Aston Martin leaves powertrain options open

  • 23-Feb-2010 06:34 EST
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Aston Martin is using Magna's production facility in Austria to build its four-door Rapide.

As Aston Martin launches its production four-door Rapide at the Geneva Motor Show, Ian Minards, the company’s Director of Product Development, said that he did not rule out anything with regard to future powertrains.

The Rapide is now being manufactured by Magna in Austria. It is based on major elements of the company’s DB9 and has an all-alloy 5.9-L 350-kW (469-hp) V12 engine with max torque of 600 N·m (443 lb·ft). CO2 emissions figures are to be confirmed but are expected to be about 355 g/km.

"To get that figure down further we have to first do all the things that contribute to improvements—and then we’ll probably look at the whole powertrain technology and ask the interesting question, ‘What is the next step-change?’” said Minards.

Does that mean a hybrid solution? “Not necessarily,” said Minards. A diesel? “Not necessarily.” Has a diesel been ruled out? “We haven’t ruled out anything,” he added, enigmatically.

One likelihood is the eventual replacement of the Rapide’s six-speed ZF automatic transmission with the supplier’s eight-speed unit. Both BMW and Audi (for its new A8) use the eight-speed. That would bring a 2-4% improvement in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Aston did build an E85 multifuel engine as a technology demonstrator, confirmed Minards. “But to get to full flex fuel, we need a fuel sensor and that is a big challenge. What must be appreciated, though, is that there are many more efficiency improvements to be seen in gasoline engine technology that we have not yet deployed as an industry.”

Minards also put some detail on some of the finer design points of the Rapide, including its slightly beetle-browed look caused by a windshield that is steeply raked but, by some standards, fairly shallow.

“It is largely because the cantrail/header section is a carryover from our other products," he said. "We use that because we know that it works from crash and head impact aspects. However, the roof crown of the Rapide is higher by about 60 mm than the DB9, so it might seem that we might have taken the top of the windshield back further. It is then that we get into issues with American legislation concerning unbelted occupant trajectories where the head would impact the header rail. That is not an issue with the production Rapide.”

Just how close the Rapide is to the DB9 has been a matter of debate. Described by Aston Martin’s CEO, Dr. Ulrich Bez, as a sports car rather than a sedan or four-door coupe, it uses the DB9’s powertrain and much of its bonded aluminum understructure, center dash area, front structure, and some equipment.

“In terms of part numbers, up to 30% are common between the models,” said Minards. “Externally, bar the taillamps and windshield wipers, everything is new. But using some DB9 elements does help with the engineering bill because we don't have to reinvent those elements. Making multiple derivatives not only helps with investment but also gives us technology continuity.”

However, the Rapide gets Recaro seats (their switchgear is unique to Rapide) of a different design (using only one bag for lumbar adjustment instead of the more normal two), and it also has two suppliers for its HVAC system, the front from Denso, the rear from Behr.

Tires are Bridgestone Potenza S001 optimized for dry and wet performance, the latter demonstrated when this AEI editor drove the car on very slippery mountain roads in Spain.

The Rapide is predominantly an aluminum car (the material supplied by Magna Heavy Stampings) but the front fenders and deck lid are of SMC (sheet molding compound) supplied by Mitras. Its rear quarters and body sides are of steel.

Aston does not use power closure for doors or deck lid, but the dashboard-mounted acoustic lenses of its Bang and Olufsen audio system do rise when the system is activated. Is that really necessary?

“Well, you have to have just a little theater!” said Minards.

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