200 MPH Club 2005 Ford GT, Lamborghini Murcielago, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, and Porsche Carrera GT

Charlie Magee

So is the tidy lineup of raceresque gauges and the row of switches below them that operate various functions such as fog- and headlights. The seats don't look like much, but they deliver exceptional comfort and support, according to Sherman, who drove the 700-plus miles from Ann Arbor, and creative director Richard Eccleston, who delivered it home. Biggest bitch: nowhere to stow stuff, including luggage. Cargo nets on the seatbacks just don't seem enough. Eccleston also suggests Ford lose the cheesy Focus key fob. "It's not a nice thing to sling down on the bar," he says.

In sum: The Italian car looks German, the German cars look Italian, and the Ford makes the dead rise up and walk the earth.

Various Front And Rear Views

The four superheros sort themselves out even more dramatically on the road, as much when burbling along at low speeds as when being pushed into triple digits.

The SLR is most surprising. Expecting the plushest, easiest-going road machine, we find instead a nervous Nellie that develops a severe tic when faced with anything less than glassy-smooth pavement. As Lorio mentions, cruising down a two-lane at a casual 80 mph (all of these cars find squirting to 80 mph from a stop to be ho-hum) is "a white-knuckle experience. The SLR's need for steering correction is constant. Each tiny movement of the wheel threatens to send the car into a ditch or over the yellow line. Yikes." The SLR positively hates lumpy roads, and the wheel twitches and fights your hands. The handling at four-tenths is so nervous-making that it is easiest to skip the Touchshift manu-matic lever and either use the wheel-mounted shift buttons or just dial up automatic and concentrate on staying in the lane.

Gillies is the only one among us who has had track experience with the SLR and points out that everything "seems to be geared toward warp speed, where it is very good. Brakes and steering really liven up at ten-tenths, and it sounds like a low-flying warbird. But at four-tenths, there is no tactile delight. The brakes can be annoying."

Sherman agrees: "Mercedes-Benz set the Wayback Machine wrong. It should have gone to the '60s, not the '50s. This whole car is an uncomfortable mix of sport and luxury. The ride is punishing, the drive unsatisfying. A superpowerful engine mated to a track-tuned chassis with French stitching to take your mind off the flinty ride, heavy steering, and awkward control responses."

"It's easy to find the Mercedes in this car but hard to find the McLaren," adds Lorio.

The Murcilago, on the other hand, is surprisingly deft despite its needlessly heavy ride. "It feels smaller the faster you go," remarks Gillies. "In many ways, it's quite compliant and super-stable at high speed on crowned roads."

The 567-hp V-12 engine issues stirring sounds, especially during warmup, where Sherman notes "it coughs and rattles like some high-strung WWII fighter." Gillies describes it as "gorgeous, with torrents of torque and power and a lovely, deep-throated noise that is more mature and sophisticated than the Porsche's F1 screaming." The Porsche shrieks, this bull snorts.

It is terrifically entertaining and unbelievably, brutally fast. Just as entertaining is each downshift. There is so much torque available across the rev range that you don't really have to downshift all that much. But each blip of the down paddle is accompanied by a big, blatting engine fart that cracks us up every time it happens.

Rear Engine View

The Murcilago's overall feel on these twisting back roads is fast, hard, and edgy. After the Porsche, you would also describe it as wide, flat, and huge. In tight turns, it feels square; the outside front corner dips and plows a tad, then the inside rear takes the load as the road straightens out. Four-wheel drive is immediately noticeable during a brief squall, but when it lets go, it lets go big-time (as Sherman finds out during high-speed cornering shots at a local airfield). "I'm doubtful that the benefits offset the weight penalty," he sniffs. "It doesn't feel optimized for balance at the cornering limit." We get the feeling that you wouldn't want to press the brakes for long, either.

You can press anything-brakes, miles, hours-all day long at the wheel of the Ford GT. And we do. Sherman declares it "sufficiently comfortable for eleven or twelve hours in the saddle; fast and strong to the touch."

Eccleston finds it amazingly quiet at high speed, and Gillies notes the "light steering, quiet engine, easy shifter, light controls, and a wonderful, supple ride at touring speeds."

Push it into a turn, and it's as near neutral as you'll find in a road car. Push it hard enough to make the engine growl and the blower kick in, and the steering firms right up. The chassis is nicely balanced (43.6 percent front/56.4 percent rear) and puts the power down so well you won't notice the missing stability and traction control systems of the high-dollar competition.

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