Porsche 911 Carrera S
Base price: $110,000
I got this one right, simply because the Carrera offers the most appealing combination of raw, catch-me-if-you-can performance with top rate luxury and upscale ambience, and daily driveability. Plus – and this is a biggie for me – it has that unbeatable Porsche history and heritage.
When you get behind the wheel, you're piloting an icon. The ignition key is still on the left-hand side of the dashboard, the engine is still slung out the back, and the car still corners like it is on rails.
With "just" 400 horsepower on tap, it may not be as powerful as some of its competitors, but the Carrera nonetheless out-does them all with its presence. Despite retaining a basic body style that goes back 50 years, this car grabs your attention. When you drive it, it not only says that you have money, but that you appreciate a thoroughbred automobile.
A nice little bonus is the optional sport exhaust system. Press a floor-console-mounted button and the exhaust note climbs a couple of decibels to provide an absolute symphony of mechanical music. Probably not as politically correct as it could be, this adds a further sport dimension to a car that's already loaded to the gunwales with personality, performance and presence.
Chevrolet Corvette 427
Base price: $94,540
This placed a distant second for me. I absolutely loved its power and handling and, like the Carrera, felt I was behind the wheel of an American icon. But the 'Vette is an acquired taste; rough around the edges, with an unforgiving ride quality and is a tight squeeze behind the wheel. As much fun as you can have on four wheels, but a bit of a handful.
Mercedes-Benz SL 550
Base price: $123,900
As tested: $132,900
This was the most comfortable and driver-friendly model of this group. Immensely powerful, virtually silent in operation, sinfully comfortable, with modcons and luxury goodies all over. But the emphasis here is on luxury, as opposed to flat-out performance, and I need both in equal measure in this category.
Base price: $101,500
As tested: $115,500
With 560 horsepower on tape, the M5 was the most powerful model in this group, and also the biggest and most unlikeable. Let me get right to it: I disliked this car, from its stupid gearshift lever to its incomprehensible ergonomics and switchgear. If an automobile can be arrogant, the M5 qualifies. German engineering at its worst. And far too expensive.