A potent V-8 engine and advanced handling technology make the 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL550 a pleasure to drive, while its stunning exterior profile--with the retractable hard top--lets the world know you've arrived.

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The standard audio system in the SL550 will play MP3- and WMA discs, giving full ID3 tag information on the LCD screen, although drivers have to press one of the hard plastic buttons on the side of the screen to pull the information up.

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The cockpit of the SL550 is a triumph of spartan sportiness over luxury. Aside from a sliver of wood in the center console and $900 worth of timber on the steering wheel and shifter, the appointments are a mix of black leather covering the seats, cowl, and the doors; and black plastic trim for everything else.

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The most dramatic tech feature of the cabin is its retractable hard-top roof, which opens and closes with the aid of a flap located toward the rear of the center console. With a pull of the flap, the roof majestically folds up and disappears into the trunk in about 15 seconds.

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The maps on SL550's nav system are different from those in other 2007 models we have driven; however they are no more useful: a poor dot pitch leading to unimpressive graphic rendering is made worse by a lack of street-name detail at the closest level of zoom. Moreover, with the roof down, the navigation screen can appear washed out in direct sunlight.

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As we found in our practical driving test, the SL550 is not an overwhelming performer, but it is very quick and well-suited to its mission of status-mobile. When called into life, the 5.5-liter V-8 can feel dilatory, but this is soon overcome north of 2000rpm as the car squirts forward with real pace.

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The standard phone cradle works with only five cell phone handsets, forcing owners of other phones to invest an extra $408 in an add-on Bluetooth module in order to make hands-free calls. This is a bitter pill to swallow on such an expensive car.

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If we were pushed to make a positive observation on the interior design of the SL550, it would have to be on the pop-out cup holders, which we favor emphatically over the stick-on effort in the 2006 BMW M6.

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The main drawback with the stereo system is the placement of its 6-disc changer. Not only is this located rear of the two seats, requiring the car to be stopped for the driver to change the music selection, it is placed directly behind the driver's seat. This means that, in the absence of a passenger, the driver must either perform some extensive bodily contortions or get out of the car to eject and reinsert the cartridge.

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For those with an extra $7,850 to burn on finery, the SL550 does come with three designo trim packages (Espresso, Mystic White, and Graphite), which give the car an upgraded paint job, some Nappa leather appointments, a wood-and-leather wrapped steering wheel, a roof liner, and some designer floor mats.

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The SL550 comes with a single audio system option in the shape of an 8-speaker Bose Cabin Surround setup, including a separate subwoofer. Acoustics are as immersive as one would expect with so many speakers in such a small space, and with the top up, the Bose Audiopilot digital processing does its job by compensating for ambient noise.

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Unlike many roadsters, the SL550 looks great with the top up. Our test car came with the Panorama roof option, which replaces the standard roof with a glass panel, letting more light into the cabin and giving the car a more flowing rear profile.

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But for sheer good looks, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL550 is head and shoulders above its stable mates.

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With the roof in the boot, the SL550 has an impressive amount of cargo space left available, which is made particularly accessible by a tilting shelf that swivels upward when the trunk is opened to allow access.

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