Ambitious but rubbish!
- Jul 12, 2004
- Sydney, Australia
- 1998 Subaru Legacy 2.5L
www.topgear.comGood God. Is there no stopping this man? Downstairs, Aston Martin's third design chief in five years, Marek Reichman, has still to get all four doors on his new Rapide concept, Aston's fifth new car inside 12 months.
Meanwhile upstairs, Dr Ulrich Bez, Chairman and CEO, is already talking about the yet-to-be-seen convertible Vantages and the hot Vantages that are, like the Rapide, not far away from the showroom.
He's making a point, of course, Bez is always making a point about something. Right now it's all about Aston Martin's ground-breaking 'V/H architecture', or what the more proletarian car makers might call 'a platform'.
V/H, a glued and riveted extruded aluminium tub with a backbone of carbon fibre, is what the Rapide is all about.
At its most basic, the Rapide is a long-wheelbase DB9... but only in the same way a Vantage is a short wheelbase DB9. That is, in its heart and soul, not the same at all.
Vantage is the punchy but pretty runt; Rapide the beautiful, ?ber-cool, elder sibling with the wardrobe to die for.
Yet both exist because of the DB9's donor DNA and its flexible V/H architecture... as do the DB9 Volante, the DBR9 and the DBRS9.
Geddit? You don't have a choice when Bez is strafing you with a mixture of enthusiasm and didactic.
Five cars inside 12 months is only possible if, underneath, they are all fundamentally the same. So get over it; this is how Aston managed four-door cars in the past. Kinda.
Now once again in the 21st century, the skill of building cars is making them different on top, and they don't come any more different than the Rapide.
It's five metres long. That makes it the size of an S-Class. Or a Quattroporte. Or, most likely, the forthcoming Porsche Panamera.
Funny that. Especially when you consider Dr Bez used to work for Porsche and some say he left under a cloud. And that the Panamera, as if we need point out, is still little more than an incredulous concept sketch.
But back to the Rapide. Compared with a DB9, five metres means there's another 250mm in the wheelbase and another 50mm in the rear overhang.
It existed as a long-wheelbase car with extra space but no extra doors until more didacticism from Bez: "If there's space, then you should also offer accessibility, otherwise you are not being honest."
So the Rapide you see here, and that the North American public will see at their 'Auto Show' in Detroit in mid-January, now has four of the traditional Aston Martin 'swan doors', the fronts chopped down from those on the DB9, the rears all new, but all swinging elegantly up and away from the kerb.
It also has a hatchback, like a Vantage, which accesses a huge load area. It is, suggests Dr Bez, the boy's ultimate weekend car.
"It would be great for Le Mans," he suggests. "You could even sleep in the back." And you probably could, with the rear seat backs folded there's room for one - or indeed two - six footers to stretch out.
And it is, of course, undeniably beautiful. More sensitive to the right heights and angles than a DB9 certainly, but somehow managing to be both more butch and more elegant - the nexus of Aston Martin's 'power, beauty, soul' mantra.
But don't go thinking that this is some Aston Martin 'tourer', a big softie that (whisper it...) should really wear the Lagonda badge.
Partially in lieu of the car's extra weight, the DB9's six-litre V12 is upgraded from 450 to 480bhp, so this is still a quick car, sticking its nose in the sub-five-secs 0-60mph bracket and buzzing 180mph plus.
And to bring that extra 140kg, plus the weight of any two grown adults (six-footers included) quickly to a standstill, the brakes are now carbon ceramic.
The ability to drive like stink without looking like you give a damn is key to the certain rakishness that haunts Aston Martin.
It's unavoidable, some might say, when your defining customer drinks dry Martinis, slays women and kills bad guys for a living. And it certainly supports Bez's boast that this is the ultimate boy's weekend car, but Bez is more canny than that.
A matter of weeks before I learnt of the Rapide, I got an email from an old colleague. Let's call him John:
'M. Just trading in the 575. Glorious, but I need (a) some kind of seat in the back for the children, and (b) something slightly more suitable for the slog up and back to the country. Budget ?150k max.'
'Conti GT (looks like a big MG to me, but right size and nice long distance); 911S (great drive, but bit small and utterly ubiquitous); Quattroporte (sexy as hell and practical, but hardly robust); 612 nice but still pricey (?130k minimum); Vanquish too brittle and tiny in the back; DB9 (smart but v small).
'What d'you think? What would you have? Jx
'PS. Don't know when prestige manufacturers will figure out the vast majority of blokes with this kind of money have kids we're mad about - and that we'd like the option to take them with us. That's why the Conti has sold so well - it's the only option.'
There are lots of blokes like John, Bez knows that. Enough he reckons to support a run of 500 Rapides over a couple of years starting around 12 months from now.
The price? Around $250,000 - or the price of a Vanquish over here. But that's jumping the gun a little. Let's go back to Marek Reichman and June of last year.
Reichman replaced Henrik Fisker the Monday after the DBRs came within two hours of an historic highest-ever placing for a GT car at Le Mans.
Fast, ferocious and frighteningly tough to drive in last summer's heat, the DBRs were the heroes of Le Mans.
The factory was flattened by the 22nd hour failure. But not Bez, nor Reichman, who replaced Henrik Fisker's internationalism with a passion tempered by an intellectual caution fine-tuned in a series of amazing Lincoln concepts.
Bez has always dogmatically insisted that the back seats of the DB9 were better than useless, but his heart was never in it.
His first brief to Reichman, then, was to find space within the DB9's form for proper back seats.
The concept developed in sketches, in computers, eventually in clay, and finally in hand-beaten aluminium. It added another 40mm to the height of the DB9 as well as the extra 250mm in the wheelbase.
Wheeling the car out into the sunset, it was apparent the big car could stay honest to the DB9, the section right the way through the body to the flipped up, extended tail starting in exactly the same front wings as the DB9.
"It just worked," Reichman says. "There's a beautiful harmony in there. It's not a wedge. It's graceful and flowing."
I sent a copy of our opening spread to 'John'.
'M. Fuck me. I'll take mine in Black Cherry with iron ore interior. Hubba, Hubba, Hubba. Jx'
I love the Quattroporte but this is just so much better in every-way. That interior couldn't possibly be more modern. The proportions of this car, though really nice, could be a little better on its rear end, but I can let that slip!
Is everyone ok? Anyone need to use the lavatory? I really want some high-res images of this so I can *** over it.