What is it?
If you judged it by looks alone, you’d wonder why on earth we were giving so much space to the revamped Aston Martin Rapide S.
There are some new colours inside and out and that’s about it. But as with the revised Aston Martin Vanquish, the real story is beneath the skin, where the Rapide has been subtly but significantly altered in every important area.
The most obvious change is the adoption of the same eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox used by the Vanquish; and just in case you presumed it follows naturally the same transmission will be used in the DB9, think again.
For as long as it lasts, which we don’t believe will be very long, Aston’s oldest campaigner soldiers on with the even older six-speed box with which it was born well over a decade ago.
The new gearbox releases the performance hitherto pent up in the Rapide’s svelte shape, knocking half a second off the 0-62mph time and raising top speed from 190mph to genuinely impressive 203mph.
How has a gearbox been able to do this? Its speed of response and closer ratios account for the acceleration and the fact Aston no longer has to restrict top speed to prevent the gearbox from hitting the limiter in top gear explains the improved terminal velocity.
But that’s just the start. To cope with the additional top speed the front brakes have swelled so that now mighty 400mm rotors sit behind those attractive new wheels.
The engine has the latest Bosch management which would not have been able to talk to the old gearbox and it’s responsible not just for another couple of horsepower and a handful extra lb ft on the torque readout, but far quicker throttle response too.
There also also new bushings in the new suspension. So you can see just how much work has gone on beneath an almost unchanged surface.
What's it like?
In performance terms the Rapide S feels set free, as if it’s spent its life to date manacled to a cast iron ball and chain.
Forget the additional top speed, for the facility is meaningless to all other than the Aston Martin marketing department. You won’t be able to feel the tiny increases in power and torque either, not in a car weighing 1990kg.
What you will notice, quite possibly the first moment you squeeze the throttle, is the car’s response. The new transmission takes up the slack like the next best thing to a DSG, discarding the sloth of the old box to the history books. The changes are not just smooth, but swift and they keep coming as the Rapide cycles through its additional ratios.
At least as obvious when you drive are the modifications to the chassis, though these meet with more mixed success. There’s no question the Rapide now feels more taut and better controlled than before.
Indeed in the kind of open, sweeping corners it likes best, it’s hard to reconcile such grip and poise with the near two tonne four-door car that’s providing them. But a price has been paid in ride quality, with the car feeling just a little less settled over ripples and bumps than before.
Should I buy one?
The Rapide S may look like the sensible Aston, the one you’d buy more with your head than heart, but despite its long wheelbase and extra doors, it’s still a merely marginal four seater and as such a primarily emotional buy.
The new gearbox plays to those emotions, giving the car the edge it has always lacked, and backed by an undoubted new level of driver appeal thanks to the chassis modifications.
The compromise in ride quality is a shame but for a car that’s now quite a bit more Aston Martin and only a little less Rapide, that would seem a price worth paying.
Aston Martin Rapide S
Price £147,950; 0-62mph 4.2sec; Top speed 203mph; Economy 21.9mpg (combined); CO2 300g/km; Kerb weight 1990kg; Engine 12 cyls, 5935cc, petrol; Power 552bhp at 6650rpm; Torque 465lb ft at 5500rpm; Gearbox 8-speed automatic