Since the Aston Martin Rapide test car featured in the August issue of CAR magazine left our offices, I’ve spent a great many nights rolling around in bed, getting tied up in my own blankets and elbowing my wife in the back. Only now, many weeks later, have I finally reached a conclusion on the Rapide matter. Well, sort of…
I have decided that the Aston Martin Rapide is quite clearly better than the Porsche Panamera. Even though, quite obviously, it is significantly worse…
Certainly, by all measureable standards it is impossible for any four-door sports car to be better than the Porsche Panamera, especially the range-topping Turbo version. After all, it combines gravity-defying dynamics with almost 7 Series-like ride qualities, agility that makes a mockery of the car’s weight, supercar humbling acceleration, genuine four-seat capability, all the luxury and tech toys you’d ever want and is built like a German bank vault. All of this, at “only” R1 695 000.
And yet, if you were to give me a Panamera Turbo (and I had to keep it) I suspect I’d end up being rather miserable. The thought alone has forced me to reflect on this matter quite a lot. You see, I really admire Porsches. When I went onto Ignition TV recently to promote my book and Marius Roberts asked me what my best car was, I said the Cayman S. This caused a deathly hush to fall over the studio… but I was deadly serious. Still am. I think the 911 is stupendous and if I ever had to buy a SUV the new Cayenne would probably be top of my list.
And yet the phenomenal, brilliant Panamera leaves me absolutely cold. This is because, mostly, I can’t bear looking at it. I’ve learnt through the years that one shouldn’t judge a new car’s appearance from a photograph. In fact, you shouldn’t even judge it in the first month after seeing it in the metal at all. You should give it time.
But it’s been months now. I’ve looked at the Panamera static and on the move. I’ve seen it under the harsh South African sun, I’ve stared at it in the softer light of Europe and was appalled to see it covered with grime in Russia. But it doesn’t matter whether I’ve crouched, lied flat on my stomach, squinted or stood on my head – I can’t find an angle from which I can say… wow. Not in a positive way, in any event.
Perhaps this makes me a very superficial, shallow person, but I simply can’t fall in love with the Panamera. But then again, I doubt that I’m alone in this. To this day I’ve only met one non-Porsche employee who finds the Panamera beautiful. And that person owns a Porsche already…
Furthermore, for all its speed, agility and stunning power the Panamera is also lacking in aural stimulation. I’d be generous and describe the engine sound as “urgent”.
So, if I had R1,7 million only and had to get a four seat super/sportscar I would buy… well, shares, in fact. If you have R1,7 million laying about then you probably also know one or two people who could point you into the right investment direction…
And then, if all goes well, and my investment had grown enough, I’d stomp over to Aston Martin and buy the Rapide for R2,8 million. A ridiculous amount of money for a car that can’t possibly be better than a Panamera. And yet…
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that if you’re looking at buying a R2,8 million exotic, you’re probably not buying it because its got xx mm more rear legroom, is x,x seconds faster to 100 km/h or has a bigger boot.
At this price level you’re buying something because you desire it.
There was never any chance that Aston Martin, a company much smaller than the mighty Porsche, would be able to produce a car that could go head to head with the Panamera.
So yes, the Rapide doesn’t have the Panamera’s acceleration, its rear legroom, build quality or boot space. By almost all measurable standards the Rapide is blown out of the water by what can only be described as a teutonic freak of science.
But the amazing thing is that the Rapide is not as far off on most of the measurable aspects as you may think. Personally I found the Aston’s ride quality beautiful and though ultimately its levels of roadholding can’t match the Panamera, it still entertains… a lot. The build quality – perhaps because this is the first Aston Martin to be built in Austria – is the most impressive I’ve yet seen from the marque, though the ergonomics are downright unfathomable in places.
In terms of space, the Panamera trounces it but if you consider the fact that few people will use either for long-distance, four-passenger driving, and the Rapide’s ability to transport two extra people for short trips in relatively acceptable comfort is probably as much as is required. In terms of performance the Panamera Turbo can scare supercars . But I have to wonder, if you buy a car such as this, do you really care whether the time is 3,9 or 5,2 seconds. I’m not sure.
What you have in a Rapide is a car that, by measurable standards, can’t quite match an obvious rival. And because it costs so much more you have to realistically say, as a result, that it is a hopeless effort.
But I want one.
The Rapide is the type of car that makes you eager to get up in the morning, to go for a drive. It’s the type of car that, as you walk away, makes you turn your head and give a final, longing glance. It is achingly beautiful.
And from behind the wheel the sensory seduction continues because you have a engine sound that is pure DBS – menacing, growling, roaring. As we recorded the Rapide along the Franschhoek Pass, the sound bouncing off the cliffs was pure motoring rock&roll.
In terms of desirability the Rapide is off the scale while the Panamera – for me – is a non-event. In terms of ability, I thought the Rapide actually came closer to the Porsche than most had expected. So, what value can you put on things such as a beautiful shape or an addictive engine sound? Is it even possible to try?
Actually, I think R2,8 million sounds about right for the Rapide all things considered. You see, it adds another element that Panamera man won’t have. Exclusivity. There are “cheap” six-cylinder Panameras around that, to the untrained eye, look just like the R1,7 million Turbo. Porsche will sell many, many of these cars.
All-in-all, I’m quite happy to accept that my preference of the Rapide makes me a superficial, stupid and an attention-seeking snob. But I suspect – and hope – that there’s another element at play here too – that for a car-loving petrolhead desire of a particular model is often irrational and based on the immeasurable.
I know that those who buy the Panamera get the better car, one of the truly great cars currently on sale, in fact. But, in the end, I’m also convinced that as Panamera man drives by a Rapide, he’ll have to admit he’s driving a machine, while Rapide man is driving a work of art.