The time of high quality yet inexpensive cars is long gone. But, some European manufacturers still offer great deals for budget-conscious consumers. And one of those cars is the Romanian-built Dacia Sandero Stepway.
Dacia built it with the help of Renault using some of their technology and engines. Also, Dacia is a Romanian product with several unique features. It has a lifted body, an all-wheel drive and a rugged design. Better yet, it comes with a nice selection of interior equipment and trims. So this is the perfect car if you need a capable vehicle, but you have a limited budget.
In the early 1970s, Russian Lada introduced a compact, but capable SUV called the Lada Niva. It lasted in production for decades and even managed to achieve considerable export success. However, the original Niva was rugged and slow. So in the 1990s, European, American, and Japanese companies engineered a wide arrange of modern SUV models. This forced Niva to lose their battle for customers.
In the mid-’90s, General Motors invested in the Russian car industry, including the Lada factory. So, in 1998, Lada produced the second generation of the Niva. But this time, they called it the Chevrolet Niva, selling it in Eastern Europe and selected export markets.
Compared to the original model, the Chevrolet Niva had a better design, and it was also more technically advanced and comfortable. It comes with a 1.7-liter four-cylinder that sends power to all four wheels.
The spiritual successor of the classic Honda S600 roadster is the ’90s Honda Beat. Introduced in 1991 and sold until 1996, Beat was a small and nimble roadster with just 660 ccm displacements and 63 HP.
In typical Honda fashion, the car was naturally aspirated and was equipped with 5-speed manual transmission. With just 1,656 pounds, it was immensely fun to drive, and over 33,000 were made in the five-year production run.
In the late ’90s, Ford UK presented the Puma, a small compact performance model that was based on Fiesta. The Puma looked fast, but it wasn’t much faster than the economy Fiesta with the same engine in reality. So, in 1999, the Ford rally team prepared a limited production model called Racing Puma, which was produced in only 500 examples.
The Racing Puma had special paint, bodywork, wheels, and suspension setup while retaining the stock 1.7-liter four-cylinder although a bit modified. The power output was modest at 150, but the car was light and elegant, which provided the driver with exhilarating driving experience.
Unfortunately, the story of this remarkable car is a sad one as this was one of the last true UK-USA hybrids and a modern-day muscle coupe with Italian styling, American engine, and British exclusivity. Constructed in Modena, Italy, and finished in England, MG X-Power was designed to deliver sports car-level of performance with aggressive muscle styling and the soundtrack to match.
Under the hood was a Ford-sourced 4.6-liter V8 engine straight from the Mustang but tuned to produce 320 HP. MG even offered a supercharged version that was capable of 540 HP. Introduced in 2003, this model was one of the most interesting releases, but MG lacked the image and reputation to achieve success in the global market.
When you hear the name Aston Martin, the first thing that pops in your mind is luxury sports cars from England. However, Aston produced the total opposite of that in the form of a subcompact economy car they called the Cygnet.
In fact, the Cygnet is a rebadged Toyota IQ/Scion IQ with the signature Aston front grille and leather interior. They built the car to meet the average fleet emissions standards proposed by the European Union. They presented the car in 2011 and discontinued it in 2013 after just two years of production.
Daihatsu is one of the prime manufacturers of Kei Cars with its entire range dedicated to those small vehicles. Their most exciting model is definitely the Copen – a tiny roadster. If you want to visualize what Copen is like, try Miata but the half size.
The Copen is introduced in the early `2000s, and it is in its second generation. As expected, the 660 cc engine is under the hood, and power is below 70 HP mark. However, the turbocharged engine is highly tunable, and if you want, you can get some pretty lively performance from this compact Roadster.
The late ’90s brought the rise in power levels, new technologies, and materials, which had a bump in performance and a new lease of life for Australian (and American) muscle cars as a result. One of the best Aussie performance machines from that period was the HSV GTS 300.
Despite being limited to only 100 copies, HSV GTS 300 was a significant milestone for the Australian muscle car scene. First, there was the engine, which was Callaway produced LS1 5.7-liter V8 with 400 HP. Packed in a sedan body with beefed-up suspension and brakes, the GTS 300 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds, making it one of the fastest sedans in the world.
The appearance of the mighty HSV GTS 300 was pretty alarming for Ford since the Blue Oval boys didn’t have anything to put against this crazy fast black Holden. But a year later, in cooperation with Tickford, Ford introduced the TE50 Falcon, of course, in sedan form.
The 5.6-liter V8 engine was responsible for moving this sleek sedan equipped with a special body kit and host of other performance upgrades. Despite the fact that the 5.6-V8 delivered 335 HP, which was less than the 5.7-liter V8 in the GTS 300, the Falcon Tickford TE50 had very similar performance.
All Eastern Bloc countries paid much attention to the military and invested large sums of money on equipment and various vehicles. Soviet Russia was the largest producer of all military vehicles and sold its models to fellow communist countries all around the globe. Apart from dozens of specialty designs, Russians did produce simple and cheap off-road models for wide use. One of the most successful is the UAZ 469, a car that is still a part of the Russian military and a successful export model.
Introduced in 1971, the UAZ 469 was a successor of GAZ 69, a rugged and straightforward military jeep-like vehicle. The 469 was pretty much improved with new chassis, live axles in the front and rear, and a more powerful engine in the form of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline unit. However, despite various improvements, this was still a very crude car, extremely durable but made of most challenging off-road courses and military use. It was uncomfortable and simple but effective. This off-roader is still in production in Russia under the name Hunter and still in use all around the world.
Ultima Cars were never the mainstream supercar you buy just to show off. Ultimas were extreme road-going machines for supercar purists and for people brave enough to tackle a superfast car without any help from electronic systems. So, the latest offering in the form of Evolution Coupe is exactly what you want if you have an automotive suicide wish.
The basic specs are scary enough, and under the hood is a Chevrolet LS2 V8 engine supercharged and tuned to produce 1020 HP! The power is sent to the rear wheels over six-speed manual transmission, and there are no safety systems or traction control.
The Cerbera was one of the best affordable sports/muscle cars on the British market in 1996. Designed as a two-seater coupe with a V8 engine up front, it was a cross between a classic coupe and a muscle car.
The design was retro-futuristic with a long hood and aggressive silhouette. Today, even at 22 years, this car still looks great. TVR’s own 4.7-liter V6 engine was the best engine option with the interesting “Red Rose” performance pack. It delivered 440 HP and exhilarating performance.
Despite the looks of the old, early ’90s Audi station wagon, the RS2 Avant is a serious performance machine that could destroy almost anything. And not only in a boulevard drag race but on race track also. Under the dull and unassuming body lies some serious rally technology with exceptional performance. The RS2 was the first in a long line of Audi performance station wagons that brought consumers those supercars with long roofs like the RS6. However, the RS2 is where it all started. The Audi engineers took the famous, inline five-cylinder turbo engine with 2.2-liters and 315 HP and put it in the most uninspiring body style they could find – the station wagon.
They also added Quattro all-wheel-drive magic and a manual transmission. Finally, they sent it all to Porsche for a precision final assembly. The result was the RS2, with a 4.8 second time to go from 0 to 60 mph. It had divine road holding in its early 90’s form. Unfortunately, the production was limited, so if you see one of those cars on the stoplight, you know you will get left in the dust.
When Peugeot introduced the compact 205 model in 1983, the performance GTI version wasn’t in the cards. Soon, realizing that the hooped up model could have a perspective on the market, Peugeot presented the 205 with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder and 115 hp. The combination of the lightweight body, precise steering, rev-happy engine, and lively performance proved extremely popular with the global buyers.
Peugeot even considered selling the 205 GTI in America. Still, since it pulled out of the market in 1991, US buyers never got the chance to experience one of the best affordable compact performance cars of the ’80s. As all European hot hatches of the day, the 205 GTI had front-wheel drive, and it was praised for its handling and superb driving feel.
After decades of relative mediocrity throughout its lineup, Citroen was back in 2005 with an executive sedan worthy of its predecessors, called C6. Behind this simple name was the best Citroen’s technology, the latest generation of hydropneumatic suspension with electronic control and damper setup, special construction, a range of powerful engines, and glorious design, which drew inspiration from the legendary past.
Citroen C6 was pitted against Europe’s heavy hitters in the form of Mercedes E Class, Audi A6, or BMW 5 Series, and despite being the least popular, C6 was arguably the best car which featured the most elegant interior, sophistication, and a ride quality second to none. Unfortunately, it was also kind of a sales flop, and Citroen managed to sell just over 20,000 cars in 7 years, which is very little. But it showed that the company still knows how to produce a unique French sedan that can hold its own against the competition.
Enjoying the success of the Espace minivan gave the Renault chance to explore the concept and try something new and exciting in a typical French way. Renault saw that Espace minivan buyers are inclining towards more powerful and luxurious versions over base line models, so the managers thought they should offer kind of a luxury minivan to the most discriminating buyers. But, filling the car with equipment wasn’t enough and the vehicle needed to have a distinctive feature to be recognizable and popular. So, they thought of a unique minivan coupe named Avantime and introduced it in 2001. The Avantime was an answer to a question nobody asked, and it was received with mixed reviews.
It was definitely an engineering success with a massive hard top roof and problematic structural stiffness, which Renault engineers managed to keep under control. Avantime was also pretty expensive and came with only the most powerful engines and a high standard equipment level. Although Avantime was a chic and interesting car, it failed to attract customers, and Renault discontinued the model after only two years and a little over 8000 examples produced.
If you are limited by government-proposed dimensions, engine size limits, and various other safety regulations, you must find new ways of designing the car. Honda’s N-Box Slash brings interesting design to Kei Car class with unique looks and significant effort to squeeze every last millimeter of usable space from this vehicle.
You could option it with red leather seats and even a totally modular interior, which could be turned into a lounge.
The Alto was sold outside of Japan as a compact car, but it is still a Kei Car with one very interesting version in Japan. The Alto Turbo RS is a hot hatch with five doors, three cylinders, aggressive looks, and an all-wheel-drive option.
Unfortunately, it comes with 63 HP, a 660 ccm turbo engine, which not many owners keep stock. The legal limit for modern Kei Cars is 63 HP. Still, most manufacturers decide to offer tunable engines that are easily modified to close or over 100 HP so owners can enjoy some real performance. This is the case with Alto Turbo RS. These are the 19 cool and interesting cars that are illegal to drive in the United States. Which one did you like the best? Perhaps someday, it will be available here in the states. Otherwise, it is nothing but a pipe dream for you.