America may have been the birthplace of the mass-produced automobile, the lifeblood of the automotive industry for most of the century since Henry Ford reimagined the world, and the origin of over-the-top muscle-car mania, but anyone who loves cars and has traveled abroad experiences the same thing. There are just so many amazing vehicles that we, as Americans, don’t get to experience! Blame the government for strict emissions and safety standards, blame American culture for thinking a station wagon is lame (it’s not!), or blame foreign manufacturers for being unwilling to even attempt bringing certain cars to the USA. There are seemingly infinite reasons for why some of the world’s best vehicles don’t ever end up on our shores.
Updated February 2022: If you want to make a wishlist of awesome European cars that you can import to the States in a somewhat distant future, you’ll be happy to know that we’ve updated this article with more of Europe’s coolest machines.
The various nations that make up Europe, however, all have different laws and standards, and they’re also geographically very close to each other, so the sheer variety of transportation options in the region ends up being pretty impressive, especially to Americans who may not have ever seen or heard of brands like TVR, Skoda, and Peugeot. Alternatively, some familiar brands have even more amazing options available in Europe that are currently forbidden for importation. Keep scrolling for some highlights of the cars that Europeans get to enjoy and whether they’re totally foreign or seem strangely familiar, always remember the incredible variety that the automotive industry churns out year after year around the world.
20 TVR Sagaris
British supercar manufacturer TVR has been manufacturing specialty sports cars since 1946, and yet, very few of them ever make it to America. The brand has seen a roller coaster ride of business since inception but has always strived to produce a lightweight and stylish sports car. From the Griffiths of the 1960s to today’s modern offerings, TVR always pushes the bounds of what exactly automotive engineering can create.
The TVR Sagaris pictured above debuted in 2003 but looks incredibly modern, featuring an inline-six engine that pumps out 406 horsepower, while its distinctively TVR styling and venting allow for reliable track days. TVRs often borrow engine technology from other manufacturers, but the custom interiors always shine. With another new set of executives running the company, keep an eye out for TVR’s next step, rumored to feature a Cosworth and Ford team-up, which might, maybe, be legal for American roads.
19 Audi RS6 Avant
American consumers have never fully comprehended the glory of the sport wagon, but in Europe, they’re everywhere you turn. Audi’s RS6 Avant represents perhaps the pinnacle of the form, with a twin-turbocharged V8 that pumps out 553 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque in a package that can cram in kids or groceries, plus camp and ski gear.
The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission on the RS6 Avant helps keep the ride smooth, while the Quattro all-wheel drive allows for confidence in any driving condition Europe has to offer. Sadly, the accountants at Audi don’t think Americans would be willing to shell out for supercar performance in a soccer mom package, so it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing the RS6 Avant on American soil anytime soon.
18 Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel
Porsche and Audi may share the same parent company, but at least, here in America, we’ve received the Porsche Panamera, which happens to occupy a niche slot of the market that the RS6 Avant may have threatened. But it’s stringent emissions standards that are keeping diesel-engined Panameras out of the USA, post-VAG’s diesel controversy.
The similarly all-wheel-driven Panamera Diesel 4S has a lower revving but higher torque twin-turbo V8 and also features the first edition of Porsche’s new PDK transmission. All in all, the combination of excellent traction with a low-profile design and a big-time grunt result in a car that’ll punch out 627 lb-ft of torque, a 0-60 time in the low four-second range, and still manage more than 42 miles per gallon as it cruises around Europe, gloating at our underpowered, front-wheel-drive minivans the whole time.
17 Peugeot RCZ
Peugeot’s RCZ is a neat little bubble-roofed coupe that’s nearly ubiquitous across Europe and much of the world for that matter—except, of course, in the United States. The car debuted to widespread acclaim in Europe back in 2010, and with manufacturing numbers exceeding 50,000 produced since then, the cars proved very popular.
The RCZ comes with a number of engine and transmission options, which include gasoline and diesel paired with automatic and manual. The interior features entry-level amenities all the way up to more luxurious offerings. With styling that clearly references the older Audi TT but in a more lightweight and accessible package, it sure would be nice to catch a couple of RCZs racing around the cities and countrysides here in America.
16 Audi TT TDI Quattro
A style icon since its original concept debuted all the way back in 1995. The Audi TT is an instantly recognizable car in any of its various incarnations. From base front-wheel-drive coupes to the R8-challenging TT RS with its snarling turbo five paired to the Quattro system that made Audi’s fortune and with a surprising amount of cargo space to be found in the small hatchback, there’s a TT for everyone.
Here in America, we don’t get the TT in diesel form, which is a shame since the low-end torque of the diesel gives the little vehicle a solid power band while also delivering spectacular fuel efficiency. The chances of ever seeing the TDI Quattro TT stateside has plummeted even further since the revelation of VAG’s emissions-cheating scandal, especially since this edition never made it here before the problems came to light.
15 BMW 1 Series Hatchback M135i
Audi’s rival German brand, BMW, also offers a sporty hatchback that we here in America don’t get to enjoy. Though we briefly received the 1M, the 135i, and the 128i, we don’t get any of them anymore, much less in a hatchback, and we never received the combo-packaged M135i form. Similar to the M235i in its drivetrain, the M135i meshes the world of M performance with a more economical package.
The M135i’s turbocharged inline-six engine pushes out north of 300 horsepower and a quick-hitting 330 lb-ft of torque available at as low as 1,800 RPMs, all combined with the car’s uprated suspension when compared with the base coupe (which sports either a three-, four-, or six-cylinder engine). Recently added to the European market is the M140i, with even more power available for us Americans to envy.
14 Ford Focus RS500
Clearly, hatchbacks fit into a category that leads automotive brands to abandon American audiences. Even Ford, right here in the USA, offers Europe a unique option that’ll never even be available in their home country. While anticipation was high for the release of the all-wheel drive, four-door, turbocharged Ford Focus RS, reality has left many Ford fans with doubt in their minds again. If only they knew that across the pond, a two-door version that squeezes even more power out of the 2.3-liter engine is in the works.
Hearkening back to Ford’s rally success with the absolutely insane RS200, Ford seems ready to up the ante with the Focus RS500, though without the Cosworth-derived engine at its heart. If only we could hope for the little car to see American shores, but given restrictive emissions standards of the States, the prospect seems unlikely.
13 Citroën DS3
French manufacturer Citroën can’t let the likes of its European counterparts VW, Audi, Peugeot, and BMW dominate the market for small hatchbacks. Though their DS3’s styling may not suggest a performance-oriented car, the two-door hatch nonetheless is another highly popular option. The DS3 maximizes the usability factor as its spacious interior pairs with fuel efficiency to fill the market slot that European car buyers seem to love so much.
Citroën does see the demand for performance, however, and the DS3 is also available in an updated form, with their THP turbo-four engine producing 210 horsepower, which, when paired with a six-speed manual transmission, is good enough for grocery runs from zero to sixty in about six and a half seconds. If that doesn’t sound drool-inducing, don’t worry, as Citroën doesn’t appear even close to likely to sell the DS3 in America.
12 Lotus Evora
Every car lover in America felt a little bit of sadness when British manufacturer Lotus stopped shipping their cars over our way. Lotus is known for their lightweight and nimble performance-minded Elises, Exiges, and Evoras these days. That blueprint has served the company well since its inception in 1952, with legendary models like the Elite, the Elan, the Esprit, and the most radical of all, the Lotus Seven.
Lotus stopped selling in America because their tiny fiberglass and carbon-fiber cars just wouldn’t meet the stricter crash safety standards required in the American market—not too surprising from a brand whose former models often bore the nickname “Coventry Coffin.” But Americans should justifiably be upset that they can’t find a new Lotus because there just simply is no other brand that’s as committed to affordable and lightweight performance automobiles today.
11 Mercedes CLS 63 AMG Wagon
Instead of being lightweight, most American cars these days seem to be too heavy. This might be mostly due to the prevalence of SUVs in our market, but it’s also because of the proliferation of high-powered engines that can power the heavier cars. And ever since the muscle-car era, high power is what Americans seem to love.
That makes it odd that Mercedes has chosen not to ship their shooting brake-styled CLS 63 AMG wagon over this way. We do get limited quantities of their E-class wagons, their R-class vans, and various SUVs, so why not the CLS? Once again, it seems like the German manufacturer has decided that a performance wagon won’t fare well in the United States, a real shame since the wagon shares the underpinnings of its coupe counterpart, which boasts numbers well over 500 for both horsepower and torque.
10 Land Rover Defender
Similar to Mercedes’s decision to sell some of their cars but not all in America, Land Rover sells multiple models on these shores but not their legendary Defender series. The capable, utilitarian styled off-roader is a classic sight in any of its many iterations over the years, and wherever Brits go on holiday, Defenders are sure to follow.
We get Range Rovers, Evoques, and Discoverys but not the Defender, despite all that, which actually has led to a secondhand market in which American custom shops will ship all the necessary pieces to assemble a Discovery and then augment it with a Corvette engine and transmission. Custom Defenders cost a pretty penny, though, often well over $300,000. Which just begs the question of why Land Rover won’t just ship a couple themselves and return with a boatload of money.
9 Toyota Hilux
When it comes to four-wheel drive and off-roading, though, Americans should most bemoan our lack of the Toyota Hilux. Once again, we receive the Tacoma, the Tundra, and a plethora of Toyota models but not the Hilux, which might just be the most famous pickup truck model in the history of the world—at least if you were to ask anyone outside of the US. The issue all comes down to a legal quandary that prevents the importation of trucks of a certain size.
Essentially, the US created a tariff in 1963 that lumped groups of products together in response to other nations placing tariffs on importing our chicken. So, the Hilux and other lightweight trucks now get taxed at 25%, which makes their importation economically unfeasible. The other products, you ask? Things like potato starch, brandy, and dextrin—tariffs for all of which were lifted eventually, except for lightweight trucks.
8 Skoda Yeti
Another classic 4×4 that doesn’t reach our shores is the Skoda Yeti. With similar boxy styling to a true legend of the European off-road community, the Fiat Panda, Czech manufacturer Skoda brought the Yeti to market with remarkable success in the late 2000s. The small SUV is perfect for family trips up to the ski slopes, and with a modular interior seating arrangement, the Yeti can even fold its front passenger seat forward to accommodate longer luggage like ski bags.
Skoda’s utilitarian design doesn’t stop at the interior, however, as the little 4×4 has come with 26 different engine options over the car’s eight-year production run, along with either front- or all-wheel drive. Such a range of options makes it seem like a vehicle that might please American consumers, but sadly, it’ll never make it over here.
7 Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta, on the other hand, offers utilitarian function combined with a swoopy and attractive design that the Skoda Yeti definitely lacks. In classic European fashion, the four-door hatchback can fit five adults comfortably in its small package and comes with either gasoline or diesel engines paired to either a manual or a dual-clutch transmission, pushing power through the front wheels.
Alfa has always been all about style throughout their history, and Americans are lucky enough to receive the new Giulia Quadrifoglio with its optional torque-vectoring rear differential and Ferrari-developed 500-horsepower engine. Maybe the Italian brand figured Americans would be more interested in the supercar sedan than a useful small hatch, but it sure would be nice to at least have the option of the Giulietta as well.
6 Noble M600
Speaking of supercars, it’s impossible to discuss the European market without covering the British-built Noble M600. Capable of a three-second run from 0-60, and with track times that best Bugatti Veyrons and Pagani Zondas, the little coupe is certainly impressive. Almost hilariously, the Noble M600 shares its powertrain with Volvo’s XC90 and S80 but with twin Garrett turbos forcing in enough air to boost the car’s output up to 660 horsepower.
Another beautiful fact about the beautiful car is that it only comes with a six-speed manual transmission, retaining its third pedal without even the option of an advanced dual clutch or a sequential gearbox available—which actually might be another reason the M600 hasn’t found traction in America. Though Noble will build a left-hand-drive version, which could theoretically be imported, the result would probably have to remain strictly for track use on American soil.
5 RS4 Avant
Another sportwagon we here in the States should drool over is Audi’s RS4 Avant. Audi has shipped a fair number of S4 and RS4 sedans to America but never the Avant form. This is increasingly frustrating, as the wagon receives increasingly more impressive engines and transmissions to pair with the legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The next edition, the B9, will likely feature a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 engine rather than the V8s that have come before it.
The big boost from the compressed air should really help the engine churn out low-end thrust to really take advantage of the off-the-line traction that Quattro enables. Combine the huge power with the cargo space of a large station wagon, and this car could be the daily driver for the world’s coolest soccer mom. Too bad Americans can’t measure up to Europeans’ love for the sport.
4 Audi A1
Audi tortures us by withholding the hugely powered RS4 Avant, but they also neglect to send over their nifty little A1 hatchback. Though not quite a competitor for the BMW M135i’s performance stats, the A1 definitely has a style that’s solidly conveyed through Audi’s distinctive design ethos. Imagine the little hatch with a roof rack holding skis, equally happy powering up to the ski slopes or fitting into tiny parking spaces in town.
Maybe that’s the problem that Audi sees with the A1’s feasibility in the American market. Where the RS4 Avant is too big and useful, the A1 is too small and useful. It sure would be nice if they’d take another glance at their marketing surveys and figure out that they could probably sell a fair number of the little cars, especially since there’s really nothing in the same category to compete against here in the States.
3 Fiat Abarth Punto Evo
One tiny car we do receive here in the United States is the Fiat 500. Based on the cute and classic Fiat that found popularity all over the world from the ’50s to the ’70s, the new Fiat is finding a significant market stateside. We even get an Abarth edition with an upgraded powertrain and a booming exhaust.
We don’t, however, get the Fiat Punto in either its standard or its Abarth edition, which transforms a universally panned, more modernly styled mini-500 into something that more closely approaches a performance-oriented vehicle. With a tiny body and a turbo 1.4 engine, the Abarth Punto Evo could find a market here in the States—though many Americans would probably have difficulty distinguishing it from its slightly larger older brother.
2 VW Scirocco R
We’ll close out the list with two classic VW models that many Americans may possibly recognize but probably don’t know much about. The US market received the Scirocco in limited but not insignificant numbers way back in the ’80s, but we have yet to see VW’s recent reboot of the line, which is especially disappointing given the Scirocco R.
Like the Golf R that’s available domestically, the Scirocco R is a tuned version that’s designed with performance in mind. With 276 horsepower in a 2,800-pound package, the Scirocco R may not have quite the stupendous power of the Golf R, but it weighs significantly less. At a lower price point, as well, there’s reason to believe that VW might be making a smart choice if they decided to ship the front-wheel-drive Scirocco R over to our shores.
1 VW Polo
Another VW that’s seemingly everywhere you turn in Europe is the Polo, the similarly ubiquitous Golf’s little brother. The two are so similar, in fact, that many Americans who travel abroad probably don’t even realize they’re not just looking at a Golf or a GTI that they could buy at home.
Instead, the Polo has an eight-inch shorter wheelbase, which results in slightly less cargo room in the interior of the cabin. But fold the rear seats down (where pretty much nobody can fit anyways), and you’ve got plenty of space. There’s even a Polo GTI, in fact, which shares the engine of the Golf GTI, and even though the 2-liter turbo is slightly detuned, the Polo has similar performance thanks to its lower weight. Not surprisingly, VW probably thinks that Americans just won’t be able to tell the difference between the two.
Sources: wikipedia.org, caranddriver.com, topgear.com.
Let us give you a little guide on why American is a good way to go. Then on the flip side, we’ll explain why European cars could be better.
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