opposition trumps it by some margin in the comfort stakes.
While all the expected luxuries are present, the cockpit betrays the Rapide's age, with no touch-screen or iDrive-like interface to simplify controls. Indecipherable switches are randomly scattered over the centre console, the Garmin-sourced GPS is accurate but cumbersome to use, but the rear-view camera also uses the GPS display and gives a clear, bright image. This is useful, given the poor rearward visibility and size of the car.
At least the most important switch is easy to reach among the button clutter, that being for the active exhaust system. It should always be set for maximum noise, because you want to absorb the engine's wail through the gears.
Aston Martin Rapide S EngineThis noise comes courtesy of a substantially re-engineered 5.9-litre, 48-valve V12 engine. Sending 410 kW and 620 Nm to the rear wheels through a (rather antiquated but very smooth) six-speed autobox, there is enough power to shove the all-aluminium Aston Martin Rapide S past 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds on the way to a top speed of 306 km/h. Unfortunately, it only feels that quick in the higher speed ranges, due to the tall gear ratios and the engine's peaky power delivery – flexibility gains of the new AM11 engine notwithstanding.
It needs to be wound up tightly to come alive, but this non-boosted power delivery should endear it to traditionalists, and the V12 wail at high revs is reward in itself. Acceleration is rapid, but the gentlemanly power delivery somewhat blunts the hooligan punch under the surface. This duality of character defines the Aston Martin Rapide S. On the one hand, it is a comfortable, refined cruiser, but on the other it has the soul of a street fighter.
Aston Martin Rapide S ConclusionIn the luxury sports car market, dynamic abilities often take a back seat to cosmetic appeal. Good thing the Rapide S has them both in abundance, then. The styling is still breathtaking, but the mid-life update brought along useful dynamic improvements. It matters little that the car is now rather dated, or that the interior is ergonomically challenging. It offers a lot more charm, style and bespoke appeal than any of its competitors - as it should, given its R3-million price tag. -Martin Pretorius
We like: - Quick, communicative steering - Chassis dynamics - Good-looking interior - Lovely styling - Charismatic engine
We don't like: - Cramped cabin - Lack of low-rev torque - Messy ergonomics - Pricetag
Aston Martin Rapide S specificationsEngine: 5.9-litre V12, petrol. Power: 410 kW @ 6750 rpm. Torque: 620 Nm @ 5500 rpm. Transmission: six-speed automatic. Wheels: 20-inch alloys. Top speed: 306 km/h (claimed). 0-100 km/h: 4.9 seconds (claimed)
Porsche Panamera Turbo S: Measurably better at everything than the Rapide-S, it falls flat in the styling department. Faster, more practical and more modern than the Rapide-S, Porsche's attempt at marrying a four-door bodyshell with traditional sports car styling is less successful than Aston's. Incredibly quick, with PDK transmission and AWD making its performance easily accessible.
Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG: That 5.4-litre biturbo V8 is a nuclear reactor. If pure speed is most important, few cars offer such explosive acceleration. It lags against the Porsche in the dynamic stakes, however.
BMW M6 Gran Coupe: Perhaps the least distinctive, looks-wise, but still pretty. With an axe-murderer of an engine and competent dynamics, the M6 GC is hamstrung by excess weight and muted steering feel. Not as exclusive as the Aston either, being a halo model for a whole range that starts off with a mere 3.0-litre six-shooter.