Tune in as we take you on an Amazing Race with sports cars sexy enough to excite Desperate Housewives and fast enough to blow Donald Trump's toupee off
Top speed The sports channel Ride like the wind with the Bentley Azure, which could be available by end 2006

THE late Ferdy Porsche once said that the last car the world would ever make would be a sports car. The prophecy of Porsche's founder was not the result of success going to the head.

If you think about it, there will come a day when mass-market cars will be nothing but auto-pilot capsules programmed to join constant-speed convoys on guided roads - pretty much like what was depicted in Tom Cruise's Minority Report.

If you saw that sci-fi flick, you'd have noticed that Cruise was able to make a getaway in a futuristic Lexus sports coupe. That car did not have to join any predetermined convoy.

Presumably, only the wealthy in the future can afford the last limited commodity: freedom of an open road, ERP-charged of course.

You don't have to wait till then to pick up that sexy, red drop-top. According to trade data, sports cars sales have been chalking steady growth in recent years, despite a shrinking overall luxury market.

And no wonder. Sports car fans have never been so spoilt for choice. Let's start with what's available now.

For less than $115,000, you can avail yourself of a classic: Mazda's MX-5. The third-generation model is supposed to pack even more shiok factor. You get a 2-litre engine mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed Activematic with steering-mounted controls.

Nissan agent Tan Chong will launch the 350Z Roadster soon. The 280bhp 3.5-litre is available with a five-speed autobox, and will hit 260kmh if you keep its motorised roof up. At current COE prices, it should be in the region of $150,000.

Higher up the line is BMW's $460,000 M5. For the money, you get a 507bhp 5-litre V10 of a monster with a seven-speed sequential gearbox that will hit 100kmh in 4.7 seconds.

Tempted? Too late. All eight units allocated for Singapore this year have been sold.

If you hold on till the first half of the coming year, more models will be here. Like Jaguar's promising XK coupe, which should arrive as early as June. The second-generation car hints at a tentative departure from traditional design. It has a 4.2-litre V8 producing 300bhp, channelled to the rear wheels by a six-speed autobox. Expect to pay north of $330,000.

Or how about Volvo's C70 coupe-cabriolet? Due around April, this Pininfarina-styled four-seater could be yours from $195,000 or so. There is a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo, and two normally-aspirated 2.4-litre units. It will have unique curtain airbags that inflate upwards from the doors.

Around the same time, Alfa Romeo's beautiful Brera will arrive. This GTV replacement, sporting a retro 1950s look, is styled by master designer Giorgietto Giugiaro. Expect a 2.2-litre four-cylinder and 3.2-litre V6 producing 260bhp. Initially, it will have only a six-speed manual box, with a Selespeed in the wings. Price should start below $200,000.

Other affordable choices due here next year include Volkswagen's sizzling R32 (a 250bhp Golf) and the sharp-looking Lexus IS250, a 208-horse 2.5-litre V6 poised to attack the BMW 3-series head on.

You can buy four of either, or just one Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. Decisions, decisions.

At about $860,000 without COE, the Lambo Spyder comes with an automatic canopy. That's a quantum leap because, not too long ago, the marque couldn't even make a watertight canopy.

Now bankrolled by Audi (the owner), buyers can rest assured quality will be better. The 5-litre V10 hits 307kmh with the roof down, making it the world's fastest hair remover.

Or you might consider another Italian - Maserati's GranSport Spyder, just unveiled at Frankfurt. This is quite easily the best-looking Maserati two-seater in modern times. Imagine 400 horses in its balanced form.

Other things you can look out for from the Ferrari-Maserati family include the Quattroporte Sport GT, updates to the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti and F430 Challenge, and perhaps even a revival of the Dino.

And by end 2006, the great big Bentley Azure should debut. This four-seater convertible is 20 per cent larger than the previous Azure, has a soft top that stows away at the touch of a button (25 seconds), and is powered by a 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8 producing 450bhp and 875Nm of torque.

Although built on the seven-year-old Arnage platform, it rides 35mm lower, on 19-inch chrome-finished alloy wheels.

The last Azure was sold here for $1.3 million, but this car should be a mite less extravagant. It steals a march on a Rolls-Royce convertible that will be available at least six months later.

Beyond 2006, greying and CPF-entitled babyboomers will have even more sports models to choose from. Lotus will unveil its long-awaited Esprit, successor to the three-decade-old model James Bond plunged underwater with in The Spy Who Loved Me.

The car is expected to have a mid-mounted 5-litre V8 producing in excess of 400bhp. It might boast an aluminium body and F1-style steering-mounted paddle shifts.

Volkswagen might make even a right-hand-drive variant of the obscene Bugatti Veyron. The 400kmh car has an eight-litre 16-cylinder quad-turbo engine that weighs 400kg alone. It produces 1,001bhp and burns one litre of fuel per kilometre at full bore. Zero to 100kmh is dealt with in under three seconds. Ownership of an oil-well is advised.

You could of course buy a Koenigsegg CCR, which weighs a lot less and is nearly as speedy. It should also cost less than half the Bugatti's ridiculous tag of over $4 million.

A demo model of the CCR is due as early as next month, but it is not known when actual deliveries can begin. If your reflexes are still intact, this is the definitive supercar to acquire.

Another sure thing is the four-door four-seater Porsche Panamera, due around 2009. The front-engined rear-driven car is likely to be powered by a family of V8s currently used by the Cayenne. Pricing and other details are fuzzy at this stage, but one thing is certain: It won't be the last Porsche to be built.