2010 Aston Martin Rapide – Click above for high-res image gallery

The world's best-looking four-door sedan beckoned us from Miami. Enticed, we boarded a jet and paid the 2010 Aston Martin Rapide a visit. Our task was to shuttle Aston Martin's first four-sedan up the coast to Palm Beach – someone had to do it. Of course, we took the circuitous route and spent the day blissfully putting her through the paces as we leisurely motored our way north.

Why did the British automaker design a sedan – and what is hiding under its skin? What is it like to drive? How are those rear-seat accommodations? Most importantly, how does the Rapide measure up to the Porsche Panamera and Maserati Quattroporte? The answers and more after the jump...

Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

The Aston Martin Rapide is a sports car first, a sedan second.

Those exact words may have never been spoken or alleged while the Rapide was under development. Nevertheless, that mantra subconsciously repeated itself countless times during our day with the British manufacturer's first four-door vehicle since the angular William Towns-designed Lagonda left the world stage.

Even to the uninitiated openly-gazing public, the Rapide is purely an Aston Martin. The family resemblance – to the DB9, DBS and Vantage – is unquestioned thanks to Aston's world-renowned and incredibly sexy, sleek silhouette. The designers have done such a noble job hiding the extra 12 inches of length and two inches of height that only on second glance do most realize that this isn't another coupe. Regardless, in a compliment to the designer, most will still believe the Rapide is a stretched variant of the DB9. In truth, all of the body panels on the sedan are new – none of the sheetmetal is shared.

With that in mind, it is no surprise to find that under the skin, Aston Martin has utilized its V/H platform – shared with the DB9, DBS and Vantage – to construct the Rapide. Using technology borrowed from the aerospace industry, the British automaker employs adhesives to bond – not weld – aluminum components together. The front quarter panels are composite, while the doors and roof are aluminum. The rear quarter panels are steel. The end result is a chassis that is very light and extraordinarily stiff. The curb weight of the Rapide is 4,387 pounds – about 500 pounds heavier than the DB9 coupe. Thanks to the engine being set low and back in the front of the platform and a rear-mounted transaxle, the Rapide's weight balance is a nicely proportioned 49 percent front, 51 percent rear.

Under the long hood of the Rapide is a hand-assembled all-alloy 48-valve V12. Displacing 6.0-liters, the normally-aspirated engine is rated at 470 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) and 443 lb-ft of torque (at 5,000 rpm). Power is sent rearward through a carbon-fiber propeller shaft within an alloy tube to the mid-mounted gearbox. The transmission is Aston Martin's "Touchtronic 2" with electronic shift-by-wire control (that's an overly eloquent way of saying it is a traditional six-speed slushbox with a torque converter and overrides for manual control). A standard limited-slip differential ensures power is sent consistently to each rear wheel. While the four-door shares a powertrain with the DBS, it has been customized for the Rapide, including its own unique final drive ratio of 3.46:1.

The Rapide's suspension is comprised of independent double-wishbones on all four corners. A standard Adaptive Damping System (ADS) automatically adjusts the suspension settings based on road conditions and driver inputs. If needed, a "Sport" button in the cabin allows the driver to instantly set all dampers to their firmest positions – and damage your kidneys. Debuting on the Rapide is Aston Martin's first-ever dual cast brake system with rotors rendered in iron and aluminum. Weighing nearly 20 percent less than traditional all-iron rotors, the lightweight brakes reduce unsprung mass to improve performance, and they reduce brake corrosion as an added benefit. Six-piston calipers hide inside 20-inch alloy wheels up front (wearing 245/40R20 tires) while four-piston calipers, and a dedicated single-piston parking brake caliper, reside in the rear 20-inch wheels (wrapped in wider 295/35R20 rubber). The standard tire fitment is the Bridgestone Potenza S001.

Most of this reads much like a DB9 or DBS review – until now.

The Rapide's two rear seats – le raison d'être – are accessed via the two rear "swan doors" that swing 70 degrees wide (the same angle as the front doors) and rise rather dramatically upward a full 12 degrees. The twin rear passenger hatches are rather short and stubby, but they allow excellent access to the individual bucket seats on each side of the rear cabin. An immense center console swathed in more leather houses dual cup holders, lighting, seat and cabin climate controls for the rear occupants. A twin-screen entertainment system offers DVD video and wireless headsets for those who somehow find boredom in the back seat of an Aston Martin.

Thanks to those same rear seats, the luggage capacity of the Rapide isn't all that bad. Lift the manually-operated tailgate and access to the trunk is painless. A system of collapsible carpet-lined panels folds up and down to isolate cargo from passengers, if needed. We toted a roll-on bag, a computer bag and a camera backpack with space to spare. When more room is desired, the rear seats bow elegantly forward at the touch of a button to lie nearly flat. The space is generous, but don't think the Rapide is going to haul ripped bags of potting soil in this "cargo configuration" as there are yards of expensive leather left exposed and vulnerable. However, the Rapide will effortlessly bring home that priceless oversized framed Monet you purchased with pocket change at auction.

Our test car wore a deep skin of Quantum Silver paint over Obsidian Black leather with contrasting red stitching. The wheels were finished in graphite, which really completed the package. As this was an early production model there was no window sticker in the glove box. However, Aston Martin has released pricing on the Rapide. The base MSRP of cars bound to the States is $199,950. Since our vehicle had several options (graphite wheels, Rapide logo in headrests, rear seat entertainment, etc...) it was likely touching $210,000.

Pressing on the leading edge of the Rapide's flush-mounted exterior door handle exposes the lever to the rest of your hand. Pull, and the door opens – it's the same manner of gaining entry into a private jet. With the door swinging wide and high, climbing into the cabin isn't difficult. Our six-foot two-inch frame fits comfortably and with plenty of room to spare (we actually moved the seat forward a bit). The steering wheel adjusts manually with a lever underneath, while the various seat controls are mounted on each side of the center console. It takes less than a minute to get settled in the driver's bucket seat and the gorgeous scent of tanned leather is very strong.

Front passengers sit low in the four-door, mirroring the driving position common to every other Aston Martin vehicle. In a rather coupe-like manner, arms and legs are outstretched forward, which is racy and aggressive but also comfortable. Although the rear window is very small, the exterior mirrors offer excellent coverage over the flanks when properly adjusted. Unapparent from the exterior, the view outward isn't particularly challenged.

Rear passengers are faced with less comfortable accommodations – deliberately. That same determination that successfully maintained Aston Martin's sensual profile has applied the pressure to those in the second row. While the seating area is beautifully appointed, it is simply too small and claustrophobic for your average adult male. Without question, the Rapide offers more rear seat room than any other car in Aston Martin's history, but we know that's not saying much. However, thanks to that to-die-for styling, it willfully falls short of the competition. We barely fit back there. Instead, we chose to drive.

Like all late-model Aston Martins, the Rapide features a crystal key that is slid into a central slot on the dash – it illuminates, the engine cranks over, and the key remains in place as a piece of glowing artwork on the console. With the starting ceremony complete, the V12 settles into a pleasant rumble. The transmission buttons reside on each side of the arty key. Release the electronic parking brake, press the "D" button, and the Rapide is ready to roll.

Acceleration is strong, but not neck-snapping. Holding the Rapide's accelerator to the floor rewards passengers with 60 miles per hour in just under five seconds – robust, but a number that is no longer very impressive in this stratospheric segment. It is a world filled with forced induction competitors that exhibit immediate torque off idle, yet the Rapide's V12 breathes air at atmospheric pressure. In the real world, most won't care about the numbers as the sound emanating from the 6.0-liter twelve-cylinder engine sends chills decisively down each passenger's spine. The unhampered exhaust spouts gloriously from the twin pipes under throttle, and it burbles during downshifts. In other words, the Rapide offers a sensational bark, but a mid-pack bite.

The Rapide doesn't drive as big as it looks (still, tight slaloms are best done wide to compensate for the added wheelbase). Notwithstanding, any sedan-like driving characteristics are left in the parking lot as the Rapide magically morphs into a coupe at speed and becomes truly enjoyable to command.

We covered a couple hundred miles in the Rapide over the course of a day. It was raining most of the time (thank you, Florida), but sealed inside our leather-lined cocoon, we were isolated from everything nature had in store. The platform is remarkably solid, as if it had been CNC-milled from a forged ingot of titanium. Not only is the cabin completely free from squeaks and rattles, but triple-digit velocities allow only a whisper of wind noise to our ears (the window glass is laminated specifically to improve noise insulation).

The paddle shifters, electronically triggering the six-speed automatic, are easy-to-use and very effective in operation. While it is not today's popular dual-clutch setup, the "Touchtronic 2" mated to the V12 cracks off quick shifts enjoyably and without drama. Even in fully automatic mode, we never found ourselves questioning its decisions.

Straight-line speed is effortless in the Rapide, but so are the curves. Again, in coupe-like fashion, the Rapide dives right in without hesitation. Excellent chassis tuning, a responsive automatic damping system and optimal weight distribution make the four-door an absolute joy to toss around. Reigning in the inertia are overly capable brakes. Thanks to the weather, we couldn't find a surface with enough grip to put them to a vigorous test as ABS would stop our game well short of their true threshold. Still, their application was accurate and easy to modulate.

We must mention the stereo as the Aston Martin Rapide has the best mobile audio system we have ever heard – hands down. Yes, it is standard equipment. Credit the Danish Bang & Olufsen team with engineering a 1,000-watt system that pumps auditory bliss out of 15 strategically-placed speakers throughout the cabin (the system is officially called the "1000 W BeoSound Rapide"). Not only does the custom setup include those two ultra-cool "Acoustic Lenses" that rise like dueling conductors out of the dashboard, but the electronics actually monitor each seatbelt to determine how many occupants are in the vehicle (and where they are sitting) so that the sound may be tailored perfectly within the cabin's acoustic chambers – now, that is cool. With our iPhone plugged into the system, we had Rush's Tom Sawyer blaring so loudly that you would have sworn Geddy Lee was wailing at us inches away, Alex Lifeson was strumming in the passenger seat and Neil Peart was hanging out in the rear hatch smashing a full complement of drums. Our ears rang for hours that night.

We genuinely liked the Aston Martin Rapide, but it didn't leave us breathless. A peerless execution of a sedan cleverly disguised as a coupe – or arguably one of the best-looking sedans on the planet – the four-door isn't the sportiest within its niche (the Porsche Panamera takes that honor), or the most luxurious (the Maserati Quattroporte is more swank). However, neither of those cars would win even a first-round beauty contest against the Rapide. With that sole factor in mind, Aston Martin has successfully delivered its objective.

On a level playing field, it is wrong to measure the Rapide against a Panamera or Quattroporte – Aston Martin's objective wasn't to dip into the rarefied sedan segment and skim sales from the Germans or Italians. This British automaker was seeking to offer its exclusive owners a four-passenger option, something it had never truly delivered. Today, an Aston Martin customer standing on a marble showroom floor looking for something a bit larger and more accommodating than a DB9 or DBS, yet with nearly identical driving dynamics, has a viable option. Without compromise, the pampered clientele will steer themselves towards the four-door Rapide.

Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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