Crave Old World elegance without the sticker shock of pricey foreign cars? Have we got some deals for you.
While walking down the Champs Elys?s between the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph in Paris this spring, as my partner was going gaga over the idea of dropping a load at Prada or Benetton, I did what I always do: watched the cars. I even coerced my partner into the fashionable Peugeot, Renault and Mercedes showrooms for a few minutes. He tolerated my obsession again in Italy when I bought every car magazine on the rack.
After Air France touched down in Dallas, I wanted to relive Europe as often as possible. It is easy enough to buy great mozzarella, French wine and wood-fired pizza in the States. But surprisingly, driving like a European in America isn’t hard, either.
A European sensibility says something about you, whether it’s the carefree romance of Italy or the precision speed of Germany. All of these cars are available (or soon will be) on both sides of the Atlantic. And though not all are from European makers, they conjure that kind of feeling. What would one say about you?
Crave Autobahn, Honestly
You can’t beat Saturn retailers, who must take daily truth-and-happy pills in their morning whoop sessions. No haggle, no hassle still rules.
This fall, you’ll be able to buy an exact copy of the award-winning and Autobahn-blasting Opel Astra, engineered in Germany by General Motors, from Saturn. Minor changes to badging and bumpers are all that differentiate the cars from primo European versions.
Available in three- and five-door bodies, American Astras will scoot with 140-HP four-cylinder engines (given high gas prices, maybe GM will bring over Opel’s diesel and hybrid models, too). Firm steering harmonizes with the accomplished suspension. Electronic stability control is available.
Interior design and trim are straight from the homeland. Supportive sport seats, straightforward analog gauges, available two-panel sunroof, thick steering wheel and black piano finish on the center console look and feel great. Expect prices to begin around $18,000 when sales commence this fall.
Want Armani, Afford Target
When Americans got the pugly Toyota Echo, Europeans devoured the refined Yaris. Lucky them! Toyota apparently came to its senses when it designed the second-generation Yaris because we got one too. Good for that, because it is a great little car.
Styled in Europe, the car’s molded plastic look is handsome both as a four-door sedan and three-door hatchback. A tall cabin with center-mounted instruments provides open space for four passengers. The car is surprisingly peppier than its 106-HP would suggest. I had no trouble cruising at 80 mph on the highway. As welcome in the States as in Europe are fuel economy ratings of 34/40 mpg city/highway. With prices beginning at $11,150, the Yaris is the car that keeps you in couture, but hardly dings the clients piggy bank.
Volvo’s C30, based on the S40 sedan, is a pissy little hatchback. Cars like this are very popular in Europe because they occupy a small footprint, enclose a surprising amount of interior space, are easily filled through a rear hatch and go down the road with the maturity of a much larger car. They are also incredibly safe with side airbags and strong crush zones – making them even more ready than most for life in the land of the SUV. Rear styling is based on the classic Volvo P1800ES sport wagon.
All C30s are powered by turbocharged 5-cylinder engines that produce 227-HP – a rambunctious amount for a subcompact hatchback. Prices start at $22,700, but step up to “Version 2.0″ for $25,700 for premium features like the Dynaudio sound system installed on upper level Volvos. The Swedish-built C30 may be a hot little queen, but it protects and coddles passengers better than your mother.
Smart For Two:
Can’t Get Over That European Vacation
On a walk through the cobblestone streets of Florence, I was nearly whacked by a speeding Smart. They’re everywhere in front of espresso caf?s and on Via della Vigna Nuova loading up Armani. They’re perfect in Italy, and thanks to Indy-racecar owner and auto dealer Roger Penske, they’ll soon be a perfect fit in America – perfect for motoring around the city and suburbs.
Although Smarts, developed by Swatch and DaimlerChrysler, have been in Europe since 1998, they’re foreign to most Americans. Small enough to park nose-in to a curb, the ForTwo coupe and convertible are safe, comfortable (two fit easily), efficient (40 mpg), and fast (90 mph).
Like Swatch watches, Smarts will look as stylish on campus as at the valet ramp. Get your caf? racer early in 2008 for under $15,000. As stylish as a Vespa and nearly as efficient, a Smart will never let you forget your incredible European vacation.
On our last day in Paris, passing through from Italy to Dallas, we walked by a Cadillac showroom with a new Escalade in the window. It was hard to imagine how that Texas-built truck would fit into French traffic. Then again, Smarts look just as strange in Dallas. But probably not for long. You could haul home miniature Eiffel Towers, photos of Michelangelo’s David, Murano glass from Venice. But wouldn’t you rather drive one of these cars every day?
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 10, 2007