Gaydon’s four-door grand tourer gets more power and panache, but hasn't evolved to quite the same transformative degree as its main rival, the second-generation Porsche Panamera

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Aston Martin’s mission to bring us the most beautiful four-door in the world hit second gear with this, the Aston Martin Rapide S.

When 2013 rolled around, it marked the arrival of what you might call a mid-cycle refreshed version of the intriguing hybrid coupe-cum-saloon, launched in 2010 - except that the Aston Martin Rapide S is a much more altered animal compared to the original model than those terms would imply.

Gaydon says this is its most customisable series model yet

There’s a whole new front-end structure here, a revised engine, a reinforced body, a reappraised chassis, a freshened-up cabin – as well as that thrusting new grille.

Here, then, is a chance for Gaydon to hit the reset button; to cast memories of the first Rapide’s troubled early years – of outsourced production, slow initial sales and punishing early residual values – to the dustbin of history. This car may not quite be all new, but rest assured, it’s much newer than it looks. Perhaps even more important, it’s a clean slate.

Aston’s claims for it are many. This car, they say, pushes the company’s four-door model through two specific performance watersheds: it takes 4.2sec to hit 60mph, and is capable of 203mph flat out.

It has 17 percent more power than its predecessor, and 10 percent more torque at 2500rpm. It has a heavily revised chassis too, and offers as big a gain in refinement as it does on speed. 

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Is all that to be believed? You’re about to read the only verdict that matters.

Save you money 9


Aston Martin Rapide rear

All three of design, chassis and interior of the Rapide have all been tweaked in a similar manner for this mid-life revision. The design still utterly recognisable as Aston Martin’s five-metre long four-door car, but there have been subtle tweaks throughout.

On the outside, the most obvious is of course the new grille, which is bigger and, Aston Martin says “more assertive” than before. Our survey said: it’s more Ford Fiesta-like, but we suspect the Fiesta will gain from the association of “an Aston grille” and the Rapide will lose not out at all.

Is the Aston the most beautiful four-door in the world? Not for me

Overall there are seven new body panels, including a new bonnet, bumper and front wings, surrounding that new grille and new headlights, but you’d be hard pushed to spot all the differences because the proportions are largely unchanged – and the Rapide is none the worse for it.

Beneath the aluminium exterior panelling it’s a similar story. The vertical-horizontal (VH) extruded and bonded aluminium architecture has been changed just a little to ensure that the engine sits lower in the chassis, but broadly you’re looking at the same hardware that underpinned the car when it arrived in 2010

Not that that’s necessarily a terrible thing, either: it’s difficult for Aston to communicate changes because people ostensibly see the same thing every time they revisit the product, but beneath the undeniably attractive aluminium skin a myriad of small changes have been effected over the years to reduce, say, steering kickback and increase torsional rigidity. It’s not unlike the way the aerospace industry improves its products, in that respect. It seems to us though that it just doesn’t quite sit with how people perceive cars.

Take the drivetrain, for example: ostensibly recognisable from before, with a naturally-aspirated, 6.0-litre V12 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, but it now makes rather a lot more power than it did previously: from 470bhp, which we mooted at the time could have used being a little higher, it has increased to a very solid 552bhp, 12bhp more than you’ll find in a DB9 and 16bhp short of the output of a Vanquish.


Aston Martin Rapide's interior

At more than five metres long, the Aston Martin Rapide S is not a small car. But the logistics of arranging a V12 engine low under the hood, with a cabin behind it and an aluminium structure that needs to be stiff because the shapely bodywork on top is disinclined to help with the torsional rigidity, mean that something’s gotta give. And in this example, it’s interior volume. 

There’s ‘nowt wrong with space in the front of the Aston, mind. The seat is lower and the sill wider than is typical on luxury cars but we’ll forgive that. Likewise the transmission tunnel is tall and the windowline high. Nope, our complaints about the front-cabin of the Aston are the same as usual: patchy ergonomics on the centre console and a set of dials that, while attractive, are similarly unfriendly to the senses.

We recommend the lightweight sports seats and a mid-tone leather finish

Still, the leather is beautifully stitched and presented, and the piano black perfectly shiny and deftly fitted. 

It’s in the rear where the Aston’s structure gives it the most compromise. The pair of rear chairs – that transmission tunnel and a totally separate ventilation system for rear passengers prevents are triumvirate of rear seats – are small under thigh, and sited low; though are comfortable for kids or smallish adults.

A six foot passenger behind a similarly sized driver is a struggle, though. You’d cope for an airport run or back from a meeting a short hop away, but if you’re looking for the accommodation of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or even a Porsche Panamera, you can forget it.

The boot is small if you examine the raw numbers (317-886 litres), and the hatch’s opening fairly narrow. But because the rear seats fold (and can be, optionally, covered when they do) the Rapide is a surprisingly useful load carrier.

As for the standard equipment, the Rapide S comes with 20in alloy wheels shod in Bridgestone Potenza tyres, adaptive suspension, traction control, emergency brake assist and electrically adjustable and dimming mirrors on the outside as standard, while inside there is a lavishly appointed and lovingly crafted leather upholstery, electrically adjustable front seats, heated seats all round, quad-zone climate control, cruise control, parking sensors, a reversing camera, and a Volvo-derived infotainment system complete with sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth, iPhone integration, USB connectivity and a 6.5in display.

Naturally, there is a vast list of optional extras to give your Rapide a sense of individuality, such as alternative colours for the brake calipers, a carbonfibre exterior trim pack, various coloured alloys and exhaust trim for the outside, while inside you have your choice of wood trim, ventilated seats, folding rear seats, a Bang & Olufsen stereo and a rear-seat entertainment system to name a few.


Cornering Aston Martin Rapide

Because our test took place in cold conditions, Aston opted to provide a Rapide on winter tyres. That inevitably makes for a penalty against our timing gear, but in spite of that, you can still see the improvement in performance that Aston has made to this car in the numbers we witnessed.

Truth is, we already know this is a sub-5.0sec car to 60mph. Our test, in a 470bhp Rapide on Bridgestone Potenza warm weather covers, recorded the sprint in 4.9sec. The new Rapide S, shorn much less appropriately for standing start acceleration, takes 5.3sec over the same pitch.

At heart, the Rapide is still a sports car

With two tonnes to get moving and 552bhp to put down, the surprising thing is actually how well those winter tyres cope; they’ll allow you to use most available power in 1st gear, and all of it once you hit 2nd.

Despite its considerably poorer traction, the new car was only one tenth of a second slower than old to 100mph. It was the faster car of the two to 120mph, and was a full 3.3sec quicker to 150mph – at which point the end of MIRA’s mile straights called a halt to any further comparison. 

A Porsche Panamera Turbo will just nudge through 160mph on the same straights; even with the right tyres, we doubt the Aston could have done that. The last BMW M5 is quicker still, and might have hit 170mph there were it not for the speed limiter. So the Rapide can’t be considered the four-door performance king. But the car’s outright pace still feels mighty, and so it should. Bentley’s Continental GTC V8, for example, took a second longer to hit the big 1-5-0.

Speed, however, is only as half the story in this wonderfully traditional-feeling long-nosed GT. It’s equally matched by an orchestral V12 soundtrack, and accompanied by luxurious, full-cream mechanical refinement. 

Shifts of that ZF automatic gearbox may not be whipcrack fast, but they’re perfectly smooth. Aston’s engine insulation allows just enough warble and whine into the cabin to make the car seem expensive and eccentric, but not a hint too much. It’s a wonderful combination – and an increasingly distinguishing one in a market where old-school mechanical richness is routinely sacrificed on the altar of ever–greater efficiency.


Aston Martin Rapide rear

The Rapide's steering, which uses a hydraulic rack, offers excellent feel and accuracy. This helps to mark the Aston aside from the vast majority of luxury cars.

A Porsche Panamera’s rack is heavier in feel perhaps, but doesn’t contain such linear, predictable response, while you can forget any of the rest as a comparison: “The Rapide remains a sports car at heart”, Aston told us, and when it comes to the way it steers, we know what they mean.

Its balance is very neutral, erring just towards understeer on a steady throttle

Its ride isn’t too far removed from that of most luxury cars, though. There are now three, rather than two, stages to the adaptive damping system, but the standard, softest setting is fine in virtually all conditions. It keeps respectably tight check of body movements but also rounds the worst bumps away.

Again, it’s a price to pay for the excellent inherent balance that the Aston’s chassis possesses. No other five-metre long car flows in the way it does, composed and controlled and with well-honed damping and steering.

The control weights are all absolutely spot on, too, which all goes to make the Aston Martin Rapide S a particularly easy and rewarding car to drive at any speeds.


Aston Martin Rapide S

Aston’s decision not to increase the asking price of this five-metre grand tourer, having refined and improved so much about it, comes as a veiled admission that the last car didn’t quite do enough to justify its substantial price tag.

Within the current Aston range, this Rapide works a lot harder to attract your custom. It’s closer-priced to the DB9 than it used to be, and yet in terms of peak power, it offers damn near as much as the Vanquish.

Aston was still under Ford when, back in 2006, it first showed the Rapide concept

As such, whether you need the extra two doors or not, you have to admit that, on paper, there’s much more going for this middle-sitting Aston than there used to be – and the secondhand market should judge it less harshly as a result.

This is still a big Aston, of course. Just as with any of Gaydon’s V12s, customers will have to be prepared for steeper depreciation than they’d find on some £150k exotics. You’ll have to be prepared to pay £465 a year for your tax disc as well.

You’ll have to get used to a sub-20mpg economy return too. Our 18.6mpg test average is commendably close to Aston’s 19.9mpg claim for the car though, and a full one-to-the-gallon better than we got from the last Rapide. For a car like this, it’s actually pretty decent.

Save you money 9


Four star Aston Martin Rapide

Despite the revisions to this car, what’s good about the Aston Rapide S are the very things that made it good in 2010.

So we like the design, the drive and the feeling that it is built with care. And the things that irritated us then are still its shortcomings today – its rear volume, some road noise and the fiddly interior.

Small changes keep the Aston desirable

Things have changed, then, but they’ve also stayed the same. Somebody should write a cliché about that. Perhaps in French.

That being the case, our verdict now is much as it was three years ago: if you are able to cope with its accommodation limitations, you’ll love it the Aston Martin Rapide S.

It’s a beautifully styled and brilliantly accomplished four-door GT, but now looks a bit old hat and compromised when you consider the second generation Porsche Panamera.

Save you money 9

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. 

Aston Martin Rapide S 2013-2018 First drives