First: Mercedes-Benz SL500
It may be the slowest car here, but there's no denying the SL500 is the overall winner, which may say more about us than it does about the vehicles. This generation SL has truly sidestepped from bank-vault shopping device to fleet-footed canyon-road carver. It's delightfully easy to drive fast, with one exception. The five-speed Touch Shift gearbox is a pleasure to use, and the Active Body Control suspension is incredible. Letting the side down is an electrohydraulic braking system that is anathema to smooth driving, particularly in less demanding, stop-and-go situations, where it is nigh on impossible to stop smoothly. The big engine is alternately hushed and throaty, as the situation warrants.
Like the Caddy's, its retractable top is a technological tour de force. It's actually more impressive, as it's polite enough not to take up all the trunk space when retracted and, at sixteen seconds, goes up or down twice as fast. The interior is similarly more spacious, and visibility is better than in the Maserati or the Jaguar.
Despite what we know about Mercedes-Benz's slipping build quality, the SL still feels like an expensive, well-designed piece. While the XLR is very nicely bolted together, its body is made of plastic and smells like it. SL owners need make no explanations or apologies for their purchase, and there is something about the SL's suit of armor that is more appropriate to this class of car. If that sounds snobby, well, sorry. Overall, the SL is the most fabulous of our fab foursome. But the Cadillac's proud visage can be seen plainly in the SL's rear-view mirror. By our reckoning, that makes for two winners of this test: one actual, one spiritual.