The car market in the United States isn’t quite like anywhere else. Automakers must meet a separate set of emissions standards; roads in suburban and rural areas tend to be broader and straighter than their counterparts elsewhere; gasoline is much cheaper. And, of course, American buyers have a particular taste for giant SUVs and full-sized pickups that people in other countries lack.
All those distinctions mean Americans tend to get different cars from other markets — which, among other things, means many finely-tuned driver’s cars made for Europe and elsewhere never float over to the United States while they’re in production. Here, then, are 10 of the best examples of the “forbidden fruit” new cars American buyers can’t have…at least, not for another 25 years or so, when they can import them one by one.
The Alpine A110 is a mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive coupe from Renault, a modern reimagining of the original Alpine A110. The specs don’t leap out at you — it uses a 1.8-liter inline four producing 249 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque — but look closer, and you’ll see the appeal. At just 2,432 pounds, the A110 is insanely light — 30 pounds lighter than an Alfa Romeo 4C. It hits 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph. And yet it’s not a gutted track car; it’s built to be comfortable, too.
Why Americans Don’t Get It: Renault left the U.S. market nigh-on 30 years ago. And even if they were coming back, a limited-edition sports coupe meant to rival the Toyota Supra would not be the ideal vehicle to re-launch the brand here.
Audi RS 4 Avant
The RS 4 is Audi’s all-wheel-drive retort to the BMW M3. The European RS 4 pulls 450 hp and 44 lb-ft of torque from its twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V-6. It’s an absolute rocket, accelerating from 0-60 mph in just 4.1 seconds with a top speed that can reach 174 mph. America has the equivalently-powerful RS 5 coupe, but the sedan range tops out at the less-potent S4 — and the only wagon we get here is the 248-hp A4 Allroad.
Why Americans Don’t Get It: Americans tend to be anti-wagon, though Audi fans less so. Audi has teased that RS Avant models might come back; given how successful AMG and M cars have been for Mercedes-Benz and BMW here, bulking up the RS portfolio just seems like good sense. But for now, we go without.
Ford Focus ST Wagon
Ford recently unveiled the wagon version of the Focus ST hatchback. The longroof is sporty and swell to look at, with the gasoline version using Ford’s 2.3-liter inline-four to generate 276 hp and 310 lb-ft. Want that knife twisted a bit more? You can get Ford’s hot wagon with a six-speed manual. Enjoy your Edge ST, American bros.
Why Americans Don’t Get It: Ford needs profits for Wall Street. Cars need to sell in volume to be profitable. Trucks and SUVs are profitable. Americans don’t buy wagons in volume, so they’re not.
Mercedes-AMG A45 Hatchback
Yes, Mercedes makes a hot hatchback. In fact, Mercedes makes the hottest of hot hatchbacks: The new Mercedes-AMG A45, incredibly, will squeeze 420 hp from a 2.0-liter engine. That’s more power per liter than just about anything else on the road. It will also have a drift mode, which Mercedes has been hyping in YouTube videos.
Why Americans Don’t Get It: Americans don’t think hatchbacks are luxury vehicles, so one north of $50,000 would be a tough sell. Raise it a little, add some body cladding and call it a GLA45, though, and Americans will love it.
Renault Megane RS
The RS (Renault Sport) is the hottest version of Renault’s Megane hatchback, and is the carmaker’s answer to the Golf R. The 300 Trophy trim tunes the inline-four to 292 hp and 310 lb-ft, delivering a 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. It’s front-wheel drive, has four-wheel steering, and can still be ordered with a six-speed manual. It also has a fancy new turbocharger the company claims was “taken directly from Formula 1,” which was probably a better selling point before the 2019 season.
Why Americans Don’t Get It: Renault doesn’t sell anything here.
Subaru Levorg STI Sport
A Subaru enthusiast’s dream car might merge the Outback’s wagon body with the WRX’s manic persona. The not-for-America Levorg wagon isn’t that exactly, but it’s the closest Subaru comes to that idea today. The 2.0-liter boxer engine produces 264 hp and 258 lb-ft. The top-of-the-line STI Sport adds some sport tuning and appearance features. It only comes with a CVT, sadly.
Why Americans Don’t Get It: Subaru has been too successful here, almost selling more cars in the US than they can produce. Why add to the workload?
Suzuki just released its updated version of the Jimny, which was named a 2019 World Car of the Year. It’s a small, boxy and bulletproof SUV that resembles the child of a Land Rover Defender and a G-Wagen. It’s also a rugged, supremely capable off-roader. It can go pretty much anywhere a Land Rover can go — and some places a Land Rover can’t, since it’s smaller and narrower.
Why American Don’t Get It: Suzuki left the US market in 2012. The Jimny may have a niche, but being useless for families and ill-suited to American highway driving (it only makes 100 horses) would make it hard to find mainstream appeal.
The Century is Toyota’s super-lux flagship, a Japanese market-only four-door sedan. Production is limited and units available by invitation only, reserved for royalty and VIPs. It’s kept its classic aesthetic intact over the years — in part because it has been relaunched just twice since it debuted in 1967, and in part because it caters to such a small audience. Toyota’s GRMN racing division did make a special edition one that may be produced, though.
Why Americans Don’t Get It: Some things should be kept special. Also, Americans don’t view Toyota as a luxury brand — hence the existence of Lexus. And even a $200,000 Lexus sedan would be a tough sell.
The TVR nameplate has been revived in the form of what may be the perfect driver’s car. The new Griffith will be a two-door coupe designed by Gordon Murray, the man who designed the McLaren F1. As is TVR tradition, it will have a huge engine — a Ford Cosworth 5.0-liter V-8 — and a super-light, all carbon fiber chassis, paired with a six-speed manual gearbox and rear-wheel-drive. It will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about four seconds, and reached a top speed north of 200 mph. It will also have ABS, power steering, and traction control, because they aren’t sadists.
Why The U.S. Isn’t Getting It: It’s not worth building a US-spec Griffith for a 500-vehicle limited production run, considering how difficult the development process has been for TVR in general.
Volkswagen up! GTI
The oddly-named up! is Volkswagen’s pint-sized hatchback, which also comes in GTI version. The 1.0-liter three-cylinder is horsepower-light, but torque-heavy, making 113 hp and 170 lb-ft. Its size, power, and handling capability place it quite close to the original GTI. It also costs less than $20,000. There may not be a better city car on sale on any continent.
Why The U.S. Doesn’t Get It: Americans consider the Golf a small car, and sales have plummeted in recent years. Volkswagen has countered by going hard into crossovers with the Tiguan and Atlas, which doesn’t leave much room for introducing a tiny city car. And highway-centric American driving would minimize the up! GTI’s strengths and fully display its weaknesses.
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