Eight gears make Aston Martin’s four-door four-seater complete at last. Now the most practical of supercars?
Richard Aucock | October 2014
Aston Martin reckons it has finally launched the ultimate Rapide S four-seat four-door. Already significantly uprated in 2013 over the 2010 launch car to give it the ‘S’ moniker (and an extra 17% more power), Aston has completed the round of upgrades with a brand new eight-speed automatic gearbox.
It’s an upgrade not to be overlooked. Officially billed as a 2015 model year update, with no visual changes, we reckon it’s potentially much, much more than just that. The eight-speed Touchtronic III auto is the same exceptional eight-speed ZF transmission found in many BMWs; we know it’s a brilliant unit. To complement it, Aston has fitted a brand new engine ECU ‘brain’, which has the welcome effect of adding a few extra horses to the total power output: it’s now 552hp. See – not so minor…
The Rapide S is much faster against the clock, not because of the extra power but because the gearbox works so much more efficiently. Half a second is cut from the 0-62mph dash, now 4.4 seconds, and because top gear is taller, it now becomes a genuine 200mph car for the first time.
Economy is also better, showing how good that new gearbox is. And, with suspension tweaks to make it handle more eagerly plus a new steering ECU for further improvements, the Rapide S does indeed seem to be better than it’s ever been. But can the promise deliver on the road?
What is the Aston Martin Rapide S 15MY like to drive?
The eight-speed gearbox transforms the Rapide S. It’s always been as sporting as you’d expect a 6.0-litre V12 four-door to be, but it now gains wonderful fluidity and finesse. The gearbox and engine work together brilliantly, for a creamy and plush experience that’s very rich indeed.
Gearchanges are seamless, concealing the V12’s relative lack of low-down torque expertly. A firmer press of the accelerator is all that’s required to deliver more power – the resultant downchanges are so seamless, you are not jolted by them, simply satisfied by the purring surge they provide.
Select Sport mode to make it hold onto gears for longer (and enjoy more of the exhaust and engine orchestra – it makes the tailpipes rortier) but you’ll get most everyday satisfaction from regular mode: the car will be in fifth gear by 25mph, seventh gear well before 40mph and the general air of calm is delightfully relaxing. Cruising at 1,500rpm at motorway speeds is effortless, enhanced by admirably low noise levels (and a staggeringly good B&O stereo as standard).
Dynamically it’s agile and exciting to drive too, as you’d expect – it is an Aston, after all – but further enhanced by 2015 model year tweaks. Firming up the rear suspension makes it crisper and more linear, while the enhanced steering is exceptional. Modern Porsches can only dream of the subtlety of inputs Rapide S drivers experience; heavenly fingertip feel better than any other luxury four-door in the world.
Can the Rapide S cut it as a four-door luxury car?
Has Aston Martin made a rival to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class? Depends which way you look at it. There is no more complete car in the world than the latest S-Class, of course, so trying to be the best luxury car in the world will never be on. But the most supercar-like luxury four-door four-seater in the world? There, it may be onto something.
Because it does work, just, for passengers. Access into the rear is awkward and legroom can’t match an S-Class, but it’s still reasonably accommodating back there. The bucket-style seats make it feels special and the climate controls plus infotainment system mean it doesn’t want for luxury toys.
A sporting yet exceptionally well damped ride gives satisfying control at speed, particularly on twisting roads, and the lack of jolts from the new gearbox mounted below the rear passengers’ seats is a subtle but significant boost – even to those not behind the wheel, it feels smoother and more free-flowing. Simply, a richer-feeling car.
The fact it does all this and has the dynamic sharpness plus the visual excitement of a £150k supercar only adds to the appeal. It’s considerably more exciting to ride in than an S-Class, and a lot more thrilling to look at, be seen in and generally be around. The Aston is a possession, a jewel-like car that will always be perceived as more special than a comparable four-door Merc. For some, that’ll make the compromises worth it.
Verdict: Aston Martin Rapide S 15MY
Don’t think the simple addition of an eight-speed gearbox to the Rapide S is a minor addition. It really does transform the car, finally making it into something that can vie with other £150,000 options on merit.
Those in the market for a supercar but who’ve never been able to justify it because of the practicality issues may just now have the answer the’ve been looking for…
Rivals: Aston Martin Rapide S 15MY
- Porsche Panamera Turbo S
- Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG
- Ferrari FF
- Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG Coupe
Huge power and four-wheel drive traction from the Porsche Panamera Turbo S makes it an exciting steer, but it lacks the class of the Aston. The Ferrari is a V12 alternative that’s also four-wheel drive, and delightfully leftfield, but too much of a curveball for some? The S 63 AMG is a colossus and if you’re happy to trade easy rear access, its new Coupe sibling is a beauty.
Specification: Aston Martin Rapide S 15MY
Engine: 6.0-litre V12
Gearbox: eight-speed automatic
Price from: £147,950
Torque: 464lb ft
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
Top speed: 203mph
MPG: 31.0 combined