As much as Donald Trump refuses to admit it, America in 2015 is part of a global community and it’s not going to change. I promise that’s as political as I’m going to get, but I mention it because it applies to automobiles as much as anything else, and it’s a big deal for us in the States.
Next year I’ll finally have the chance to sample a Focus RS, a phenomenal machine denied on these shores for far too long. Likewise, American muscle is opening up to different markets as well. I suspect some of the muscle haters will be quite surprised at just how good the likes of the new Mustang are after a few minutes behind the wheel; kind of like how I felt the first time I drove a Mk 2 Volkswagen GTI.
It’s too bad this couldn’t have happened sooner. I know getting all the various government certifications for U.S. market cars can be a pain for manufacturers, but there were several models that were already here; except their performance variants didn’t show up as the superheroes everyone else knew. Here are a few gut-punching examples of what I’m talking about, with pics (and a killer video) of what they should’ve been.
I’ll jump right into the biggest Ford faux pas since turning the Mustang into a Pinto. When the first-generation Focus RS - pictured above - appeared in the UK with its 212bhp turbo’d mill, there were plenty of Americans excited to get one. Instead, the best we got was the SVT Focus (also known as ST170 in other markets, which was the slightly less-hot Focus).
It was a neat enough hot hatch, but didn’t pack nearly enough punch to be competitive in the U.S. market; even the freakin’ Dodge Neon got a turbo. Ford already had one for the Focus elsewhere, so why did it take 14 years to cross the Atlantic?
Here’s another case of the missing turbo. Subaru apparently wasn’t sure how Americans would take to their pint-sized first-generation WRX rally missile, so instead they sent us the exact same car, just without all the horsepower. I suppose it makes a certain kind of sense, in the same way a lightbulb makes sense as a doorstop. The first-generation WRX is arguably the best looking of the entire run, and it’s the only one not sold in America. Sigh.
This one is a bit different than the others, because America did get the Audi Quattro, complete with a turbocharger and everything. Sadly it was a bit neutered by the time it arrived in 1983, packing just 160bhp as opposed to the 197bhp seen everywhere else. Yes, it was a victim of U.S. emission regulations, but other cars were coming into the States without such dramatic power losses.
I get the feeling Audi just shrugged their shoulders and tossed us a bone instead of, you know, actually trying to give us something cool. That’s why the original Audi Quattro isn’t such a big deal over here, since apparently it wasn’t a big deal to Audi to make it a big deal to us. But it should have been.
I don’t have the slightest idea why Ford thought their Sierra XR4i would sell better in America if they called it a Merkur. Doesn’t matter, because it didn’t sell worth a damn, which is sad because it was a cool car that still has a cult following today.
Maybe if Ford had gone for the jugular and packed it with the same 2.0-litre turbo from the Sierra Cosworth instead of the 2.3-litre turbo used Stateside in the Mustang SVO and Thunderbird, it would have garnered more attention.
Drifters around the U.S. understand this one all too well, because many end up swapping their 240s with the engine they should’ve had in the first place. I’m talking about the much-loved SR20DET with its boosted 200bhp that thrilled everyone. Everyone except us Americans I mean, because our Silvias came with a non-turbocharged 2.4-litre KA24DE making 155bhp. The only real complaint on this car through the years was a lack of power, and the fix was already in use everywhere else. This sort of thing only fueled the anti-import brigade’s fire.
So yeah, we still get Honda’s runner-up Si as opposed to the Type R. I’m told there are enough structural differences between the two as to require Honda to go through a whole new set of certifications to be legal in the States. Here’s a thought: why not just drop the same performance bits into the Si and call it, I don’t know, a Type-SiR? Or better yet, get on the global bandwagon and build a single car to fit multiple markets. Everyone else is doing it, and yes there are many, many enthusiasts in the U.S. who would love to dance with this car. C’mon Honda, time to step up.