What we can’t wait to drive in 2007

Aston's V-8 Vantage convertible is a drop-top version of an existing model — but a version customers have been clamoring for.
Aston's V-8 Vantage convertible is a drop-top version of an existing model — but a version customers have been clamoring for.Aston Martin
/ Source: Forbes

If you think autos are all about heavy steel, torque and horsepower, you're in for a treat.

That's because this year, carmakers will roll out models boasting incredible levels of nuance and design.

Take Audi's new 420-horsepower R8 supercar, which will go on sale this summer for $120,000 to $130,000. Headlight design is pretty straightforward stuff, but the carmaker's designers and engineers have used LED technology to build internal headlight reflectors that, they say, resemble miniature Sydney Opera Houses. LEDs are smaller than conventional lamps, so they free up extra space and give carmakers room to be more creative.

In fact, ridiculously sophisticated pieces of technology will appear on many of the cars coming to market this year.

Ford Motor's new Volvo S80 luxury sedan employs an in-car heartbeat monitor; if someone has broken in and is hiding in the vehicle, the S80 will alert you via key fob as you approach the car.

The cruise control on DaimlerChrysler's new Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG coupe offers an autopilot function for stop-and-go traffic; Mercedes will tell you that you still need to pay attention to the road, but our test drives indicate that you can read a magazine with your feet on the dash while the CL does the driving. The system uses radars to monitor the distance between your CL and the car in front of you. It brakes, steers and accelerates as needed to trail another car at a fixed distance.

But these feats of engineering are not enough to make 2007 a banner year. What will also blow the minds of buyers are upgraded models boasting improved technology.

The Lexus LS Hybrid, for example, turns gas/electric hybrid technology on its head. The regular LS has a 380-horsepower V-8, but in the hybrid version, an electric motor assists the V-8, and the two in combination produce over 430 hp. The LS Hybrid shows that the hot-rod engine option is no longer your best bet when you want to make a fancy car even flashier; the hybrid option is the new status symbol of choice.

But Lexus won't be the only automaker to debut a snazzy, new model in 2007. The year will also see new vehicles from Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Maybach. At this top level of automotive production, the new cars for 2007 are mostly modifications to existing, excellent vehicles. Aston's V-8 Vantage convertible and Bentley's Azure are drop-top versions of existing model lines — but they are versions for which customers have been clamoring. Maybach's 62 S is a new hot-rod version of the Maybach 62 sedan.

In the market for a new set of wheels? Whether you desire innovation, design or fine-tuned functionality, if your bank account can provide, 2007 will be a great year for hot, high-end cars.