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2014 Aston Martin Rapide S (Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)

2014 Aston Martin Rapide S

(Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)

First Drive Aston Martin Rapide S

$210,000 Aston Martin a stunning four-door sports coupe Add to ...

The new 2014 Rapide S is a sports car, not a sedan, Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez asserts.

He insists the rivals to this 200-grand-plus four-door are similarly priced two-door performance machines like the Ferrari FF, Bentley Continental GT and Porsche 911 Turbo. Compared to those two-doors, look how much more accommodating the two places are in the back seat of the Rapide S, Bez said at the recent media launch near Barcelona.

Well, access to those rear two seats via the two small, up-swinging rear doors is certainly an upgrade. But when you’re citing the virtues of your rear-seat comfort in comparison to the 911’s tiny two perches, you’re not exactly scaling Olympic heights.

Even the FF’s rear seat, though trickier to reach initially, is more spacious than the rear buckets of the Rapide S, where the huge transmission tunnel between the seats and curved rear roofline pinch you in on both sides.

Aston Martin may not have improved the Rapide’s tight rear seat when replacing it with the updated Rapide S for 2014, but along with arguably hotter looks, it did bestow it with the one magic ingredient that rarely backfires in a sports car: more power.

And even with a larger and more aggressive front grille, revisions necessitated by European pedestrian protection standards, it’s still the best-looking four-door anything on the planet.

Its 5.9-litre V-12 is now up to 550 hp, 80 more than its S-less predecessor, now matching or at least better approximating what its high-end two and four-door coupe rivals produce.

It’s easy to vex Aston folks with questions about how the Rapide S compares to similarly powerful four-door coupes such as the Mercedes-Benz CLS AMG or BMW M6 Gran Coupe, both of which start at about half its price. Even the Porsche Panamera Turbo S, also more than 200 grand in price in Canada, and also with 550 hp, is not acknowledged as a competitor, at least not publicly by Bez.

The argument is one he is well practised at making since the Rapide launched in 2010, with the British sports car brand’s first four-door model. He swatted away those comparisons just as he did the questions about the Rapide S not offering all-wheel-drive: true sports cars are rear-wheel-drive.

So what’s it like to drive? Over a day and a half through Catalonia, the Rapide S feels like a luxurious but true sports car. Its immediate responses shrink the car around the driver amazingly, while providing straight-line thrust that seems incredible for any car, no matter the door count.

The excitement starts even before hopping in, as it should in a proper sports car. When the Rapide S was first shown, that huge grille seemed ungainly, especially compared to the gracefully aging nose that’s now being widely mimicked – and admired – in various Ford models. But outside of auto show stands and press photos, the front licence plate on our tester helped decrease the heft of the higher and more upright grille. Or perhaps the rest of its curves just seduced me enough in person to overlook such safety-mandated plastic surgery.

The seductive appeal continues inside, with fine materials, a crystal-topped key and Aston’s traditional reverse-swinging gauges promising up to 330 km/h worth of driving memories. Its actual top speed is listed at 306 km/h, though we would only reach blasts up to about half that speed on some 120 km/h signed highways no straighter and much narrower than our own.

I was actually going closer to a reserved if perhaps high-revving 70 km/h on some tight mountain roads when local constabulary pulled me over, asking immediately for my licence and international driver’s permit. He had obviously done this before. Luckily, I had ordered an IDP just weeks prior, and had thankfully tucked the flimsy but oversized permit into my camera bag the night before.

A warning not to imitate Spanish countryman Fernando Alonso was the only result, and not vehicular or driver impounding at the police station for the rest of the day, as had happened to colleagues on an earlier Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG event.

Yet all this high-revving driving fun on mountain roads helped mask the increasing evidence of growing engineering grey hairs on the Rapide S. The revised six-speed paddle shift transmission shifts relatively quickly, but not dual-clutch quick, and features only six gears, the same number as the most modern subcompact cars. The addition of available twin rear DVD players is welcome, but the lack of rear airbags and a host of modern active safety features will dissuade cautious parents from seeing it as a family commuter. Not having a corporate parent with which to share development costs after it split from Ford won’t make it easier for Aston Martin in many ways.

Instead, the development priorities tend strongly towards performance, but of the minor variety. The Bilstein dampers have now been upgraded to a three-stage setup for a new Track mode, allowing Normal and Sport to be more comfortable. Stiffer cross-bracing was added in front, as with the new Vanquish. And even the optional 21-inch wheels are 10 per cent lighter.

With the new Rapide S, Aston Martin has updated or revamped all its cars in the past 12 months. And no matter which fast sports cars one compares the S to, there’s no denying that it shares the sensual appeal of its stablemates in the looks department.

Tech specs

2014 Aston Martin Rapide S

Type: Luxury four-door sport coupe

Base price: $210,500

Engine: 5.9-litre V-12

Horsepower/torque: 550 hp/457 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with shift paddles

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km, EPA): 18.1 city/12.4 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: BMW M6 Grand Coupe, Ferrari FF, Jaguar XFR-S, Maserati Quattroporte, Mercedes-Benz CLS AMG, Porsche Panamera Turbo


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