Do you like noir? No, not the perfume, the literary and film genre. You know, hard-boiled crooks, wise-cracking private eyes, Los Angeles under cover of night and blondes so blonde they'll kill you dead. Those blondes are, of course, are better known as femme fatales, and in truth, the color of their hair doesn't really matter. Think Theda Bera, Rita Hayworth, Mary Astor, Barbara Stanwyck and Marlene Dietrich. And let's not forget the lovely Lana Turner – she's the one, in a case of life imitating art, with the daughter that killed Mickey Cohen's strongman/goon Johnny Stompanato. In other words, women so pretty you'd throw your life away just so they know you're throwing your life away.
Here's the free, online-encyclopedia definition of femme fatale in case you're still wondering: "An alluring and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous and deadly situations."
Let's state up front that the 2010 Aston Martin Rapide is not, to our knowledge, unsafe in any way, shape or form. But man, oh man, is it seductive enough to make us overlook every single bad thing about it. That, or walk into an uncovered manhole cover while staring at it. Anyhow, "irresistible desire" and "compromising situations" are this British superstar's raison d'etre. Philip Marlowe would eat his fedora just for a ride. Thankfully, we had to perform no such theatrics: Aston Martin simply let us borrow their car.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Calling the all-new Rapide beautiful is akin to saying water is wet. Its allure is so instantly obvious, so fist-bitingly apparent that the point is moot. Still, until the car was parked in my driveway, just how pretty (fine, stunning) wasn't clear. When in traffic other cars look like refrigerators and washing machines. When parked it's like a Rodin on four wheels. The Rapide, then, is another case, and perhaps the ultimate case, of pictures not doing a car justice. This is not meant as a slight against our ace photographer Drew Phillips, who did a bang-up job capturing the Rapide on digital film. It's just that when compressed down to only two dimensions, many of the achingly gorgeous curves are flattened out. As such, I spent perhaps thirty minutes staring at nothing but the Aston's curvaceous front fender. During that time I had no thoughts of anything else.
Nor should I have. Many pundits have been bemoaning the downward slide of car design since Federal regulations mandated five-mph bumpers and side marker lights. For a ton of reasons too varied to get into here, they're right. The Rapide, however, is a big time, major groundswell of an exception. People were stopping us on the street to guffaw. During the photoshoot, deep in Santa Clarita's meth country, a patrol car with a pair of officers rolled up to hassle us. After "Bad Cop" questioned us and checked our IDs, "Good Cop" jumped out of the Crown Vic, proclaiming, "I can't take it any more" and began snapping his own iPhone shots of the Rapide. This car is beyond lovely; so comely in fact that all its flaws (and sadly, there are flaws) are quickly – if not instantly – forgiven by all the blindest and most aesthetically dead. As such, we're going to structure this review as something of a Choose Your Own Adventure. If, like many, we figure, you don't care about how the car drives, its interior or any of the small stuff and are only interested in the Rapide's luscious shape, skip on ahead to the end. For the rest of you I-dotters and T-crossers, here we go.
One of the reasons for the Rapide's arresting good looks is its length, a length necessitated by the rear doors. That's right, this is the first four-door Aston Martin since the equal parts loved and bemoaned Lagonda (1976-1989), a car, by the way, that Aston Martin weirdly seems to deny ever existed. What to do then with the "first ever" Aston Martin sedan? I decided to show off the Rapide at a gas station where I've made friends with the owners over the years by showing off all the pretty cars I get to drive. The Rapide blew their minds. So much so, that they insisted (insisted) on giving the Aston a free wash and hand detailing. I think they just wanted to touch it. Rightly so, but here's the thing. When you open either of the rear swan-doors, the back windows automatically retract all the way down. Meaning that your freshly washed windows are automatically streaked if anyone climbs in the back seat. A small trifle, of course, but odd, no?
Then there's the backseat which might just be the world's loveliest torture chamber. There's almost no foot room, no shin room, no knee room, no head room and just barely enough hip room for a man. Ladies, look elsewhere. All that said, the Rapide's rear sure is a gorgeous leather and Alcantara dungeon to be packed into. The front thrones are worlds better in terms of comfort, however, the cockpit ergonomics are a disaster. The most prominent control is, of course, the seat heater/AC puck. Literally, your right hand (or left in Britain) most easily comes to rest on a large dial that in any other luxury sedan would control some sort of iDrive-like system. In the Rapide, it's the butt-warmer. Or butt-cooler as the case may be, and you'll never know during the day as sunlight totally washes out the tiny red or blue indicator lights. But don't worry, all of the gauges are illegible when the sun is shining. Speaking of ill-placed controls, the buttons to turn on the beautiful, private jet-style interior lights are positioned right above the fan knob.
Particularly strong hisses and boos are reserved for the pop-up navigation system. First of all, not only is the display tiny and hard to read, but it looked like an afterthought when Aston Martin first did it in the DB9 with left over Ford parts. Guess what? The Byzantine, near impossible to work system is still an afterthought and it's still based on a bunch of junk from the old Michigan parts bin. The worst part? There's no way to close the ghastly thing while the car is turned on (it automatically folds back down when the Rapide is switched off). A hammer and nails might keep it hidden, but in reality, you're stuck with it. I should say that perhaps there's a way to close the nav-screen, but we couldn't figure it out. And we tried. Also, the pop-up display's square, panel-gapped slice into the center of the dash's otherwise lovely wood is gauche. Speaking of gauche (and Ford), there's still way too much Blue Oval inside the Rapide. From the window switches to fuel gauge to the traction control button lifted straight out of an F-150, there is way too much Dearborn in this upper-crusty house. Luckily for Aston Martin, most Rapide owners would rather eat their own ascots than sit inside a pickup truck, so they'll never know the difference. But still...
Besides the binnage, there are just some cheap and screwy things that are out of place in a $211,095 car. For instance, the all-leather and thick carpet Blue Haze and Cream Truffle interior is outstandingly good looking, but why the basic black leather wheel? At least why isn't there any contrasting cross-stitching like one might find in the 2011 Kia Sportage? Perhaps those are options, but why are all of the controls plastic instead of metal? Also, you have to see the dinky, three-inch tall sun visors to understand the joke. Then there's the tiny, gray-fonted readout used to display everything from fan speed to radio information to phone connectivity that would have been considered inadequate in the 1990s. Worst of all, when the Bluetooth connection to your phone fails (and ours failed constantly), the screen says, "Connection Failed," and continues displaying this obvious piece of information until the car is turned off, no matter how many buttons you whack. Not exactly cutting-edge luxury.
Then there's the matter of the push-button automatic transmission. It works just fine, but really? Push-buttons? There are four of them, P for park, R for reverse, N for neutral and D for drive. Easy enough to use, but we question why D is closer to the passenger than the driver. In truth, the Rapide is kind of a dog until you stick it in Sport mode by hitting the big button with an S on it, which shifts less often by holding the gears longer. Thankfully, Aston Martin saw fit to equip the Rapide with proper, column-mounted paddles. When you flip a paddle, the transmission moves out of automatic into full manual mode until (and again) the car is turned off or unless you know enough to re-press the D button. Fine by us, but we image a surgeon's wife or two will be cheesed off when she inadvertently knocks a paddle and is forced to drive to Barney's in first gear at 6,500 RPM. Speaking of 6,500 RPM, that's a tick past redline, and the point where fuel cutoff occurs. We only mention this because according to the tachometer, there is no indicated redline. You might get the impression that the engine's top spinning speed is a lofty 8,000 RPM, but it simply isn't.
But enough grousing – what a mighty bomb of an engine. Six-liters, twelve-cylinders and all the fury such a configuration suggests. Rated at 470 horsepower and 443 pound-feet or torque, this all aluminum mill is unquestionably a perfect fit for the Rapide. Yes, of course, there are faster, more powerful V12s out there on sporty four-door sedans. The BMW 760Li for instance, makes 535 hp and 550 lb-ft from its twin-turbo 6.0-liter V12 and can hit 60 mph a full second quicker than the Aston Martin (four seconds bests the Rapide's five). But the big Bimmer looks like a pickle vat when compared to the Rapide, and it sounds like a German engineering convention. Whereas the British V12 is impossibly sweet sounding, endlessly sexy and flat-out wonderful. Biblical, too – especially for a four-door – either an angel's trumpet or a devil's trombone, depending on how far you bury your right foot. Even better is at low speeds when just a little kick from your Bruno Maglis sets off an explosion in the pipes pre-muffler that sounds like its coming out of the rear seats. Of course, that could just be your passenger, screaming from atrophy. To reiterate, the noise this V12 makes is not only intoxicating, but the kind of sound you wish all cars made.
It gets better. I was expecting the big-ish Aston to be straight-line fast, but daft, loose and wobbly in the bends. I'm not really sure what that assumption was based on, but there you have it. I was wrong. Even though it should have been obvious, the fact the Rapide is essentially all the good stuff from the DB9 – potent V12, rear-mounted six-speed transaxle, lightweight VH architecture and near 50/50 weight distribution with new sexy metal and an extra foot of length grafted on – had slipped my mind. Until the corners came. We took the Rapide over the same treacherous canyon road that we used for our V6 sports car comparison test. The Aston was a honey, dancing across the pavement, sashaying through the bends all the while sending essential feedback to my fingertips. Most coupes can't do this; the Rapide is a four-door sports car at last. As our own Michael Harley said in his first drive, "The Aston Martin Rapide is a sports car first, a sedan second." He ain't lying, not one bit.
But it's not a sports car in the modern sense of the word. You see, the Rapide trades brutal, tire-overwhelming, shoved into the seatbacks, traction-control tripping power for understated grace. By no means a light car (4,387 pounds, or about 500 pounds more than a DB9), the biggest Aston does weigh less than the bulk (no pun, no pun) of its super sedan competition – especially its fellow Brits. It is therefore able to glide around a corner rather than murder it. There's no need for manhole cover-sized brakes because the Rapide can carry more speed through a turn. Additionally, since the handling is so predictable and neutral, you won't find yourself caught off guard (or camber) and needing to slam on the stoppers. This Aston Martin, then, at least compared to its German rivals, is dignified in the way it handles back roads. You'll never find yourself in the weeds, so to speak. The Rapide's modus operandi is not a matter of programmers versus asphalt, but rather a consilience of machine and road. For those wondering about ride quality, it's a little stiff though never impolite. "Properly sporty," is how I'll term it. In fairness to the Rapide, we spend 99 percent of our time with the suspension set to Sport. In fairness to our assessment, pushing the sport button didn't seem to make too much difference.
If you decided to skip ahead, here's the point where you can rejoin the narrative. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what future Rapide owners will mentally do. Crap electronics, commoner switchgear, comical sun visors, a tight back seat – what could matter less? If you have the briefcase stuffed with the cash necessary to purchase a Rapide, worrying about all that nonsense would be like not purchasing the Monet because you hate Claude's signature – you're missing the point. Like any great femme fatale worth her ill-gotten diamonds, the Rapide floods your mind with a lake of irrationality. Kiss logic goodbye. And that's okay. As of 2010, no car is as sensual, as erotic, as wordlessly desirable, as flat out cool. Which leads to my final point: Forget about the gumshoes. If James Bond's love interests would stop dying, the Aston Martin Rapide is undoubtedly the car he would use to drop the kids off at soccer practice. Lucky brats.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.