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No Ordinary Aston: We take the wheel of Aston’s four-door sports car concept

By JULIAN RENDELL
AutoWeek | Published 04/17/06, 8:11 am et

AT A GLANCE:
ASTON MARTIN RAPIDE CONCEPT
On SALE: 2009 (possibly)
BASE PRICE: $200,000 (est.)
POWERTRAIN: 6.0-liter, 480-hp, 440-lb-ft V12; rwd, six-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 4268 lbs
0 to 60 MPH: 5.0 seconds (est.)


Four doors and four seats are not the standout points expected to headline in an Aston Martin. But the handsome Rapide concept, for many the star of the NAIAS, is no ordinary Aston.

This is the company’s first serious stab at a super-luxury sedan and a development that underlines the confidence and resurgence of modern-day Aston, blossoming in its 18th year of Ford ownership.

Sitting atop a three-car range—V8 Vantage, DB9 and Vanquish—Rapide is Aston’s answer to the upcoming Porsche Panamera, the rumored Lamborghini four-door and possibly even a Ferrari four-door.
In that sense it contributes to a fast-emerging new segment of four-seat, four-door supercars. Not the formal, upright sedans Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Mercedes and Maybach make, but informal, low-roofed coupe-like models with the sex appeal of a supercar cocktail—shaken with a dash of four-door practicality.

In rare bright English sunlight at Aston’s test track in Warwickshire, the Rapide looks as good as under the catwalk spotlights of its auto show debut. The fluid lines and the aggressive, road-eating grille of the Marek Reichman-penned design meld together into a beautiful continuum.

Then you notice how low the car is. If it was a ’60s Le Mans racer, Rapide would be badged GT52—just 12 inches taller than a GT40. For a four-door in a driving world hijacked by legislation, that’s incredibly low—half an inch lower than a Ferrari Scaglietti.
Rapide’s inviting and bright rear cabin, with soft leather and polished wood, is a tactile treat. Light floods through the full-length electrochromatic roof panel even when clouds block the sun.
At the same time, this is no compact sedan. At 197 inches long, the Rapide matches any of the Mercedes S-Class/Audi A8/Jaguar XJ genre, though that’s not as obvious as might be expected. Parked next to a tall Land Rover LR3, that low stance hides the lanky dimension, with its 9.8-inch stretch over the aluminum-chassis DB9 donor car.

Inside, the individual rear bucket seats are surprisingly comfortable, with the main constraint being the width, shoehorned between the trans-axle gearbox and rear wheel arch, and the difficulty of finding reasonable foot room.

The former will be hard to improve on without a fundamental engineering rethink, but the latter is already a work in progress, according to chief engineer Jeremy Main. The solution is a new drive system for the electric seats that will free room under the front seat for the rear passenger’s feet.
Unlike most cars of this ilk, Rapide’s rear cabin is not a gloomy place. Light-colored trim helps, as does the large rear hatch and deep rear windows. But the full-length electrochromatic roof panel is the key here. At the touch of a button, the obscured-glass roof magically clears to let in even more light. A consequence of this is heat soak. We needed the air conditioning on cool, even on a 50-degree day. The roof also frees up an extra couple of inches of headroom.

Rapide designer Reichman says the rear seat package is designed around a 60th-percentile adult, better than the average coupe, but no match for a luxury sedan.
No matter. It’s up front where we really want to be. Slotting into Rapide’s driving seat is like nuzzling into a DB9. To keep costs down, the seat and instrument panel are carryover, so the relationship between wheel, pedals and controls is pure DB9. That means a deep dashboard to cover the V12, which is located far back in the engine bay, and a distant windshield, positioned with one eye on a sporty slope for great styling and another on the latest crash regulations.

Minor switchgear is carried over from the DB9, but there is a new center stack of controls that is much better than the DB9’s tiny plasticky buttons (the DB9 will get this improvement, too).

Aston’s push-button starter cranks the glorious V12 into life and the Rapide rumbles onto the test track. First impression is the Rapide is quite refined, despite being a concept. Running show cars are typically noisy beasts, and with the gearbox just inches away from the back seat, we expected to hear nothing but gnashing gears. But even in a concept bereft of engineering development, the gearbox is quiet.
Because we’re limited to 35 mph or so, we can only get an impression of on-road behavior. Like the DB9, in tight turns the Rapide feels quite wide and placing it accurately takes a bit of adjustment. But turn-in feels reasonably sharp despite the extended wheelbase, the rear wheels follow the fronts faithfully, and maybe there is a hint of extra straight-line stability.

Appropriately, the snarling 480-hp V12 feels like it wants to propel the Rapide up to its 186-mph-plus maximum as soon as possible. For a prototype, the Rapide rides with suppleness and steers faithfully, a reflection of its production-car underpinnings.

That word—production—keeps cropping up, yet officially Aston hasn’t committed to build the Rapide. A chat with an Aston official soon reveals the will is there, so no wonder a feasibility study is giving the engineering center plenty to do right now. More significantly, Aston boss Ulrich Bez has a track record of making the right things happen quickly. Ever the pragmatic engineer, Bez predicts production to begin no sooner than early 2009.
There are many details to be sorted out. Structurally, the rear bulkhead has disappeared to make the open, hatchback load area with its flat floor. As a result, the fuel tank shrinks to an impossibly small volume for the real world. Another unknown is whether the DB9’s bonded aluminum chassis is stiff enough to cope with the near-10-inch wheelbase stretch without costly modification. There are other things, too—the position of the interior front door handles, for instance. Because the front doors are simply shortened DB9 doors, the handles are too far back.

The business case for Rapide also demands defining who would buy a four-door Aston, if there are enough of them to sustain sales over a probable six-year product cycle, and what they would be willing to pay.

Aston doesn’t profess to know the answers to these questions, but having sampled the Rapide we can only hope the right answers can be found. This is one handsome, desirable and classy car, and one the sports car world deserves to see in production.






 

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Discussion Starter #4
I love the variable tint glass.

It's an Aston Martin, it's powered by a Duratec, it's got four doors and looks sexy doing it, what's not to love about it? (Save the price tag).
 

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:drool: :love:
 

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It's a fucking Aston Martin, how could it not be a fantastic design.

(automatic transmissions withstanding)

Absolute sex on wheels, IMHO.
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Exactly- the automatic. I bet it's nearly Bentley heavy, too. Sex on wheels is a Ferrari or Lotus- something less porky.

I mentioned ZoomZoomDiva because he's been complaining about the lack of a proper four-door supercar since he first started posting here. Does this count?
 

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Exactly- the automatic. I bet it's nearly Bentley heavy, too. Sex on wheels is a Ferrari or Lotus- something less porky.

I mentioned ZoomZoomDiva because he's been complaining about the lack of a proper four-door supercar since he first started posting here. Does this count?
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4,200, it's in the Mercedes weight class :D
 

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It's really more of a Touring than a Sports car, as all Aston-Martins are. So I don't know if this is really what ZoomZoomDiva had in mind with all his... bickering. ;)

If I suddenly came into stupid amounts of money (and with the way the metals markets are looking, that time may be coming), an Aston-Martin would be the absolute first thing I would buy. The second would be a proper transmission. And the third would be paying someone to put it in there.
 

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I wish the DB9 6-spd manual would be offered, but this is Aston's stab at the AMG Mercedes performance sedans, where auto is king.
 

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Looks flat-out awesome...as all the current AM's do. It does look even better in person...saw it at the Detriot show in January. Its freaking huge for an AM.
 

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Most of the touring supercars are automatic, so I don't see Aston Martin making the Rapide anything but. I do wish they'd give it a 7-speed like the new Mercedes-Benz tourers have. If you're after a 6-speed manual, check out the gorgeous AM Vantage V8.
 

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So I don't know if this is really what ZoomZoomDiva had in mind with all his... bickering. ;)
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Bitching. The word is bitching. :yesnod:
 
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