Selecting one piece of forbidden fruit
Steve Ewing and Brandon Turkus managed successfully to not only track down the not-for-US-consumption car that had fevered their dreams, but to drive it. Inspired by raw jealousy, the rest of the Autoblog team began to compile their own lists of forbidden fruit that they’d like to sample. Eventually we boiled all the dreaming down to one serious question: “If you could import just one car from a foreign market, which would it be?”
Inadvertently, our answers seemed to follow a formula. We like hatchbacks, often times very powerful hatchbacks, many of which hail from the Volkswagen Group. There are just enough non-European cars to add a global flair, however.
Scroll through our choices of forbidden fruit, and then get in on the action. Tell us in Comments: Which foreign-market vehicle would you import if you could, and why?
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.
Brandon Turkus – Renault Mégane Renaultsport 275
After driving the Cactus, I love the basic concept of French motoring. But, 82 horsepower just isn’t enough.
That’s why I’d love to see a seriously hot French hatch, and they don’t get much hotter than the Mégane Renaultsport 275. It’s extremely handsome, and will lap the Nürburgring in under eight minutes. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder, and can be optioned with adjustable Öhlins dampers and super-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires. Basically, it’s the cool, quick, two-wheel-drive, francophone alternative to the Subaru WRX STIs and VW Golf Rs of the world. Get it in yellow.
Steven J. Ewing – Volkswagen Up!
In theory, I love the idea of small city cars. But the ones offered here in the US just don’t cut it. I hate the Smart Fortwo. The Scion iQ is dumpy. The slightly larger Fiat 500 has lots of cute charm, but it’s still sort of a dud (in non-Abarth spec, anyway). It’s a shame, then, that the best city car I’ve driven is one that isn’t sold here. I’m talking about the Volkswagen Up!
I’ve got proof to back up my opinion about the Up! being a good fit in our market. A couple years ago, Volkswagen imported one, and I spent a week driving it in Detroit. Its three-cylinder engine had plenty of power – almost felt like a diesel, with low-end grunt. It was really good to drive, with solid ride and handling. The cabin was spacious enough for four passengers without killing the hatchback’s acceleration, and offered tons of functionality for cargo when I was alone. Oh, and I got over 50 miles per gallon.
It’ll never come here, of course. But should Volkswagen ever decide to import an Up! for testing ever again, I’d gladly drive it before anything else that size that’s currently sold here.
Noah Joseph – Seat Leon ST Cupra
The tastiest types of forbidden fruit that Old World automakers tend to keep to themselves are power wagons (like the Mercedes CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake or Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake) and hot hatches (like the Renaultsport Mégane or the new Honda Civic Type R). The Seat Leon ST Cupra takes a little from Column A and a whole lot from Column B.
This compact sport wagon packs a 2.0-liter turbo four up front and 52 useful cubic feet of cargo space in the back for a “best of both worlds” proposition if we've ever seen one. With 276 horsepower on tap, it'll hit 62 in six seconds flat, and lap the Nürburgring in under eight minutes – faster than any other wagon has ever been clocked around the Green Hell.
Throw in a bit of Latin flavor and what you're left with is a Volkswagen GTI with more interesting styling, more power, and more space – or put another way, a Golf R Variant sans the all-wheel drive system.
Eddie Sabatini – Volkswagen Scirocco
Continuing the trend towards VW Group products, 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?
Chris Bruce – Honda S660
Japan’s kei cars are a wonderful example that sometimes limits can be a source of great creativity. Few models express that better right now than the Honda S660. Governed by regulations to just 63 horsepower and 77 pound-feet of torque, the mid-mounted turbocharged 660cc three-cylinder in this tiny droptop only needs to motivate around 1,830 pounds. I’ve always had a thing for small displacement, lightweight roadsters, and this elfin example certainly ticks that box.
I love the way that this tiny Honda looks, too. While S660 name harkens back to the S600 and S800 roadsters of the '60s, the design is far more modern. Every time I see the convertible’s happy face and the angular nacelles at the back, I can’t help but smile.
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-specc'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?
Seyth Miersma – Subaru Levorg
It may have a silly name and the wrong transmission, but don't mistake that the Subaru Levorg is still the WRX wagon that I want but can't have. Something in the extension of the car kind of balances the chunky styling for me. And, there's every bit of the WRX power and handling under that long roof that I've come to love.
Ultimately STI will build some kind of S version of the Levorg, with a real manual transmission and even greater performance. Until then, stuff this in a shipping container and send to via Canada to my driveway, please.