The match: Cadillac`s luxury 2-seater Allante vs. Mercedes-Benz`s luxury2-passenger 560SL.

Allante (Autos, Monday, Sept. 15) gets the nod for styling, performance,roominess, and comfort.

Mercedes is the choice for intangibles--image and class, somethingAllante still has to earn, if indeed it ever does.

Allante is the new kid on the block, or at least it will be when Cadillac gets around to replacing the pre-sale hype and publicity with an actual carthis spring, at a date yet to be determined.

The 560SL is a proven performer, having been around since the `72 modelyear under a variety of names, from the 350SL (first six months) to the 450SL (`72-`80 model years), 380SL (`81-`85), and finally the 560SL in 1986-`87.

Except for the 350 model, the number always referred to the engine size:4.5-liter, 3.8-liter and now 5.6-liter V-8.

We test drove the 1987 560SL and, while the folks at Mercedes-Benz insist no one in his or her right mind would pass on a 560SL in favor of an Allante, the two draw obvious comparisons.

Price, for now, is a standoff. The 560SL starts at $55,300, Allante atwhatever the Cadillac marketing staff finally arrives at. To date we`ve beentold ``about $50,000.`` At GM ``about`` means we can expect Allante to startbetween $49,999 and $55,299--or $1 less than the 560SL.

Comparing the two cars: The 560 is built on a 96.7-inch wheelbase and is180.3 inches long. Allante is built on a 99.4-inch wheelbase and is 178.6inches long. The 560 is rear-drive, Allante front-drive.

The 560 is powered by a 5.6-liter V-8 teamed with a 4-speed automatic,the Allante a 4.1-liter V-8 and a 4-speed automatic but with overdrive. Bothare relatively quick, but when overdrive kicks in on Allante at about 45m.p.h., you feel the power plateau and need to press the pedal again.

Both cars feature independent suspension for smooth ride and handling,and antilock brakes for sure stops when roads are wet. And both come with all the goodies: power steering, brakes, windows and doors; AM-FM stereo; airconditioning. The 560SL goes a step further in adding an air bag in thedriver`s wheel. Allante gives you double-sided galvanized body sheetmetal for rust prevention.

Both feel heavy in the wheel, which is what luxury buyers want, butAllante maneuverability is a bit more nimble. Allante overwhelms you withinterior controls and buttons, the 560SL doesn`t.

Cadillac boasts that the Allante body was designed by Pininfarina ofItaly and the aerodynamics are such that you can drive at 60 m.p.h. with thewindows down and can talk to the person next to you without need for shouting or hand signals. We found the claim to be true. With the 560SL windows downyou get wind noise--and cold.

Mercedes sold 12,000 560SLs in calendar 1986, up from 10,508 in 1985. The forecast for 1987 is 13,000 units plus, which certainly makes it appear theWest German automaker isn`t ta king Allante as a threat. Cadillac, meanwhile,scaled back its original forecast of 7,000 to 8,000 first-year Allante salesto 5,000.

In fact, Mercedes was expected to revamp the 560SL in order to moreeffectively compete with Allante, but the 560SL stays as is through the 1988model year at least.

``We don`t expect crossover buying,`` said Mercedes spokesman A.B.Schuman. ``Our sales of the 2-seater have always been limited only by theavailability from West Germany. It`s our fourth most popular model; one ofevery eight Mercedes sold is a 560SL.

``The median age of the buyer is 47, median family income is $143,000,and it has the highest percentage of women buyers, 39 percent, of all of ourcars,`` he said. (Average for all Mercedes is 26 percent women owners).