An hour later, I was trying to come up with a financial plan to buy the 2007 road-burner.
Fat chance. I have no more business contemplating a savings-draining purchase of this sleek rocket than I would stand a chance of making contact with a Roger Clemens fastball.
The gasoline alone is a killer -- premium blend, with tepid fuel economy ratings of 14 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, plus a $1,700 gas guzzler tax on the sticker. Ouch!
But, of course, those who buy SL550s don't worry about such trivial matters as fuel prices. They just want the tank filled pronto with top-grade go-juice, the quicker to get back to enjoying the SL550's considerable performance charms.
After a week in the two-seater with its retractable hardtop, I'd say performance is the overwhelming reason for writing a six-figure check at the dealership.
The exquisitely tuned 5.5-liter V-8 engine has 382 horsepower, which might not raise that many eyebrows in this high-horsepower era. But 391 foot-pounds of torque arriving at less than 3,000 revolutions per minute get the heart racing.
The SL550 delivers the kind of response that's so instantaneous that "driving" really doesn't quite describe it. Like a laser-guided dart, the car seemingly teleports you from Point A to Point B.
It's an incredible rush, but not as big as when someone is tailgating you in heavy freeway traffic approaching a sharp turn. In the SL550, you just keep your foot in it and let the stability systems and rock-solid multi-link front/rear suspensions do the rest. Bye-bye, tailgater.
Ever wonder why Mercedes-Benz sports car devotees are so cocky? That's why.
The SL550's exterior look for 2007 is all intimidation, with a flying wedge shape, a three-horizontal-bar grille, 10-spoke alloy wheels hugging the performance tires and a deeper front air dam.
Naturally, folding the power hardtop into the vehicle's rear with a flick of the wrist wows bystanders. Just be sure to have the engine running and let the retracting process finish before letting go of the hardtop control in the center console.
The first time I made the hardtop retreat, I let go too soon. Thankfully, I spotted the not-yet-flattened decklid before taking the SL550 out for a run, thus avoiding a hideous scenario of too much air getting under the decklid at high speed.
Happily, besides performance, the tester had oh-so-much more to justify its lofty sticker price.
The lengthy list of standard comfort/convenience features included such opulent goodies as premium leather, hand-polished hardwood trim, 12-way power adjustable seats with pneumatic lumbar supports, eight-speaker Bose audio system with surround sound, premium navigation system, Sirius Satellite Radio (with the first six months of service free) and a hands-free communications system.
The tester had an optional equipment package that included a sunshade in the roof, ventilated seats and super-penetrating fog lamps.
How about safety? I can't think of a more comprehensive package on a two-seater. The short list of features included front/rear crumple zones, dual-stage front air bags, head-thorax side-impact air bags, a driver's knee air bag, an electrohydraulic braking system and a roll bar that automatically pops up when sensors detect an imminent rollover.
What's not to like? Well, forget about baggage. You may need to literally forget about it when the hardtop is safely hiding in the SL550's back end. With that configuration, you have to choose between a small suitcase or your right-seat passenger. There's no room for both.
Another drawback: While you can zip around 18-wheel trucks and gigantic sport-utility vehicles when the highway is clear, you'll be stuck in line among those big brutes during rush-hour commutes. And because you sit so low in the SL550, you'll feel like an ant waiting to get stomped by a size 22 shoe.
Yeah, the SL550's extensive safety package makes you feel a bit more secure during these moments.
All in all, this peak performer is a blast and a veritable steal compared with its pricier sibling, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG roadster with a 604-horsepower V-12. That one lists for $186,000.
Hmmm, 604 horsepower. Maybe if I start saving today ...
Mercedes-Benz SL550 at a glance
Make/model: 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL550
Vehicle type: Two-passenger, two-door, rear-drive, luxury/performance convertible
Base price: $94,800 (as tested, $103,755)
Engine: 5.5-liter V-8 with 382 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 391 foot-pounds of torque at 2,800 rpm
EPA fuel economy: 14 miles per gallon city; 22 mpg highway (premium unleaded)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with overdrive and other special features
Steering: Power rack and pinion with speed-sensitive feature
Brakes: Power four-wheel discs (ventilated on front) with anti-lock and other braking-enhancement features
Suspension: Four-wheel, multi-link independent with special chassis- leveling/ride-height adjustments
Fuel tank: 21.1 gallons
Interior volume: 57.8 cubic feet
Curb weight: 4,220 pounds
Height: 51 inches
Length: 178.5 inches
Wheelbase: 100.8 inches
Width: 71.5 inches
Track: 61.4 inches on front; 60.5 inches on rear
Ground clearance: 4 inches (estimated)
Tires: P255/40R18 performance radials on front; P285/35R18 performance radials on rear
Final assembly site: Bremen, Germany