The United States offers a near-unparalleled space to be an automotive enthusiast. With some of the lowest gas prices on the planet, an enormous amount of aftermarket companies, and an abundance of available models to choose from, it’s genuinely tough to beat what we offer. Unfortunately, our positives are met with some negatives—mainly in the form of government regulations and general consumer purchasing habits.
As a recent content scouting mission to Germany pointed out, that combination has kept more than a handful of interesting, special, and practical vehicles from our shores, even within the last decade. To take a peek at just a few of those we’ve missed out on, we polled FCP Euro employees to come up with their favorite models.
Like every other car that’s been around for a few decades, the BMW 3-series keeps getting bigger. The light and agile sedan has grown and bloated into a luxury-focused status symbol for those trying to appear well off. Many long-time US enthusiasts can be heard claiming that the company has lost its way, and to an extent, they’re correct. But across the pond, BMW recently offered what can be described as a throwback to those days when the Bavarian flag roundel meant sharp dynamics in a sensible package.
The F20/F21 M140i is that very car, a three or five-door hatchback stuffed with BMW’s B58 3.0L turbocharged straight-six. BMW’s smallest model line had already become a favorite among many, but the extra performance provided by the top-spec hot hatch was enough to earn it an early cult status among fans. It’s just a bit smaller than the E46 Touring we received here in the US and about the same weight, but the M-enhanced engine punches out 335hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, equalling a 4.5s sprint to 62mph.
Unlike most modern BMWs, there aren’t any over-the-top exterior features for enthusiasts to groan at either. It has relatively classic proportions with an airy greenhouse and plenty of creases and bodylines to enhance its performance pedigree. The interior features a modern but relatively simplistic layout complete with actual buttons and only one moderately sized screen atop the dashboard. Rear seat occupants have room to stretch out, though it’s no 7-series. There’s a lot of good I can say about the M140i, and even its pre-facelift sibling, the F20 M135i, but our Marketing Operations Lead, JR Huntington, said it best:
“In my opinion, the M140i is the ultimate modern hot hatch, especially when optioned out with M Performance accessories. Add the well-loved and all-powerful B58 engine, the option of a manual transmission, an optional limited-slip differential, great chassis, and tons of usable space - you have one of the best daily drivers in the world. Plus, it’s one of the few newer BMW models you can buy that still looks quite good all-around.”
The F20 M140i ceased production in 2019 and has since been replaced by a new M135i. However, that model features a turbo four-cylinder mounted transversely and is hooked up to a mostly FWD drivetrain. As such, the M140i is the last of a generation of small, powerful RWD hatches offered by BMW and is certain to carry on as one of the coolest models the Bavarians offered.
Volkswagen Scirocco R
The return of the Scirocco after a two-decade absence was a surprise and delight to many, but not us Americans. Although we bought the first two generations in solid numbers, the freshly revived third generation never made it across the pond. Instead, we were left to enjoy it through Top Gear clips and our favorite racing video games. While we were doing all of that, VW was busy taking their new model and pumping in the performance it had already given to the Golf, creating the Scirocco R.
The Scirocco R was equivalent to the Golf GTI. It didn’t have the AWD or 300ish hp of the Golf R, instead relying on a simpler FWD platform to deliver its fun. Under the hood is the familiar turbocharged 2.0L EA113 engine pushing out either 261hp or 276hp, depending on its pre or post-facelift designation. Mated to a six-speed manual or DSG, the Scirocco R was light on its feet, composed through the twisties, and returned 30+mpg with ease. By its end of production in 2017, its PQ35 chassis underpinnings shared with the Mk5 GTI were fairly outdated, but that didn’t stop reviewers and oners from showering it with praise for its dynamics, even compared to more modern machinery. But while we in North America can experience the power, sounds, and chassis feel of the third-generation Scirocco R, we don’t get to see the sleek, aggressive, and wonderfully proportioned body.
The Scirocco’s most unique feature is its looks. The three-door hatch with its low, sloping roofline, short rear overhang, relatively wide arches, and aggressive front end are the stuff of dreams for many North American VW enthusiasts. For 2014, a small update brought about new bumpers and lights to align more with surrounding VW offerings, but the overall formula remained the same. From start to finish, the Scirocco was one of the best-looking VW products available, and it’ll forever be a shame North America never received one in any form.
BMW G81 M3 Touring
Fast wagons are a mode of transportation nearly every enthusiast can get behind. They were the go-to for American families throughout the eighties until the rise of SUVs wiped them off the map. The wagon soldiered on in Europe and continues to sell well against the crossover SUV. Since then, US enthusiasts have watched as the wagons we’d love to own are sold anywhere but here. In another blow to American enthusiasts, BMW has recently released the G81 M3, the first time the M3 has ever featured a long-roof variant, and it won’twon’t be making the trip across the Atlantic.
The idea for an M3 Touring isn’t original, as it it’s been the dream of many M fans worldwide. After nearly forty years of the M3 available in every other sedan and coupe body style, the wagon finally joins the fray. Underneath the new exterior sits a familiar package of drivetrain components; the S58 twin-turbocharged 3.0L straight six in Competition guise makes 503 horsepower and puts the power down through a ZF 8HP eight-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels. It’s a monster of a wagon, ensuring everyone inside is pinned to their seat backs as you bury the throttle getting onto the motorway. The chassis is much of the same, too, with adaptive dampers at all corners and a brake pedal featuring multiple adjustments for pedal feel.
On the outside, the G81 still wears the love-it-or-hate-it grille, but everything else is pure M. Aggressive haunches, multiple vents, and striking body lines are anything but subtle, but function over form is the name of the game, and the M3 gets it right. Pop open the tailgate, and there’s more room than any M3 has ever offered, but that doesn’t mess with the rest of the M treatment. High-bolstered carbon buckets draped in leather and Alcantara keep the front occupants in place, while standard wagon rears covered in matching upholstery do the same for the kids in the back. Perhaps the only negative to the new interior is the large curved display that functions as the infotainment center and instrument cluster. Today’s trend of enormous screens and few buttons doesn’tdoesn’t seem to win over many fans, but manufacturers are all for it. Reviews offer largely the same testament: quick and relatively intuitive but not ideal.
While we’re offered the M3/M4 in every other flavor, the wagon remains a forbidden fruit in America. Unfortunately, that’s become all too common for us, and with no end in sight, we’ll once again be stuck experiencing them virtually.
What’s more American than a pickup truck? Our small pickup market is having somewhat of a revival, with the Ford Ranger and Chevy Colorado finally taking shots at the Toyota Tacoma, but did you know Europe has had its own smaller pickups for over a decade? The VW Amarok was one of the first true Euros to do it, but it wasn’t until Mercedes launched their X-class around 2017 that one was designed with luxury in mind.
The X-class came from a partnership with the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance. Under the skin, the Merc pickup shares its chassis with the Nissan Navara, better known as the Frontier in the US. Unlike the similar-looking Honda Ridgeline, that gives it a body-on-frame construction for true truck credentials. However, it isn’t just a rebranded Nissan. Mercedes engineers used it as a starting point but went through all of its systems to ensure it drove and felt like a product of Stuttgart.
While similar in design, the suspension features a 70mm wider track for improved stability. Springs and dampers are Mercedes spec, and the rear uses a progressive-rate spring unique to the X-class. Under the hood is one of three diesel engines: two versions of a Nissan 2.3L turbo-diesel or a Mercedes 3.0L V6 turbo-diesel. The latter is the OM642, an incredibly popular workhorse that’s been shoved into every Mercedes class since 2005, Sprinter vans, and even Euro-spec Jeeps. Models equipped with them carry the X350d designation and are only available with the 722.9 seven-speed autos. The smaller 2.3L engines were partially developed by Mercedes, and while less powerful, they could be optioned with a six-speed manual gearbox.
On the outside, Mercedes designers did what they could with the Nissan body. The nose is another version of something you’d find on one of the GLE/GLC models, and the wheel arches are X-class-specific, but its Nissan roots are still evident if you look hard enough.
Inside, it couldn’t be farther from its Japanese brethren. The dashboard looks right out of any other Merc product, featuring a large screen in the middle flanked by the highly-adjustable turbine-like air vents. Options included lots of leather, an 8-speaker sound system, and all the possible safety features.
Of all the models not to make it to America, this one seems like the biggest miss. Trucks are arguably the most popular vehicles sold here, and so many of today’s buyers are focused on luxury appearance—the X-class ticks both boxes. Perhaps offering it to us would’ve given it a longer life, as it was available for just four years. Although too late to grab a new one, the X-class will likely make for an interesting and popular attraction if you can bring one over.
Volkswagen Polo GTI
For a while, nearly a decade ago, there was a small hot-hatch revolution in the US. The Golf GTI and Volvo C30 Polestar LE carried the flag for Europe, the Fiesta ST and Focus ST waved the stars and stripes, and even the Japanese had the WRX hatch and MazdaSpeed 3. But that’s all gone now, and the Golf GTI is the last one standing in the US. Elsewhere, the Golf is supported by its smaller sibling, the Polo GTI—a smaller, less powerful, but similarly equipped and exciting mini hot-hatch.
Looking at the numbers, it isn’t hard to imagine the newest Polo GTI as a perfect daily for someone looking for fun. Weighing in at roughly 2800lbs, its EA888 2.0L turbo-four produces 204hp and 236 lb-ft of torque and puts that down to the front wheels through a seven-speed DSG. Adaptive suspension, called the Sport Select, is an option and includes stiffer bushings and larger anti-roll bars. Luckily, the advanced XDS electronic differential control comes as standard to ensure understeer is kept to a minimum. The interior and exterior design is very similar to the Mk8 GTI. Bumpers and lights were obviously styled together, and the interior HVAC and infotainment controls are largely shared. Even the classic Tartan fabric is present.
Although it’s a lot of the same as the Golf, the Fiesta ST sold very well next to the larger Focus, and the Polo has remained a hit in Europe since its inception over two decades ago. Similarly to the X-class, the Polo GTi could fit into a shrinking market that US buyers are hungry for. Performance buyers aren’t going away, and if Hyundai’s emerging N models are any evidence, there is still a market for relatively small turbocharged hatches. The only hurdle VW would have to cross theoretically is separating it enough from the Golf. But if they’ve been able to do that in Europe, why shouldn’t that work here?
These five may have been our most popular suggestions, but there are plenty of other great Euros we don’t get. Us diesel and wagon lovers are seemingly destined to suffer unless US regulations change, but we’ll make do. Maybe one of us will even start a federalization process for the many substantially similar models offered exclusively in Europe. Who knows? All we can say is that if any of them ever make it over here, we’ll be ready to support the owner with all of the Genuine, OE, and OEM parts they’ll need. Thanks for reading, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great content!
Car and motorsports-obsessed writer/editor for FCP Euro's DIY Blog. Constantly dreaming of competing behind the wheel or searching for another project. Owner of a turbo Subaru Forester and a ratty Porsche 914, neither of which are running.