The grass is always greener on the other side. A boring cliché to be sure, but for American VW fans, it is a cliché lodged in reality. All too often, we miss out on the unique selection of Volkswagen models that our global counterparts get to enjoy. It’s certainly better for us than it once was, though. For the last 15-plus years, Volkswagen of America has, for the most part, finally started offering an American equivalent to some of the cooler, more fully optioned, enthusiast-leaning models from Europe. We have a combination of global standardized platforms, emissions, and safety to thank on the one hand, but it also has to do with having more plugged-in executives at Volkswagen HQ. That said, there is still plenty we can only admire from afar.
Volkswagen Mk2 Golf Rallye
Ask any hardcore Volkswagen fan about the one that got away, and nine times out of ten they will undoubtedly name the Golf Rallye over all others. A box-fender, supercharged, homologation special, the Rallye checks so many boxes it’s hard to know where to start. Think of it as an E30 M3 for the hatchback crowd.
With the demise of the famous Group B rally rules in 1986, Volkswagen decided to throw their hat into the ring by entering the Group A class of the World Rally Championship. Group A is the ruleset that birthed so many other now-classic models. The E30 M3 is probably the most famous of these cars, but there are many more, all thanks to a rule which stated at least 5,000 examples had to be on offer for the public in order to be eligible for competition. This meant that if a manufacturer wanted to be competitive, they had to sell something which actually had some potential and wasn’t just a re-badged version of the same old street car.
Enter the Golf Rallye. For competition, VW developed a supercharged 1.8L engine and linked it with their Syncro all-wheel-drive system. With the Synchro set up, the Rallye also has an independent rear suspension, which is something that absolutely transforms the way that it handles and rides compared to the normal twist-beam Mk2 models like the GTI.
By modern standards the Golf Rallye isn’t all that quick, the G60 supercharged engine is notorious for being expensive and temperamental, and thanks to rules changes regarding superchargers, it was never all that successful in competition. Today, none of that really matters. The car looks and drives like no other VW from the era, especially with a few modifications.
Photo Credit: Josh Brown
There was once a plan to sell the Rallye in the USA, and VW went so far as to have much of the paperwork and testing completed in order to do so, as well as producing two examples with USA lighting and emissions. The untimely death of Volkswagen of America President James Fuller saw an end to that effort and an end to the Rallye in America. You will see some examples which have been imported from Europe at enthusiast shows, but the Golf Rallye remains largely a forbidden fruit for most of us here in the States.
Volkswagen Mk3 Scirocco
Volkswagen hasn’t sold a proper coupe in the United States since 1994. The much-loved, sometimes maligned, and always beautiful Corrado holds the distinction of being the last coupe on offer to U.S. customers. The Corrado was, of course, the replacement for the much more successful Scirocco. The Scirocco, sold as both a Scirocco I and Scirocco II, both of which were based on the same Mk1 Golf underpinnings, offered sleek Italian design and a pocket-friendly price. It was hugely successful in the USA during its production run from 1975 to 1988, selling over 200,000 units. When VW announced the resurrection of the Scirocco nameplate with the Mk3 Scirocco in 2006, based on the same VQ35 platform as the Mk5 GTI, you would have been forgiven for thinking VW would offer the car for sale in the U.S.A.
The 2008 Top Gear Car of the Year winner was offered with a range of power plants, including the EA113 2.0t FSI which we received here in the Mk5 GTI and GLI, as well as both manual and DSG transmissions. The compact design and handsome styling offered up a bit more character than the Mk5 Golf, and although some U.S. enthusiasts clamored for the model, VW never saw fit to offer it to customers here. The common rumor is that it would cannibalize sales from the GTI, something VW wasn’t prepared to do, but since the Scirocco was once again discontinued in 2017, we will never know.
Volkswagen Mk7 GTI Clubsport
The Volkswagen Mk7 GTI is an amazing car. It offers performance, understated good looks, utility, and reliability, all at an affordable price. It is truly the Porsche 911 for the people. Much like the Porsche 911, VW offers a number of models and options depending on what you want your GTI to be to you. Highway cruiser, city commuter, weekend warrior, or maybe all three at once, there is a GTI model for you. Here in the States we’ve been fortunate enough to see special editions such as the 2019 GTI Rabbit Edition that offers something unique to GTI fans, but this is an aesthetic package more than a performance package. In Europe, they get something so much more.
If a Porsche 911 is a sports car, and the 911 GT3 is a supercar, the GTI Clubsport is the GT3 of GTIs. The GTI Clubsport is offered in either manual or DSG versions with the Golf R IS38 turbocharger, generating 261 horsepower, with up to 286 horsepower available on overboost. It has a variety of functional aerodynamic add-ons to aid with high-speed stability and to help it stand out from the crowd. The GTI Clubsport also features some of the most glorious Recaro sport seats ever to grace a production vehicle, along with an Alcantara wrapped steering wheel.
As if that’s not enough, VW also sold a limited production Clubsport S, making over 300 horsepower from the factory. This might be a number that American GTI fans can achieve with aftermarket performance tuning, but the Clubsport S is about more than just horsepower. It’s a performance-focused model with no rear seats, reduced sound-deadening, refined sport suspension, and a louder exhaust. It also held the front-wheel-drive Nurburgring record for a time, turning in a claimed 7:49 on the Nurburgring-Nordschleife in 2016. The previous record-holder? The extremely capable Civic Type R, which oh-by-the-way, Honda sells in the USA.
Volkswagen California 6.1 Camper Van
It’s not only the performance-models that we miss out on here in the USA. The California Camper Van is one of the coolest, most versatile passenger vans on the market today. Despite the new van taking its name from the Golden State, there’s almost no way we’ll ever see it for sale here in the States. Powered by a torquey 2.0 TDI engine and available with VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive, it would seem like the perfect way to compete with similar offerings from Mercedes and Ford, while bringing some of the dedicated and passionate Vanagon and Eurovan owners back for a new purchase.
The California Camper Van is packed with technology, offering a variety of connectivity and control, one of the most interesting being a self-leveling system for when you’re parked on less than flat ground. A two-burner stove, swiveling captain’s chairs, and pop-top sleeping area make it a sophisticated weekend-getaway machine. Pricing is reasonable considering the options, starting at around $50,000 and going up from there. No matter, VW doesn’t think there’s enough of a market to sell the number in our market they would need in order to break even, so it’s a moot point. Look but don’t touch.
Volkswagen is a global company manufacturing vehicles for a global market. While there may be some validity to the California Camper Van not really hitting the mark for the USA market, you have to wonder why the Amarok has never been sold here. We LOVE trucks. If there’s one thing we can hang our hats on as Americans it’s that the pickup truck is an American way of life. All the top-selling vehicles in the States are trucks, so when Volkswagen has one to sell and has never bothered to put it on sale here—you have to wonder why?
The Rabbit Pickup was a cute, utilitarian, and useful little pickup truck, but it was not a competitor for the Ford F150 and Chevy Silverados of the world. The front-wheel drive layout and unibody construction didn't really offer what a lot of people want—or think they want—in a truck. A real truck is body-on-frame. A real truck has a large torquey engine, and a real truck is rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, but never front-wheel drive.
The Amarok is all of these things. Built by VW’s Commercial Vehicle division, the same division that manufactures the MAN truck line, the Amarok is a tough, durable, body-on-frame ‘real’ mid-size truck. Available in four-wheel drive, standard or ‘crew’ cab, and with a 3.0 TDI bi-turbo engine, you would think the Amarok is the one thing VW knows Americans would buy and consider taking a risk on selling it here. So far, though, it doesn’t look like this is going to be the case. The Amarok has been on sale since 2010, and the impending downturn in the global economy is probably not going to help with any new models being imported to the USA for some time to come.
What models do you think Volkswagen missed out on by not offering them in the United States? Are these the models you would have chosen for your top 5? Leave your favorites in the comments below.
FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55