First drive: Aston Martin Rapide

For a lesson in how not to make a four-door GT car you don't have to look very far. Just take a sneaky peak at the bulbous Porsche Panamera - a podgy people mover that makes a Ssangyong Rodius look well-proportioned.

Thankfully Aston Martin knows a thing or two about design - if you discount the Cygnet - and have pulled off a masterstroke with its Rapide.

To be fair to Porsche, AM did have a stunning starting block to begin with. The DB9 is an automotive great, a timeless shape that'll look good for many years to come. Extending it slightly to incorporate two rear seats and a second set of doors was never going to do it that much harm. But quite how good it looks is still a surprise.

For the family man, the Rapide makes sense. Those rear seats are a little cosy if you're a fully grown adult, but for children - even teenagers - they're fine. Hugging and sumptuous, each rear seat is a cocooning pod to enjoy the delights of the drive from.

The Rapide is wonderfully appointed. Rich leather, decadent wood finish and classic design touches are plentiful. And simply firing it up is an occasion – push the Emotion Control Unit (aka the key) into the slot in the centre console and it becomes the starter button, firing the V12 into life with a spine-tingling bark.

Where it really excels is on fast, flowing A-roads – it's here you can stretch its legs and let the gun crack exhaust note ricochet off the scenery. As the revs rise over the magic 4,000rpm mark, butterflies in the exhaust relax to allow all 470 horses to clear their throat. It's a God-like stomach rumbling that's combined with melting countryside as the future rapidly becomes the present.

The Aston's ability to pile on speed is breathtaking. On clear, open sections, mashing the throttle results in true sportscar reactions. Ok, it's not as lithe or as nimble as true sports cars, despite what the manufacturer will have you believe, but it's still capable and remarkably quick.

Those 470 horses from that glorious V12 are enough to punch you and your three passengers to 60mph in 5.1 seconds. A DB9 cracks the same speed in 4.8 seconds – not much of a difference, is there?
Road test: Aston Martin Rapide
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First drive: Aston Martin Rapide

The steering does feel heavy though, but it's a pleasant weight, reassuringly expensive in its feel. Response can be a little lethargic, especially when you're plodding along in 'normal' mode. However, click the chunky button marked 'Sport' and activate the sports suspension and the Rapide makes an incredible transformation.

Throttle response is sharpened, steering quickens and the whole car feels as if it's risen on its haunches.

The semi-automatic paddle shift gearbox is easy to use but can be a little slow in 'normal' mode to react. In sport its feels far quicker, but we'd still prefer a manual. Aston Martin doesn't even offer one, saying that 95 per cent of sales would be semi-auto anyway so there's no point, but if we were buying we'd at least like the choice.

This Rapide works best for city centre commutes, motorways and A-roads – not skirt hitched-up country road jaunts. That's not to say it isn't enjoyable when you push on – it is – but the Rapide really is a bit too posh to be pushed. This is a supercar that excels in other arenas – and none more so than in making big look beautiful.

Aston Martin Rapide

  • Price: £144,950
  • Engine: 6.0-litre, V12
  • Power: 470bhp, 599Nm
  • Max: 188mph
  • 0-60mph: 5.1s
  • Economy: 19mpg

The Rivals

Porsche Panamera 4S

  • Price: £78,938
  • Engine: 5.0-litre, V8
  • Power: 400bhp, 500Nm
  • Max: 175mph
  • 0-60mph: 5.0s
It's hard to believe this Porsche comes from the same manufacturer as the iconic 911. But unfortunately it does. Incredibly competent to drive, devastatingly quick, and with more room in the back than a Rapide , it even costs considerably less. But does it have to look so, well, ugly?

Bentley Flying Spur

  • Price: £123,400
  • Engine: 6.0-litre, W12
  • Power: 552bhp, 649Nm
  • Max: 194mph
  • 0-60mph: 5.2s
More high-class saloon than GT car, the Bentley is the chairman of the board's choice of transporting four in luxurious surroundings. Appointed as well as any Aston, the Bentley features four-wheel drive and a mighty W12 turbo-charged powerplant that drinks more fuel than a space rocket. But performance is potent and it'll humble many sportscars.
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