For today’s automobiles, power isn’t just about horses. The SUV market flexes its muscles, for example, and even ultra-luxury brands bow to the necessity of giving customers the SUVs they want. Automakers such as Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce, their survival once in doubt, have found lasting power in those century-old brand names, but only by radically modernizing their cars. And horsepower itself—that most traditional metric of speed and strength—is giving way to kilowatts, as electric cars combine unmatched torque, green cachet and the backing of governments and cities around the world.
McLaren 570S Spider
For Britain’s McLaren, the pioneers of weight-saving carbon fiber in both racing and production cars, adding 101 pounds of mass to anything might seem like heresy. Then you drive the Spider, the mildly chubbier, convertible version of the standard 570S, and all is forgiven. For one, the McLaren’s carbon-fiber monocoque is already so rigid that slicing off the roof required no additional chassis bracing. The retractable hardtop only enhances the McLaren’s delightfully unfiltered sensations, from balletic handling to the howl of a twin-turbo, 562-hp V-8 mounted directly behind your noggin. And the breeze is decidedly more pronounced during 3.1-second rips to 60 mph, even if max velocity is limited to 196 mph with the roof open, versus 204 mph when it’s shut. Why, yes, officer, that is a moot point. Base price: $208,800, cars.mclaren.com/sports-series/570s-spider
An optional sealed-glass partition separates the luggage compartment from the climate-controlled cabin, with pampering features such as a drinks cabinet, Champagne flutes and a refrigerator.
The first-ever Rolls-Royce SUV—or “tall-bodied car,” in the marque’s preferred locution—smashes some traditions while preserving others, including a twin-turbo, V-12 engine that generates a hushed 563 horses. But the classic Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament might need to come with a pair of waders: A self-leveling air suspension and AWD system with multiple off-road settings helps the Cullinan ford water up to 21.4 inches deep. Do try and keep mud out of the handcrafted interior when the Cullinan “kneels” for easy entry, lowering by 1.7 inches at a touch of the chrome-plated door handles. Base price (est.): $325,000, rolls-roycemotorcars.com
Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
All supercars go fast (see: McLaren, Ferrari). But almost none do it with the beauty, grace and noblesse oblige of an Aston Martin. This flagship GT’s gorgeous clamshell hood, composite body panels and optional carbon-fiber roof speak to today’s design imperatives. Aston’s new Aeroblade airflow system helps ensure stability at speeds of up to 211 mph. A twin-turbo, 5.2-liter V-12 supplies a 715 horsepower, a monstrous 664 pound-feet of torque and a 3.4-second dash to 60 mph. And while the DBS can attack a winding road with aggression, the ride remains livable at all times. It’s a British gentleman, after all. Base price: $310,000, global.astonmartin.com
Dual electric motors generate 294 kilowatts, or 394 horsepower, urging the I-Pace to 60 mph in a hang-on-tight 4.5 seconds.
As Tesla struggles to ramp up production of its critical Model 3 sedan, it’s facing a bold challenge on its SUV flank: Jaguar’s electric I-Pace is lovely and luxurious, travels about 240 miles on a charge and easily bests the Tesla Model X SUV for sporty handling. Hooked to a DC fast charger, the Jag can soak up an 80-percent charge in about 40 minutes. And while Tesla has made waves with its Autopilot system, the I-Pace has scored its own cutting-edge cachet: Jaguar will supply 20,000 I-Paces to Google/Alphabet’s Waymo to fill its electric, autonomous ride-sharing fleet.
Base price: $70,495, 800.452.4827, jaguarusa.com
Ferrari 488 Pista
If the Pista’s sound doesn’t give bystanders the message, the body’s brazen racing stripes definitely will.
How do you top a Ferrari 488, one of the world’s great supercars? Make it lighter, faster, more aerodynamic—and much, much louder. With 710 horsepower from a mere 3.9-liter, twin-turbo engine, the Pista is the strongest V-8 Ferrari ever to rocket from its Maranello factory. At a featherweight 2,822 pounds, 200 fewer than the standard 488, the Pista catapults to 124 mph in a loopy 7.6 seconds, with a 211-mph peak. And an exotic exhaust system transmits up to eight decibels more Italian-tuned glory into the cabin. Base price: $345,300, 488pista.ferrari.com