Vehicle Comparisons

Aston Martin Rapide S

Aston Martin Rapide S

The Aston Martin Rapide S is powered by a fantastic 6.0-litre V12 powerplant and now backs that up with the fitment of a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, retuned suspension, bigger brakes and retuned electronics. Make no mistake, Aston has dialled up the sportiness quite markedly.

The 2013 update that turned Rapide into Rapide S wrung another 81PS out of the 5935cc V12, lifting peak power to 558PS at 5,750rpm. That endowed the big Aston the sort of pace to mix it with the real powerhouses of the division and more recent changes harness that power more effectively. In has come ZF's eight speed 8HP automatic gearbox, widely regarded as the best automatic transmission money can buy. Gearbox software changes make for a truly comprehensive selection of available driving features such as 'Drive' and 'Drive Sport' modes along with 'Paddle Shift' and 'Paddle Shift Sport' options for more engaging, sporting, shift control.

The Rapide S also gets the latest Bosch Engine Management System, while a revised torque tube reduces transmission noise. The stability control has been retuned to suit the power deployment of the gearbox and the steering ECU has been tweaked to result in a more precise steering response. There are also uprated front brakes, a retuned brake booster and amended rear suspension bushes that are now 20 per cent stiffer than before. The Rapide S is still a serious performer, getting to 62mph in 4.4 seconds and it'll keep going to a breathtaking 203mph.

The Rapide S is an undeniably handsome thing and the current has benefitted from various detail changes that have kept it looking fresh. Outside there's a ten-spoke forged alloy wheel design, available in a variety of finishes, that saves almost seven kilos in weight. There are also various paint colour options including Diavalo Red, a shade once limited to the showstopping V12 Zagato.

Inside, the cars get a seris of desirable leather trim colour options including the blue-black Dark Knight, and bold Fandango Pink. There's also the option of a Duotone leather seat finish in Sahara Tan and Vibrant Red, as well as a range of headlining options that mix quilting with the finest leathers or Alcantara. One thing that hasn't significantly changed is the amount of space inside the car. A six footer sitting behind another will have trouble slotting in without sitting splay-kneed. Additional practicality is delivered by the two rear seats that fold flat at the touch of a button.

Some might argue that Aston Martin has spent a lot of money in recent years improving the one part of the Rapide S that few had any real complaints about, namely the dynamics. That's as maybe, but so good is the ZF eight-speed transmission that it would be an asset to virtually any car and it has the allied benefit of improving fuel economy and therefore range, a handy commodity in any car with grand touring pretensions.

Most of all this signals a tacit admission on Aston Martins part that the Rapide model needed to change its focus. It's not a natural rival for the big supersaloons. The basic architecture of the vehicle means it's too small in the back for that. Instead, it's now being positioned as a sports coupe with occasional rear seat versatility. It's taken a long time to wriggle into that niche, but in the current Rapide S guise, it looks a car that's a good deal more comfortable in its own skin.

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Mercedes-Maybach

Mercedes-Maybach

The Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is the ultimate expression of Mercedes saloon luxury. Customers get loads of space in the back, some of the greatest rear seats ever to grace a passenger car, a whisper quiet ride and a potent V12 twin-turbo powerplant. VIPs should form an orderly queue.

Power comes courtesy of the most appropriate engine on offer, namely the brand's 630hp petrol V12 with a thumping 1,000Nm of torque. This 6.0-litre unit will waft you to 62mph in 4.7s and must be artificially restrained at 155mph. The full air suspension you'd expect from a car in this class is of course a standard feature, adapting its demeanour to the 'Comfort', 'Sport', 'Sport+' and 'Individual' settings provided by the 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes system. These also tweak steering feel.

With the auto gearbox effortlessly slurring between the ratios and 'DYNAMIC SELECT' set to 'Comfort', this Mercedes eases over dips and bumps with an impressively unflustered gait, particularly at higher speeds. Around town you might notice the occasional pothole and speed hump that would have passed without comment in a rival BMW 7 Series or Lexus LS.

Recent changes to this Mercedes-Maybach model aim to set it apart from humbler S-Class variants. A reinterpretation of the previous radiator grille with its fine, vertical struts accentuates the front end. The grille was apparently inspired by a pinstriped suit. The two-tone exterior paint finish is also a classic Mercedes-Maybach theme. The exterior look of this top model is rounded off by a stylised set of 20-inch multi-spoke wheels. Otherwise, it's all as before, which means that the key distinguishing feature of a Mercedes-Maybach saloon lies in its side styling treatment. In comparison with the long-wheelbase version of the S-Class, it's 20cm longer but the rear door has been shortened by 66mm and therefore appears to blend into the overall composition, with no triangular window which instead has been relocated into the C-pillar. As a result, the rear seats are situated beyond the door cutout, which creates a feeling of exceptional privacy and exclusivity. The B-pillar is also covered in chrome.

Overall the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is 207mm longer than the S-Class with long wheelbase. 200 mm of this is the result of the extension between the B and C-pillar. All this additional space is used to boost comfort for rear passengers. The rear seats are a pair of magnificent recliners and there's twice as much rear knee room compared to a standard S Class. The maximum backrest angle is 43.5 degrees and a Chauffeur package is also standard. The front passenger seat can be folded forward and the rear seat placed in an extended recline position for breaks. It also includes a heel support, which extends from under the front passenger seat. This allows a reclined position for sleeping and resting comfort.

In in summary? Well where previous Maybach models tended to be a bit 'new money' for many, this latest Mercedes-Maybach S-Class dials down the bling but ramps up the desirability. We've already been utterly seduced by the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class saloon and taking that car and adding extra luxury won't spoil the appeal one iota. There's no shortage of people who want luxury but don't want to be ostentatious about the fact, and there doesn't look to be anything that touches the Maybach in that regard.

We think Mercedes has finally hit upon the right market positioning for Maybach. It'll be interesting to see where this sub-brand goes from here.

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Rolls-Royce Phantom

Rolls-Royce Phantom

The Rolls-Royce Phantom was the car that re-launched its brand in inimitable style and in this eighth generation form, it's still a super-luxury saloon that still commands the road like no other car on Earth. Massive in every respect and full of cutting-edge technology, it combines British craftsmanship with BMW engineering know-how.

What should a Rolls-Royce be like behind the wheel? Supremely silent and comfortable is the obvious answer, so that's where the brand's engineers have devoted most of their attention in creating this MK8 model. The car now includes over 130kgs of sound-deadening material - it's even found in the tyres. Power, as before, comes from a 6.75-litre V12 engine - though Rolls-Royce says that this one's all-new, featuring twin turbochargers and delivering the same power output - 563bhp - as the brand's smaller Ghost saloon. But I digress. What's really relevant of course is how this car feels to ride in. And you probably don't need me to tell you that it feels exquisite, the last word in comfort, refinement and luxury. You waft silently over even the most seriously potholed surfaces as though they weren't there. A whisper valve in the exhaust system means that at wafting speeds, the car is virtually silent. With air springs and aluminium multi-link suspension, ride comfort is also superb. You wouldn't expect anything less, would you?

The extra body stiffness of the all-new platform should make quite a difference through the turns - that's if you've given your chauffeur the day off. Surprisingly, Rolls-Royce hasn't incorporated the BMW Group's latest autonomous driving tech: apparently, owners don't really want it. Most of them already have someone to take over the helm if necessary, after all.

Nobody could accuse this Rolls Royce of looking ordinary and, if you like to keep a low profile, then you'd be better off plumping for something more discreet like a Mercedes-Maybach. The main thing you need to know about this eighth generation Phantom is that it doesn't sit on some kind of shared platform originally designed for a much humbler luxury car. Rolls thinks that customers want - and deserve - something more bespoke, hence an all-new aluminium spaceframe that's between 30 and 100% stiffer than the previous model's platform - depending on where you look. The styling, as before, is deliberately overt, but this time round, the front 'parthenon' grille is more sleekly integrated into the bodywork and the side profile is a little more elegant. It still makes quite a statement though - as a Rolls Royce should.

The inside certainly does. There's a choice of standard or extended wheelbase body shapes, but either way, the amount of room you get in the rear is vast. The two sculpted back chairs move, heat and cool you. Up front, you sit quite high up - about 15 to 20cms higher than you would in an ordinary executive saloon. And there's a slightly different view out frontwards this time round down the now-flatter bonnet to where the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot sits proudly at the end.

So, is this a glorious irrelevance or the world's finest motorcar? Or maybe, just maybe, a bit of both. It's certainly hard to think of another means of transport that offers luxury, elegance and style on this level. In one of these, a journey isn't something you undertake merely to get somewhere you'd rather be: getting there becomes part of the pleasure.

The way the designers of this car have tapped into such a deep vein of tradition and history is as impressive as the care taken in its construction. It takes at least 460 hours to hand-build one of these before the five layers of paint and clear lacquer are hand-polished for five hours. The result is a cut above the rest - a car that Charles Rolls and Henry Royce would be proud of.

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