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 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