2014 Aston Martin Rapide S review:

Fantastic performance for four

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A traditional, conservative driving style sees the front end of this car wash away in a traditional, conservative way. But, get a little more eager with the right pedal and the car feels rather more progressive. Mind you, the traction control will be quick to rein in the fun, but that thankfully is defeated with a button press.

About the only thing that didn't impress on the track were the brakes. The pedal feel is soft by default and only got softer through the course of a few runs on an admittedly hot summer afternoon in Georgia. On the road the soft feel gives plenty of control for smoothly modulating the big stoppers (six pistons in the front, four in the rear), but it isn't an entirely reassuring feeling. Mind, the brakes are great, it's just the pedal feel that isn't.

Behind the wheel
While the driving dynamics impress for such a big car, the interior features disappoint. This is a very nice place to be, with quality surfaces everywhere and seats that strike a fine balance between supportive and supple. Even the rear seats are very sporty and quite comfortable, but a bit too small for your average adult. Headroom is decent, but the swooping roofline makes entry and egress a challenge for all but the most limber.

2014 Aston Martin Rapide S
Sarah Tew/CNET

The rear seats are home to the most high-tech infotainment option in the car: a pair of LCDs built into the seats in front. These LCDs are standard-definition and, while you can connect a video game console or movie player to them, you have to do it through analog composite inputs. Picture quality is poor compared with something like an iPad. Buyers can also choose wireless headphones for the rear-seat passengers, which fit in the center console, but we figure most would rather just use their earbuds.

Up front, things are no more advanced. The center stack is beautifully laid out, with tasteful bits of chrome and glass studded on a piano-black base. (Other surfaces can be specified if this doesn't suit your tastes.) It's a clean, simple mixture of big, round buttons for common tasks like selecting a gear and smaller, narrower ones for toggling the AC and the like. Meanwhile, a series of large, brushed-metal knobs give quick access to temperature, fan speed, and the seat heaters.

It's really only the seat heater knob that is a bit curiously placed. It's relatively large and falls directly to hand when you rest an arm on the armrest. That's convenient, but this isn't a control we envision people using every day. The four-way toggle used to control the nav and infotainment system, however, is, and yet that's a much smaller knob that requires a bit of a reach.

It isn't worth the effort. The infotainment system is rudimentary at best, having not received any substantial updates in years. Through the radio you can tune in AM/FM, SiriusXM, control an iPod or iPhone (if it has a dock connector), or plug in a USB drive. The only way to get audio from your phone is via 3.5mm line-in -- the car does support Bluetooth, but only for making calls.

Find a way to get your tunes through the system and you'll enjoy the result, channeled through a 15-speaker, 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen system. It does a stunning job of filling the cabin with rich sounds. The system features twin tweeters that rise majestically from the dash whenever the sound system is turned on. So, too, does the navigation system slowly pivot upward, but it looks better when closed. The interface is dated and ugly and text entry with the four-way joystick is a pain. The whole system is vastly outclassed by any of the free navigation options found in a smartphone.

A big car with the right moves

2014 Aston Martin Rapide S
Sarah Tew/CNET

The Rapide S is quite possibly the nicest-looking four-door sports car on the market. It gives up little in the realm of visual appeal when compared with the DB9, and arguably looks even better from a few angles. For such a big car it is still very rewarding to drive, and you'll never grow tired of that V-12 -- except, perhaps, when filling up the tank. The interior is sumptuous and, though a bit loud in this crimson red, an incredibly sophisticated place to be.

It is, however, a bit simple-minded, with a lower-tech interior than a $14,000 Ford Fiesta. The $199,950 base price also sets it considerably higher than a Porsche Panamera Turbo S, a car that outperforms the Rapide S in many regards. Both are excellent choices, and while the Porsche is the solid analytical choice, the Aston Martin is the better-looking, better-sounding, and more prestigious of the two. Buy the Porsche with your brain. Buy the Aston with your heart.

Observed fuel economy 14.1 mpg
Navigation Standard hard-drive-based
Bluetooth phone support Standard with phone book integration
Digital audio sources USB, iPhone (dock)
Audio system Bang & Olufsen 1,000-watt, 15-speaker
Driver aids None

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