Consider some of the goodies an American visitor to Europe can bring home: rare cognac and (certain) cheese from France, fresh cream truffles from Switzerland, a hard-to-find Irish whiskey from Dublin, a one-off Yves Saint Laurent gown from Paris.

But what about that super-sleek Peugeot or supercool SEAT you glimpsed on the Côte d’Azur?


Just like the prosciutto and tomatoes you savored in Rome, those cars, and many more like them, are forbidden fruit (as is most fruit) when it comes to importing European delights into the United States.

The reasons are complicated, and most have to do with a tangle of federal, state and local laws and regulations. Almost all newer cars available for sale in Europe not built for export to America do not comply with a long list of safety and emission standards. Some have different bumpers, different lighting and even different brakes and brake lines that do not meet U.S. specifications. And those are just a few examples of noncompliance.

Short of exporting yourself overseas to enjoy a Mercedes-Benz or a Jaguar with a stick shift or a Skoda wagon from the Czech Republic, there are exceptions: Some models older than 25 years, with their original engines, may be allowed in. Of course, buyers must pay for shipping, as in by ship.

Enthusiasts who scour the internet might find a car overseas that had been built to conform to U.S. regulations, but the choices will most likely be limited. And if you’re considering one of the European delivery programs offered by some carmakers, be aware that those vehicles are basically no different from the models those brands sell in the States; the main benefit is that vacationers can arrange to drive their new vehicles for a set period in Europe before it is sent home, and save on the high cost of a rental car overseas.

For people determined to take a shot at importing a car, a comprehensive guide is published by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.


And if you fall in love with those Audi Avants you can no longer buy in America, don’t take it personally. “From a business point of view, the U.S. market simply does not support bringing them here,” said Mark Dahncke, a spokesman for Audi of America. “We do continually evaluate our product portfolio to see whether it makes sense to bring them back. We’ll keep trying.”

Meanwhile, we can always dream. What follows, in no particular order, are some new vehicles from Over There that aren’t currently available Over Here. While others may seek out the best fondue, consider an automotive daydream. And there’s always the rental option.

Volkswagen Up GTI — For those who get a jolt out of the Smart car, this baby is as cute, and as a bonus, it’s fun, fun, fun. One British car authority described it as “a Top Gear award-winner, and all-round tremendous thing.” Top speed is about 120 mph and its zero-to-60 time is just under 9 seconds, but, in Mazda Miata-speak, the joy is in the getting there. The ride is fairly firm — such is the price of a 95-inch wheelbase — but motorway jaunts are delightful, tight parking spots beckon, and everybody (almost) gives the Up a smile.

Audi RS4 Avant — Avants are Audi-speak for wagons, and wagons are pretty much verboten in the States, where the SUV rules. But to Europeans, wagons make sense, and this powerhouse with its twin-turbo V6 motor, developed in partnership with Porsche, is near the cream of the crop. Quattro all-wheel drive is baked into the RS4. If you think wagons aren’t sexy, this one’s an eye-opener.

Subaru Levorg — Almost the whole world gets this wagon-esque model, essentially a version of the WRX sedan that is sold in the States. In typical Subaru fashion, the Levorg isn’t quite sleek (a popular joke not long ago was that Subaru designers worked out of a dungeon), but it is a powerful hauler, especially attractive now that the company no longer offers the practical hatchback WRX in the United States. All-wheel drive is standard, and some Levorgs can churn out 300 horsepower. The name, by the by, stands for “LEgacy eVOlution touRinG.” Of course.


Alfa Romeo Giulia, manual transmission — We know the stick shift is a dying breed in the United States, and it’s clear that take rates on sticks are dropping in Europe as well. But there remain a few examples available overseas — from Jaguar, Mercedes and BMW, among others. We’d choose the Alfa Giulia with its six-speed manual. Time was when the Italians said they’d offer such a gearbox in America, but for now the only choice is an automatic.

Renault Mégane RS — Among heroic European hot hatches, the Mégane is an evergreen, its history dating back more than two decades. Available as either a petrol or diesel (this is Europe, remember), the Mégane has a design similar to the Mazda3. Still, the car’s French character shines though: It’s responsive, lightweight and proudly Gallic. Designers of French cars historically sacrifice handling prowess for creature comfort, but not here, so the Mégane arrives as a cruiser extraordinaire when you bomb down the autoroute.

Citroën C3 — While we’re speaking French, sort of, consider the Citroën C3, which emphasizes form over function by taking a page from the customization book popularized in the past decade by Mini. For our money, this four-door hatch is adorable, with its soft curves and purposeful stance. The contrasting roof seems to almost float, and then there’s “Airbump,” a panel of thermoplastic molding, air-filled bumps that line the lower part of the doors to deflect scratches and dents in those nasty Parisian parking lots. It’s rumored that France’s PSA Group, which also makes Peugeot, is plotting to re-enter the United States market (the last Peugeot left an American dealership in 1991). Fingers crossed.

VW T-Roc R — I fell in love with the T-Roc when I first saw it, in blazing tangerine paint, at the Frankfurt motor show a couple of years ago. Sitting on a show floor overloaded with bulbous crossovers and SUVs, the T-Roc (terrible name) was special. Now comes the high-performance “R” version: 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, slightly more than what the Golf R hatch makes in the United States. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is standard, as is all-wheel drive. Bet five bucks the T-Roc will never be photographed under the Brooklyn Bridge, although VW says it will introduce a subcompact crossover, slotted below the Tiguan, in America in 2020.

Lotus Elise — A British sports car? There has to be one on this list. While some models from this classic British brand are available in the United States, including the Evora, the hyperlightweight Elise has been off-limits for us for several years because it doesn’t comply with air bag rules, among other safety standards. But you can at least look at one and, if you’re lucky, drive one through the South Downs or Scottish Highlands. Yellow is the preferred color.