Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

It has two seats, eight cylinders and 617 horsepower. It will hit 125 miles an hour in 10.6 seconds and top out at just over 200. Did we mention that it also costs $450,000? Then again, how do you put a price tag on performance, especially when all that muscle is packaged inside something so sleek and wantonly sexy?

It's been five years since the Mercedes-Benz SLR made its debut as a concept car. Invoking the memory of the legendary 1955 300 SLR "Uhlenhaut Coupe," the prototype was designed to showcase the skills of the German automaker and its Formula One partner, the British-based McLaren. The gull-winged coupe borrowed liberally from its F1 racer, starting with the arrow-tipped nose. Translating concept into production required a few tweaks to the show car's shape, but you'd have to look hard to find them.

The front-mid-engine SLR remains absolutely faithful to the original performance vision. Its twin-supercharged, 5.4-liter V-8 pumps out 575 pound-feet of torque. That power train is packaged inside a racing-inspired carbon-fiber chassis. With a composite body as well, the entire vehicle weighs in at a slim and trim 3,734 pounds. Slug the throttle and you'll feel as if you've been launched from an aircraft carrier catapult. But even as you push the SLR to its red line, you're likely to find the car uncannily easy to control, and with its racing-derived carbon-fiber brakes and pop-up air brake, the SLR stops fast enough to give you a nosebleed.

Some skeptics dismiss the SLR's GT design. Conventional supercars, like the Ferrari Enzo or Lamborghini Murcielago, mount the engine midship. But many competitors suffer the supercar conundrum: the more you pay for performance, the less comfort and elegance you get. Some million-dollar supercars possess the interior refinement of a Yugo and the road manners of a bronco.

Not the SLR, which offers the refinement you've come to expect from a Mercedes. After a full day's driving through the mountains and valleys surrounding Cape Town, South Africa, we would have happily found an excuse to log a few more hours behind the wheel.

And let's face it, when you're spending this kind of money, you want more than just a fast car. It has to look exotic and grab attention, too. You want a car that the valet pays you to park. Rest easy—you'll get the best spot up front. The SLR is the dictionary definition of babe magnet. Pull to a stop and you'll suddenly find yourself at the center of a crowd. Swing open the gull-wing doors and folks step back as if they're watching Moses part the Red Sea.

Mercedes and McLaren plan to build just 3,500 SLRs at their special plant in England over the next five years or so, and they already claim to have two years of advance orders in hand. So if you're hoping to get one, consider the other part of the supercar conundrum: the faster it goes, the longer the wait.