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Aston Martin Rapide - the James Bond car for the whole family

27-Feb-2010 • Bond Style

“Well, Mr Bond, the choice is yours. What is your answer to be?”

“Er, better make that four Big Macs and some extra fries in the back for the kids.”

James Bond can finally become a family man at last, explains John Griffiths of FT.com. There is now an Aston Martin with four seats.

It is called the Rapide and it is utterly brilliant – a four-door saloon that goes as hard as, and sounds and handles as well as, almost any sports “supercar”. It retains the famously sleek and purposeful looks of Aston’s full sports two-seaters; and in doing so makes its very few close rivals look lardy, even lumpen.

It is, furthermore, a car that feels better built than any Aston Martin to hitherto leave an assembly line – itself a point to ponder as production of the Rapide is not in the UK, but contracted out to the Magna Steyr plant in Austria.

The only nagging concern for Aston Martin must be whether the Rapide will bite larger chunks out of its rivals’ sales, or those of its own other models. Aston chairman Ulrich Bez hopes it will simply grow the global market for £100,000-plus sporting cars, as has already happened over the past decade since Bentley, Aston Martin and Porsche started cranking up production volumes for wealthy Asian buyers.

Rivals for the Rapide are, in reality, very hard to find. The Maserati Quattroporte GTS comes closest in terms of sensuous, dramatic styling. But it is larger, rides and handles far less well and feels relatively unsophisticated in some key engineering aspects such as smoothness and efficiency of drivetrain. On the other hand, even when loading it with every possible bell and whistle, a buyer would be hard pressed to raise the Maserati’s £89,000 purchase price to £110,000 – still far below the £140,000 being asked for the Aston, although the latter has very few expensive options. Closest in price terms – £137,000 – comes the 600-horsepower “Speed” version of Bentley’s 200mph-plus Flying Spur saloon; truly a tidal wave on wheels. But their characters could hardly be more different. The Rapide is almost pure sports car; the four-wheel-drive Bentley is well over two tonnes of leather-lined luxury: the fastest gentlemen’s club reading room in the world.

Most obviously, there is the Porsche Panamera four-door, four-seater, launched last year. Bez insists that the Stuttgart car should not be seen as a rival; they are too far apart in character and price. But it is the car with which the entire motoring press makes instinctive comparison. On price and get-up-and-go, the Panamera wins. The range-topping Panamera Turbo has a base price of a touch under £100,000 and it would be difficult to load it up with enough options to reach £120,000. Its 493 horsepower is also well above the Rapide’s 470 and Porsche itself depicts the Panamera as a four-door, four-seat version of its iconic 911 two-seater.

However, while I and many others have tried and tried to warm to its looks, it still resembles an overweight 911 to which has been appended, unwisely, the bottom of Jennifer Lopez. Nor does it offer anything like the joyful experience of the Aston to pilot. Its four-wheel-drive provides secure and rapid ground-covering abilities and it is better built still than the Rapide. But there is, somehow, a spark missing. Travel by Panamera is all po-faced and business-like, and neither ride nor steering particularly inspire. One big advantage it does have over the Aston, however, is interior space. The long wheelbase allows all occupants to sit low and with lots of leg room.

Which is more than you can say for the Rapide. Because the British-badged car is not, of course, perfect. The combination of four doors, four seats yet stunning sports-car looks (casual observers could easily mistake the Rapide for a conventional two-seater DB9 coupé Aston Martin) is not achieved without compromise. And it comes mainly in the form of the space in the rear cabin, which is, shall we say, somewhat “cosy”. The seats themselves are not token, in the sense of being suitable only for a short journey with large children or small adults. Nor is headroom a problem. But legroom is undeniably tight and there is a real sense of confinement compared with the Rapide’s more spacious rivals, an impression enhanced by the relative smallness of the rear doors.

None of which matters once installed. The rear seats themselves are the kind of lightweight yet comfortable body-huggers you find in race cars. There is a cockpit-like air to the rear which somehow adds to the sense of excitement. To heck with the optional DVD players. If I were a child and Bond were my dad I’d want a fake steering wheel on the back of his seat so I, too, could run that Goldfinger off the road.

Strictly speaking, the Rapide is a five-door hatchback. And a surprising one. The lifting tailgate is not huge but it opens onto two features that give it extraordinary interior space if treated as a two-seater. There is a luggage-retaining vertical shelf which can be folded flat; and the press of a button will do the same for the back seats. With both down, the interior becomes almost small van-like.

Add in real dynamic ability, hydraulic power steering that is delightfully precise, a six-speed automatic gearbox which can also be operated manually with paddles and the Rapide adds up to something special. So special, in fact, as to make some observers question whether sales of the £120,000 DB9 coupé or even Aston’s £170,000 DBS coupé might be among the worst sufferers in sales terms.

That may become a more pressing question after May 16, when the chequered flag falls on the famous Nürburgring 24-hour race. Bez himself will be driving – abandoning the usual AM Vantage two-seater racers for a stripped-out version of the Rapide itself.

As for 007, perhaps the next, and possibly final book, should be Four Bond Conclusion?

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The details

An Aston Martin built for four

How much?
£139,950 before options

How fast?
0-62mph 5.1secs, top speed 188mph

How thirsty?
18mpg (estimated)

How green?
C02 /km not yet available

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