Aston Martin Rapide S
The Aston Martin Rapide is a car that straddles several genres. Back when the car was originally conceived, as the 2006 Rapide Concept, the idea of a big, expensive four-door sports saloon drawing on outstanding design pedigree seemed like a no-brainer, but the reality was slightly different. Aston have always been renowned for their sporting GTs - with more emphasis on sport than touring - but the Rapide didn't seem to fit into the established narrative. So despite the car's undeniable charms, it fell between two stools, not appealing to brand cognoscenti and usurped in practicality by rivals from Porsche and Bentley.
To their credit, the company has stuck to its guns, and the new Rapide S goes straight for the car's core characteristics, upping the power, dynamism and sporting ability. Aston knows full well that it occupies a niche, and that its core customers are cognoscenti who revel in the company's occasional eccentricities and confusions. For new markets, however, the lines are more rigorously drawn, so Aston - like all its competitors - has to play along by the established rules. Hence the Rapide's appeal in massive new markets like China, where four doors are obligatory (although there are signs this market is slowly getting over its obsession with being chauffered).
The back seats of the Rapide haven't changed much in the new 'S' model - they're still luxuriously appointed, if a little bit snug. It's a shame the glass roof of the original concept never made it into production, as it would make this already lush interior a captivating place to be. We suspect that the engineering challenge is just too great, however, for the Rapide S goes, stops and turns as well as any car in its class, all the while sounding magnificent. Its handling belies its size and the bump in horsepower over the original Rapide makes it even more of a performer.
Now that Aston Martin have declared themselves adherents of evolution, not revolution, it'll be interesting to see what happens next for the company's perennial core models - the closely related DB9 and the Rapide. For now, it's sufficient to say that they have evolved into hugely attractive, capable cars, personal transport for those not obsessing over the best new thing.
Novelty has its place in car design, but AM are defiantly - almost obstinately - pushing the other direction, relying on the undeniable charms of its styling. Yes, the interior - and in particular the ergonomics - appear idiosyncratic if not downright flawed to the uninitiated. It's a V12, which means that no amount of aluminium and carbon fibre can slash hefty fuel bills and emissions. Nonetheless, ongoing engineering tweaking mean even these figures are being improved, year on year. The Rapide S remains an emotional choice, if not an entirely rational one, but trust your heart, not your head and you'll have no regrets.