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When we first heard Aston Martin was making a four-door supercar known as the Rapide, we weren't terribly happy. It looked as if the company was turning its precious DBS, one of the most beautiful automobiles ever, into a hideously deformed hatchback -- all in the name of practicality. To us, that's like sewing pockets on to Elmo's face -- you end up with something slightly more useful, but at what cost?
Having driven one in the real world, we're happy to report the Rapide is not, in fact, a pocket-faced monstrosity. On the contrary, it's actually one of the prettiest cars on the road today -- particularly from the front and rear. These pictures won't do it justice, but in the metal, the Rapide will cause children you've never met to hug your shins and call you Mummy or Daddy.
Those rear doors swing open to reveal a pair of bucket-style rear seats that fold down to extend boot space from 301 litres, to a Volvo-rivalling 750 litres. They're also a surprisingly comfortable place to rest one's weary buttocks, provided the owner of said buttocks isn't over 5ft 10 inches tall and doesn't mind head-butting the inward-sloping window frame whenever the driver makes a sharp turn.
The Rapide's extra girth has presented Aston Martin with the opportunity to furnish the car with a smorgasbord of technology. Those sat in the back can busy themselves with the rear-seat entertainment package, which consists of a pair of 5-inch displays mounted on the headrests, an infrared remote control for independently controlling what's on each screen, and a pair of wireless headphones that allow your passengers to listen to a different soundtrack to the one being played over the car's loudspeakers.
Sadly, Aston Martin's missed a trick here. The Rapide doesn't have the option of a TV tuner, neither analogue nor digital. Instead, occupants are restricted to watching DVDs -- via the in-dash six-disc changer up front -- or attaching their own video sources via two composite video inputs located between the rear seats.
There's no video playback of any variety to be had in the front, but driver and passenger can busy themselves them with the Rapide's stunning Bang & Olufsen sound system. A £3,000 extra on the DBS, this audio setup consists of a 1,000W amplifier and a whopping 15 speakers. It's not all about sheer auditory grunt, though -- the B&O system's forte is its ability to deliver a level of tonal precision not seen since the death of Pavarotti, a level usually reserved for high-end home cinema setups.
We'll go out on a limb and say it's not quite as breath-taking as the Burmester audio system in the rival, but it does have its moments. There's a very good level of bass (once you manually crank up the equaliser) and the sound is well balanced, providing lots of detail that would be inaudible on lesser systems. Sources include an AM/FM radio, the six-disk CD/DVD changer, an iPod dock, and a USB port that reads MP3 and WMA audio. The absence of a DAB radio receiver is highly conspicuous.