Ah, Alfa Romeo! Sigh Why did those fabled Italians abandon America? The sexy Brera coupe is the kind of car that could rekindle a passionate American-Italian automotive affair. The coupe has just the kind of emotional appeal that U.S. car designers used to be so good at.
10 European cars we wish were sold here
The Octavia RS shares a platform with the Volkswagen Golf, but Skoda doesn't share VW's upscale aspirations. What it does have is just about the best build quality in the VW universe. Whether they've chosen the wagon or the five-door, Skoda owners everywhere will gladly whisper their secret -- that the rest of the world is missing out on an incredible bargain.
You might be asking: They make the Focus in America, don't they? They do, indeed. But Ford decided to withhold the latest and greatest Focus from the United States. Instead, we have to settle for a gussied-up version of the first generation. That's not a bad car, but the new one in Europe is much better. Don't be put off by the bland styling. In its European guise, powered by Ford's excellent 2.0-liter diesel, the Focus is a sophisticated small car for the masses.
Mon Dieu -- how much poorer the American car market is for the lack of French flair! The C6, due in Europe in early 2006, was conceived by Citroen designers as a "lounge on wheels," replete with all modern conveniences on the interior. Citroen's new flagship restores the glorious nonconforming exterior design that made the brand famous. The biggest Citroen ever is a refreshing alternative to big German luxury sedans.
With their hydropneumatic suspensions, Citroens are renowned for their ability to float over road imperfections with pillowy aplomb while maintaining their poise in curves. Such superb ride quality would be just the ticket for the potholed roads of our Snowbelt.
Speaking of the French, this little jewel of a five-door multipurpose vehicle has real style and practicality wrapped up in a tiny package. The Modus' big sibling, the Scenic, launched the compact minivan segment in Europe. Renault brings the same packaging expertise to the mini "multispace" segment, to excellent effect. With a diesel version, you might achieve north of 60 mpg.
Shackled to three-box orthodoxy, the North American market once again gets the short end of the stick. While the new Civic four-door sold here is a stylish sedan, the European five-door is stunning both inside and out and looks nothing like its U.S. counterpart. Flexibility is the key word; the rear seats fold either upward to create a block of space or downward to create a huge flat cargo bay.
GM minivans have been laggards in the United States, but the compact minivan in Europe is a real pacesetter. With brilliant package engineering, Opel pioneered the seven-seat configuration in the European compact minivan segment, forcing competitors to follow. The excellent second-generation version is just out and shares the GM Delta platform with the equally good Astra.
With our love of big cars, we Americans have almost forgotten the meaning of cute. The Panda has cuteness in spades. The tiny five-door has won the praise of some of Europe's snobbiest car reviewers. It's cheap, it's fun, and it's very capable.
The Romania-built Dacia Logan is Renault's "5,000 euro car," even though the street price is actually more expensive. The Logan was conceived to bring modern, inexpensive (5,000 euros is about $5,900) transportation to eastern Europe. We think an inexpensive new car would be a nice idea for North America, too. The Logan, which is similar in size to the Ford Focus, was launched in 2004. It has proved so popular that Renault is trying to find capacity to build more.
The BMW 130i is what Europeans call a hot hatchback -- everyday performance fun in a small package. This pint-sized rocket sled reminds us of what BMWs were like before the company became a full-service luxury brand. Powered by the 3.0-liter, 255-hp inline six-cylinder that's also in the 330i, this autobahn stormer rockets to 62 mph in 6.2 seconds and reaches a top speed of 155 mph. In Europe this car is pitched as a rear-wheel-drive alternative to cars such as the Volkswagen GTI. The Chris Bangle-ized styling might strike some as strange -- but what else is new? Yes, we are likely to see the BMW 1 series in the United States in 2007, but we probably won't get the hatch. We'll probably have to settle for a coupe and/or convertible.