A “Practical” Aston Martin

2011 Aston Martin Rapide.

There are cars, and then there are fantasy cars. You could definitely put Aston Martin in the latter category, along with marques like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce. After all, it’s the car of James Bond and even the British Royal Family.

The company has had a lot of ups and downs, for sure. About the time the producers of Goldfinger came calling in 1964, the small manufacturer was near bankruptcy, a status that they would come near several more times. Their low point was probably 1982, when they sold a mere 30 cars. That’s 30 cars for the entire world.

But they’re on a roll these days, with a repositioning in the Bond franchise, fantastic designs that are both modern and timeless, and great engines to back up the good looks. If you really want to see Aston Martins in all their glory, try to get an invite to the showroom on the top floor of Galpin Motors. It looks like James Bond’s special hideaway right in the middle of the San Fernando Valley.

For 2011, the company is even expanding its reach to include those upscale buyers who might want a bit of practicality in their exotic English sports car. The Aston Martin Rapide kind of looks like a coupe at first glance, but has four doors and room inside for four people.

The thought of a thoroughbred sports car brand offering a model with more than two doors may seem a bit strange, but Porsche has already paved the way with their four-door Panamera. Even though it was introduced in the middle of a global recession, sales have exceeded projections. Apparently buyers with disposable income who want speed and style also want some usefulness in their automotive purchase.

The nice folks at Aston Martin insisted that I make full use of the Rapide’s practicality, and I was more than happy to oblige. A full load of groceries for a Mother’s Day brunch found ample space in the car’s cargo area, and later that Saturday evening, I chauffeured my wife and another couple to dinner in the cozy interior. Everyday use is actually easy in this powerful exotic.

Oh yes, it’s powerful all right. Under the hood (or as the British say, “bonnet”) lies a 5.9 liter V12 that smoothly churns out 470 horsepower. Planting your throttle foot to the floor produces a rasp and then a shriek as the revs build, and the Rapide is thrust forward with elegant eagerness. The freeways are no place to fully exercise a car like this, but getting up the onramps sure is fun.

Inside, the smell of handcrafted leather greets you as you plop down into the supple bucket seat. It may have four doors, but the car is still low-slung like a sports car. Those with chiropractic issues may want to dismiss any thoughts of making this their everyday car, or even a weekend ride.

But once tucked in, the Rapide is eminently comfortable. I can imagine this car on a nice long drive to a destination such as Carmel or the Napa Valley. Even with the big engine gobbling premium unleaded gasoline at a rate of 19 miles per gallon (at best), the fuel tank has enough capacity to take the car 400 miles or so at a stretch.

Now the other shoe has to drop. You can become an Aston Martin owner for as “little” as $118,650. That’s the base price of their least expensive car, the V8 Vantage. The Rapide slots well above that, for a starting figure of $207,895. With options, the test car I got to experience was $220,960. Practical or not, that’s a lot of coin.

I now count the hours until the folks from Aston Martin come to retrieve the car from me. In the short time it remains in my charge, I’ll try to come up with some other jaunts to further prove that the new Rapide is an everyday car like no other Aston that’s come before it.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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