The British Bring It: Aston Martin Rapide Concept

Rachel Meyer

Have you ever introduced yourself to someone by saying your last name followed by your first and last name? Did you see Matchpoint and, in spite of the cunning characters and twisted plot, find yourself enchanted by the English elite? Do you find yourself frequently fantasizing that your four-cylindered Honda Civic is instead a twelve-cylindered Aston Martin DB9? If you answered yes to these questions, then you are among the many that lust, pine and yearn for the refinement and excitement of the elite British lifestyle. As such, high tea charms you, high fashion dazzles you, and high-performance luxury cars like the Aston Martin Rapide concept mesmerize you.

I am one who has been mesmerized. I mentioned the Rapide concept in my last article about the 2006 North American International Auto Show, but upon further reflection, I decided that this Aston Martin was deserving of its own article.

Prior to 2002, Aston Martin was a name that signified a British automaker with a storied past and a future that seemed lifeless. The Vanquish changed all of that when it came to the fore in that palindrome year. Pierce Brosnan’s 007 version in Die Another Day, which could literally vanish into invisibility by the press of a button, made the masses take notice and helped to restore Aston Martin to its legendary status.

Since then, the British auto brand has been generating vehicles which meet with the highest standards of automotive performance, luxury and technology. First the Vanquish, with its V-12 engine and beautifully styled exterior and interior detailing set the pace for Aston Martin’s renaissance. Following the Vanquish, 2003 ushered in the impressive DB9 coupe with its 6.0 liter 12-cyllinder engine (the DB9 Volante was issued in 2004 as a drop-top alternative). Also in 2003 the V-8 Vantage, launched as a concept car at the 2003 NAIAS in Detroit and made a buyable reality in 2005, came onto the scene as an option for a broader luxury sports-car market.

What, then, could help to round-out Aston Martin’s already formidable fleet, you might ask? A stunning, four-door, bullet-shaped sedan would be the answer. Aston Martin’s attempt at this is the Rapide concept. Needless to say, the Brits have hit the mark squarely, and when (if) the Rapide goes into production in 2008 (this is when most speculators believe Aston Martin will turn the concept into a reality), it may be one of the most attractive four-door sedans ever to be sold, at least in the opinion of this writer.

Human beings with an appreciation for aesthetics and a love for automobiles will get goose bumps when they gaze at the Aston Martin Rapide. With its outrageously striking shell and its unbelievably luxurious cabin, the Rapide ought not to be called a concept, but rather a dream, a fantasy or a happy hallucination.

On the outside, the Rapide is distinguished by its balanced structural design. The Rapide, like Aston Martin’s other models, is based on VH (Vertical/Horizontal) architecture. Complements abound in the Rapide’s design: athleticism is tempered with gracefulness, machismo is balanced by femininity, sophistication countered by simplicity and robustness is assuaged by mildness. The automaker has said that its top priorities are “power, beauty and soul.” The Rapide seems to be the tangible materialization of these ambitions.

Bearing a strong resemblance to the also smart-looking Aston Martin Vantage and DB9 coupes, the Rapide shares many stylistic features with its two-door relatives. The Rapide, the Vantage and the DB9 all have exteriors characterized by handsome side vents which the company calls “strakes,” a well-styled front grill which is made out of aluminum (Aston Martin calls this the Bonnet) and sleek and skinny tail lights. However, unlike the two-door Vantage and DB9, the four-door Rapide is more ample and thus has a more forceful presence. Also distinct from other Aston Martin models is a transparent polycarbonate roof which makes the cabin feel open, bright and spacious.

The interior cabin is exceedingly beautiful with an obvious British mark. Hand-crafted leather and carved wood make every surface of the interior soft to the touch and easy on the eyes. The concept shown in Detroit featured an interior with pale leather, blonde wood and aluminum detailing on the dash, toggles and knobs. Interior features include DVD monitors for the rear-seat passengers located in the back of front seat headrests, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation with a retractable screen and a chic aluminum instrument cluster with an elegantly blue-lit backlight.

Some may be doubtful of Aston Martin’s ability to build a practical sedan due to its solitary attention to two-door sports cars in recent years, but skeptics need not worry. Not only is this not Aston Martin’s first foray into sedan production (from 1961-64 Aston Martin produced the four-door Lagonda Rapide – the obvious namesake for this concept model), the Rapide concept is evidence enough of Aston Martin’s attention to practical matters. A spacious cargo space accessible by hatchback is indicative of this. According to Aston Martin’s website, the Rapide cargo area is roomy enough to fit four sets of skis or three sets of golf clubs! An added nicety is the chilling cabinet built into the floor of the cargo space.

The Rapide’s potential for production appears promising as Aston Martin featured a fully functional version at this year’s NAIAS in Detroit. The Rapide concept was actually driven onto its spot on the showroom floor. A 480 horsepower, 5.9-liter V-12 engine with a ZF manu-matic six-speed transmission would power the car if it made it into production. By all expert accounts, the Rapide is expected to be part of Aston Martin’s 2008 model lineup.

If Aston Martin produces the Rapide, then the BMW, Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes may be paralleled at a higher price bracket with Aston Martin, Maserati, Porsche and Bentley competing. The Quattroporte and the Continental Flying Spur are already existing four-door challengers, but Aston Martin’s Rapide and Porsche’s Panamera would add interesting competition to this rapidly growing market.