It's almost worth learning the French or Italian language and moving to Europe. Good grief, some of these cars could even make British food a tempting proposition. Yes, what follows is a peek at forbidden fruit, a look at a few tasty morsels that Old World denizens can enjoy every day, but Americans can only dream about. Oh the irony, where a country that based its constitution on all men being equal finds that some are more equal than others.
Ford Focus RS
This is perhaps the most infuriating injustice of all. It's not as if the Blue Oval doesn't sell the Focus stateside. Just not the good models. Ford of Europe has a habit of creating exceptionally fine, award-winning cars only to have them ignored completely by the suits at Dearborn, who would rather channel their energies into flogging pickup trucks. The new Focus RS would be more welcomed over here than universal affordable healthcare. This compact front-driver has a turbocharged 2.5-liter four producing 300 hp and a meaty 324 lb-ft of torque, plus a rally-bred suspension, a Quaife helical limited slip differential, and a slick six-speed gearbox. Add it all up and the result is a fabulous driver's superhatch.
Citroën Nemo Multispace
We've found Nemo. This Citroën certainly looks weird enough to have come from the watery depths. And if some Americans bought the Pontiac Aztek, who knows how this might be received? With a 75-hp 1.8-liter diesel engine, this thing can average 52 mpg, yet still provide soccer moms with the space, practicality and elevated driving position of their beloved SUVs. Citroëns are also known for being easily affordable. Of course, the quality gets a tad patchy as a result, but that's the inevitable downside. Still the Nemo Multispace has 20,000-mile service intervals, four airbags and ABS... the kind of things a young family would appreciate whatever their nationality.
Every so often, Peugeot will make a humdinger of a car. It's all the other so-so models and so-so build quality that saw this marque retreat from the USA. So the joys of the 205 GTI became the stuff of legend to most American enthusiasts. And the handsome Pininfarina-designed 407 Coupe might as well have been a unicorn. Now there's the RCZ, a compact two-plus-two coupe, set to compete with the Audi TT, but with a dose of Peugeot's famed handling prowess. The top-of-the-range model gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine good for 200 hp. And naturally for a Euro, a torquey (251 lb-ft) diesel version will be available when the RCZ goes on sale in spring 2010.
OK, so it's not completely impossible to get a Noble this side of the Atlantic, but it's certainly not as simple as walking into a local showroom, writing a check and driving off. And when will the new Noble M600 be available to American drivers, if ever? This mid-engined, carbon fiber-bodied supercar is rumored to be capable of 200 mph, thanks to a 4.4-liter, 650-hp (with 604 lb-ft of torque), twin-turbo V8 (the same basic engine as the Volvo XC90's). All in a package that weighs around 2,810 pounds. Think of it as a Ferrari F40 or McLaren F1 for the early 21st century. Sales are due to start in 2010 to anyone who can stump up the equivalent of $330,000.
Caterham R500 Superlight
Its chassis design is over 50 years old. This back-to-basics two-seater costs about $60,000, and sports a relatively modest 263 bhp/177 lb-ft of torque. Yet put it on a track and it can keep up with super-expensive exotica like the Pagani Zonda, Ferrari Enzo, Bugatti Veyron, and Porsche 911 GT2, all without the help of traction control or any other gee-whizz driver aids. Standstill to 60 mph takes just 2.88 seconds. Sweet mother of Yogi Bear, why isn't this thing embarrassing Corvettes and Vipers over here? Proof that the British car industry can occasionally get something right, Caterham is currently looking at expanding its workforce because orders have increased. Yes, increased
Renaultsport Clio 200/Clio 200 Cup
There may be a preponderance of hot hatches in this piece, but they're something the Euros have a particular handle on. The French especially seem to have achieved that fine balance of suppleness and dexterity with their pocket rockets. So when a new Clio from the Renaultsport division breaks cover, even British car snobs forget Agincourt and take notice. Mid-2009 saw two such models: the Clio 200 and the Clio 200 Cup. The names give a not-so-subtle clue as to how much horsepower they're packing in their 2.0-liter 16-valve engines. They also get body kits and lowered, tweaked suspensions. The Cup version rides even lower and harder, offers a better power-to-weight ratio than its sibling, and sports a higher-ratio steering rack. The normal 200 offers a higher level of standard equipment, but they're both reasonably priced while still being fantastic fun.
Alfa Romeo MiTo
Even though it looks as if Alfa Romeo might be returning to the home of the brave, thanks to parent company Fiat buying Chrysler, someone high up in Turin still has the old-fashioned mindset that Americans don't like hatches and only want sedans. That's why the Guilia (successor to the 159 four-door) is slated to be Alfa's mainstream debut model. Which means that the seriously pretty MiTo won't be providing any competition for the MINI. And the idea of missing out on an upcoming 230-hp GTA version makes us want to slap someone.
Audi Q7 V12 TDI
Regular readers will know that we love the gasoline-powered Q7, apart from the cost of being gasoline-powered. If ever an SUV was crying out for a decent diesel engine, it was this one. And those needs have been met with a perfectly adequate V6 TDI churning out 406 lb-ft of torque. But Over There lurks a beast of an oil-burning powerplant, the 6.0-liter V12 TDI. It develops an extremely useful 500 hp, but its crankshaft-twisting abilities redefine the concept of torque: 737 lb-ft. It creates the kind of surge that only world-champion surfers have lived to describe up until now. The Audi Q7 V12 TDI is, quite simply, the most powerful diesel-engined SUV in the world. No doubt it's not as thrifty as its V6 cousin, but to feel such heroic muscle and not need a fuel tanker to follow close behind must be one of the great European experiences.
The Polo is smaller than the current Golf/Rabbit, but consider this: it's about the same size as the first Rabbit to appear in the U.S. And with the trend to downsize making itself felt at least in cities on either coast, the Polo wouldn't be such a bad idea. Especially if it was kitted out like this Wörthersee '09 concept. Even if the 85-hp 1.4-liter engine is hardly a fire-breather, a lowered suspension, cool wheels and rorty exhaust note still introduce an element of hot hatch fun. VW calls this car's white leather upholstery Berry White. One change of vowel and that could have been the coolest name ever for car trim.
Lotus 2-Eleven GT4 Supersport
Have we kvetched about not having the Lotus 2-Eleven before? Well here's another reason: the GT4 Supersport version. It's a track-only car, developed to compete in the European SRO GT4 Supersports category. Power and torque is up from the normal model's supercharged 255 hp and 178 lb-ft to 270 and 182. In a car weighing almost nothing but still beautifully balanced, this is good. Factor in a sequential gearbox with an automatic change-down blip feature, adjustable Öhlins dampers, semi-slick Yokohama tires, aerodynamic body kit, carbon fiber race seats, Schroth six-point race harness with HANS, and the only reaction can be: elitist bastards.