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Aston Martin Rapide S, gloriously analog: Motoramic Drives

Aki Sugawara
22 August 2013

Luxury sedans are a dime a dozen in Silicon Valley, where the Tesla Model S has become the must-have accessory for rising, thirty-something tech VPs. As an entrepreneurial mecca, old-money cars like a Bentley Mulsanne barely turn heads, and it takes a special kind of saloon to soak up attention.

But Aston Martin does just that with its Rapide S sedan.

Talk of the Aston’s seductive design inevitably takes center stage, and it’s no wonder — the car dazzles in person, and in person it's nothing like a humble Ford Fusion. Automakers throw around the “coupe” word for four-doors like the Mercedes-Benz CLS or the Volkswagen CC, but it’s most fitting for the slinky Rapide. Aggressively raked and hunkered down like a wild cat ready to strike, it’s modern and classic all at the same time. Nor does it look like an oddly elongated sports car, like the Porsche Panamera.

As with other Astons, the build quality is impeccable, thanks to impossibly OCD designers. Even odds and ends like the door jams grabbed my attention, because there are almost no screw holes or mounting points to be seen. The smell that wafts from the cabin is that of a high-end leather lounge sofa, and every sultry surface is a delight to touch.

In many ways, I get a sense the car is the antithesis to the Tesla Model S. Push the Swarovsky crystal key fob into center console, and the 550-hp V-12 in the Rapide S roars to life, the tach needle surging to 3000 rpm so you can take in its rhapsodic exhaust note. By contrast the Tesla stealthily starts up, devoid of a mechanical soundtrack. And when flooring a Tesla Model S on the street, the world around you barely stirs. But punch the throttle on the Aston Martin Rapide S, and whole neighborhoods take notice, the very Earth seemingly cowering under its immense power as the car roars from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds. Forget turbos or regenerative braking — nothing beats an old-school naturally aspirated engine. Even if it gets 9 mpg when gunning it.

But some aspects I wish weren’t so retro. The Rapide S saloon still uses an archaic Volvo-derived interface, which has enough buttons to rival NASA’s mission control center. Compare that to the minimalist iPad-esque touchscreen interface in the Model S, which doesn’t leave you scanning for something as trivial as a map light. The $3,750 rear entertainment system on our Rapide S (tipping the price tag to over $220,000) is reminiscent of those seatback video screens on an economy class Boeing 767, and the toy-like DVD changer in the trunk feels more fitting in an old, chunky Mercedes-Benz E-Class from the 1990s.

But then again, it’s part of the old-world charm on the Aston. I like how I don’t need to turn off a slew of whiz-bang features on start-up, like beeping blind-spot monitors, collision-detection that makes the seats buzz, or a vibrating steering wheel for lane departure warning. Because it has none of pesky things.

And sure, there are other flaws I can poke at with the British saloon, like the stiff and upright rear seats, trunk space that will barely fit groceries, stunted rear visibility rivaling a Dodge Magnum's, or brakes that faintly groan at low speeds, sounding like the Smoke Monster from "Lost."

Yet none of those qualms stick, because the Rapide S satisfies immensely from the driver’s seat. The chassis handles all that power with effortless grace, and the car stays planted and flat through hard cornering, its majestic tail only coming loose when prodigiously committing to the gas pedal mid corner. Although there’s no manual transmission option, the smooth dual-clutch performs flawlessly. Plus, the longer wheelbase does little to compromise rigidity when compared to the DB9. My rear seat occupants — who were initially griping about the tight space — fell silent as they were enraptured by orchestral sounds of the mammoth 6.0-liter engine.

And that’s why it’d be criminal to compare its acceleration to a Panamera Turbo, or fuel economy to a Tesla. After all, cutting-edge is a distinction that inevitably fades over time, especially in the obsolescence-driven world of Silicon Valley. But the seductive luster of a four-seater that drives and looks like a supercar, on the other hand, will endure for decades to come.

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