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Aston Martin Rapide concept
4-door DB9 Coupé? Much more.

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - front side view.

Five metres long: the Rapide is 30cm longer than a DB9.

11th January 2006.

Aston Martin is not just watching the other British luxury brand, Bentley (owned by the VW group), or Italian Maserati and German Porsche, getting each its own 4-door super luxury sports model, like the successful Bentley Continental Flying Spur, or the Maserati Quattroporte, or the forthcoming Porsche Panamera (2009).

Aston Martin wants its own new 4-door luxury sports model too... again.

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - back side view, 1.

A 4-door coupé complements the DB9 2+2, DB9 Volante and the Vantage.

That's the Rapide concept which the Ford-owned British brand is showing at the 2006 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS, public days from the 14th to the 22nd January) in Detroit, Michigan: a four-door, high performance coupé of... grace and poise. And we won't contradict Aston Martin on that, for its looks really beautiful.

But beauty is not everything. Based on Aston Martin's own VH (Vertical/Horizontal) aluminium architecture, the Rapide should combine agility, power, space and practicality for every eventuality. It is the epitome of Aston Martin’s low-volume, high-technology approach, the synergy of modern methods and materials with traditional skills.

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - back side view 2, all doors open.

4-door body provides greater access to the extended architecture.

Hence, the Rapide retains Aston Martin's design characteristics with additional length and extra doors built upon the DB9 (Vertical/Horizontal) architecture, generating a natural flow and a dynamic sensation even at standing still.

“In terms of elegance the Rapide is adding value to the DB9’s elegance and subtle understatement,” says Dr Ulrich Bez, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Aston Martin. “Our cars must look beautiful from all angles, and the four-door is very well balanced.”

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - top down view, 1.

VH architecture can be modified in both length and width.

Practicality and power are the Rapide's claimed qualities, and above all, it is recognisably an Aston Martin, a testament to the strength of the marque's design language. The Rapide's four-door body provides greater access to the extended architecture, making it a performance car for different occasions.

It is not a stretching exercise. “The proportions must be perfect,” says Dr Bez, “if we couldn’t achieve this then we wouldn’t have made the car.”

Architecture - Underpinning the Rapide concept is Aston Martin's VH architecture, developed to offer exceptional manufacturing flexibility. The high-strength, low-mass architecture forms the backbone of the current generation of Aston Martins, spearheaded by the DB9 Coupé and flanked by the DB9 Volante and the Vantage

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - top down view 2, 4 doors open.

It is not a stretching exercise. “Proportions must be perfect”.

The extruded aluminium construction of the VH architecture can be modified in both length and width, providing a myriad of packaging options, and the chemically-bonded structure (using glues derived from aircraft manufacture) is mated with bodywork that mixes aluminium and composite materials.

The architecture’s flexibility is further demonstrated by its use in the DBR9 racing car, where it is combined with carbon-fibre composite body panels to produce a modern race car of remarkable beauty.

Aston Martin’s traditional hand-finishing, craft skills and attention to detail operate side by side on the ultra-modern production line at Gaydon in Warwickshire. The VH architecture is at the heart of this manufacturing operation, its modular structure providing such inherent rigidity that it has given the company’s designers and engineers the same levels of freedom as their predecessors, 50 years before.

In today’s marketplace, even low volume manufacturers like Aston Martin are governed by strict legislation and the need to balance power, weight distribution, handling and safety. Utilising the VH architecture as the foundation for the new Rapide concept, Aston Martin has illustrated how their current range might be expanded, a four-door coupé that complements the DB9 2+2, DB9 Volante and the compact and muscular Vantage.

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - LED headlights on.

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - LED headlights off.

LED headlights, at least in the current concept car.

Exterior - The visual language of Aston Martin has always been highly distinctive. Across a range of three cars, the company's design team, led by Design Director Marek Reichman, fulfils Aston Martin’s core values – power, beauty and soul – with bodywork that is taut, poised and muscular.

“The brand is about the driving experience,” says Reichman. “We wanted to make the most beautiful four-door car in the world,” he says, as he traces the Rapide’s development from a series of exploratory sketches in the Summer of 2005 to the finished, fully-functioning prototype.

In the process, Reichman and his team explored the way the Rapide might be used, where and when it would be driven, even who would be driving. The four-door body was a natural way of providing access to the Rapide’s increased interior space. “If there’s a space then you should also offer accessibility, otherwise you’re not being honest,” explains Dr Bez.

“It’s not a wedge, it’s graceful and flowing,” explains Reichman, “we decided to let the lines flow right through the body to the tail. In silhouette, the Rapide shares the same sinuous line as its two-door siblings, although when compared with the poised stance of the Vantage with its sprinter-like forward thrust, the Rapide is a long distance runner.”

Proportion is fundamental. “There are forms that appear at ease and forms that appear tense and uncomfortable,” says Reichman, “we wanted to make everything on the Rapide work in harmony.”

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - LED backlights on.

LED backlights.

Achieving this required intuitive skills of a modelling team who work with both raw clay models and advanced computer modelling. “We put character and feeling into the surface,” says Reichman. “Our designers and modellers work with a sculptural language here at Aston Martin - the play of light on the surface are incredibly important to us.” Full-scale models are viewed in daylight and dusk conditions, for example, to ensure that the surface forms remain an integral element of each and every Aston Martin.

In silhouette, three-quarters view and from both the front and rear, the Rapide is instantly recognisable as an Aston Martin, regardless of whether it is wearing the famous winged badge (still faithfully rendered in pewter and enamel on every model). Soft curves on the flank kick up into muscular haunches above the rear wheel arches, with the roofline staying low, true to the Aston Martin silhouette.

The Rapide also features the metal side strakes, another signature feature, while the doors feature Aston Martin's unique 'swan wing' design, opening upwards at a 12-degree angle away from the kerb to provide greater access. The rear doors cut unexpectedly deep into the flank below the C-pillar, increasing the width of the opening to improve access.

At 5 metre long, the Rapide is 30cm longer than a DB9, and only 140kg heavier. “Aston Martin should always be about the proportions,” Reichman says. “Although the Rapide is slightly taller than the DB9, the proportion of the section is the same.”

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - driver seat, dashboard and console.

Jaeger-LeCoultre clock tradition within an elegant and classy console.

Aston Martin Rapide concept - Nokia phone inserted.

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - console view from back seats.

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - rear seats with DVD screens.

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - Champagne and flutes.

Who needs description?

Interior -The Rapide continues Aston Martin’s reputation for highly-tailored, individual cockpits, with the trademark glass starter button, a beautiful first point of contact with the car.

Providing sporty accommodation for four passengers in such a low coupé presents a formidable packaging challenge.

Sitting low to the ground, just four centimetres higher than a DB9, the interior is leather-swathed, with custom-embossed shagreen hide specially sourced for the Rapide. “It’s very cosseting,” admits Reichman. Like a set of exquisite hand-tooled luggage, the interior is compact yet also spacious, with attention to detail, like the extensive map and accessory storage and the mood lighting that maximises the feeling of volume.

Aston Martin has always been about truth to materials: wood is valued for its structural properties and appearance, as are aluminium, glass and leather, while carbon fibre is utilised for its strength and weight-saving abilities and not just a showy finish.

A transparent polycarbonate roof brings an increased sense of spatial awareness, opening up the passengers' vistas beyond the driver’s focus on the road ahead. This ultra-light transparent material is a first for the company. The Rapide has dual climate zones, and the rear seats come with their own DVD screens and controls for the audio system and environmental system. 

The dashboard is very driver-focused, but the three passengers can also be as engaged and involved in the journey. The satellite navigation system is fully accessible to all passengers, with a handheld Bluetooth unit that allows rear seat passengers to add their input to the route ahead. It’s this level of involvement that characterises the Aston Martin experience, and it is vital that both driver and passengers can share it. 

The rear luggage compartment is accessed via a hatchback, a practical feature shared with the Vantage and the pioneering DB2/4 of 1952. In addition, each rear seat folds down individually, allowing for myriad interior options, be it three players plus three sets of golf clubs, or four people and their skis, which slot neatly above the central console. To give the concept a real sense of occasion, the feeling that every journey ends in an event, the interiors team have incorporated a chiller cabinet in the boot, perfectly shaped to hold a single Magnum of Jacquesson champagne, along with four elegant flutes. 

The clock is an integral part of the Rapide's elegant dashboard. For this element, Aston Martin turned to their existing partners Jaeger-LeCoultre, world leaders in fine timekeeping and original manufacturers of dials in Aston Martins as far back as the 1929 1.5 Litre First Series. The Swiss watchmaker, which dates back to 1833, also created the exclusive AMVOX collection of understated gentlemen's timepieces. Aston Martin's engineers and designers collaborated with Jaeger-LeCoultre on the design of the Rapide concept's timekeeper, which takes on the characteristic traits of the AMVOX watches. The 270 degree sweep of numerals, dark grey dial with circular brushed surface, hands, numerals and raised sapphire crystal combine to make a beautifully refined object at the heart of the car, a series of sophisticated volumes created by the layers of the dials.

Four-door tradition - The four-door, four-seater Aston Martin saloon displayed at the 1927 Olympia Motor Show began a long tradition of cars that combined elegance, style and power with usability. The Olympia car was a closed-body tourer that sported long, flowing lines for the era, tapering to a luggage trunk and mounted on a tubular frame. The car was also low to the ground and sporting. Four years later another four-door saloon was exhibited, with an aluminium-panelled body by Bertelli, finely engineered, detailed and upholstered throughout, with intriguing touches like the roof-mounted opening glass panel above the rear passenger compartment.

Aston Martin Rapide concept car - Shagreen hide specially sourced for the Rapide.

Shagreen hide specially sourced for the Rapide.

Then, the 'Atom' project began in 1939 as a response to materials shortages, packaging design and post-war needs. A four-door saloon, the Atom was built around a steel tube chassis, upon which the bodywork was mounted. The strictly geometrical bodywork drew upon the new science of streamlining, and the car was smaller and lighter than what had gone before, with an innovative chassis design that ensured the company retained its image as a technical ground-breaker.

In the decades following the war, the David Brown-era cars created the image of the grand tourer, two-door four-seaters. Beneath the elegant skins there were yet more technological firsts, like the strong chassis-and-tube 'Superleggera' construction of the early DB series. In the 1970s and 80s, Aston Martin was uniquely positioned to accommodate almost any customer request, and four-door variants of the V8 and Virage models were built for a select number of discerning customers.

Character - Every journey in an Aston Martin is an occasion. The Vanquish S, DB9 Coupé, DB9 Volante and Vantage are all designed to sharpen the senses, with driver feedback and involvement. Yet when conditions preclude making progress or spirited driving, an Aston Martin adopts a relaxing, restrained character, with massive reserves of power with a cosseting interior.

Aston Martin Rapid concept car - V12 engine from the DB9 but uprated to 480 brake horsepower mated to a ZF Touchtronic gearbox

DB9 V12, uprated to 480 brake hp with a ZF Touchtronic gearbox.

Engine - The Rapide continues this tradition. Powered by the V12 engine from the DB9 but uprated to 480 brake horsepower mated to a ZF Touchtronic gearbox, the car has performance equivalent to the DB9, although the gearing has been adjusted to suit the longer wheelbase and more refined ride.

Carbon brakes and callipers, a first for Aston Martin, give the Rapide immense stability and stopping power. “A sports car is not simply characterised by the number of doors,” says Dr Bez. 

Although the power delivery is unrelenting, this is also a car designed for every day use, with ample space for a golfing weekend for three in Scotland, a lengthy trans-American journey or even a trip to a Bordeaux vineyard, with space to bring back 20 bottles of wine.

The Rapide is a seminal evocation of Aston Martin's recent history, proof positive that the high performance four-door automobile need not imitate the conservative three-box saloon; it can be a car of elegance and beauty.

Aston Martin begins the 21st century with almost limitless potential. As one of the strongest and most recognisable brands in automotive history, the company now has the products, technology, production facilities and distribution network to offer unparalleled choice in this market segment, able to move rapidly from prototyping to concept to production. And the Rapide is nothing but a... "rapid" proof.

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