Volkswagen is Europe’s best-selling car manufacturer. Europeans live different sorts of lives; consequently, VW offers them a different array of cars. Some of those VWs not offered in the United States are awesome – so awesome one might term them forbidden fruit. Here are five we wish were available stateside.
No, that’s not a typo. The name of the car employs both mandatory lowercase and a punctuation mark. The quirky name belies the up!’s quality though. It’s worth the exclamation point. The up! is a super-tiny European Class A hatchback. There’s a GTI version of that hatchback. It has a torque-heavy 1.0-liter 3-cylinder (113hp, 170lb-ft). It has a top speed of 122mph. Considering size, power and handling, it’s close to the legendary Mk1 GTI. It also has a six-speed manual, gets 37mpg combined and retails for less than $20,000. If you believe to have found a better city car, you are, simply, wrong.
Golf Estate R
I pushed for VW to produce a GTI version of the Golf Sportwagen. VW takes that idea one step further in Europe with the Golf Estate R, a wagon version of the Golf R. It has 295hp from the 2.0L TSI engine and 4Motion AWD. It can accelerate from 0-60mph in less than five seconds. It has a “race mode” and a “Sport Human Machine Interface” with all sorts of performance data to maximize your school run times. Before you expatriate to buy a Golf Estate R, however, there is one caveat. It only comes with a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
Americans get the bulky, soft-handling, trying-to-be-third-row Tiguan. Europeans also get the T-Roc, a subcompact crossover that slots under it. Volkswagen just released an “R” version that’s basically an elevated version of the Golf R. It gets sportier styling. It draws 296hp and 295lb-ft from the 2.0-liter I-4 Turbo. It gets Golf R suspension and brake components. It accelerates to 60mph in under five seconds. VW does have a separate subcompact SUV coming to America. But, given the bonkers Tiguan and Atlas sales, don’t expect it to be tuned for hard driving.
#VanLife is an aspirational dream. Cast your student loans and unfulfilling gig employment aside. Embrace the open road, waves, and an aging VW Vanagon Westfalia. Spend hours per day hunched over a phone choosing just the right Instagram filter. VW offers Europeans a modern take on this with the California, ironically not available for sale in California. It has a pop-top bed space to sleep four comfortably. An LCD panel controls battery, water and heat systems. It stows removable camping chairs and a table. It has driver and parking assists. Trade that wheezing engine and nervy hill climbs for a 2.0-liter I-4 Turbo, 4Motion and a manual transmission. Need more room? There’s a Grand California on the way.
The European Passat
Volkswagen offered Americans a new Passat, which was the same Passat available since 2011, only with new bodywork. In Europe, VW builds on the possibility of a midsize, just-below-luxury vehicle. Europeans get an 8th-generation Passat running on the MQB platform. They get a sophisticated aesthetic, even more Audi-like than the American version. They get to choose between a sedan and a wagon. While VW canceled a Passat GT in the U.S. market, Europeans can level up to a diesel engine with 237hp and 369lb-ft of torque that can bring the 0-60mph time close to six seconds. There’s also a plug-in hybrid.