Remember the film Rocky IV? Sylvester Stallone starred as the boxer that everyone loved, taking on the ruthless, efficient battering machine that was Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago. It was a classic tale of the crowd favourite versus the calculating killer. Well, this is a bit like that. Except instead of a slurring Italian stallion and a Russian automaton, we’re pitting two luxury performance saloon cars up against each other in a street fight.
In the Rocky corner, we have the Aston Martin Rapide. It’s almost two years old and it’s got less than 500bhp, but it’s hand made with love (in Austria) and has the 6.0-litre V12 throbbing heart of a champion. Facing it, with a blonde crew cut and Teutonic “I must break you” attitude, is the enormous, hewn-from-granite bruiser; the Porsche Panamera Turbo S. It’s the ultimate incarnation of a car that’s already proven its worth, taking Porsche’s rich sports car heritage into a four-door model with aplomb. The Turbo S is the most powerful in the Panamera range, thanks to its twin-turbocharged 4.8-litre V8 engine, which sends 542bhp to an all-wheel drive system – 49bhp more than the standard turbo.
On the face of it, it shouldn’t be much of a contest. But there’s more to these two cars than just stats and pure performance. By sticking extra seats in the rear, these cars also have to cut it as passenger vehicles; otherwise, what’s the point?
We’ll start our comparison with a stroll around both models, and it’s a 10-8 round for the Aston Martin. You could reasonably make the argument that it looks the same as every other Aston for the past five years, but who cares when it’s such a beautiful look? It’s svelte and streamlined and looks much less bulky and bulbous than the Panamera, although it does suffer slightly from its extended flanks, lacking the flowing cohesion of the DB9 or DBS.
That said, the Panamera looks at its best in this guise, with is deep bumpers and side skirts. Great power brings great bodykits, and it suits the more blunt and brawny look that the Porsche has. But next to the Aston, it’s very difficult to fall in love with.
Round 2 is all about the passengers, and what a turnaround for the Panamera. On the ropes after the opener, it comes back swinging and delivers a brutal body blow with its rear space. There’s acres of it, with plenty of legroom and a roomy air to the whole back of the car. It feels like a living room.
But over in the Rapide, it feels like Aston has literally just dropped a couple of spare (small) sports seats into a DB9. Getting in is a squeeze and headroom is tight for anyone under 5ft 9. The high centre console that continues along the transmission tunnel from the front of the car, combined with the high shoulders and falling roofline, mean there’s a claustrophic feel to the back of the car. I’d happily go city-to-city in the Panamera. But in the Aston?
Up front, things are closer, and going into the third round it’s a more even battle. The Panamera scores some big hits with its fantastic build quality and a very nice cockpit feel. Cockpit is the right word too; there are dozens of buttons lining the transmission tunnel and even the roof. Were it not for the large 911-style view out over the bonnet, you could mistake it for an aeroplane. This visual link with Porsche’s icon is supported with a low seating position; you still feel like you’re in a sports car.
The Aston’s interior is very different, but also leaves no room for mistaking where you are and what you’re driving. The driving position is close to perfect; a low sports seat with the perfect steering wheel angle. I’m finding it hard to put into words, but as soon as I settle into the seat and grasp the wheel, I feel comfortable. That’s pretty rare. The Aston also has more of a hand-made feel to it. You can see the light variances in the stitching on the leather that adorns most of the cabin. In contrast, the Porsche feels bullet-proof but like it’s been precision manufactured by a machine. Which vibe floats your boat is down to you. I love the idea of craftsmen carefully applying swathes of suede to the roof lining, but on the other hand I’m not so keen on the dried glue settled at the bottom of some of the Aston’s storage pockets.
Going into the meat of the fight, the Panamera is ahead but you can never write off the wily old underdog. At the start of the fourth round, the Aston staggers the Porsche as I push the crystal-topped key fob into the Rapid’s dash and fire up its 6.0-litre V12 engine, which cranks and bursts to life with a wonderful English bellow. It’s Spitfires and gravel and decades of racing summed up in a crackling bark, firing heritage across anyone standing behind it. The Panamera tries to respond with its twin-turbo V8, but even with the dedicated exhaust-loudener button pressed, it’s spitting in a rainstorm. Noise-wise, the Aston is a true heavyweight.
The bell rings, and Rocky and Drago are equal on points. Whom the judges choose will be decided in the final rounds >>>