“This is not a limousine.”
These are the words of Dr. Ulrich Bez, the brainiac who has run Aston Martin for the past 13 years or so. He was referring, perhaps a little defensively, to the laughably hidebound rear seats in the 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S. Bez is correct in his statement that this sedan is not just another Fleetwood stretch. He's also forgiven for a touch of pique: Assessing this four-door sexpot for the size of its rear seats is sort of like turning your nose up at Natalie Portman for having manly toes.
The fact is, the Rapide S – a faster, sleeker and more fuckable upgrade of the 2010 Rapide – is the most elegant four-door on the road today. The differences between the original and the S are subtle at first. Like the original, the S is an elegant blade of a car. The roofline is sharp enough to give the segment leader, the estimable Porsche Panamera, with its more bulbous rear haunches, a serious case of body dysmorphic disorder. The four swan-wing doors open at a rakish angle. The knifed grille, a battle flag of the brand, is no longer bisected by the front bumper but a single element. The roofline is lower, the spoiler higher. The price tag is around $200,000, putting it out of the reach of many a Panamera shopper. But it earns its keep.
It does that partly through its exquisite design, but also through power and handling. There is no digging for fuel economy back in the Aston Martin build shed in Cologne, Germany (the body is built at AM HQ in Gaydon, England). Where companies like Audi and BMW are introducing more efficient and compact engines of lesser displacement that are adorned by turbos, Aston Martin sticks defiantly with a monstrous, naturally aspirated 5.9-liter V-12 that kicks out 550 horsepower (50 more than the original) and carries the 4,387-pound sedan from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds. The top speed, evidently, is 190 mph.
Another big upgrade becomes important on a closed racetrack – a place where no one in his right mind would take this lanky saloon. The Rapide's suspension now has three different damping modes instead of two, having added a Track setting to Normal and Sport. Of course, this isn't a track car. It doesn't come with an optional upgrade to carbon ceramic brake setup; if you're going to be tossing this heavy scimitar – it's nearly 4,400 pounds – deep into a curve on a track and braking like Kimi, then expect that your brakes are going to fade fast. But the Track setting is rigid enough and the engine note of the big V-12 is throaty enough to at least pretend. The handling is benign and balanced even in the tough corners. It has that even-an-idiot-could-do-this feel that many a weekend warrior would appreciate.
Now about that backseat: At the risk of sounding petty, Dr. Bez, it's a silly place to sit. Would we ever let our mother sit there? Our prom date (if indeed this were a limousine)? It is a sumptuous place to be, with sight lines to both carbon-fiber weave and walnut trim, and a rich aroma of expensive full-grain leather. There are even video screens embedded in the front seat headrests to take one's mind off things. And one doesn't sit in this seat so much as get spooned by it.
Either way: Mom sits up front, where she can ogle the spare elegance of the dash, with its unfussy, retro push-button gear selectors and complain that we spent too much money on our new car. [$200,000; astonmartin.com]