Take a good look at Aston Martin's Rapide S, a task made easy by its breathtakingly sleek design. The look carries all the gravitas of the rest of the brand's lineup, yet is differentiated by a second set of doors artfully etched into the side of the car. Those doors are as far as Aston plans to deviate from its longstanding sports car ethos.
And it's barely a deviation at all.
This dramatic Rapide picks up where the DB9 coupe leaves off, and adds to it the doors, a pair of (barely) useful rear seats, and a hatchback-style trunk. For 2013 -- a year in which Aston is celebrating a century of building cars -- the privately-held automaker introduced the Rapide S. It's a more powerful and lightly refreshed version of the four-door Rapide it first put on sale in 2010.
Contrary to other traditional sport car brands like Porsche or Lamborghini, this is as close to an SUV as Aston plans to get.
"It's important to know that our core is sports cars," said Julian Jenkins, president of Aston Martin of the Americas. "That's our focus, and that's what you'll continue to see."
This, despite a partnership with Mercedes-Benz that was finalized on Dec. 19. That agreement will bring Aston the fundamental architecture for a new line of V-8 engines and other components as early as 2016.
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In the meantime, Aston will continue to tweak its existing lineup, which includes the 2014 Rapide S, the Vanquish, DB9, and several versions of the Vantage. A full roundup of the brand's true sports cars is here.
For 2014, Aston gave its four-door model a worthwhile update. Though it still comes with a 5.9-liter V-12 engine, horsepower in the 2014 Rapide S is up to 550 from 470, while torque rises from 457 pound-feet from 443 pound-feet. This helps drop the car's zero-62 mph time to 4.9 seconds, from 5.2 seconds in the earlier model.
This new power plant also sits lower in the Rapide S's engine bay for better weight distribution and a lower center of gravity.
Other changes include a third Sport setting for the adaptive suspension system (in addition to the Normal and Track modes) and recalibrated traction control software to handle the added power.
Get this upgraded Rapide on the road and it's now even easier to forget the second set of doors and extra 450 pounds of weight over the DB9. Yes, if you're paying close attention, you can feel the extra mass shift its weight as you barrel through hard turns, but it's predictable and well-managed by the car's chassis.
The exhaust system still uses active bypass valves to let off a thunderous roar when the car is in sport mode, and this is the best way to sample the car's excellence. Though the eminently capable Porsche Panamera Turbo S still beats the Rapide S in terms of dollar-for-dollar power, the Aston is the livelier choice.
Aesthetic changes are few. The front has been modified so the grille is now much larger and is no longer covered up by the bumper, making the face of the Rapide S look more like Aston's One-77 supercar. Our tester also had the rather overpriced $7,570 carbon fiber exterior trim, which covered things like the rear-view mirrors.
Inside, changes are few. While Aston recently gave its king kahuna Vanquish an updated version of the interior the brand has been using in its cars for several years, the 2014 Rapide unfortunately sticks with the old setup. While it's certainly nice to look at, your appreciation for the design flies out the Rapide's small window the moment you go to do something like turn on the air conditioning.
The Rapide's cabin also remains cozy in the front seats and too-cozy in the rear seats. Adults will certainly fit in the back much easier than they would in something like the DB9, but for the sake of their vertebrae, save these seats for your short (actor) friends.
The best part of the new Rapide S is the change Aston didn't make to it; the price. Despite adding more power and panache to the car, it still starts at around the $200,000 mark. Our tester added a few options like upgraded wheels for $5,000 and a rear-seat entertainment system, for a grand total of $225,000.
For those bad at math, this means the Rapide S has more sex appeal and more power for no more money. That's a winning equation.