In the sole single from their classic 1986 album "The Queen Is Dead," The Smiths croon saccharinely about committing an intense array of vicious activities, including: smashing teeth, bludgeoning the supine and empathizing with flame-roasted martyrs. Conspicuously absent from this musical litany is, achieving contemporary European automotive/pedestrian impact standards. This is not because Morrissey and Marr could not come up with a rhyme for “pedestrian” — given the lyrical prominence of Joan of Arc in said tune, “equestrian” is a rather obvious choice — but rather because these standards were not developed until 2009, 22 years after the group disbanded.
Still, the song in question, “Big Mouth Strikes Again,” could very well have been written about the newly revised 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S, whose muzzly — or, in Aston’s delightful parlance, “metallic full-face” — grille was inspired in no small part by these new regulations. Forged in one monumentally lustrous extrusion, the fascia is spring-clipped to the front of the car in such a manner as to absorb the force of a low-speed collision with a human fibula, thus meeting the (bizarre) new European leg-clobbering standards. Beats the hell out of a plaster cast.
The grille also makes this handsomest of existing sports sedans look even more deliciously savage and brutish — an assessment that we can now back up, experientially, having spent the better part of two days thrashing the Rapide S up and around the Catalonian mountain.
Coming as a surprise to exactly no one, driving the car in these conditions approaches the euphoric, with a chassis that is as delightfully lithe and stiff as men’s gymnastics team on an outing to Cheetah’s, brakes that bind as snug and agreeably as your favorite cashmere turtleneck just after it’s back from the environmentally friendly dry cleaners, and precise steering that provides levels of feedback previously achieved solely during a live performance by Iggy and the Stooges in 1973.
The Rapide is equally congenial on the highway. Some of this is the responsibility of its slightly wider seats, made possible by the removal of Aston’s stubbornly misplaced and finickally turgid handbrake, which occupies the space where your left thigh would prefer to be. Some of it is due to the hidebound nature of the cabin, which features more tightly stretched leather than Cher circa 1989-2003.
But most of the car’s amazing ability to suck down asphalt taffy can be pinned on the newly lighter and lower-mounted 6-liter V-12, which, in addition to being more efficient (or, at 15 mpg combined, “efficient”) now puts out nearly 20 percent more power than the previous engine — that’s 80 additional un-gelded stallions — for a total of 550 hp. Sixty miles an hour comes up as quickly as a quaff of spoiled milk; 120 mph arrives as readily as a second pitcher of margaritas. In fact, we can affirm that the engine is this peppy throughout the legal and extra-legal portions of the gas pedal’s range, a point driven home by the rather esophagal exhaust blather. We cannot think of any other vehicle whose manufacturer does not end in i that partners better with a long stretch of tunnel and a run to the top of second (or third or fourth) gear.
We have only two complaints about the car, aside from the fact that we are not permanently in possession of one slathered in the deliciously fathomless, green-undertoned, patinated brown hue that Aston Martin refers to as “bronze.” First, some combination of the car’s ideal weight distribution, high-driveshaft tunnel, stubby greenhouse, and muscular alacrity occasionally makes one feel as if one is rowing a canoe while lying supine a fathom or two below the hull — with the concomitant sense of quease. Also, as nice as it is to have a sports car with a pair of usable rear seats, one should be aware of their limits. We are of average build, and found being ensconced back there for a brief spell akin to experiencing the larval-to-pupal transition, confining silkiness and sense of security included. But we stuffed one of our huskier friends back there, a former high school football type, and it required a giant pair of forceps and a few quarts of local Spanish olive oil to extricate him.
Still, a glimpse of the Aston — or, better yet, a cavalcade of Astons — traveling down the road makes us more than willing to disregard these shortcomings. The car’s beauty is undeniable, and as seductive as it appears in photos or when parked, pales when compared to the impact its cohesively flanged and flared surfaces make as it passes you at speed. (The delicate new rear lip helps, capping the car’s end with a subtle finial.) Aston’s prior experiment with sedans, the Lagonda, may have had the temerarious and angular chutzpah of a Donald Judd sculpture, but the Rapide is pure Serra: sensuous, sinuous, imposing, and impossibly elongated.
We may find the Porsche Panamera and the Ferrari FF more engaging to drive; and each may have a roomier interior, a sharper transmission, and more electronological gewgaws than the Rapide. But if we were spending our own $199,950, we might still place an order for June delivery of this freshened Aston, for its ideally blended perfection of form and function. And mouth.
- Aston Martin