MERCEDES-BENZ SL65 AMGThe demon lies within.
We are in awe of the 604 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque provided by the SL65's twin-turbo-charged, 6.0-liter V-12, but similar numbers were produced nearly seventy years ago, in 1936 and 1937, by the record-breaking Mercedes-Benz streamliners powered by a supercharged, 5.6-liter V-12 and piloted by the likes of Rudolf Caracciola. For the 1938 racing season, Mercedes produced its first grand-prix V-12, a supercharged, 3.0-liter beauty, but then abandoned the twelve-cylinder format for the next half-century. The Mercedes C112 mid-engine concept was unveiled at the 1991 Frankfurt show with a 60-degree, 6.0-liter, DOHC V-12 engine that showed up in production form a year later in the 600SEL.
Mercedes has offered V-12s ever since, but only recently has its AMG division applied its own particular demonic magic to a twelve-cylinder application, for the SL65, the CL65 coupe, and now the S65 sedan. For those of us whose idea of driving nirvana is to probe deeply into triple-digit territory on a long, straight stretch of Nevada desert road, the SL65's endless, locomotive-like acceleration from 120 mph onward is utterly addictive. This powertrain doesn't make Ferrari-style music; instead, the V-12's furious power and torque create a hurricane under the car that you feel churning beneath you on its way to the rear axle.
ASTON MARTIN DB9With a bark as fierce as its bite.
It's the most beautiful car on the road, a romantic vision of speed and beauty that grabs your heart every time you see it. But for all that, this is a tough car under its aluminum skin. The 450-hp, 5.9-liter V-12 comes to life like a Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 in an old Spitfire fighter plane, barking through its exhausts.
There's plenty of toughness in the rest of the car as well, and it's clear that the DB9 is a sports car at heart, built for the rigors of top speed instead of parade laps to and from Starbucks. It weighs nearly 4000 pounds, despite all-aluminum construction. The steering effort is heavy, and the brakes demand a firm push. The suspension is resilient but calibrated for serious work, while the wide Bridgestone Potenza RE050A run-flat tires will send a lot of harshness and noise into the passenger cabin whenever the road surface is coarse.
The payoff comes when you make a run to the dark side of the speedometer, where the DB9's top speed of 186 mph can be found. The V-12's exhaust crackles each time you flick the shift paddles on the steering wheel through the rear transaxle's six gears. At extreme speed, the DB9 is settled, poised, and confident, although you notice that the instrument panel is a fraction too high for great visibility and there are distracting reflections in the windshield.
The DB9 is a throwback to the classic era, all beauty and performance, with a bit of luxury added. We couldn't keep our hands off it.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GTFor new-age Bentley Boys.
The Bentley Continental GT is the perfect cross-country cruiser for racing drivers. Not the modern variety, weaned on cookie-cutter cars and antiseptic tracks, but the prewar Brits who broke land-speed records in Bonneville behemoths powered by monstrous airplane engines. Not only is the Bentley sized like an airliner-it's the world's heaviest coupe by half a ton-but when the turbos of the W-12 are spooled up, the Conti sounds like an F-15 whistling past on a strafing run.
Critics carp that the Bentley is just a Volkswagen in fancier duds. Well, yeah, the Continental shares much of its chassis and drivetrain with the Phaeton. And, in fact, the W-12-two VR6s bolted together at a 72-degree angle-is found in both the VW and the Audi A8. But the Bentley gets a twin set of turbochargers and intercoolers, providing the oomph for 0-to-60-mph times of 4.7 seconds and a top speed that's almost quick enough to get you into the 200-mph club.
Its luxurious cockpit has the plummy feel of an exclusive London club, while the flamboyant exterior styling features a long-tail fastback reminiscent of LSR cars of the '30s. Fittingly, the Bentley works best when you don't deviate from a straight line. (It doesn't turn so much as it banks.) But even when you're bombing along at 120 mph, the prodigious W-12 still has plenty in reserve.