The 10 Best Cars Not Sold in America
Fun Rides You Can't Have
We're often told "the grass is always greener on the other side" as an admonishment, so that we might keep perspective and appreciate what we do have rather than what we wish we had.
It's a sage bit of advice in most cases, but the truth is that sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side — especially when it comes to cars that manufacturers offer to the rest of the world but not to Americans. Whether these cars were discontinued or never sold here in the first place, the list of cars we wish we had is substantial.
Here are the 10 best.
2013 Alfa Romeo Giulietta
The arrival in the U.S. of Alfa Romeo's Giulietta is long anticipated by many American drivers. It's likely to spearhead a new resurgence of Alfa in America after many delays and postponements, and there are a variety of smart, economical engines available in Europe: no fewer than 10, ranging from 105 to 170 horsepower. Conventional engines are variations of Alfa Romeo's 1.4-liter four-cylinder, while diesels are available as 1.6, 1.7, and 2.0-liter units. Torque numbers peak with the 236 pound-feet available from the 170-hp 2.0-liter JDTM diesel.
But let's be honest: We want the Giulietta to come to the U.S. because it's stunningly beautiful. Its curving body brings flair and a sense of the aesthetic reminiscent of the great Alfas of old. The Giulietta isn't going to win any drag races or tear up the field at a track day, but it proves beauty still exists in a market where styling is dictated by fuel economy and pedestrian crash regulations. And that's worth something.
2013 Audi A1
We are living in an era of American motoring where fun compacts like the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Honda Fit are hits, so it's difficult to imagine why Audi wouldn't take the opportunity to bring its popular A1 hatchback to the U.S. The Audi A1 is offered in a range of trim levels, and the entire lineup is renowned for its handling and refinement: for a very reasonable price. Power plants for the A1 include 1.2-liter and 1.4-liter TFSI four-cylinder turbocharged engines, or 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter TDI clean diesel engines.
The European combined mpg range of the A1 is an impressive 48-74 mpg. In the case of the 140-hp 1.4-liter TFSI engine, it achieves 60.1 mpg in the European combined drive cycle by cleverly using the same "cylinder-on-demand" technology seen in other Audi models and in the Bentley Continental. A well-sorted, affordable three-door Audi sounds like a winner in the U.S. We'll just have to keep waiting.
2014 Audi RS 4 Avant
Audi's RS 4 and RS 6 über-wagons have long been lust objects for fans in the U.S., especially as Audi shrinks its wagon options for American consumers. Currently the 2013 Allroad is the only Audi wagon available in the United States. The Allroad is a fine vehicle, but it's a fairly straightforward family wagon as opposed to the fire-breathing power wagon that is the RS 4 Avant.
The 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque from the Allroad's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine simply can't compete with the RS 4 Avant's figures: Its 4.2-liter V8 is good for 450 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque and is capable of a 4.7-second 0-62-mph run. One transmission is available: the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automated manual. A 2014 RS 4 Avant made a brief appearance at Audi's North American headquarters a few months ago, but it looks like it will forever be out of the reach of American drivers.
2013 BMW M 135i Three-Door
There are only a couple of differences between the BMW M Sport package-equipped 135is coupe that is available in the U.S. and the M Sport 135i three-door model that isn't. Both are powered by 3.0-liter TwinPower turbo inline six-cylinder engines. Both ride on special light-alloy wheels and have unique trim pieces. And both have top speeds of 155 mph and can run from zero to 60 in 4.9 seconds. The three-door hatchback configuration isn't available on American 1 Series BMWs at all, though, which makes the European M 135i three-door especially desirable to BMW enthusiasts.
Less obvious, even with some research, is the American 135is Coupe's 300 hp: 20 hp short of the three-door version. American BMW fans are still mourning the loss of the sensational 1M Coupe. While the 135is Coupe is cool, the three-door would be a fun and practical alternative for American buyers.
2013 BMW 5 Series Touring
The BMW 5 Series Touring is a benchmark for wagon fans in America as much as it is the world over. The difference in 2013 is that the world can still buy a 5 Series Touring, but American drivers cannot. Though the 3 Series Sports Wagon is still available in the U.S., BMW offers American buyers only the controversially styled 5 Series Gran Turismo instead of the Touring. American BMW fans, many of whom already dislike the GT, are not thrilled.
So what are we missing? The 5 Series Touring is offered in a number of trim levels, the most interesting being the 550i M Sport Touring, featuring BMW's TwinPower turbo V8 engine, rated at 407 hp with nearly 450 lb-ft of torque. Its available eight-speed sport automatic transmission offers faster shifts, paddle shifters on the steering wheel and a nifty gear selector lever. With a spacious, elegant interior and plenty of cargo room, the 550i M Sport Touring is the BMW power wagon we want.
2013 Land Rover Defender
Low sales numbers along with new airbag and side-impact regulations led Land Rover to pull the venerable Defender from the U.S. market at the end of 1997. Many Americans may not even be aware that the Defender is still in production unless they've been able to travel the world and seen how ubiquitous it remains elsewhere. As prices for used Defenders keep climbing in the U.S., it remains the workhorse model in Land Rover's worldwide fleet.
Available with either a 90- or 110-inch wheelbase, a six-speed manual transmission and in just about every configuration imaginable, the Defender's ability isn't tied to horsepower or cargo carrying. Rather, the Defender is all about torque; its 2.2-liter four-cylinder diesel produces 265 lb-ft of torque, nearly all of which is available from 2,200 rpm. The Land Rover Defender is still built to tackle anything, anywhere. Unfortunately, America doesn't count as "anywhere" anymore.
2013 Volkswagen Polo GTI
Rumors of the GTI version of the Volkswagen Golf's little brother, the Polo GTI, coming to America have circulated since the current-generation Polo debuted for the 2011 model year. But so far none of the rumors have borne out. The 177 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque from its 1.4-liter TSI engine would aim the Polo GTI squarely at hot subcompact hatchbacks like the new Ford Fiesta ST and the Mini Cooper S were it to come to America. Still, Volkswagen remains reluctant.
Some purists may take issue with the Polo GTI being available only with Volkswagen's seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, but it would provide the Polo GTI with a broader potential customer base in the U.S. Its 6.9-second 0-62-mph time doesn't hurt, either. For now, Volkswagen is weighing its options in regard to offering the Polo to the U.S. Perhaps we'll see it here soon.
2013 Volkswagen Scirocco R
With 261 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter TSI engine and tipping the scales at slightly more than 3,000 pounds, Volkswagen's Scirocco R is a quick, fun coupe thinly disguised as a three-door hatchback. Seemingly every year, new reports pop up claiming that the Scirocco will be coming to the U.S., and every year those reports are wrong.
The aggressively styled Scirocco R doesn't make the same concessions to practicality that the Golf R does, though it is available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automated manual transmission. But a look at the sharp, snug cockpit of the Scirocco R is enough to know that it is more of a pure driver's car than the Golf.
It's no surprise that there is an ever-increasing enthusiast base that supports bringing the attractive, fun Scirocco R to the U.S., but so far Volkswagen hasn't even hinted at making that happen. There's always next year.
2013 Volkswagen Amarok
The Volkswagen Amarok is the pickup truck Americans don't know they want, due to the fact that most don't even know it exists. The Amarok combines Volkswagen's sense of practical, elegant design both inside and out with a torquey diesel engine that would make it stand out in a crowded American marketplace. That engine is a twin-turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel yielding 177 hp and 309 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The smart, ergonomic interior is available with leather seats, but even with the standard cloth it would make for one of the best cabins in its segment here in the U.S. If all of that isn't enough, the Amarok just looks cool. One can imagine how much fun American off-road enthusiasts and the aftermarket would have with it.
Also, in Europe, you can get it with a stick, of course. Where do we sign?
2013 Ford Ranger
If you browse Ford's U.S. Web site, you'll find that the Ranger has been phased out. It's no longer in production. This is only partially true. The Ranger that was on sale here through the 2011 model year is indeed no longer in production, but there is an all-new Ranger available just about everywhere in the world except in America. The new Ranger is offered with a range of Duratorq Stage V diesel engines: 2.2- and 3.2-liter four cylinders ranging from 123-197 hp and 235-346 lb-ft of torque. The Ranger is also available with a six-speed manual transmission and in a variety of body configurations.
That one of the great American small trucks would be discontinued here but offered to the rest of the world in an improved package just seems wrong. Maybe Ford will see fit to bring the Ranger back to America where it belongs.