Albert Einstein once described his theory of relativity by saying: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour.”
Now comes automotive proof. There is arguably no car on the road today more an illustration of time being relative than the 2011 Aston Martin Rapide. Get anywhere near Aston Martin’s first four-door offering in more than 20 years, and time — and your heart rate — speeds up.
Forget pretty, this car is achingly gorgeous. In designing the Rapide, the company wisely extrapolated on its DB9 coupe so the sedan carries the Aston Martin aesthetic to the nth degree. Its long, low, wide stance belies the fact that it’s a sedan. The rear doors blend into the car’s hindquarters, making the Rapide not so much a four-door coupe but a coupe with extra doors and style.
There isn’t an angle at which the car doesn’t look like the chariot of a deity.
The Rapide looks like Aston Martin’s DB9 because that’s largely what it’s based on. The cars share numerous components including a 6.0-liter V-12 engine, good for 470 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque; a rear-mounted “Touchtronic 2" six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters; and various body panels and suspension components.
Aston Martin’s philosophy in releasing the Rapide is similar to that of other companies trying to straddle the four-door coupe/sedan line, including Mercedes-Benz and its CLS63 AMG, Maserati’s Quattroporte and, most notably, Porsche’s Panamera. That is: Build a car that looks and handles like a sports car, yet has the added practicality of a larger trunk and rear seats that you don’t have to be a Cirque du Soleil alumnus to access.
As Porsche demonstrated with its Panamera, it’s difficult to translate design language from a coupe to a sedan. Aston Martin has made it look easy.
It has also made driving the Rapide easy.
Throw the Rapide, with its near 50-50 weight balance for neutral handling and massively stiff chassis, around some curves and it’s easy to forget it has four doors. The car’s dynamics are balanced throughout all maneuvers and the more-than-400-pound weight gain over the DB9 is but a footnote to the Rapide’s performance. Around town, the V-12 engine and Touchtronic transmission are remarkably composed, and only hint at the car’s true capabilities.
Straight-line acceleration is enthralling too, but less so for its speed than its aural accompaniment. The Rapide does 0-60 in a relatively benign 5 seconds. The Porsche Panamera Turbo could beat the proverbial lederhosen off the Rapide by more than a full second, at tens of thousands of dollars less than the Rapide’s $201,000 base price.
But the Rapide makes amends for this privation with a small button on the dash marked “sport.” Press it and the car changes its gear-shift mapping and throttle response, and, most important, it opens bypass valves in the Rapide’s exhaust when you accelerate past 3,700 rpm. The resulting sound is difficult to describe when you’re in the car. Everything around you moves faster, as a bushel of superlatives get hung up between your mind and your tongue. All that makes it out is a guttural chuckle mixed with a “Wow.” The sound is a barely refined, immensely masculine roar, the reverberations of which last long after the car has left the vicinity.
If I were to use every relevant word in my thesaurus I wouldn’t be able to use another adjective until Christmas. It was my propensity for extracting this roar from the Rapide that caused me to average 11.8 miles per gallon over five days of testing. The car is rated at 13 mpg city/19 highway, thirsty enough to warrant a $2,100 gas-guzzler tax.
The interior of the Rapide is the physical embodiment of form over function. Climbing into one calls to mind Dave Bowman’s response to entering the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (the novel): “Oh my god, it’s full of stars!” Look closer and one realizes the knobs and tiny twinkling lights on the dashboard are the buttons to the heating and cooling, the 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo and the atrocious navigation system. Everything is nice to look at until you actually want to use something. Then, time slows down as you peruse the buttons looking for the one you want.
Occupants pay for such style with limited seating space. While the interior may be full of stars, it’s also full of something called a torque tube, which runs through the center of the car and connects the front-mounted engine to the rear-mounted transmission. This wide channel makes for tight quarters for all four aboard. Rear occupants will notice a shortage of leg- and headroom, though it’s likely they’ll be so distracted by the impeccable craftsmanship and materials of the interior that they won’t mind. It’s important to remember that this is not a full-size luxury sedan like a higher-echelon Bentley Flying Spur or the lower echelon trio of four-door coupes from Maserati, Porsche or Mercedes. If you want the style and driving dynamics of an Aston Martin with a pair of extra doors, then you’re going to get exactly that on the inside as well.
Also tight is the driver’s field of vision. Again, this car is made to look good and make you look good. Yet time will indeed slow down as you try to parallel park the Rapide. Because the car is designed to look like a coupe, the massive c-pillar (the column behind the rear occupant’s shoulder) creates a blind spot the size of Kobe Bryant’s ego. There’s no backup camera, and the parking sensor helps marginally. Parking, changing lanes and other such bourgeois activities are better left to the valet. Just look forward, traveler.
The price may seem like a lot of bananas for a car with terrible sight lines, awkward controls and a drinking habit rivaling Hemingway’s, especially when Porsche’s Panamera Turbo is a much more logical choice. But sit with a Rapide for an hour and a minute later you’ll see why it’s worth every penny.
It’s all relative.