A triumph, despite a large price and minimal space in the back

What is it?

It’s the first four-door Aston Martin since the Lagonda of the mid-1970s.

Although when we say four-door, bear in mind that the new Aston Martin Rapide comes with a recommended technique for getting in and out of it. Aston advises that on both entry and exit you employ a foot-bum-foot routine that threatens serious inelegance for skirt-wearers. If you never see a Rapide decanting guests onto the end of a red carpet, this is why.

So don’t confuse it with a Mercedes S-class. I'm sure you can tell by the way it looks that the Rapide is based on other Astons, using the same VH architecture that underpins them, comprising aluminium components bonded to form a monocoque.

Even though its engine is Aston’s 6.0-litre V12 in its torquiest 470bhp and 443lb ft output, and the gearbox is a six-speed automatic gearbox, think of it more as a sports car with rear doors and a hatch, rather than a limousine. And a £140,000 one at that.

What’s it like?

The Rapide is built in Austria by Magna rather than at Aston’s Gaydon factory and, if a static walk-around is anything to go by, is none the worse for it. Much of the Rapide’s interior is newly designed and it feels beautifully crafted.

Things still happen gradually and on a budget, though; the dashboard is carried over from existing Astons and it wouldn’t hurt to be updated, particularly the dreadful Volvo-sourced sat-nav. But progress is slowly being made; where there are new switches or trimmings they’re neatly designed and feel solidly built.

Aluminium is extremely stiff, but building a car out of it isn’t without compromise. For a given stiffness it’s lighter than steel but it also occupies more volume, so the holes in the Aston’s body have to be quite small to retain torsional stiffness. Opening the Rapide's doors or boot is like opening a safe door; you're greeted not by a gaping aperture but by structural aluminium, framing a far smaller hole than you'd been expecting.

Nevertheless, the Rapide is far and away a more spacious car than the DB9 on which it is ostensibly based. It's a foot longer than a DB9, measuring a full five metres front to rear, and, truth be told, at 5ft 10in I could fit in the rear seats behind my own driving position with about an inch and a half of head room but precious little knee room.

The seats, four individual chairs, are new to the Rapide and to be truly comfortable in the back you need to keep a knee either side of the front seat's back. Toes, though not enough of your foot, can slide underneath the front seat. Aston says it's pleased with the Rapide's spaciousness, given that its aim was to provide short-distance comfort for airport or restaurant hops. I'd say it's just about acceptable.

Even a short drive is enough to discern that the Rapide rides genuinely well. It's supple yet tightly damped, with a comfort level that no current Aston can match. That comes as no suprise, but what might be is that there are also hints of a poise that you won't find in too many other Astons either.

It also steers very pleasingly. Hydraulically assisted, the rack has been quickened to offset the Rapide’s longer wheelbase and, like other Astons, it's middling weighted, consistent and smooth. Better, though, is that it has a new-found freedom from kickback. Aston has found a way to isolate what is a feelsome, accurate system from the unwanted knocks that an unyielding aluminium structure usually transmits through a rack like this.

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It's a smoothness that seems to be matched by other elements of the Aston's demeanour. When an automatic is as good as this ZF-sourced six-speeder, you wonder if it's worth the bother of robotising a manual or fitting a dual-clutcher. In Drive it makes bright decisions, but far more often than not I found myself making the choices myself via the sweet column-mounted paddles.

Foibles? I wouldn't mind if an extended pull on the right-hand lever reselected drive, rather than having to reach for the dash-mounted buttons, but other than that it's spot on.

The Rapide has magnetically controlled dampers (best left out of Sport mode on the road), while springs are steel all round. Go for a strop and you’ll find the Rapide is a communicative, engaging car to drive. The stiffness of its shell and lack of complication in the drivetrain – the V12 is as big-hearted as it is big-cylindered – mean you genuinely understand what is going on mechanically. It flows along A and B-roads with a poise you'll not find in many five-metre-long cars.

In extremes it does the obvious: understeers unless you trail its brakes to keep the nose settled, and it'll push its tail on the power. Possibly it could feel quicker. It's funny to think that a car with the same power as a Lamborghini Diablo doesn’t feel brutally rapid, but because it weighs virtually two tonnes, the Aston could use a bit more shove.

Should I buy one?

The real mark of a car like this is how happy you are to climb into it at 7pm on a Friday evening in the centre of town, and how you feel climbing out again 150 miles away three hours later.

The Rapide is absolutely first class at that sort of thing. What's most impressive is that there's an absence of niggles. It’s positively engaging on any journey and, on a long haul, there are few better cars to be in.

Yes, it’s small in the back and expensive to buy, but the Rapide is a triumph.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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DrDD 6 April 2010

Re: Aston Martin Rapide

I think this car is going to do great at the Nurburgring , 24h race .

We'll see it - http://www.auto-power-girl.com/cars-news/2010/04/06/aston_martin/4125/as...

Peter Cavellini 11 February 2010

Re: Aston Martin Rapide

No, i can't see a market for the Aston either, especially when the top of the range Panamera is 45 grand cheaper!,faster, better fuel economy,more room in the back seats, larger boot, i could go on! and i will, this car looks out of date anyway, the 1-77 is thee car for Aston, far more 21st century, the Rapide 4-door should have been canned like Porsche did with it's 4-door 911 a few years ago.

blowerbentley 9 February 2010

Re: Aston Martin Rapide

Correction, aluminium is not very stiff, it is much less stiff than steel. You have to add a lot more material to get the same stiffness. As it is less dense the overall structure is lighter.