Payne's auto show guide: Sportscars

The sports car market is experiencing innovation not seen since the 1960s Golden Age. Muscle cars are flexing more sinew (the 707-horsepower Dodge Hellcats) and more nimbleness (the reborn Ford Mustang). Plug-in hybrid supercars are green — and blindingly fast. Don't have the budget for six-figure missiles? The Corvette Z06 and Alfa Romeo 4C (both offered in convertibles when the thaw comes) offer supercar power and high-tech.

Henry Payne's take on 2015 NAIAS sports cars

Henry Payne's take on 2015 NAIAS small, midsize and green cars

Henry Payne's take on 2015 NAIAS luxury cars

Henry Payne's take on 2015 NAIAS SUVs

Henry Payne's take on 2015 NAIAS concepts

Henry Payne's take on 2015 NAIAS trucks

Acura NSX

What it is: Shown as a concept back in 2012, the long-awaited, 550-horsepower-plus NSX is a plug-in hybrid. Twin electric motors drive the front wheels. A 3.7-liter, twin-turbo V-6 rotates the rears. With AWD, a 9-speed transmission, and a lightweight, aluminum/carbon fiber chassis, this Ohio-manufactured samurai promises neck-snapping performance.

Payne's take: Acura is back in the supercar game after discontinuing the original NSX (introduced in 1991) in 2005. The new breed goes head-to-head with BMW's gorgeous i8 for plug-in hybrid supremacy. I'm drooling.

Alfa 4C Spider convertible

What it is: Alfa's hot 4C tamale gets a drop top. Same 1.7-liter, turbo powertrain producing a bonkers 136 horsepower per liter. Same sexy looks. Same ticket-me-red paint job. In addition to the cloth roof (with hardtop option), the Spider is distinguished by twin, centered pipes under a carbon fiber umbrella at the rear.

Payne's take: Thanks to its rigid, carbon-fiber tub construction, the convertible only gains 22 pounds over the 2,464-pound coupe. The soft top rolls up and can be stowed in the car's lunchbox-size rear boot. Opt for the carbon-fiber hard top and you'll have to stow it in the passenger seat. Hide the college fund, kids. Daddy wants a new toy.

Audi TT

What it is: The third-generation TT coupe and roadster arrives on U.S. shores sporting the brand's more angular look. A turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder is again the base engine — but with an improved 220 ponies. The sporty TTS offers a fearsome, 292 horsepower mill as an option. A manual tranny, however, is not.

Payne's take: The stylish TT is as innovative inside as out. A customizable digital instrument cluster replaces the round gauges. Indeed, the instrument panel replaces the traditional center console monitor as well. Look for it under the Christmas tree later this year.

Chevy Corvette Z06

What it is: Yeah, I know, the Z06 debuted at last year's show, but this Porsche-eating, 650-horsepower cyborg continues to wow. The Z06 has obliterated the performance standards set by the brand's legendary ZR1 model, shattering the 3-second barrier from zero-60. Yeah, you can stare.

Payne's take: With the performance of mid-engine, European supercars costing twice as much, the Z06 remains a front-engined marvel. As its mind-blowing, racecar-like, 1.3 g-loads (better than a Porsche 911) on the skid pad attest, you can only fully realize the potential of this car by taking it to the track.

Ford GT

What it is: Ford's first GT supercar since 2003, this sleek beauty is powered by a 600-horsepower, twin turbo V-6 with carbon ceramic brakes to bring it back to earth. The flagship for Ford's new performance division, the GT features a "stalkless," F1-style steering wheel. Check out the scissor doors.

Payne's take: Ford is mum on the GT's racing future, but it appears to be headed to LeMans in 2016 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its win over Ferrari. The non-hybrid powertrain suggests Ford has its sights on the GT class — where it once again will do battle against the Italian stallion. Somewhere in Heaven, Henry the Deuce is smiling.

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R

What it is: The steroid-fed, 500-horsepower, 5.2-liter V-8-powered Shelby GT350 gets a track upgrade. It's looking at you, Camaro Z28. With a six-speed manual, Herculean brakes and magnetic ride control complementing the Mustang's much-improved chassis, this track-savvy 'Stang isn't just for Woodward burnouts anymore.

Payne's take: Ford introduced the all-new, nimble-handling Mustang at last year's show. Now come the evil stepchildren. The muscle-bound GT350 took a bow at the LA Auto Show. The R track-model will soon terrorize ear drums everywhere.

Infiniti Q60

What it is: The Q60 coupe gets a sexy makeover to take on formidable rivals like the supermodel Audi A5 and thrilling BMW M4. Adapting the muscular design language of the head-turning Q50 sedan, the Q60 also gets plenty of muscle under the hood with a new, twin-turbo, 3.0-liter V-6.

Payne's take: Infiniti's coupe got lost in the brand's recent badge shuffle. The G37 got a new name — but the same ol' hardware. Now with a new look and name to go with engineering input from champion Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel, the big Q-ship looks to reclaim its place among the finest premium sports coupes on the planet.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

What it is: The fourth generation Miata — er, MX-5 — gets an extreme makeover. The randy racer adopts the same KODO styling cues as its Mazda 3 and 6 brothers. Gone are the big wheel-well hoops. Nixed are the Lotus-like headlamps. Underneath, however, it's the same, light-footed athlete and 2.5-liter buzz saw that have made it the most popular vehicle in SCCA club racing.

Payne's take: A quarter-century ago, Mazda brought back the English roadster of '60s fame. Looking uncannily like the iconic Lotus Elan, the Miata was an instant hit with motorheads like me — even though I need a shoehorn to get into the little bugger. With the new MX-5, Mazda stamps the breed with its own distinctive style. The Miata has never looked so good.

Porsche Targa

What it is: Stuttgart debuted the iconic, open-top Targa at last year's auto show, and it's baaaack. This year, the 102-grand base, 3.4-liter Targa gets a half-liter, GTS upgrade worth 74 horsepower and another $30K. The result will net you a half-second from 0-60 and lots more AWD grip.

Payne's take: This unique convertible allows drop-top fans to have their cake and eat it, too. Thanks to the rigid Targa hoop, chassis performance isn't sacrificed when the top goes down. With blacked-out, 20-inch wheels (stolen from the Turbo S), smoky Bi-Xenon headlights, and a silky exhaust note, Targa is apparently German for "come hither."

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Payne's take