VANCOUVER — If this is supposed to be the twilight of the internal-combustion automobile, it's not going quietly. Just the opposite.
The last 20 years or so have been a golden age for high-performance cars that shows no sign of diminishing in the face of high gasoline prices and concern over carbon emissions.
It began when automakers first married their motors to computer chips in the 1980s to improve fuel management and emission controls.
Automotive engineers quickly realized ultra-fast microprocessors allowed them to manage all sorts of engine functions much more precisely than through strictly mechanical controls.
The results benefited every class of vehicle and spawned a renaissance of modern muscle cars that largely outperform their legendary 1960s predecessors.
Excluding the more expensive German machinery, the new heavy-hitters mostly hail either from Detroit or Japan and reflect distinctly different philosophies.
U.S. automakers draw heavily on their industry's storied past that still resonates with many boomer car buffs, while the Japanese stress high-technology and cutting-edge electronics.
Chrysler has resurrected its Dodge Challenger in early-1970s retro garb, with the top-line SRT8 boasting 425 V-8 horsepower.
General Motors is due to introduce a reborn, Canadian-built Chevrolet Camaro next year that cribs heavily from the late-'60s original, offering a 422-horsepower V-8 in the top model.
GM briefly revived the Pontiac GTO - the original muscle car - in the form of a V-8-powered sedan sourced from its Australian subsidiary, Holden. They've replaced that with the G8 GXP, powered by a 402-hp V-8.
The hottest versions carry asking prices well into the $40,000 bracket, but more modest V-8 and V-6 variants will anchor each model line.
For those whose bank accounts have survived the market upheaval, Chevy also offers the 638-hp Corvette ZR1, which shatters the $100,000 barrier.
While the Camaro and Challenger were out of production for years, Ford has managed to produce the Mustang, the original pony car, continuously since its introduction in 1964 largely by giving customers what they want.
"You keep the brand alive and fresh and it gives the customer another reason to look at us again and come back into the Mustang family," says Billy Rodrigues, Ford of Canada's small-car marketing plans manager.
High performance versions such as the 500-hp Shelby GT 500 and the 315-hp Bullitt make up between 15 and 20 per cent of sales.
"We like to say there's a speed for every need," says Rodrigues.
Like its Detroit competitors, the $42,000 Bullitt is something of a time machine set for 1968, when Steve McQueen's Mustang chased the bad guys' Dodge Charger over the hills of San Francisco in the movie "Bullitt."
The Bullitt's heavily retro interior - complete with hard, cheap-looking plastic - does little to jar the illusion. A traction-control button and satellite radio are concessions to the 21st century but the V-8's deep, warm burble keeps you anchored in the 20th.
"They actually digitized it from the movie and were able to mimic that for the new car," says Rodrigues, noting that criticism about the quality of materials will be addressed in the 2010 model.
High performance travelled a totally different road in Japan, where high fuel prices and congested roads dictated more from less.
Nissan's original Datsun 240Z, sleek and fast, showed in 1970 that Japanese cars were more than just cheap rides.
Today's Asian muscle cars are aimed not at boomers but at the video-game generation.
Three of the most sought-after Japanese performance cars - Subaru's WRX STi, Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution and the Nissan Skyline GT-R - developed cult followings in North America in part because they were featured in the game "Gran Turismo."
The Subaru's 305 horsepower and the Mitsubishi's 295 horsepower come from turbo-charged four-cylinder engines that, thanks to the miracle of computerized electronics, can motor smoothly and sedately until the driver demands more power be pushed through their rally-bred all-wheel-drive systems.
With prices in the mid-$40,000 range, they're not cheap, but they don't approach the GT-R's eye-watering $82,000.
For that, Nissan gives you a twin-turbo V-6 motor conservatively rated at 480 horsepower capable of slingshoting the all-wheel-drive GT-R to 100 kilometres an hour in under four seconds.
In stark contrast to its nostalgic American counterparts, the sinister-looking GT-R's cockpit looks like something Darth Vader would commute in.
Besides the car's conventional gauge array, the centrally mounted LCD screen used by its stereo and navigation system can also be programed by the driver to display 11 different readouts for mechanical systems and the car's performance.
The fact the display was co-designed by Polyphony Digital, creator of "Gran Turismo," brings the video-game connection full circle.
One thing automakers on both sides of the Pacific agree on: they'll offer performance models as long as customers demand them, even if external factors force changes to technology.
"There was always a desire of people to own vehicles that had a better level of performance," says Ian Forsyth, Nissan Canada's director of product and corporate planning. "It's hard to say what will happen and who knows what regulations and so forth we might face."