Overall rating: 4/5
A new gearbox and some chassis changes subtly enhance Aston Martin's glorious four-door Rapide S into an even faster, more rounded and capable grand tourer, with a bit of sports car thrown in for good measure, too.
In the Metal:
There was a bit of criticism of the Rapide S's more prominent grille when it was launched last year, but it's proved a grower; this car is a beautiful thing. There's something about the Rapide S that looks so right, Aston's signature styling seemingly working best when mated to the Rapide's longer wheelbase and with the addition of a pair of extra doors.
The interior is all familiar Aston Martin too, which means plenty of leather, too-difficult-to-read-at-a-glance instrumentation and in-car entertainment that you'll leave on one radio station forever such is its fiddly operation. The satnav's pretty hopeless too, betraying Aston's small volume status. It's easy to forget all that though, as the Rapide S feels very special, unless you're tall and trying to get into those rear seats - and then it just feels cramped.
Driving the original Rapide on its launch four years ago was something of a revelation; it surprised us with its agility and poise. That remains true today, the Rapide S's billing as the most sensible Aston Martin - in a line-up that Aston itself admits is more grand touring than supercar in its focus - is remarkable. With a 6.0-litre V12 engine delivering 560hp it's not surprising that it's fast, covering the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.4 seconds - some half a second quicker than previously. For that you can thank the new eight-speed automatic transmission as much as any engine changes; the revisions to the big twelve are limited to management tweaks to better suit the characteristics of the new gearbox.
That auto - giving the Rapide S two more gears than before - comes from ZF, and it has already garnered praise in everything that it's specified in. Acceleration is quicker, largely due to the spread of ratios working better with the V12's delivery, while economy improves too - only slightly mind. The top speed increases from 306- to 327km/h, which will be useful if you're late for a meeting in Germany...
The gearbox shifts swiftly and near imperceptibly in automatic mode, though there's fun to be had in wringing it out to its redline by taking control via the paddles. Suspension revisions include rear bushes that are 20 per cent stiffer, while the front brake discs are larger - adding to the already impressive stopping power. The steering too benefits from a control unit upgrade, while the stability and traction control systems have been adjusted to suit the characteristics of the new transmission.
The cumulative effect isn't as marked as it is in the 2015 Vanquish, but the Rapide S feels a good bit more assured, though Aston Martin has achieved that without any negative effect on the ride quality. The steering offers speed and accuracy with a modicum of feel, but it's the gearbox that defines the new experience, adding to the response, allowing the Rapide S to charge that little bit harder and use its engine more effectively.
What you get for your Money:
The Rapide S might be ridiculously expensive landed on Irish shores at nigh on €300,000, but it's decently equipped as standard - even if most buyers will pile at least 10- to 20 per cent on top of the list price with personalised options. Factor in the additional doors and the slight increase in practicality it brings and the Rapide S looks like good value compared to Aston's own Vanquish.
The Rapide S might not sell in huge numbers in Europe, but it's Aston Martin's biggest seller in China - a marketplace that covets saloons more than sports cars or coupés.
Aston's Rapide S just got a bit better, thanks by and large to the addition of the eight-speed automatic gearbox. The performance improvements are useful, while the Rapide S remains a genuinely alluring and engaging driving experience - as well as one that surprises given its more sensible billing in the Aston Martin line-up.