Overall rating: 4.5/5
The innocuous 'S' added to the Aston Martin Rapide's name indicates that this is the updated model, with a more powerful engine, a new nose and plenty more besides. It lives up to the 'four-door sports car' mantle more than ever.
In the metal 5/5
Initial photographs of the Rapide S showed a car without its front number plate, which served to emphasise the size of the dominant new front grille. It defines the face of the new model, but with a number plate in place it's not so opinion-dividing. The Rapide was always a stunning looking car (more so in the metal than images can convey) and the updates don't change that. The lower front end and new lights also came about due to a redesign of the nose to meet pedestrian protection legislation. They're complemented by a more pronounced rear spoiler, as previewed by the latest generation Aston Martin DB9.
On one hand it's a little disappointing that the Rapide S hasn't adopted the Vanquish's new fascia and centre console, but on the other, the cabin is beautifully put together and it feels like a low-slung sports car no matter which of the four seats you are in. As ever the back rests of the rear pair fold down at the touch of a button to free up more luggage space - and they accommodate average-sized adults without too much complaint. Upgrades for the Rapide S extend to option packs that allow the buyer to customise the interior (and exterior for that matter) to their heart's (and wallet's) content.
Driving it 5/5
The lowered front end mentioned above has lead to a considerable 19mm reduction in the mounting point of the engine, which of course means a lowering of the centre of gravity. The Rapide never lacked front-end bite or stability, but the new Rapide S betters it in both disciplines, turning in quickly and accurately and taking quick direction changes in its stride. The steering is quite light, but direct and though it has some feel at the rim there seems to be a lack of undesirable kickback. That helps with high-speed cruising and comfort. Even under duress the brakes never wilt, which enhances the feeling that you're driving a much smaller, lighter car than the Rapide S is.
In conjunction with all this the new adaptive damping system is a revelation. There are Comfort, Sport and Track modes, but we found the middle setting so well balanced that we never bothered with Comfort, and we only ever used the Track setting when driving at high speed on a twisty section of dual carriageway. Even in Sport mode the Rapide S is supple over bumps - and that includes speed bumps in towns.
Of course, one of the biggest updates comes under the bonnet. The 6.0-litre V12 engine has had a considerable amount of work done it, including CNC-machined combustion chambers, variable camshaft timing and more. The result is increased power (up from 477- to 558hp) and more torque - up from 600- to 620Nm. The torque curve in general has been beefed up as well, yet the car is more efficient than before. More importantly it still sounds fantastic, ensuring we sought out as many tunnels as we could to bounce the exhaust note off. Separate to the adaptive damping is a Sport button that changes the map for the throttle and exhaust bypass valve - we can see no reason why you'd turn this off... The Sport mode also alters the transmission strategy. A six-speed automatic gearbox remains with glass-fronted buttons to operate it and light paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. If you're in a hurry it's best to switch into Sport mode and take control yourself. It responds crisply to manual intervention and yet is much smoother than most dual-clutch systems.
What you get for your money 4/5
Although Aston Martin has yet to release the final price of the Rapide S, it has confirmed that it'll be on a par with the outgoing Rapide. That should mean a starting price in the region of €300,000 landed in Ireland, which is a hell of a lot of money by any measure, but it also positions the Aston above such models as the BMW M6 Gran Coupé and Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG, yet considerably below the likes of the Ferrari FF, giving it its own niche.
As with all high-end cars these days the asking price is just somewhere to start, as there's a huge amount of customisation available, from the carbon packs inside and out to the most exquisite leather interior. And that's before you consider the 'Q by Aston Martin' personalisation service. For the record, standard specification includes a full leather interior, electrically adjustable front seats with memory, folding door mirrors, heated seats all round, climate control, Bluetooth, satnav, cruise control, parking sensors, a 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen BeoSound audio system and a tracker.
The Rapide S is Aston Martin's first new car of its centenary year - and there's more to come. We're expecting an all-new V12 Vantage this year, potentially previewed by a concept car at Pebble Beach. Along with that, Aston Martin will be highly active at the Nurburgring and Le Mans 24-hour races, campaigning a hydrogen-powered Rapide S at the former (part hydrogen-fuelled in any case).
While the Aston Martin Rapide S is not a perfect car, it's tangibly better than the one it replaces - a model we already loved. Few cars at any price combine the Rapide's engaging driving experience with real continent-crossing comfort in a package that's simply stunning to look at and be in. That it's faster, more efficient and more competent than ever seals the deal. This is a truly special car.