Fast and luxurious: L.A. Auto Show becomes stage for expensive high-performance luxury cars

Few people need an SUV with 567 horsepower that can scream around a racetrack and go from zero to 60 in four seconds.

A small but growing number want one.

These drivers aren't satisfied any longer with an ordinary luxury car. They crave speed and handling, and they're willing to pay for it. That's why BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac and Porsche are introducing six new high-performance versions of existing vehicles at the Los Angeles Auto Show, which opens to the public on Friday.

Although these super-fast models make up only around 3 percent of luxury automakers' sales, the cars and SUVs bring big profits and give brands an aura of race-car performance that boosts their image with many buyers.

Buyers of these cars still want all the accoutrements that luxury brands have to offer, but a cushy ride is a secondary concern. Dealers and industry analysts say two kinds of people desire ultra-high-performance cars. One seeks the speed and handling. The second simply wants to be different from others who can afford luxury brands.

"It's the 'when they don't make very many of them, everybody wants one' concept," says Steve Late, president of BMW of Austin, Texas, who can't keep the German automaker's limited-production, high-performance "M'' models in stock.

BMW will introduce two updated high-performance SUVs at the L.A. show, the X5 M and the X6 M, both with a twin-turbo V8 that puts out the 567 horsepower — 267 more than a standard X5. Suspensions also are beefed up on the M SUVs, with technology borrowed from the racetrack. But the speed and handling come with a price. The X5 M starts at nearly $100,000, over $46,000 above the current base X5. Both new 2015 M SUVs hit showrooms in the spring.

The higher prices mean big gains for automakers, even with the relatively small sales numbers, says Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst for the Americas for IHS Automotive. "Porsche and Mercedes and Cadillac can add those in with comparatively low investment to all new cars and get a good, healthy profit out of it," she said.

In Austin, where a Formula One racetrack is often rented for a day by car clubs, demand for M versions is high, Late says.

The automakers picked Los Angeles for the introductions because residents have money to buy such cars, and because the metro area often sets automotive trends, Brinley says.

Other high-performance luxury cars slated for introduction this week include:

— Two Mercedes AMG high-performance cars, the C63 sedan and GT sports car. There are two versions of each, regular and the higher-performing S. All have a hand-built 4-liter V8 engine that makes 469 horsepower for the AMG and 503 for the S version. All go from zero to 60 in 4 seconds or less. Mercedes has 19 AMG models, and the AMG line has seen 58 percent growth so far this year, the company said.

— Sedan and coupe "V'' high-performance versions of the Cadillac ATS compact car. Both have a twin-turbo 3.6-Liter V6 that puts out 455 horsepower. The cars will go from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds with a top speed of 189 mph.

— Porsche's 2016 Cayenne GTS with a 440-horsepower turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 that can go from zero to 60 in around 4.8 seconds. And it's not even the fastest version. The GTS Turbo is.