Aston Martin Lagonda Taraf

Debut: 2015
Maker: Aston Martin
Predecessor: Lagonda

 Published on 16 Feb 2016
All rights reserved. 

The original Aston Martin Lagonda, born in 1978, impressed me a lot since I first read it from newspaper in my childhood. There were no other luxury sedans quite like it, combining a supercar-style low-slung wedge design with a powerful V8 and a luxurious interior. Its extreme prices and exclusivity also earned it a unique place in automotive history. Now after nearly 4 decades, Aston is resurrecting the idea as well as the nameplate.

Although Aston already got a 4-seater called Rapide, it is actually a 4-door sports car rather than a true luxury sedan. Those sitting at the back of Rapide will find very limited head and legroom, while the small door apertures make ingress and regress hardly graceful. That's why people buy it to drive rather than to be chauffeured. In contrast, Lagonda is supposed to be a limousine driven by chauffeur. The boss always sits at the back thus it has to be a lot more accommodative. What separates the Lagonda from the usual Mercedes-Maybach, Bentley and Rolls-Royce is that it should look like a sports car, and it should be ultra rare, just like the original.  How rare? By the time its production ceases at the end of this year, there will be about 150 cars finished. Each commands an eye-watering US$1 million or £685,000. Yes, that's about the price of 3 Bentley Mulsannes!

Since Aston is going to use the Lagonda brand name for more models in the future, in particular a luxury SUV that it counts so much to return to profitability, the new luxury sedan is called Lagonda Taraf to avoid confusion. Taraf means “extreme luxury” in Arabic. This also implies that the car is designed specially for the Middle East, just like the original Lagonda. Originally, that was a sensible plan, because the oil-producing countries have plenty of super riches who appreciate a large, flamboyant and bespoke luxury car. Unfortunately, oil price plunges since last year and hurts the buying power of Arabic countries. As a result, Aston decided to sell the Lagonda also in the rest of the world. Even so, the original plan for 200 cars is unlikely to be fulfilled.

Unsurprisingly, to cut development costs and time the Lagonda Taraf is built on a stretched version of the Rapide platform. Some 200 mm is added between its axles to liberate about the same amount of rear legroom, which means aplenty. In addition, its roof is raised by 40 mm compared with Rapide. That doesn’t sound much, but as the roof line gets a lot flatter, the boss should enjoy plenty of headroom, too.

Compared with other limousines, however, the Rapide-derived interior is not luxurious enough. Although it is trimmed with expensive leathers everywhere as expected, the boss gets few comfy features or toys to play with. There are no reclining and massaging seats, no wine cabinet, no fold tables, no classy sound and infotainment systems nor an especially good climate control. If you want to travel a long way, conventional limousines should be a better option. Moreover, despite of the abundance of knee room, the rear seats of Lagonda is rather narrow, blame to the prominent transmission tunnel. The occupants sit much lower than the case of Rolls-Royce or Bentley thus it is not suitable to old people with knee pain.

Up front, it is a little disappointed to see the same dashboard as the Rapide, especially considering the price of this car. That said, its buyers are unlikely to care about the working environment of chauffeurs.

So what’s the point of Lagonda? The answer always lies first on its looks. Although modern pedestrian safety regulations no longer allows a wedge front end like the original Lagonda, the new car is still easily the sportiest, most dramatic looking limousine in the world. Its bonnet looks endless long. Its fast windshield, low shoulder line and a short boot all point to a sports car shape. Unlike the Rapide is it not a just a modified sports car but a bespoke design. Its larger glasshouse and extra length bring more presence. I bet 99 percent of its buyers have their purchasing decisions based on its looks alone. It is just that kind of car that you would say “I must buy it” from the first sight.

The Taraf is built by the special Q department which was previously responsible for the limited edition One-77. Its unique body shell is made of carbon-fiber, allowing the car to keep the same 2-ton kerb weight of Rapide. There are no exterior parts shared between the two except the windscreen. Underneath, however, almost everything is the same – the same 5935 c.c. V12, the same ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, the same all double-wishbone suspensions with adaptive dampers, the same axles, brakes and electronics. Strangely, its engine is rated at 540 horsepower only, 20 less than the latest Rapide, although peak torque remains at 465 pound-foot. Because of larger frontal area, its top speed drops from 203 to 195 mph. 0-60 mph takes 0.2s longer at 4.4 seconds.

The V12 has been recalibrated for smoother throttle response to suit the limousine role. Compared with the turbocharged V12 of Rolls-Royce Ghost, Mercedes-Maybach S600 or the V8 turbo of Bentley Mulsanne Speed, Aston Martin’s naturally aspirated V12 feels much weaker at the low end of rev range. It needs to be revved to deliver. Fortunately, it still produces terrific sound at higher revs. The exhaust note is suppressed slightly but still easily rocks your soul with its sonorous soundtrack. It’s not the fastest limousine available, but it is certainly the most special.

The driver seat is mounted as low as Rapide thus you feel like driving a sports car. Forward visibility from the fast windscreen gets even poorer as the driver seat is set further back. However, to drive the Lagonda feels very close to the Rapide. Despite of the 200 mm longer wheelbase, it still feels pretty agile. The low center of gravity means it is well tied down to the road in fast corners, displaying none of the roll that troubles conventional limousines. It grips hard and stops well. Its hydraulic steering might be set lighter but still delivers honest feel to inspire driving confidence. The sports car genes of Rapide are largely intact.

On the flipside, the Lagonda is not as comfortable as a true limousine should be. The sports car chassis setup and lack of air suspension means it is hopeless to match the magic carpet ride of its rivals, even though it does ride smoother than the Rapide. Ditto its lack of sound insulation throughout the cabin, window frames, door apertures etc. It is just not possible for a low-budget project like this to be engineered to world-class standards. As a result, on motorway you will find more wind and road noise than desired.

But do these shortcomings really matter? I suppose not to its target buyers, who should have plenty of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Mercedes and/or Range Rovers in their garages already. What the Lagonda brings is a unique blend of sports car flavours and limousine accommodation. Judging on looks alone, it is already a success.


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Lagonda Taraf
Front-engined, RWD
Aluminum spaceframe
5396 / 1918 / 1390 mm
3190 mm
V12, 60-degree
5935 cc
DOHC 48 valves, DVVT
540 hp / 6650 rpm
465 lbft / 5500 rpm
8-speed automatic
All double-wishbones
Adaptive damping
F: 245/40ZR20
R: 295/35ZR20
1995 kg
195 mph (c)
4.4 (c)

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