Ford wowed audiences at the Los Angeles motor show with the the ultimate version of its Mustang, the Shelby GT500. Boasting an electric blue paint job and bristling with a host of performance upgrades, the GT500 produces 485kW and 814Nm of torque, thanks to a revised supercharger and a bigger engine - a 5.8-litre V8 - which should give it a top speed in excess of 325km/h, say Ford engineers.
The six-speed manual gearbox, clutch and driveshafts have been thoroughly reinforced to cope with the huge performance on tap, as has the cooling system, with larger vents, radiators and intercoolers ensuring it won't overheat.
To ensure the handling matches the impressive straight-line speed, the GT500 has 19-inch black alloys on the front and 20-inch rims at the rear, wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G tyres.
Cross-drilled Brembo brakes provide the stopping power, with six-pot calipers at the front.
Despite its extreme nature, an optional performance pack is also available, which adds Bilstein dampers and a limited-slip differential at the back, and there's even a Track Pack which adds separate radiators for the diff, transmission and engine oil to prevent overheating during sustained circuit sessions.
Land Rover lowdown
Off-road specialist Land Rover took its DC100 Sport concept to Santa Monica beach, where the vehicle's low wraparound screen, fairings, big wheels, body kit and bright yellow paintwork proved a hit with locals.
The concept sits on a shortened Range Rover Sport chassis and is a little longer than the traditional Defender Ninety wheelbase.
Land Rover designer Richard Wooley says that gives better rear legroom. But you won't have to worry about rear legroom in the DC100 Sport - it's strictly a two-seater.
How much of the DC100 Sport makes it to the 2015 Defender is up for debate.
But Land Rover is quick to point out that the DC100 will evolve in bodystyle as well as design. So expect many more DC100 concepts.
What we will see is a more aerodynamic front end like that on the Sport, and very short overhangs at the front and back to aid serious off-roading.
The Defender will be the most technologically advanced Land Rover ever made, featuring an advanced terrain response system that will automatically analyse the surfaces you are driving on and adjust the suspension according.
There is also a "Wade Aid" in the pipeline, using sonar to measure water depth and obstacles under the waterline, then automatically altering the settings.
The Sport Concept's interior is more spacious but its minimalist look and the hose-out floor is a nod to the past. Land Rovers still have to work for a living.
Jaguar focus on US
The first four-wheel-drive Jaguars since the X-Type should soon get the green light - but an all-wheel-drive system won't yet feature in an SUV. It will debut on the XJ, XF and the XF Sportback estate that will arrive next year.
With Jaguar struggling to make a real impact in the important United States market, all-wheel-drive versions of existing models are described as "critical" by Jaguar global brand director Adrian Hallmark, who says: "We'd love to do a 4X4 XF and XJ and a final decision will come soon." Meantime, Jaguar revealed its XKR-S Convertible, the most powerful and fastest open-topped GT Jaguar has ever built, before its launch in New Zealand early next year.
The supercharged AJ-V8 GENIII petrol engine produces 405kW and 680Nm, a power increase of 8 per cent and torque increase of 9 per cent over the Jaguar XKR.
It has a top speed of 300km/h and 0 to 100km/h time of 4.4 seconds.
Jaguar claims a CO2 exhaust emissions rating of 292gr/km.
Merc ups stakes
The battle of the mega-SUVs is hotting up with the launch in Los Angeles of the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG.
It comes with a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8, chassis tweaks and more aggressive styling.
The engine produces 386kW and 700Nm of torque, yet Benz says fuel economy is improved by 28 per cent. Add the optional performance package and the ML63 AMG delivers 409kW and 760Nm.
Four-wheel drive distributes 60 per cent of the power to the rear wheels, while recalibrated steering, big brakes and chunky anti-roll bars make it the most racy ML ever made.
Subaru super combo
Subaru has unveiled its BRZ STI concept, the rear-wheel-drive coupe it developed with Toyota.
The new model shares many of its components with the upcoming Toyota FT-86.
Much of the chassis was engineered by Subaru - including the 2-litre flat-four boxer engine - but Toyota's fuel-saving direct injection system will be used.
Leaked specifications show that Toyota's model will boast 147kW and there are rumours that the Subaru BRZ could have about 186kW, company sources wouldn't confirm this.
Visually, the two models boast a similar profile, but Subaru will differentiate the BRZ from its Toyota sibling with a more aggressive bodykit and Subaru's family face.
Subaru is keen to point out that the BRZ is a lightweight that is expected to tip the scales at 1150kg.
Beetle goes sporty
The US was the biggest market for Volkswagen's previous New Beetle, and that's likely to remain the same with the latest model.
The R Concept adds muscle to the standard car expected in New Zealand next year.
The front and rear bumpers are completely redesigned and are a generous 30mm wider than standard.
Three chunky air intakes in a black high-gloss finish dominate the front; the central one to provide air to the radiator, and the side two to aid cooling of the brakes.
Additional engine cooling is provided by vents on either side of the top of the bonnet. Along the sides flashes of gloss black give the Beetle R a distinctive look.
This can be found on the door mirror caps - just as on the Golf R and Scirocco R - and on the door handles, the 15mm wider side sills and the roof.
The rear wings are 15mm wider than standard, helping them to flow purposefully into the wider rear bumper, which houses not only a diffuser but four also a quartet of exhaust pipes - two either side.
Above this sits a large spoiler with a gloss black finish on top and body-coloured finish beneath.
Inside are hard-shell racing seats covered in black Nappa leather offset by grippy grey nubuck panels. The same upholstery adorns the individual rear seats.
The instrument panel highlights the Beetle R's sporting intent: the tachometer is in the middle (and the speedometer to the side), while atop the dashboard are three auxiliary instruments: an oil temperature gauge, chronometer and turbo boost pressure indicator, all with distinctive blue needles.
As for the engine, this car is only a concept for now, but the Beetle R's production siblings, the Golf R and Scirocco R, use a 2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit providing 195kW.