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From the side the car has the long, sleek, low-slung look of a classic sports car. Sporty, 10-spoke alloy wheels are standard.


The SL550 is fairly fuel-efficient for a performance car: It's rated at 14 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway, and in 344 miles of mainly highway driving, we got 22.1 mpg.


Elegant for sure, with Mercedes' usual impeccable leather and wood appointments, along with well-bolstered, sports-car-style power seats. The seats are almost infinitely adjustable and have an optional massage function.


Pull a lever on the center console and a hydraulic pump and 11 computer-controlled cylinders go into action, folding the top down into the top part of the trunk in a mere 16 seconds. Even with the top down, the trunk has 7.2 cubic feet of storage space, enough for weekend jaunts. Unusual for a convertible, there's also an optional $1,920 sunroof.


Each door has a big, handy storage bin with a closable top. There are also bins in the front of each seat, as well as behind them. Pushing a button on the back of the seats moves them forward and back again for easy access to the space behind.


The car has an efficient new seven-speed transmission that in "comfort" mode takes off in second gear for smooth starts. There's also an Active Body Control system that adjusts the suspension tuning, reducing body roll during hard turns and keeping the car level during rapid acceleration and when you slam on the brakes. As in most sporty cars these days, the automatic transmission has a manual mode that allows you to do the shifting yourself.


You can go from 0 to 60 in a mere 5.3 seconds, thanks to the 382 horsepower V-8 engine--26% more powerful than the V-8 in the previous model.


The base price is $95,575, but the Power Information Network figures the average buyer pays $100,533, including options and a $1,700 gas guzzler tax.

By Thane Peterson

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