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.
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.