With a new year on the horizon, it’s an exciting time for those of us who yearn for vehicles from distant shores. The 25-year import rule often keeps Europe and Asia’s latest and greatest from American soil, but once that cruel waiting period has elapsed, feeding frenzy begins on older, but still wonderful forbidden fruit. For 2023, the list of intriguing importable vehicles is as varied as ever, so the staff here at The Autopian is going to choose some of its favorite hits set to become legal to import sometime next year.
Maserati 3200 GT: Thomas Hundal
Is deciding to import an aged high-performance European coupe a good idea? Well, this one’s a Maserati, so the answer is both “lol, no” and “extremely.” For starters, the 3200 GT was the beginning of a new era for Maserati yet used an engine firmly from the old era. I’m talking about the 3.2-liter twin-turbocharged AM479 V8 from the 1990 Shamal, making the 3200 GT the last biturbo Maserati until the 2013 Quattroporte. Take that as you will. On the plus side, it was impossible to get a wretched single-clutch automated gearbox in a 3200 GT as the only options were a six-speed manual and a four-speed torque converter automatic. Three pedals it is, then. Shift well, and the 365-horsepower grand tourer will propel itself from zero-to-60 mph in around 5.1 seconds. That’s not exactly groundbreaking by today’s standards but it’s still plenty quick.
There’s more good news, too. Not only does the 3200 GT look fabulous, it comes with boomerang-style LED tail lights that were just so sleek and high-tech for 1998. What’s more, the suspension featured double-wishbones at all four corners, forged aluminum control arms and uprights, and aluminum-bodied dampers. It all adds up to a practical, gorgeous four-seat coupe that goes like absolute hell. Best of all, depreciation has been absolutely ruinous because it’s a Maserati. A quick glance at the online classifieds suggests that you can get into one of these things for under $26,000 before importing costs, which seems like a steal for a manual Italian coupe with proper pedigree. Of course, running costs could still bankrupt you, but what’s life without a bit of risk?
Mitsuoka MC-1: Thomas Hundal
Let’s move on from something very powerful to very tiny. Compared to the Maserati, the Mitsuoka operates at the other extreme of the automotive spectrum. I’m talking about 50 cubic centimeters of fury attached to a tiny 69.1-inch-long machine. This entire microcar weighs less than the engine in the Maserati, perhaps an unsurprising fact considering you can count the MC-1’s horsepower on both hands.
Like the Pontiac Aztek, the MC-1 was available with a tent. Unlike on the Aztek, said tent’s explicit purpose was to keep the elements out. Where we’re going, we don’t need doors, or a roof, or crumple zones. It’s a decidedly old-school approach to mobility that happens to be shaped like a friend. With its upright stance and bright eyes, the MC-1 is adorable, which means it’s most certainly adoptable. In the arms of an angel and all that. If you do want to import an MC-1, you won’t need to make much space for it, and feeding requirements should be quite minimal.
Nissan Cube: Jason Torchinsky
If you hold a grudge, then I think the Mk1 Nissan Cube is a car you should consider. Because I have a grudge about it – well, not the Mk1, but the Cube as we got it in America. See, I remember seeing pictures of the JDM Cube and being fascinated by its bold asymmetrical design, the geometric front end, Those Wheels, and, well, everything. I loved it.
I was so excited for it to come to the US, and then when it did, it was the watered-down one we got, that lost almost all of the exterior charm and tried to make up for it with a thing on the dashboard that looked like a trimmed patch of pubes. I don’t kink shame, but that’s not enough to make up for the enboringification of the Cube.
So, now it’s finally time to make things right! Import the OG Cube, and pretend like the unfortunate events of the past never happened! It worked for your childhood, so now make it work for you fun and strange city car! -JT
[Editor’s Note: Jason is thinking of the Mk2 Nissan Cube, pictured above. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a few more years to import that funky asymmetric box, but the Mk1 is still a practical, boxy, tall thing that should be well-suited to urban environments. -TH]
[Editor’s Note: Dammit. I totally forgot about that Mk1 Cube. Shit. This is what I was thinking of when I wrote all that:
Now it makes more sense, right? Shit, I really can’t earnestly endorse that Mk1 Cube, but, whatever. Maybe get the VIN from a Mk1 and stick it on a Mk2 and do it that way. No one at your DMV is going to know! Of course, I can’t actually endorse breaking the law or anything like that, I’m just, you know, talking. I’m still frustrated. – JT]
Fiat Multipla: Jason Torchinsky
When I say I’m excited that the more-recent Fiat Multipla is finally old enough to be imported, I’m not saying it to be ironic or as a joke. I mean it, almost uncomfortably so. I know many people think it’s hideous, but many people also are grown-ass adults who wear crocs or think we didn’t land on the moon or other shit. Point is, you don’t have to listen to everyone.
Especially when it comes to a car that’s an absolute packaging triumph. Look at the funny press pic there: six people, luggage and everything crammed into a footprint smaller than a Camry sedan. It’s roomy in there! And it looks delightfully strange, like Fiat hired an alien consultant for their objectivity when they designed it. The lights at the base of the windshield! The bulges and lumps! The massive greenhouse! I love this baffling thing, and it would be a snacktillion times more practical and useful than any crossover bullshit you could buy. Multipla, bitches! -JT
Ford AU Falcon: Thomas Hundal, Again
All aboard the bogan express! The AU Falcon may often be considered the ugliest Ford ever to come out of Australia, but its drab base-trim interior and controversial styling mask a high-tech masterpiece of Australian ingenuity. Not only was this the first Falcon to be available with independent rear suspension, it also had a drag coefficient of just 0.29. Plus, it could even be had with a workstation in the center console for the serious businessperson on the go.
Perhaps best of all, the AU packed a stout Intech inline-six as standard equipment, making a very reasonable 211 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. of torque. As a result, these Falcons can often be found doing shed skids and generally causing mayhem. They’ve ascended to meme car status in Australia, so it would be spectacular to see one stateside.
[Editor’s Note: A deep dive into the AU is forthcoming. This hideous machine is an absolute legend for reasons that we shall soon enumerate. -DT]
Fiat Strada: Thomas Hundal, Yet Again
Is the Ford Maverick simply too massive for your tastes? Are you feeling particularly South American? If you answered yes to either of those questions, I have some good news for you. The tiny Fiat Strada pickup will be eligible for U.S. importation next year.
Packing a maximum payload capacity of 1,543 pounds (700 kg) and friendly compact car proportions, the Strada is the perfect urban workhorse for the space-conscious DIY-er. Sure, it won’t be incredibly quick, but it features a practical five-foot nine-inch bed that’ll put most full-size crew cab pickups to shame. Load this thing up with junkyard parts, manure, McChickens, you name it, and you’ll get your messy cargo wherever it needs to be with a certain dose of Italian flair. Alternatively, you could use it as a sort of mobile porch for tailgating. The sky’s the limit!
Volkswagen Lupo: Still Thomas Hundal Here
In 1998, Volkswagen launched a reborn people’s car and something called the New Beetle. While a Golf-based retro car with a circular silhouette was taking America by storm, it was the Lupo that offered many traits that made the original Volkswagen a hit. Tiny, well-built, and practical, the Lupo was the mature choice in the European city car arena, offering proper efficiency along with switchgear and materials similar to on Volkswagen’s bigger cars.
Sure, the Lupo was very slow, but it reportedly had great build quality and should be a doddle to park thanks to its tiny footprint. Plus, from its quirky round headlamps to its practical dashboard shelving, there was just this sense of funkiness to this little car that made it quite lovable. While it would still be some time before the spectacular 3L model arrived, the standard model is still a brilliant city car for the 21st century and will soon be legal to import into America if you want be a celebrity at your local Volkswagen meet.
Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution: David Tracy
You may recall how in late 1997 Mitsubishi released a street-legal version of its Dakkar Rally killer, the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution. With its huge hood vent, wide fender flares, and big tires, the homologation special is one of the most badass SUVs in history, as Top Gear described in its article September, 2021 article wondering how these things aren’t worth more. From Top Gear:
Mitsu gave its short-wheelbase Pajero quicker steering and a stiffer body, dual wishbone suspension up front and a proper multi-link setup in the back – with nearly a foot of travel at both ends – and a vastly wider track, necessitating those lovely box arches.
It worked so well that Mitsubishi claimed an incredible 1-2-3-4 finish in 1998 – not in its class, but overall.
Sure, it has dual overhead cams and 24 valves, like Alfa’s beautiful Busso V6. And Mitsu’s V6 has variable valve timing and a twin-plenum intake. And fine, the rev limiter doesn’t kick in until you’re on the fun side of 7,000rpm. And there’s 280 naturally aspirated horsepower on tap. Um, did we miss something? A V6 with more power and torque than the best-ever Busso, years before the 147 GTA came out, and strapped into the winningest Dakar car ever. Where’s the problem?
No, really – it’s a race-dominating, limited-run homologation special with all sorts of top-tier parts and an engine that could trade blows with a Busso all day. So what gives?
Our best guess at this point is that the Pajero Evo just sort of… slipped through the cracks
What an absolute beast; if you can find one, you’ll be SUV owner royalty in the U.S. If you can find one.
Original Honda HR-V: David Tracy
I know many of you hear “HR-V” and think about the current Honda HR-V mini-crossover for sale in the U.S. It’s far from an exciting car, but its ancestor — the O.G. Honda HR-V, shown above — was a legitimately cool little off-road(ish) machine that could be had with a five-speed manual and a shooting-brake style body. Seriously, look at that beautiful, but quirky two-door above. It’s good good approach and departure angles, plenty of ground clearance, and look at all that glass — I bet visibility is exceptional.
It’s a cool little four-wheel drive SUV that scored around 30 MPG highway according to European ratings; that’s not bad!
So there you have it, nine very different cars soon able to be legally driven in America. If none of these seem to do the trick for you, there are heaps more to choose from including the Alfa Romeo 166 and Toyota Progrès. I’d love to hear which soon-to-be-importable car really floats your boat, especially as 2023 should be a banner year for weird import stuff.
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.