Ten Forbidden Fruits Of The Automotive World

#BMW, #M.

Automakers may be working to simplify their global product portfolios, but that doesn’t mean each and every vehicle sold on one continent will necessarily wind up on another. There are still a number of “forbidden fruits” in the automotive world; cars we find desirable or think could fill a niche here in the U.S, but for a host of reasons, aren’t available for public consumption. Here’s a quick rundown of ten of our favorites.

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-BMW M135i

Enthusiasts the world over fell in love with the 1 Series M Coupe in late 2011, as it was a small, lithe, agile, and incredibly powerful car that challenged drivers and reminded us just what BMW’s M division was capable of. The romance was short-lived, however, as that car’s production run lasted but a single year, as BMW was in the process of shifting its lineup to the next-generation 1 Series.

We’re still waiting for a true successor to the 1 M, but other countries at least have a stand-in model we’re not offered. BMW launched the M135i in Europe earlier this year, adding it to its existing portfolio of “M Performance Automobiles” – cars that have a bit of the M touch without being full-blown M cars. Available in three- and five-door forms, the M135i is only sold as a hatchback. That alone dashes the chances of this very car being sold stateside, as BMW refrains from selling its 1 Series hatchback in our market.

Power comes from a turbocharged, 3.0-liter I-6, which offers up an astounding 320 hp. For reference, the previous 1 M Coupe packed 340 hp, but today’s M135i can still sprint from 0-62 mph in 4.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 155 mph. We’ve yet to try one out, but most reviews from abroad praise the car’s handling, power and – remarkably enough – pleasant ride quality. If only we could walk into a showroom today and bring one home.

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-Buick Park Avenue

Wait a minute, you say. What Buick sells in China as a Park Avenue is little more than a really nicely-equipped Holden Statesman, and that vehicle is stripped down and sold to police fleets here as the Chevrolet Caprice PPV. Further, Chevy’s already committed to bringing a sporty version of the Commodore here as the 2014 SS. Don’t we already get this car?

Macroscopically speaking, yes, we do – but not entirely. One iteration is a horsepower-laden muscle machine designed for speed junkies; the other is a utilitarian workhorse designed to help law-enforcement officers catch those aforementioned muscle machines. Neither car is aimed at a luxury buyer – but the current Park Avenue is.

Would this car step on Cadillac’s toes? Perhaps slightly, but there’s still potentially room for a luxury sedan that’s larger and somewhat more prestigious than the LaCrosse. Besides, both Hyundai and Kia are now wading into the affordable premium rear-drive segment; why not let Buick play there while Cadillac pursues a more elite set of competitors?

Admittedly, the Park Avenue would need some revision before fitting in here – the lone powertrain choice of a 3.6-liter V-6 could be viewed as a bit underwhelming for the vehicle’s segment, while a new front and rear clip would help it stand apart from its Holden-based Chevy siblings. That said, GM wouldn’t have to start from scratch – the underlying vehicle is about as good a foundation as Buick could wish for.

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-Ford Ranger

Look, we’ve all heard Ford’s rationale as to why it’s not bringing the all-new, sophisticated Ranger to the United States. American truck buyers want size and capability, but they also want good fuel economy – and, as Dennis Leary yells in Ford’s ad campaign, the F-150 delivers both. Over 200,000 EcoBoost F-150 owners can’t be wrong, right?

Perhaps, but that rationale ignores a segment of customers that want a capable, fuel-efficient pickup truck – but not necessarily the cost nor enlarged footprint of an EcoBoosted F-150. They want a practical, capable truck that’s not only affordable, but easy to maneuver, and capable of fitting in small garages. The latest global Ranger pickup, sold everywhere except for North America, is but 73 inches wide and 211 inches long in crew-cab guise, but still capable of towing up to 7300 pounds, and offers a payload of up to 2976 pounds. For those who crave off-road specs, the Ranger also offers 9.1 inches of grown clearance when properly equipped, and can ford 31.5 inches of water.

That the latest global Ranger manages to perform so well is certainly impressive, but that it also is incredibly handsome, contemporary, and comfortable d should be icing on the cake. Instead, it’s torment for those in our market who would love to buy such a vehicle from Ford, but can’t.

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-Honda N-ONE

By and large, we fell in love with Honda designs that were simultaneously charming, clever, and honest –it’s not that surprising we’re rather smitten with the little N-ONE. The latest addition to Honda’s N-range of kei-class micro cars not only looks like an adorable reinterpretation of the vintage N360, but it’s also surprisingly usable. Like the larger Fit hatchback, the N-ONE boasts the same “magic” rear seat, which both folds completely flat or flips up to reveal a flat load floor.

As interesting as the N-ONE may be, its chances of arriving stateside are slim to none. Understandably, it’s not designed to North American tastes, and its little 66o-cc I-3 is designed to meet Japanese tax laws, not merge onto crowded American freeways. Still, as other automakers continue to forge into the sub-subcompact segment in our market (examples include the Scion iQ, Chevy Spark, Fiat 500, etc). We can’t help but wish Honda’s unique twist on the small-car formula somehow made its way stateside.

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-Land Rover Defender

Supplementary inflation restraints – commonly known as airbags – help save passengers’ lives during automotive collisions, but they essentially killed the Land Rover Defender. Once the United States mandated dual airbags for vehicles of its class, Land Rover looked at the cost of engineering such a system, looked at the vehicle’s annual sales, and made the proper fiscal decision: retreat from the North American market altogether.

Elsewhere in the world, the Defender continues to live on, and essentially serves as the last link to the original look, feel, and spirit of the Land Rover marque. Evolved from the classic Land Rover Series I/II/III models, Defenders are sturdy, capable, off-road vehicles – and unlike other Land Rover and Range Rovers presently on the market, they are not imbued with the sophistication and panache of a contemporary luxury car. Apart from a few oddball special-edition models, Defenders boast Spartan cabins – there’s plenty of exposed painted sheetmetal to be found, and the dashboard, although styled like those on higher-end Land Rovers, remains rather basic. But what Defenders lack in style they make up for in off-road prowess, thanks to a two-speed transfer case, six-speed manual transmission, and extremely short front and rear overhangs.

Time has finally caught up to the Defender; looming European safety standards mean Land Rover has to completely re-engineer the truck from the ground up by 2015. The company is doing so, and says that model will be designed for North American consumption, but will it retain the original Defender’s spirit? Only time will tell.

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-Lotus Elise/ Exige

While Lotus was busy showing off its ambitious (and now mostly canceled) plans for its future expansion, it watched its North American portfolio slip from three model lines to one. The NHTSA exemption for the Elise and Exige’s “non-smart” air bags expired, Toyota stopped building the engine used in federalized models, and neither car adhered to new stability control standards. Lotus couldn’t afford to engineer its way out of that corner, so both cars are no longer legal for importation into North America. Suddenly, it’s 1996 all over again, and the Elise is once more forbidden fruit.

Pity. As enjoyable as the Evora – the last remaining Lotus in the automaker’s North American portfolio -- may be, it pales in comparison to its smaller siblings.  Although its basic chassis design is nearly 18 years old , the Elise (and its Exige coupe sibling) remains one of the most direct, engaging, and thrilling sports cars available on the market.

We drove one of the last 2011 Elise models last year, and still found plenty to fall in love with.

“Turn the steering wheel, and the mid-engine Elise carves its way to the place in your mind reserved for the important memories in life like weddings and births and that time you picked up a girl who was totally out of your league. The unassisted steering leads to revelations about how a car should communicate with the driver. “

Sadly, you’ll have to pick up a used Lotus Elise or Exige to experience that on public roads. However, if you’re open to restricting use to closed circuits, Lotus will gladly sell you a race-spec Exige suitable “for off-road use only.”

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-Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake

Yes, Mercedes-Benz sells the CLS63 AMG in this United States, but it doesn’t sell the wild CLS 63 AMG here in shooting brake guise – and for wagon freaks like us, that makes all the difference.

The second-generation CLS is an incredibly attractive car in sedan form, but when adapting it into a wagon, designers somehow made its curvaceous form even more captivating. The daylight openings run from A- to D-pillars in a slender, uninterrupted arch, while the dramatic, up-swept rear fender lines from the sedan remain intact. The Shooting Brake looks leaner and meaner than its four-door sibling, but fortunately, it’s just as mean.  The twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8 pumps out 525 hp in normal guise, although the performance pack ups that figure to 550 hp. Acceleration from 0-60 mph takes only 4.2-4.3 seconds, depending on if your car has the aforementioned performance package.

Sadly, this fruit is forbidden in North America, as Mercedes-Benz has no plans on bringing the CLS Shooting Brake – even in non-AMG guise -- to our shores. Fortunately, there’s a consolation prize for high-speed wagon lovers: Benz continues to sell the mechanically-similar E63 AMG Wagon in the U.S., despite the fact annual volumes barely eclipse the 100-car mark.

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-Peugeot RCZ

Unless you were genetically predisposed to love all things Peugeot, there were few cars in the automaker’s present-day lineup that truly were lust worthy. The RCZ, which debuted in 2007 as a concept and entered production in 2010 changed all that.

Based off the C-segment 307, the RCZ transformed what was essentially a ho-hum hatchback into a stunning two-seat coupe. Its front fascia was essentially standard 307 fare, but the roofline, rear fenders, and entire profile was longer, lower, and far more fetching than its hatchback sibling. Cosmetically, the car hasn’t changed all that much since its introduction, but a refresh for the 2013 model year gifts it with Peugeot’s new corporate grille, which does away with notorious clown-face.

As good as the RCZ looks in photos, its double-bubble roof and curvaceous rear fenders are all the more attractive when viewed in person. We should know – someone from PSA Peugeot Citroen’s last remaining U.S. office tooled around Michigan in a white RCZ last year. Each encounter not only reminded us of the RCZ’s beauty, but also how painful it is that Peugeot’s sensuous coupe isn’t sold here.

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-Volvo V40

Remember how the ugly ducking grew up into a stunningly beautiful swan? The same can be said for Volvo’s small V40. The rather plain S40 and V50 weren’t ugly, but they weren’t exactly the sorts of cars that exuded excitement through their sheetmetal.

That can’t be said for the new V40, a five-door hatchback that replaces both cars outright. From the B-pillars forward, the V40 looks a lot like a scaled down version of the S60 sedan, but the funky concave rear clip blends S60 cues with those from the C30 hatch and XC60 crossover. The look may not be for everyone, but it certainly is more distinctive than any previous S40/V40/V50 variant. The interior design is typical Volvo with clear control arrangements and a “floating center stack,” but also boasts a nifty LCD gauge cluster that few other Volvo models offer at this point in time. Opt for the T5 model’s 254-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter I-5, and this stylish hatch can blast from 0-62 mph in 6.7 seconds.

Sadly, much like the new S60 wagon, the V40 is not destined for these parts. Given the slow sales of the previous S40/V50 range, the decision is hardly shocking. Volvo’s sales data shows crossovers – not hatchbacks or wagons – sell quite well in North America, and that’s precisely what will be imported here.

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-Wiesmann MF4/5

Want a modern, retro-shaped roadster or coupe with BMW power, but aren’t ready to commit to the Morgan Aero range? Enter Wiesmann, a small German company located just outside of Munster. For nearly twenty years, the company has built a range of aluminum-bodied sports cars that blend modern power and materials with a touch of old-fashioned design.

The MF’s basic shape hasn’t changed much since its introduction in 1993, but it’s a timeless design, looking much like a mash-up of a BMW Z8 and a Jaguar XK120. The upright, semi-triangular grille has a very Jag vibe, as do the rounded rear haunches. The car’s structure is entirely hand-built, allowing its leather-laden interior to be customized to the buyer’s wishes. Wiesmann’s six-cylinder MF3 model is being phased out, leaving the eight-cylinder MF4 and MF5 models—both available as coupes or cabriolets – as its only products. Both cars utilize a 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8, but in far different states of tune – MF4s are rated at 400-420 hp, while the MF5 cribs a 555-hp version from the X5 M.

There’s just one problem: you can’t buy one here. Once upon a time, the company wanted to export its wares to our shores, but the cost of federalizing the cars, establishing a dealer and service network, and so on far outweighed the returns the company would see from its limited volume.

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Europeans especially must have a really low opinion of us Americans.  It might be well founded based upon our past buying habits.  BMW M135i:  Yes!Buick Park Avenue: Maybe-but it would need some cosmetic work to make it as pretty as the LaCross.Ford Ranger: Yes! I've said it before--the car companies killed the compact pickup market more than the market.  The marked was just responding to a lack of updates product.Honda N-one: Okay, sure.Defender: Land Rover could use an off-road halo vehicle like the defender.  The need to pare it down and make it more affordable so people wont be afraid to chuck it around.  I'm just sayin'  Are you going to hit the Rubicon in a $100,000 Range Rover?  Use your heritage, Land Rover!Lotus: Cool car, but irrelevant.MB Shooting Brake:  Also a cool car, but irrelevant not only for its tiny niche, but because of it's price.Peugeot:  I've always likes Peugeots.  Of course this car (and brand) would be impossible to resurrect in the US.Volvo V40:  Yes!  Very cool.  Volvo thinks we all want crossovers.  Way to go, America.Wiesmann: Never heard of it, but I like it!There are two types of forbidden fruit here, obviously.  Market realities and marketing mistakes. 

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