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The Bugatti Veyron

In a few years, when we’re all driving tricycles powered by hydrogen-assist motors, we will look back on vehicles such as the Bugatti seen above and regard it as some sort of extreme performance art. Certainly, it is priced like rare art. You’ll need to step up to the counter with a quarter-million-dollar deposit just to get on the list for this latest opium-dream outrage from France.

Why would you need a 16-cylinder, four-turbo, 1,001-horsepower, thirsty-as-hell confection good for an honest–injun 250 mph? There are other ways to spend $1.3 million, but few offer such spellbinding pizzazz.

All across the automobile industry, a terrific horsepower race has been building. Many of the latest hybrids, including the unspeakably polite Honda Accord and the upcoming Chevy Tahoe, are actually using the technology’s silent assist for extra power; the fuel savings is just a bonus. Our highly wired nation has been eager to jump aboard, too. Even minivans have gotten more powerful — and more thirsty.

If fuel prices don’t drop soon, tastes will likely change rapidly, and the funky little runabouts seen in our story on concept cars will pour into automobile showrooms. Already, people are looking past SUVs for the latest in sports wagons, which is suddenly the hot, sexy corner of the lot.

Another market segment showing new life is the convertible. More than forty open-air models are being offered now, leading one to think that there are a lot of boomers cutting loose.

Do not look anytime soon for a ragtop version of the Bugatti. There is, however, a strong industry rumor of a slightly more modest $62,000 version in the works. We’ll take two.

Jaguar XK
Yeah, baby. Austin Powers’s “Shaguar” has nothing on the new-for-2007 XK, which presents brutally handsome sheet metal (aluminum, actually) on a muscular and adept chassis. Its growing resemblance to the Aston-Martin line of beauties is probably not accidental. The XK comes in convertible or coupe form. A heavy-breathing R version is in the works.
Base price: $75,000

Nissan Altima
There was nothing wrong with the old one, but arriving soon in the showrooms will be the 2007 Altima, which not only gets a fresh design but a new platform as well. The optional hybrid engine package meets new clean-air mandates. A new version of Nissan’s Sentry is also forthcoming. 
Base price: TBA

Pontiac G6 convertible
With a nifty retractable hardtop and some nice lines, the new Pontiac convertible has been getting a lot of eager attention lately. Given that it will carry four adults in pursuit of sunshine, and has a decent price, it’s worth a good look. The 200-horsepower V6 can be upgraded to 240 horsepower. Your basic G6 sedan has a base price of $21,000.
Base price, convertible: $28,000

Corvette Z06
The base-model Corvette is now a very civilized machine. In highway-loafing mode, it even returns gas mileage in the high 20s. The new Z06 model answers to a more heathenish call. Its monstrous, 7-liter engine produces some 510 horsepower. Among the world’s fastest cars, it is priced way, way lower than anything similar. And you can still get 20 mpg, to boot.
Base price: $65,000

Lexus ES350
The most popular sedan in the Lexus fleet is the ES series, which this year arrives as a redesigned car. Somewhere underneath is a Toyota Camry, but the additional leather upholstery, engine muscle, and electronic refinements earn this car some easy love. For those who need ’em bigger, Lexus is going to unleash an entirely new flagship LS line early next year that will feature tons o’ power via hybrid engines.
Base price, ES350: $34,000