Herman Tike, you’re one mad bastard. That two-mile stretch of pavement called Atlanta Motorsports Park you designed makes a guy wonder if you were hoping to punish somebody, maybe a divorce lawyer or something?
Never in 24 years of racing, have I been assaulted by more blind rises, high-speed, off-camber curves, double apexes, dizzying elevation changes and genuine bowel-loosening fear. Great job, man!
Formula One fans will recognize Tike as one of the foremost architects of F1 circuits. Why the good old boys in Georgia chose to hire this guy is puzzling, but there it sits. And the crew from Aston Martin took over the facility for a few weeks, bringing a bunch of snarky Rapide S cars with them.
The Rapide S possesses a profile that appears more suited to the Autobahn or Bonneville Salt Flats. Considering its 190mph top speed (yes, faster than the Vanquish), it wouldn’t be out of place at either. Moreover, you could carry your family with you, being a four-door and all.
The idea of adding extra doors was a solid move, which fleshed out the company’s product roster very well. Here was the quintessential British sports car with room for you and three close friends.
Perhaps it’s the Rapide’s practicality that made Aston Martin nervous, though. Maybe people would assume the Rapide S compromised the awesomeness carefully cultured over the last 100 years. Never mind that the new-n-improved Rapide S boasts 550hp, can breach 60mph in 4.7sec and features active suspension smarter than HAL, you have to show people it’s still an Aston. So here we were, in the middle of moonshine central, on this twisted piece of tarmac with orders to “go at it.” Helmets on, strapped in, we did just that!
Although we’ve covered the basic technical aspects of the Rapide in a former issue, here’s a brief summary: The new S model is a Limey hot rod. I visited the Gaydon factory where Dr Bez and his team do crazy shit like stuffing V12s into Cignets or building supercars like the One-77. The Rapide S is much the same, but they’re making more of them.
Sporting a revamped (AM11) V12 engine, the new car lends another 80hp and 30 lb-ft of twist to the equation, bringing its total to an impressive 550hp at 6750rpm and 457 lb-ft, respectively.
Nifty tech like hollow, variable profile cams, and CNC’ed combustion chambers provide the lion’s share of the new found ponies.
The main differences on the ‘AM11’ engine are a revised block, new head with dual variable valve timing (first seen on Vanquish), new crankshaft, camshafts, thermostat, uprated fuel pump, enlarged throttle bodies (+6mm), a revised ‘big’ wing intake manifold, and machined combustion chambers. The latter increases airflow within the chamber, increasing the compression ratio and providing more consistent output from each cylinder. Knock sensing allows air/fuel mixture detection to extract maximum power and fuel economy.
As a result of the new parts, the engine is 22 lb lighter than its predecessor in the original Rapide. And, as much fun as it is to talk about the magnificent V12 motor from a technological standpoint, it becomes irrelevant once the engine fires.
The sound from the naturally aspirated powerplant is reminiscent of the low-frequency growl of a tiger just before it rips your face off. You just sorta sit behind the wheel, paralyzed as this gorgeous machine comes to life.
Aston Martin’s David Harington shot me a glance. “Are you feeling alright, then?” Apparently I’m sweating despite the fact the cabin is at 72˚F. I pretend to take a phone call. Never mind, I’m wearing a helmet…
Within two turns I’m lost. David suggests I’d like to use the navigation system. He’s only half joking. After ten laps I’ve managed to remember seven of the corners. I’m getting better and the Rapide S has forgiven my transgressions, it’s working with me.
I’ve got the back straight wired. By the time we hit the first kink, the Rapide S is tickling 132mph. I barely nick the inside line and let the Aston drift to the next apex. It’s beautiful.
At this speed, barely perceptible rises become daunting ramps; I start wondering what the car will feel like airborne. It never happens. The latest Gen4 of Aston Martin’s Adaptive Damping System (ADS) offers three settings: Normal, Sport and Track. Obviously, we’re in the latter and the ride is very firm, almost hard. Yet the Rapide feels stuck to the pavement by gigantic magnets, body roll is minimal. Dropping the engine another 19mm undoubtedly helped with the center of gravity a good deal.
Whatever code the Aston propeller-heads programmed into the Rapide’s Dynamic Stability Control, it appears to be the least intrusive system I’ve ever driven. I wonder if it’s even on. I make David switch it off and find another 2sec per lap.
After several dozen laps I’ve got it wired. I still miss an apex or two, but who cares? I’m having fun. Then David suggests I temper my throttle inputs. “Why the hell would I want to do that?” “Because you’ll go faster and save the tires!” he replied. Grudgingly I respond and it rewards me with 139mph on the back straight.
I’m using much more braking now but they don’t seem to care. Bearing six-piston calipers and gigantic 15.6" rotors, the Rapide S sheds speed well, like “crashing into a mountain of Silly Putty.” This particular car wears 20" alloys shod with 245/35 front and 295/30 rear Bridgestones.
In less than two hours I’ve reduced the Rapide S to something just north of a BTCC ride. Not sure that’s what Aston intended, but that’s how I used it.
I don’t think I even looked at the cabin except to push the big “D” button on the dashboard to engage the transmission.
The cockpit is nice... really nice, a mixture of old world craftsmanship combined with a tasteful mix of organic and synthetic materials. This particular car was trimmed in a full-grain leather with alcantara headliner, navigation, 1000W B&O audio system with pop-up tweeters, electroluminescent displays and a pop-up LCD screen with back-up camera. And, wow, look at that – paddle shifters! I didn’t even know they were there.
David tells me I’m in a “red haze” and it’s time to cool down. He puts the Rapide S into “Normal” mode and the car instantly relaxes; I follow suit.
I’d been dancing on the edge for a while, so the change of pace was actually a relief. Plus, I get to remove my helmet and enjoy the noise from the magnificent V12 again.
Once outside, the Rapide’s impossibly handsome face is worth crawling across broken glass to experience. Aston’s cosmetic overhaul includes a striking new grille, rear deck profile and petulant trunk flip.
While I’ve been fortunate to drive a great many luxury grand touring cars, I can’t remember one as engaging as the Rapide S. While the current crop of high-end Euros is impressive, they can make the driver feel as though he was an afterthought. The Rapide isn’t like that. For more than two hours I felt like a king behind the wheel, an integral part of a beautiful machine.
2014 Aston Martin Rapide S
Layout front/mid-mounted engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine 5935cc V12 DOHC 48v, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection, variable valve timing
Drivetrain six-speed Touchtronic 2 automatic with manual shift mode
Brakes six-piston calipers, 15.6" grooved rotors f, two-piston, 14.2" r
Suspension independent double wishbones f & r, Adaptive Damping System
Wheels & Tires 20x8.5" f, 20x11" r wheels, 245/35 ZR20 f, 295/30 ZR20 r Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires
Exterior S grille and trunk lid
Power 550hp at 6750rpm
Torque 457 lb-ft at 5000rpm
0-60 mph 4.7sec
Top speed 190mph
Curb weight 4410 lb
Economy 13/19/15mpg (city/highway/combined)
MSRP $199950 ($223595 as tested)