Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, Ferrari 575M Maranello, Lamborghini Murcilago, Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG, and Porsche 911 Turbo

Mark Gillies
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Martyn Goddard

If you want to know why people go the extra $100,000 or so to buy the Lamborghini or the Ferrari or the Aston instead of the Porsche or the Mercedes, all you need to do is look at them. These are the supermodels of the car world. The Murcilago is squat and menacing and outrageous. The 575M Maranello is a traditional, old-school, front-engined Ferrari, with a foredeck of a hood that suggests serious power. And the Vanquish is just bloody gorgeous. James Bond is driving one in his next film, and so he should; it's as tightly tailored as his Brioni dinner suits. Even Italian passersby, who naturally gravitated toward the Lamborghini and the Ferrari, were appreciative, throwing comments of "bella macchina" our way.

The 911 Turbo looks a little prosaic in this company, but that could be a result of the 911 shape's familiarity. The SL55 AMG is elegant and would look wonderful in your garage or turning up for a dinner date, but it isn't knock-your-socks-off stunning. (If the car seems out of place here, look at the performance statistics. On special tires, an SL55 was faster at the top end than even the Lamborghini in a recent Auto Motor und Sport test.)

All five cars are gorgeous inside. Once upon a time, supercars were basically racing cars for the street, devices in which you became over-heated and uncomfortable. Nowadays, they all share the same comfort and convenience features as the most luxurious of luxury cars and are studies in supple leather, plush carpeting, and exquisite detailing.

Low Front Grill Views

The five interiors look very different. The Ferrari has businesslike metal accents, round eyeball air vents, and a glorious, very Italian leather dashboard. The Aston is like an English gentleman's club that has been renovated by a hip modern furniture designer, with its cool juxtaposition of metal surfaces and traditional materials. (Unfortunately, no amount of fabulous leather can hide some cheapo Ford parts bin pieces.) The Porsche looks just like a regular 911, except for the extra leather trim and stitching. The Lamborghini has the simplest, most elegant interior, and, at long last, it has rational switchgear and a sensible driving position. The Mercedes is very stylish, with great interior shapes and surface treatments, in stark contrast to the pure functionality of old SLs. Special touches include the Alcantara around the instrument cluster and on the automatic shift lever. The SL55 is also a dual-purpose car: a cozy coupe in winter or at high velocity, a convertible when you're not in the mood for speed.

Through the years, there has been no consensus about supercar layouts. Mid-engined may be best for racing cars, but on the street, you need to package people and their luggage as well as the mechanicals. Hence the variety of layouts on display here. The Aston and the Mercedes have front engines and transmissions driving the rear wheels; the Ferrari has a front engine, transaxle, and rear drive; the Porsche is rear-engined with all-wheel drive; and the Lamborghini is mid-engined with all-wheel drive. The Aston, the Lambo, and the Ferrari have monstrous naturally aspirated V-12 engines, whereas the Porsche makes do with a twin-turbocharged horizontally opposed six, and the Mercedes has a massive supercharged V-8.

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