A precisely engineered luxury takes flight

 

DONAL BYRNEis exhilarated by the new Aston Martin, but it’s an expensive, impractical machine

FIRSTDRIVE ASTON MARTIN RAPIDE:EVEN IN those heady pre-Nama days, the Aston Martin Rapide would have struggled to make it on to the must-have list, rather than the wish list, of those who might have afforded a super car of this calibre. The chances of seeing one of these in IMF Ireland is now even more remote.

With a price tag of € 275,000, a six-litre petrol engine, 20-inch wheels (whose brake discs are bigger than the wheel of an average saloon car), frightening fuel consumption and very tight interior space, the Rapide is of limited appeal indeed.

Unlike other Aston Martin models, the Rapide is billed as a four-door car that offers more practicality. It is a relative term. The two scooped-out rear seats might accommodate an extra two for a round trip to the theatre, but that’s about it. And if they are taller than 5’10”, even that would be an uncomfortable trip.

This is no family saloon. Rather it is a sports car in the grand tradition, but tuned to the limits of what is possible these days. When you sit into it, you realise what it is like to enjoy something bespoke. You are cocooned by beautiful stitched leather and instrumentation that puts an average production car to shame. Slot in the key and you hear an engine sound that would do justice to an advancing tank column.

Select the D button and you move off with the impression that the V12 engine – despite its boom – is actually docile. Whatever the road presents is absorbed effortlessly. It is only when you select the performance settings for the engine and suspension that you realise which part of the car is Jeckyl and which is Hyde.

An almost unmatchable precision takes hold of the steering, the engine bursts into life and you can go from 0 to 100kph in 5.1 seconds. You realise that other cars you thought had good ride and handling are woolly and imprecise by comparison. The six-speed automatic gearbox is not really a match for this kind of performance though – the paddle system provides less lurching and far greater precision.

When you throttle off, you can be left exhilarated but slightly drained and the harsh suspension settings will have jarred your bones. Getting back into normal cruising mode is a bit like re-entry to the atmosphere.

Based on the Aston Martin DB9, the Rapide is five-metres long and has an extra 250mm over the DB9. What really brings its rather awesome power output home is the fact that the car weighs in a little short of two tonnes. But you can revert to a driving experience slightly bordering on the sedate, but only slightly. The sensation of flight rather than motoring is never far away, especially when you consider the 19 miles to the gallon equation.

In the meantime, you can enjoy things such as the Bang and Olufsen stereo system specially designed for Aston Martin. Its speakers emerge in cylinder form from either end of the dashboard and distribute sound according to the number of seat belts engaged. Now, Q would have been proud of that one!

Charles Hurst in Belfast is the importing agency for Ireland and will happily offer you the bespoke service that goes with a bespoke car. Paul Chesney says the company has a “few orders” but is not specific about numbers. “Things are not as bad as some think and, particularly in Northern Ireland, there has been a bit of a change of attitude amidst all the previous doom and gloom,” he says.

In the Republic, the Rapide will be a rare sight indeed. Even if the cash was still flowing, the car remains more sports machine than practical alternative. And trying to convince someone that “it really is a family car, darling” is unlikely to carry much weight.