The United States dominates global politics, and we’re used to being the most powerful nation in the world. But the U.S. auto industry is no longer the biggest, either by sales volume or production - we were passed by China a few years ago. You might not realize it, but there are literally hundreds of vehicles sold overseas that we don’t see in our market, for a variety of reasons.
Many models are just not suitable for use in the U.S., like some Chinese vehicles that are barely more than overgrown golf carts. Lots of tiny Japanese domestic market vehicles could be sold in the U.S., were they to receive engine transplants with enough power to cruise down our long, flat, fast Interstates. In Europe, most cars are sold with diesel engines, but the models we do see here are usually offered only in their gasoline-burning variations.
What follows are five of our editor’s picks for the best foreign-built autos that we think could be sold here successfully.
5. Ford Ranger
Country Of Origin: Thailand/South Africa/Argentina
If you're thinking we've made a mistake here, trust us that we're as baffled as you are at the Ranger's absence from the 2012 Ford lineup. After nearly 30 years in production, the Ranger was as much a part of the American truck landscape as Ford's legendary F-150. But there is no 2012 Ranger, at least not here in the U.S.
Ford did design a new Ranger from the ground-up, what is likely to be one of the best trucks its ever built. With power coming from three different engines – a 2.5-liter, gasoline-burning four-cylinder; a 2.2-liter, diesel four; and a 3.2-liter, diesel, inline five-cylinder – and both two- and four-wheel-drive models offered, the "global" Ranger is seemingly everything Ford would have wanted to bring it's long-in-the-tooth midsize pickup up to date.
Alas, with sales of midsize pickups having declined quite a bit in recent years, the powers that be in Dearborn figure that anyone who wants a truck with a Blue Oval on it can just have an F-150. Ford sells lots of F-150's in lots of different configurations here in the U.S., including new models with more fuel-efficient, turbocharged "EcoBoost" V6 engines that get similar fuel economy to midsize trucks.
Comparable car that you can buy here: Toyota Tacoma
Toyota Tacoma Photos & Information
Toyota Tacoma Specs
Toyota Tacoma Local Dealer Price Quote
4. Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Country Of Origin: Italy
Alfa Romeo has a long and illustrious history, but has not sold cars in the U.S. since 1995. Yet it retains a devoted owners group here, and there's perennial hope among these Alfisti that their beloved marque will soon return. Almost six years ago, Fiat, Alfa's corporate owner, announced plans to do so, but they have yet to materialize. If and when they do – the latest report is that it's finally going to happen in 2013 – the Giulietta is the first car we'd like to see roll off the boat.
With its curvy, five-door hatchback body and that trademark Alfa grille, the Giulietta would bring some much-needed sexiness to the compact segment. While we love the familiar shape of competitors like the Volkwagen Golf – and the not-so-familiar Ford Focus – there's nothing on the U.S. market in this class that's got the visual appeal of the Giulietta. If it were offered here, Alfa would likely fit a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder standard, but it would probably be the midrange European engine, making 170 horsepower. Alfa also offers two turbodiesels, which might be interesting, but not nearly as exciting as the 235-horsepower, turbocharged 1.8-liter four with direct injection and a dual-clutch transmission.
While we may never see a real Giulietta here in the states, we'll have to see how much of the package translates into the new 2013 Dodge Dart. While the Dart is a bigger car in every aspect, the underpinnings have been adapted from the same Alfa platform, thanks to the Fiat-Chrysler alliance.
Comparable car that you can buy here: Audi A3
Audi A3 Photos & Information
Audi A3 Specs
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3. Opel Insignia OPC
Country Of Origin: Germany
This one hurts a bit more, because it was heavily hinted at for the U.S. market. But when the Opel Insignia OPC arrived here in Buick guise, it had a different engine with 55 fewer horses. Worse yet, the 2012 Buick Regal GS is only available in front-wheel, rather than all-wheel drive. Indeed, though the Insignia OPC and its knock-off have identical sheet metal, most of the best bits were lost in translation, like the Opel's sporty Recaro front seats.
While the Regal GS isn't a bad car, it does not have the Opel' turbocharged, 325-horsepower, 2.8-liter V6. In its place, GM has fitted a turbocharged 2-liter four, making 270 hp. The difference is like espresso and coffee – the former just has more kick. Although the front-drive Buick doesn't have the all-wheel-drive system of the Opel, it's still a pretty good handler for what it is. Both cars employ GM's sophisticated HiPer Strut suspension, which does a pretty great job of helping front- and all-wheel-drive cars behave more like rear-drive cars when it comes to cornering.
While we wish it wasn't so, GM says there's just no way it could have brought the real deal here without pricing it even more outrageously than the $35,000 Regal GS. That and the inevitable gas guzzler tax would have meant the Insignia OPC would have been dead in the water before it even hit our shores. Better to get part of the pie than no pie at all.
Comparable car that you can buy here: Buick Regal
Buick Regal Photos & Information
Buick Regal Specs
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2. Audi A1 Quattro
Country Of Origin: Belgium
The A1 is the smallest product from the German luxury brand, roughly the same size as a Ford Fiesta, which is why Audi refuses to import it here. American car buyers have traditionally equated size with luxury, and it is felt that cars as small as the A1 would tarnish the brand's image. There's also the issue of pricing, as by the time the A1 was equipped for American duty it would likely sell for over $25,000, very close to the A3, which itself is far from a hot commodity.
But there's a lot to like about the A1, which is available in both three- and five-door hatchback body styles. Power comes from a wide range of engines in Europe, including a 1.2-liter, 86-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder that returns 46 miles per gallon. But the engine we'd be most excited about seeing here is Audi's 2.0-liter turbo, an engine we're familiar with from the U.S.-spec TT. Paired with Audi's frankly amazing DSG gearbox, it makes 252 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque in the A1 quattro. That's enough to make this limited-production, all-wheel-drive sports car a real screamer.
And let's be frank: Americans are going to have to get used to the idea that largess does not in itself connote a luxury product. Mini has paved the way for the idea of a compact premium car. With fuel economy desired, more will follow.
Comparable car that you can buy here: Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper Photos & Information
Mini Cooper Specs
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1. Holden VE SS Ute
Country Of Origin: Australia
This Chevy El Camino wannabe came awfully close to hitting American dealer showrooms. Back in 2008, GM actually announced it would be importing the Holden Ute from its Australian subsidiary the following year, rebadged as the Pontiac G8 ST for the 2010 model year. The rear-wheel-drive trucklet would have been sold alongside the G8 sport sedan, offering a sporty, yet functional pickup alternative.
The G8 ST would have been powered by the same 6.0-liter V8 from the G8 sedan, making 361 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque. Despite having active cylinder management, which shuts down half the engine when full power is not needed, the big V8 was EPA-rated at only 18 miles per gallon in the G8 sedan. GM said the quasi-truck had a 74-inch cargo bed and boasted a 3,500-pound towing capacity.
Alas, the GM bankruptcy in 2009 not only scuttled the Pontiac brand, but also put any plans to bring the Ute stateside on indefinite hold. While the idea apparently continues to circulate at GM, we haven't heard any rumors of a new plan since the 2010 Detroit auto show. With GM poised to introduce a new Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup in 2013, it seems unlikely that we'll be seeing an Americanized Holden Ute any time soon.
Comparable car that you can buy here: Honda Ridgeline
Honda Ridgeline Photos & Information
Honda Ridgeline Specs
Honda Ridgeline Local Dealer Price Quote