Unlike its predecessors, the new Z06-the factory-tuned Corvette-isn't just an upgrade of the base model. It's a completely new car. Nearly everything steel on the conventional 'Vette becomes aluminum or magnesium on the Z06, including the frame, cab structure and suspension. Superlight carbon fiber replaces fiberglass front fenders. The monstrous 7.0-liter smallblock pulls all the way to 7,000 rpm, the highest redline ever in a Chevy V8. Lightweight parts (like titanium connecting rods) and precision manufacturing allow the engine to spin faster.
BMW's M-cars have always thrilled drivers, but the new M6 is one of the best ever. Its 5.0-liter V10 pumps out a none-too-shabby 394 horsepower during relaxed driving, but hit the power button-an automotive first-and it will light up the rear tires with 500 horses. To squeeze out even more performance, BMW added variable valve timing and pushed the redline up to 8,250 rpm, then matched the engine to a seven-speed, paddle-operated sequential manual gearbox. It's 4.6 seconds to 60 mph, but sadly, the car is electronically governed to 155 mph. $100,000 (estimated)
The 300hp Sport is the first Land Rover that takes the pavement as seriously as it does the dirt. Smaller than its flagship namesake, the Sport's on-road aptitude comes from the new Dynamic Response suspension system, which monitors cornering loads and employs hydraulic motors that stiffen or relax the anti-roll bars to enhance stability and mitigate body roll. The result: a 5,700-pound, 130mph SUV that handles Highway 1 as well as it does the Rubicon Trail. $56,750-$69,750
Pontiac's two-seat Solstice is proof that American manufacturers really can produce fun, affordable sports cars. It owes its smooth curves and robust steel-tube chassis to hydroforming, an innovative process that uses water pressure to inexpensively and precisely fabricate structural components and complex body panels with exceptional strength. Its spry 177hp engine pushes the Solstice to a top speed of 123 mph and a 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds, while its near-50/50 weight distribution and four-wheel control-arm independent suspension provide excellent road handling. $20,000
The 4.3-liter V8 engine packs in a 112 horsepower per liter-that's 483 total. It's just one of the Formula One-derived innovations in the beautiful Ferrari F430 and its convertible sister, the F430 Spider [shown]. There's also the sequential manual gearbox that shifts in only 150 milliseconds, providing practically uninterrupted acceleration, and a steering-wheel-mounted rotary switch that instantly adjusts driving dynamics to match the desired performance. The industry-first electronic differential manages huge torque loads under high-G cornering to eliminate wheel spin in the turns.
The Audi A3 is the first premium hatchback to get it right, meshing utility, performance and smart styling. Perfect for carting a small family, the nimble 2.0-liter turbocharged model with a six-speed manual has plenty of power, but opt for the six-speed Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG), and the A3 is a veritable sports car. DSG is a semi-automatic transmission with the guts of a manual, using a pair of alternating clutches to produce lightning-quick shifts (two tenths of a second) with no interruption in torque flow. It helps shoot this pocket Audi to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. $24,700 - $26,220