LAKE BLUFF, Illinois - Back in the heyday of sports cars, there were only two types: coupes and roadsters. Both had two doors and, most often, space for only two occupants inside. A handful might have had a nominal back seat; but hardly any owners really expected someone to ride back there, unless it was a small child for a short distance.
Lately, a number of premium automakers have been calling their latest four-door models "four-door coupes." Are they really? Several come close to capturing the essence and vitality of the coupe body style, but they don't quite reach that goal completely.
Until Aston Martin took that route, that is, with the recently-launched four-door Rapide. Lushly curved lines on the Rapide body attract the eye from afar, just like the best of the premium two-door coupes, past and present. Aston Martin unabashedly calls its Rapide the "first production four-door sports car," and this gracefully exquisite motorcar appears to qualify handily for that designation.
Four "swan-wing doors" provide access to the front and rear compartments. At a glance, the back doors aren't easy to see, as they meld so neatly into the lushly-shaped bodysides. Built on a bonded aluminum chassis, the Rapide simply oozes metallic beauty - a trait shared by Aston's coupes, too.
Four adults can fit inside, though not in the conventional way. Those who are headed toward the back seat must realize that it's a completely different experience than they might expect. Getting into the rear doesn't take all that much squiggling; but once there, occupants drop into cozily form-fitting, yet comfortable, bucket seats. They're much like the front seats, but snugger. Front-seat passengers enjoy a more familiar layout: compact in scope, yet roomy enough for comfort.
Aston Martin - which is now detached from its Ford Motor Company parent - promotes three core values: Power, Beauty, and Soul. Each is represented emphaticaly in the Rapide. "There is now an Aston Martin for every taste and for every use," according to the British automaker.
Beneath the Rapide's bonnect, an all-alloy, 48-valve, 6.0-liter V-12 engine with four overhead camshafts generates 470 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 443 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. Mid-mounted up front, the engine sends its power to the rear, where a mid-mounted Touchtronic 2 six-speed automatic transmission, using shift-by-wire control, sends all that energy to the back whees. The stainless-steel exhaust system has active bypass valves.
Rapide is "not as big as a typical sedan," said the sales manager at the suburban-Chicago dealership that provided a test-drive for this new model. "it's not supposed to be." The Rapide is "really a grand tourer in its nature." While it's "not usable for all situations," the four-door Aston Martin represents an "expansion of our acceptability to the market." Furthermore, he added, "it's really what you don't see that sets the car apart."
So, is this "four-door coupe" truly a sports car? Absolutely, yes. Having driven a traditional Aston Martin coupe in the past, near the factory at Gaydon, England, we can testify that the Rapide is 100-percent authentic. Except for the usable back seat and relatively easy access, the Rapide is as much a sports car as any vehicle on the market today, earning plaudits for smoothly stirring performance and precision handling, coupled with an impressively enjoyable ride. There's nothing remotely harsh or crude about the Rapide, which is about as civilized as any true sports car can get.
So, what will it take to drive home a four-door Rapide? Just past $200,000. Take note, too, that this latest example from the top-end British motorcar makes is actually manufactured in Austria.
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