Driven: 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S

By Brandon Turkus

June 25, 2013

(photo credit: Jessica Walker)
—Dawsonville, Georgia
Is it any coincidence that some of the best entertainers in history have been big guys? There’s something about a big, physical comedian that seems to keep us laughing for years at a time. Entertainers like Chris Farley, and the patron saint of large, agile, physical comedians, John Belushi, have become legends well after their passing.
In what has to be one of the most tenuous analogies in history, the Aston Martin Rapide S is a lot like these big men. At 4387 pounds, it is more than 500 pounds heavier than an Aston Martin Vanquish and more than 700 pounds heavier than the new V12 Vantage S.
[Click here to watch our video on the Porsche Panamera GTS]
Yet, this four-door grand tourer is capable of being hugely entertaining, inducing smiles at the first firing of its 6.0-liter V-12.
We sampled the new Rapide S in the least likely of environments—on the full track at Atlanta Motorsports Park.
Driven: 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S
Now, you might ask, why might some ostensibly wealthy person ever take the Rapide S on a track? This is, after all, a GT car at its heart, and one with room for four adults and a reasonably sized trunk. Well, it’s not so much that potential owners will be tracking their Rapides, but that if the urge strikes them, they can.
And when someone inevitably drives the Rapide S to its full potential, they’ll find that this big guy has some moves. Sound surprising? It should, considering that the outgoing Rapide, while a solid GT car, never got us all that excited.
Hampered with roughly the same amount of weight and only 490 horsepower, the original Rapide was in the unfortunate position of being pricier and less powerful than some of the competition. Yes, we’re looking at you Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG and Porsche Panamera Turbo.
With the new Rapide S, Aston Martin hasn’t sacrificed any of its GT potential at the expense of its improved driving dynamics.
The most obvious new change was the Rapide’s gaping maw of a grille. That wasn’t exactly Aston’s choice, having been required by new European pedestrian standards. This larger, taller grille is actually designed to deform around pedestrians. Also in the name of pedestrian safety is the location of the engine. It’s been lowered 90 millimeters, so that if the driver were to hit a pedestrian, his head would be less likely to impact through the hood and hit the engine (instead, the poor sod will just smack his noggin on the hood alone).
Driven: 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S
There are practical benefits to lowering the engine, though. The center of gravity is lower in the Rapide’s aluminum structure. That same structure has been reinforced, and is now more rigid than the current DB9. And in an effort to improve handling, Aston has managed to finagle 85 percent of the Rapide’s 4387 pounds to be between the center lines of both axles, while giving it a nearly perfect 51/49 weight distribution.
Combine this level of engineering with the 550 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque coming from the 6.0-liter, V-12, and you’ve got a car that is significantly faster and more agile than the vehicle it’s replacing.
That agility was put to good use on the track at Atlanta Motorsports Park, a 16-turn ribbon that seemed to be nothing but bends carved out of the country hills.
We set off with the ADS system in Track mode. Not surprisingly, we were happiest here. There wasn’t a lot of body roll, even when we were pushing around the big turn that led to the start-finish straight at AMP. Squat and dive were also well managed, with neither rearing their heads in a disruptive way.
Vertical motion was quashed without fail, which allowed us to push the Rapide hard over the curbing without worrying about losing a contact patch with the track. It wasn’t an overly bouncy or jiggly ride this, but it was firm in just the right way, feeling composed throughout the course. Truly, it was easy to forget we were hustling around a 4300-pound, four-door sedan. 
Like the Vanquish, the Rapide wasn’t as forthcoming with its feedback as we’d like. Gauging lateral grip levels mid-turn or picking up on front-end grip with the steering angled was difficult, but not impossible.
Driven: 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S
The Rapide’s steering has been fiddled with for this year, dropping from a 17:1 ratio to 15:1. That’s a good thing, and was likely part of the reason the Rapide S felt less ponderous during sudden directional changes. The sharper, faster steering was linear in its effort, with just enough assistance while on track to keep us happy. 
Of course, the biggest change for the Rapide S was its new engine. There’s just so much torque on offer, especially in the lower part of the rev range. Exiting a tight, right-hander in third gear, we were able to kick the traction control light on. Obviously, this isn’t what you want to do if you’re trying to beat the lap record, but it was a testament to how much stronger the AM11 engine is.
The throttle modulation in Sport mode was just right, with enough throttle travel and subtle enough sensations being transmitted through the wheel that it was easy to dial in the right amount of power. Even in regular mode, it felt sharp and willing.
Power in the middle and higher parts of the rev range was strong, with an accompanying bellow that helped remind us just how much power our right foot was controlling. Like in the Vanquish, the 6.0-liter V-12 just felt suited for any occasion.
Driven: 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S
Mated to the same ZF Touchtronic 2 six-speed, automatic transmission as the Vanquish, shifts were lickety-split fast going both up and down. In full automatic mode, the tranny tended to short-shift, but held gears if we gave it a steady foot-full of throttle. Dive suddenly into the gas, and it responded quickly, swapping down to the right gear without hesitation.
A day in the Rapide left us asking one big question—would we buy one? Hang on, because this is a roundabout answer.
The Rolls-Royce Phantom does essentially the exact same thing as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Both are über luxurious limousines, but the S550 is a fraction of the Phantom’s price. People buy the Phantom, though, because it is so much more everything than the S-Class. It’s bigger, its materials are of the finest quality, and you can get it customized to your exact specifications. It’s just more luxury. In short, the Phantom is exponentially better at its job of being a luxury car, which justifies its exponentially more expensive price tag.
With the Rapide S, while its interior might be nicer and it might come with a V-12, that’s not enough to justify its nearly $200,000 starting price with the competition. It doesn’t put as much distance between the Panamera and CLS63 as the Phantom puts between the S-Class. And while the Rapide is priced (a lot) closer to its competitors than the Roller is to the Benz, the differential still isn’t enough for us to forget just how darn compelling the Porsche and CLS are.
Aston Martin claims that the Rapide S is a high-performance four-door that drives like a two-door. It’s absolutely true, and is something we’d testify to. But we can’t help but think that anyone that wants a car that drives like a coupe and is going to drop $200,000 for one will just bypass the Rapide all together.
The Rapide S is a huge improvement over the old Rapide. It just isn’t enough of an improvement for us to recommend it over four-door coupes like the CLS63 AMG and Panamera Turbo, or over a simple, two-door GT like an Aston Martin DB9. Still, the Rapide S has a level of uniqueness that none of its competitors can match. If you want a slinky, beautifully designed, V-12-powered, four-door coupe, this is all you’ve got. No one else is building a car like the Rapide S. That alone is reason enough to pick one up.  
2014 Aston Martin Rapide S
Engine: V-12, 6.0 liters, 48v
Output: 550 hp/457 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.7 sec
Top Speed: 190 mph (est)
Weight: 4387 lb
Base Price: $199,950