The cars we'd import to America if we could
The heart wants what it can't have.
Historically, the US has frequently been denied access to foreign automakers' most interesting and exciting automobiles. Fortunately, things have become far better, what with the introductions of the Focus RS and Civic Type R to the US, and the Nissan GT-R and Subaru STI models before that.
Still, there are some pretty fabulous machines we don't get here that we still pine over. Though it was difficult, members of our staff each managed to pick the one foreign market vehicles they most wanted. Click on to see what we chose.
Greg Migliore - Alfa Romeo MiTo
I've always been attracted to the Alfa Romeo MiTo. It's sold overseas, and it's one of the most attractive small cars offered in any market. I'm a big fan of the styling, which captures the essence of Alfa. It's slinky and cute, yet not overdone. I love the grille up front. Those wheels are hypnotic, and the lights pop at you.
I've seen MiTos at auto shows in Europe. While I've never driven one, I would leap at the opportunity. It's small, is said to handle well, and it would be an excellent car in urban areas. I'd take mine in Quadrifoglio Verde trim. Hey, small cars are always supposed to be the next big thing – why not drive one that looks really good.
Alex Kierstein - Caterham Seven 160
Some folks, when playing out a fantasy like this, would opt for the ultimate version of something. The most power with gobs of stuff. Sure, I get it, and in some situations I’m right there with you. But this is my piece of this game, and I’m going to play it differently. I’ve always wanted a Caterham, and in my mind the most appealing one is the one we can’t have: the 160.
It’s powered by a little Suzuki Kei-car engine, a 660-cc, turbocharged three-banger with just 80 hp. That means you have to work to keep the little mill on the boil, and yet the 160 weighs only 1,080 lbs, so it’s got about 148 hp per ton. That’s plenty, and, despite the turbocharging, is more true to the Seven’s original mission (as is the live rear axle). I’ve driven a Seven with a Ford crossflow, whose 130-odd horsepower felt like 200 in such a light car. The 160 seems like the purest, most elemental driving experience you can’t have here, and that’s why it appeals to me so much.
John Snyder - Citroen E-Mehari
When I’m up in northern Michigan in the summer, I see topless Jeep CJs and Wranglers parked along beach highways, cruising small-town Main Streets, and gracing no-town pizza joint parking lots, and it looks like fun. Hell, I know it’s fun. So much so that I’d also like to make my runs to the Trading Post with the wind (and midge flies) in my hair, but I’d love the chance to do it in the Citroën E-Mehari.
Yeah, an audaciously colored foreign EV might earn some unsettling looks, but I’ve got the beard, firearms knowhow, local pronunciation (can you say “Ocqueoc?”), and enough local family with more of the same to hold my own up there. The E-Mehari is capable of tackling the sandy beach access lanes, or Bois Blanc (also not pronounced how you think) Island’s unpaved roads, which you can reach by ferry. Plus, the near-silent powertrain and open roof are perfect for late-night snipe hunting expeditions. Just keep an eye on your range, and try not to take a deer to the face with the top off.
Jeremy Korzeniewski - Fiat 500 695 Biposto
Interestingly, the Fiat 500 695 Biposto (that's "two-seater" in Italian) fills several spots on any automotive gearhead's must-have list of vehicles. Here are two:
For starters, it's a perfect forbidden-fruit car. It's not available in the United States, and even in countries where it is sold, it's super rare for reasons we'll get to in a moment. Second, it's a terrible, terrible vehicle to use as a daily driver, which means it ably checks the box we'll charitably call "Enthusiast's Choice."
Now that we've established why it's perfect, here's why it's not: at roughly $80,000 at current exchange rates, this 190-horsepower little pitbull of a car is more expensive as a well-spec'd Corvette or Dodge Hellcat. And while it's dog-ring gearbox is perfect for the race track, it's nausea-inducing for passengers. Not that big a deal, 'cuz there's only one extra seat, the rear having been replaced with the trickest factory stiffening cage I've ever seen. Plus, its titanium exhaust will set off every car alarm on your block every morning.
Like I said, it's perfect. And did I mention it comes with a helmet?
fiat 500 Information
David Boldt - Lotus Elise Sport
If supplied $50K, a ticket to Europe and told to buy something, a target comes quickly: the Lotus Elise. Given the age of its platform and the Elise’s essential simplicity, it now seems so wrong for this market, yet so ripe for the moment. With a mid-mounted Toyota powerplant, the Elise requires little more attention than a Corolla, while its automotive vibe is closer to a Carrera.
Lotus builds a number of Elise variations, including some with supercharged fours and track-specific chassis. I like the simple, light, and least-expensive Elise Sport, whose 134-horsepower, 1.6-liter four will propel its less-than-one-ton structure to 60 in just six seconds. Now under Geely’s corporate wing (the Chinese corporation that also owns Volvo), Lotus’ next Elise might return to the States by 2020. But we’ll go with 20/20 hindsight – and grab what’s currently available in Great Britain. Make that Merry Olde.
lotus elise Information
Reese Counts - Mercedes-AMG C63 S Wagon
If I could, I would import the Mercedes-AMG C63 S wagon. Really, it's nothing more than a long-roof version of the C63 sedan, but, like all wagons, that's what makes it cool. As great as the E63 wagon is, I'm a big fan of the smaller size of the C63. This wouldn't be my weekend or track car. This would be a daily driver. It also helps that I own this car's predecessor, the W202 C43 AMG.
The C63 S has a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 making 503 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. That's more power than any person reasonably needs for the road. It's equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. That makes it great in any weather and relatively easy to drive. The compact size and wagon shape make it easy to maneuver and more practical than nearly anything with this footprint. Plus, it just looks really, really good.
Joel Stocksdale - Toyota Yaris GRMN
I love little performance cars, and I love rally cars, so the Toyota Yaris GRMN is the perfect foreign-market machine that I can't have. It bears the colors of Toyota Gazoo Racing's WRC Yaris race cars, as well as some other body tweaks to help bridge the gap between this road-going car and the fat-fendered racer.
Under the hood is performance to back up the racey looks, courtesy of a wonderfully non-conformist supercharged four-cylinder making a very healthy 210 horsepower. The old-school supercharger does distance the Yaris GRMN from its rally car inspiration, but I'm willing to bet I would forgive it after experiencing the likely hyper-responsive engine. Packed in a tidy package, it should be eminently tossable, too. Please bring this here, Toyota!
toyota yaris Information
Eddie Sabatini - Volkswagen Scirocco R
I’m going to pick the Scirocco, for sentimental reasons. My mom drove one back in the 1980s. I'd love to see what they're like now. Are they still brown and dusty?
Of course they aren’t. If I could get one shipped to Detroit I’d want the R Wolfsburg Edition in Rising Blue Metallic. Beautiful. The 252 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque don't hurt either.