Rear seat in 2013 Rapide S
When James Bond first hopped into an Aston Martin 50 years ago, it seemed like the perfect fit of automotive and man. Author Ian Fleming bestowed his character with some of the same attributes that had long defined Aston Martin: beguiling charm, handsome precision and brooding sophistication. What started out as a pilot project in co-branding is still in effect today, and just as Daniel Craig gave Bond another update in Skyfall, Aston Martin—which celebrates their centennial this year—has merged an austere lineage with present-day relevance in their 2013 DB9 and Rapide S models.
These are cars just begging for a test drive, which I was fortunate enough to do recently. As we enter a tunnel in the Spanish Pyrenees, the James Bond bass line patters through my head. I check the rearview for henchmen and stomp on the accelerator of my 2013 Rapide S like Pavlov’s dumb dog, and the RPMs rise an octave. At the moment there’s no reason to think about how the latest AM11 engine boasts a 17 percent increase in horsepower from previous models or how this is the first four-door model since the wonderfully weirdly-wedged Lagonda was discontinued in 1990, or even how Aston Martin still builds all of its cars one-by-one without an assembly line. That’s because the sensual experience of driving such a sublime vehicle through an echo chamber is a euphoric overload. The polyphonic exhaust note is the sum of the car’s moving parts, a byproduct of constant refinement over 100 years of starts, stops, triumphs and failures—character that can only be developed through experience. While I’m a sucker for the jagged grumble of glass pack exhausts, or the searing buzzsaw of an Italian supercar, comparing them to the music emanating from an Aston Martin is like comparing Chet Baker’s trumpet to an air raid siren. In an age where power is usually defined in terms of brutal strength, Aston Martins can seem anachronistic as they, like 007 himself, exemplify a more subdued, measured, but deadly type of vigor.
2013 Rapide S in Volcano Red
The DB9 or Rapide S both drive as well as they sound, but, in deciding between the two, potential buyers set on an Aston Martin should first weigh the cars’ distinct personalities against their own lifestyles. The DB9 is the direct ancestor of 007’s DB5, a sinewy gentlemen’s tourer which has doors that can be opened by touching the face of a watch (the AMVOX2 DB9 Transponder Jaeger-LeCoultre; optional, but mind-blowingly cool).
2013 Rapide S in Skyfall Silver
The Rapide S, on the other hand, is the sleeper agent of the two, offering a 2+2 seating configuration that is likely a concession to current market-wide demand for increased capacity vehicles and meant to compete with the Porsche Panamera or Maserati Quattroporte. These back seats are serviceable at best, and anyone over five-and-a-half feet would find themselves somewhat cramped on longer trips. What is most surprising about the Rapide S though, is that it doesn’t drive like a four door. Like the DB9, it has a tempo that is measured and smooth under normal conditions, but can be sharp and swift when pushed. It easily tucks in and leaps out of tight switchbacks on these mountain roads. A family sedan capable of zero to 60 in 4.9 seconds with a top speed of 190 mph seems completely appropriate for an automaker whose trademark is the subtle interplay between force and restraint.
Aston Martin final inspection plaque
There are certain cars that when you get behind the wheel give you the sense that the manufacturer at some point just said “good enough.” They may be faster or roomier, yet they’re also clearly crammed with the latest plastic buttons and infotainment center in the dashboard. These cars are not Aston Martins. Aston Martin interiors are examples of classic, understated British design and provide a tranquil counterpoint to the sinister, bullet-like body lines. The interior layout is slightly unconventional, possibly because Aston Martin, since wriggling out from Ford in 2007, has no parent company and has been left to come up with its own answers. The turned aluminum knobs and glass-faced buttons have a tactile weight that feels considered, in the same way that I’d imagine a shifter knob or choke pull felt on an Aston Martin built early last century, or the way an ejector seat button in a DB5 did. The ultimate tell of any Aston Martin is under the bonnet. In addition to state-of-the-art bonding methods and components that seem more suitable to aviation than automotive, there’s a plaque with the name of the employee that performed the final inspection before the car left the company’s Gaydon, Warwickshire, headquarters. The sign-off is the embodiment of a gentlemen’s handshake, and you’ll do well to trust it, even if in his other hand, he’s got a Walther PPK jammed in your ribs.