Some people have proclaimed the new SL as more or less ideal, but for one flaw. The funny thing is, each person perceives a different flaw. One might point to the incongruous black plastic background of the grille-mounted badge (it's that way because it houses sensors for the intelligent cruise control). Another will cite the grille itself. Sure, the nose's styling doesn't seem so well executed as the one it replaces. However, for anyone more interested in the driving experience than aesthetics, it's the exhaust note (not even a note, more a drone) that's the blot on the new SL550's copybook.

No such quibbles with the SL600 (although the heavier engine seems to weigh the front down somewhat) or the SL63 AMG, a car that's been thoroughly worked over by Mercedes' 'wild man' division. Packing a peaky, rev-happy, 6.2-liter, 525-hp V8 that forces 464 lb-ft of torque into a beefed-up, fast-shifting, seven-speed auto trans, the SL63 even has a launch control-sending the car to 60 mph in a whisker below 4.6 seconds. AMG also puts its own wrinkle on the ABC system, configuring the double-wishbone front/five-link rear to a more track-appropriate setting.

Despite the prodigious wealth of power and talent at the top end of the SL range, with a car so capable-that comports itself so beautifully-it's a tough argument to convince someone that spending a pile of cash on one of the upper-level models is a good idea (the SL63 will be about $132,000). Especially since the entry-level car gets more kit for the same money as before. Buying an SL550 and installing a decent-sounding aftermarket exhaust seems like a perfectly good way to go.

2009 Mercedes-Benz SL550

*Layout
Longitudinal front-engine, rear-wheel drive

*Engine
5.5-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve

*Transmission
Seven-speed automatic

*Performance
Peak Power: 382 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 391 hp @ 2800 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.3 sec. (mfr.)
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)

*What we like
The combination of power, control and pose value

*What we don't
Where's the growl?

*Price Tag
$95,300 (est.)

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