metres long: the Rapide is 30cm longer
than a DB9.
11th January 2006.
Martin is not just watching
the other British luxury brand, Bentley
(owned by the VW group), or Italian Maserati
getting each its own 4-door super luxury
sports model, like the successful Bentley Continental
Flying Spur, or the Maserati
Quattroporte, or the
Aston Martin wants its
own new 4-door luxury sports model too... again.
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
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
body provides greater access to the
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
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.
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.
headlights, at least in the current concept
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
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.”
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
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.”
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
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
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
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.
V12, uprated to 480 brake hp with a ZF
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
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
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.