My day in a not-a-James-Bond As­ton

Selwyn and Ashburton Outlook - - MOTORING - DAMIEN O’CAR­ROLL

I am go­ing to be com­pletely up­front here: I am an ab­so­lute, com­mit­ted As­ton Mar­tin fan­boy. Pos­si­bly from birth.

All I know for sure is that I have ut­terly loved the cars from Gay­don for as long as I can re­mem­ber. Even be­fore I be­came a com­plete James Bond nerd.

It was al­most cer­tainly ce­mented by a toy I had as a child: a Corgi James Bond DB5, com­plete with ejec­tor seat and small red plas­tic pas­sen­ger. It was my undis­puted prize pos­ses­sion as a seven-year-old and prob­a­bly still is to­day.

Yep, that’s right; I still have it. And it I will never part with it, even though it is al­most cer­tainly worth a small for­tune.

While I know now it was a hal­farsed job by Corgi – it rushed out a cob­bled up ver­sion that was ac­tu­ally from a DB4 cast­ing – it still so­lid­i­fied an em­bry­onic love for the As­ton Mar­tin mar­que that con­tin­ues to this day. Even though I would hon­estly strug­gle tell you which model was which in the cur­rent range, with two ob­vi­ous ex­cep­tions.

This says a lot about the styling dead-end that As­ton has found it­self cor­nered in re­cently.

Those two ex­cep­tions are, of course, the new DB11 and the four-door Rapide (for the ob­vi­ous door-re­lated rea­sons). And as it turns out both are strong sig­nals that the styling dead-end is about to be ut­terly smashed.

While the DB11 rep­re­sents at least a no­tice­able and dis­tinct styling jump for As­ton Mar­tin, it is prob­a­bly the Rapide’s 2015 facelift that gave the big­gest clue as to what the com­pany really wants to do, and that is break away from that iconic, but oh-so lim­it­ing grille shape.

Two years ago the Rapide qui­etly sig­nalled that desire by delet­ing the body-coloured bar be­tween the tra­di­tional grille and the lower in­take. A small thing for sure, but it made for a far larger, more gap­ing mouth than any pro­duc­tion As­ton in re­cent mem­ory.

That 2015 facelift also brought a new eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and a bump in power for the mag­nif­i­cent 6.0-litre V12 en­gine, which now pro­duces a thor­oughly un­nec­es­sary, but truly fab­u­lous 412kW of power.

The par­tic­u­lar Rapide that I’ve just driven was a Shadow Edi­tion model that brings some ex­clu­sive ex­te­rior and in­te­rior colours and a small bump in power (422kW), but also adds a sports ex­haust and three-stage adap­tive damp­ing.

This was my first ex­pe­ri­ence with a Rapide, and I have to ad­mit that drop­ping my­self down into the low and sump­tu­ous in­te­rior for the first time was . . . slightly dis­ap­point­ing ac­tu­ally.

While the Rapide’s in­te­rior is beau­ti­fully made and subtly op­u­lent, it is also rather dated now. Re­cent up­grades like the sexy glass touch sen­si­tive dash but­tons with hap­tic feed­back and things like Ap­ple CarPlay feel like a thin ve­neer of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy over what is now a seven-year-old in­te­rior.

Noth­ing be­trays this more than the small, weirdly thick screen that rises awk­wardly out of the dash when you power the Rapide up.

Not only is it al­most laugh­ably tiny by the stan­dards of to­day, it also leans ever-so-slightly for­ward, giv­ing it an un­com­fort­ably half-ar­sed pres­ence on the Rapide’s oth­er­wise classy and el­e­gant dash.

But let’s be hon­est here, who ac­tu­ally cares about an awk­wardly an­gled, dis­con­cert­ingly small in­fo­tain­ment screen when you have a mag­nif­i­cent V12 on the other end of the gim­micky (and also slightly awk­ward) key-thatthat-dou­bles-as-a-push-start­but­ton? Not me, that’s for sure.

Push­ing the cheesy key/but­ton pro­duces one of the great­est sounds known to man – a big V12 with a beau­ti­fully re­fined, but in­tensely men­ac­ing rum­ble.

Give it a few prods on the throt­tle and it barks with a tur­bine-smooth re­sponse, but with a slightly an­gry crackle on the over­run; this is re­fined anger at its finest.

Eas­ing the Rapide out into subur­ban Mel­bourne traf­fic, I in­stantly be­come aware of its size; it’s not par­tic­u­larly wide, but it is un­nerv­ingly long.

Sadly, we don’t have time to get fur­ther than the out­skirts of Mel­bourne and onto some ex­cit­ingly un­civilised wind­ing roads (not that the roads around Mel­bourne are worth the ef­fort), so a de­tailed re­view on how the Rapide is a pre­cise cor­ner-carv­ing de­light isn’t on the cards here.

What I can tell you, how­ever, is that the Rapide is a sur­pris­ingly en­gag­ing limo that ac­tu­ally com­pro­mises on the whole lux­ury thing to pro­vide you with a proper As­ton Mar­tin ex­pe­ri­ence.The adap­tive damp­ing is sub­tle but ef­fec­tive, and it ad­justs the steer­ing weight in a sim­i­lar fash­ion.

The ride is never toothloos­en­ingly firm, but it is al­ways dis­tinctly sporty, while the steer­ing re­sponse is al­ways quick, ac­cu­rate and de­li­ciously com­mu­nica­tive, re­gard­less of set­ting.

Drop­ping the en­gine into Sport mode is vaguely sim­i­lar to pok­ing a sleepy bear with a blunt stick in an an­noy­ingly per­sis­tent man­ner – you don’t get a feral re­sponse, but you do get a dis­tantly an­gry one that sug­gests you should stop now if you want to keep your face.

The V12’s sound deep­ens and gets no­tice­ably more prom­i­nent and harder, but still re­mains ut­terly smooth and civilised. It may well be dated now, but the As­ton Mar­tin Rapide is still an ut­terly mag­nif­i­cent ex­am­ple of el­e­gance, ef­fort­less cool and raw power.

And that isn’t even tak­ing any sort ut­ter fan­boy sta­tus into ac­count.

Rapide Shadow Edi­tion brings unique colours and a lit­tle ex­tra power.

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