WHAT: Audi's ultimate A4 has a 4.2-liter, direct-injection, 420-hp V-8 that outmuscles the next BMW M3 (400 hp) and Mercedes C55 AMG (390 hp). Six-speed stick only.
WHEN: Breaks cover at this month's Geneva show.
HAULING: One-ups M-B and BMW with Avant (wagon).
WHAT: The seriously hotted-up version of BMW's 6-series has a 500-hp, 5.0-liter V-10 that will blast the car from 0 to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds, according to BMW, although not all of that power is available right away. The final one-fifth of the engine's allotment can be unleashed only via a button mounted near the shifter-not that you can't have a little fun with the paltry 400 hp available at ignition. The V-10's 385 lb-ft of torque at 6100 rpm will leave a nice tread-shaped calling card. Helping to put all that muscle to the road will be huge nineteen-inch wheels (8.5 inches wide in front, 9.5 in the rear) and BMW's seven-speed sequential-manual transmission featuring Drivelogic, which alters the shift characteristics to match the driver. Gears can be selected via either the shift lever or the requisite wheel-mounted paddles. Saving weight was key to upgrading the already stellar 6-series. Utilizing carbon fiber for the roof and bumper mounts and omitting some electronic gizmos such as Active Steering and Dynamic Drive allow for a lower center of gravity and improved dynamics.
WHEN: Early 2006.
GOT A NAPKIN? WE'RE DROOLING: We can't wait to get our hands (and right feet) on one of these bad boys. There will be a convertible, too.
WHAT: The supercharged STS gets upgrades like those on the CTS-V but with a slightly lower power-to-weight ratio.
WHEN: Fall 2005.
FIRST TIME: GM's 440-hp, 4.4-liter Northstar V-8 and Hydra-matic six-speed slushbox both debut on the STS-V.
Ford Fusion, Lincoln Zephyr, and Mercury Milan
WHAT: Ford's newborn triplets, which partially replace the Taurus and the Sable, are a tick smaller in most directions and will be built on a modified Mazda 6 platform. The front-wheel-drive cars get a 160-hp, 2.3-liter in-line four (five-speed manual or automatic trannies) or a 210-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 (six-speed automatic only). All-wheel drive will be a later option.
WHEN: Fall 2005.
DO WE NEED THEM?: The Ford and Mercury, yes. But Lincoln needs
a proper flagship, not this.
WHAT: The sixth-generation S-class is sleeker than the current car, with a tail treatment that looks similar to the Maybach's. Under the skin, the new S has air suspension, optional all-wheel drive, a seven-speed automatic transmission, and conventional hydraulic brakes rather than the E-class's controversial electronic brakes. The U.S. market initially gets 4.6- and 5.5-liter V-8s, and later on, a new V-12 will be offered as well. Also expect an AMG V-8, probably not supercharged this time, and a crazy twin-turbo V-12. Inside, the S gets higher-quality materials and an all-new Comand multimedia controller that will be similar to the systems from BMW and Audi but, one hopes, easier to use than BMW's iDrive.
WHEN: Debuts in September at the Frankfurt show and goes on sale in the U.S. in early 2006.
RICH 'BURBS AWAIT: Still projects mega status.
WHAT: The slightly larger sixth-gen Passat will get seven engine choices in Europe but only two here. Several new technology items trickle down from the top-dog Phaeton.
WHEN: Mid-2005; wagon, late 2005.
SAVING FACE: The Passat gets the new angular VW "face" that you also can see on the GTI (opposite) and the Jetta (page 28). To us, it looks pretty close to the Audi beak.