The Cars Aren’t Always Better On the Other Side

We all want what we can’t have, but the new not-for-Europe Nissan Z-car is a good reminder to appreciate the cool stuff you do get.

byStef Schrader| UPDATED Sep 17, 2020 10:32 AM
The Cars Aren’t Always Better On the Other Side

When the news broke that Europe wasn't getting the long, long-awaited new Nissan Z-car, it felt weird. There have been so many enthusiast cars that they get and the U.S. doesn't that it felt weirdly good for a change. We're the ones getting the cool car? There was a brief moment where I wanted to spike the cheese I was holding on the ground like a football and yell "'MERICA!" across the kitchen table. 

I didn't do that. I feel bad for everyone who's been waiting for 12 years to finally see a new Z-car, only to be denied when it shows up. Goodness knows, I am more than familiar with what it feels like to have so many cars that you want, but can't buy. It's an annoyingly long list for the United States, egged on by regulations that are just different enough from the rest of the world's and a much-hated 25-year rule for importing non-USDM cars. As a small car fan in a nation that's more eager to sell me a crossover, it sucks.

It's so easy to fetishize what we don't get. The phrase "the grass is always greener" exists for a reason, and personally, that reason is a rear-wheel-drive manual BMW 1-series hatchback. But the Z is a good reminder that sometimes it's good to step back and appreciate what we do get.

Stef Schrader

Case in point: the 2019 Hyundai i30 N-Line I tested out in Germany last year. It was a great little car that was perfectly suited to the nice, twisty roads by the Nürburgring. They wouldn't let me take it on the track, sadly, but I sort of made up for that by stuffing it absolutely full with three weeks' worth of road trip crap. Even then, there was space to spare provided we didn't cram someone super tall in the car. (We ran into that issue with a friend who's a bit over six feet tall.)

The pedals and steering felt a little lighter than I prefer, and the sound quality from the stereo wasn't the best, but it was comfortable. The interior controls were easy to use, it didn't have any truly annoying driving qualities like excessive torque steer, and it even handled a torrential downpour like a champ. It's a car I could plausibly see myself owning as a sensible daily. 

The only real complaint I had was the relative lack of torque down-low. I know that's something you get used to after you get over the initial "this isn't my car" round of stalls, but on the numerous parking lots and hilly intersections, I would've appreciated a bit more lower-down oomph. The little turbocharged 1.4-liter engine was good for 138 horsepower in total, which was adequate for the small i30. Its boost came on smoothly and gradually once you got going, but it didn't offer much help to get you get going. 

How would I fix my biggest issue with the i30 N-Line? By buying one at home. The United States' version is the Elantra GT N-Line, which features a slightly larger 1.6-liter turbo four⁠-cylinder good for 201 horsepower. That's right: We get the more powerful version with a bigger engine. (Thankfully, it it comes with a manual here, too.)

These aren't the only cases where we here in the U.S. get the better stuff, either. We didn't get the faster, better Ford Fiestas for many years, but Europe lacked the Mustang for much of that time, too. Newer laws are quieting down a lot of the cars in Europe, too. Every now and then on Nürburgring industry pool test session videos, you'll hear or read someone assume that the really good-sounding car must be the version destined for America by sheer merit of loudness. 

Stef Schrader

That's not even getting into the neat USDM things that are more common here, particularly larger trucks and cars that make it a hell of a lot easier and more comfortable to do things like fetch project cars. This was the land of the land yacht, too, if big, comfy broughams are your preferred road tripper of choice. As with the Elantra GT N-Line, bigger engines tend to be the norm over here. Not everywhere got the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's in my current daily driver, a 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS, yet it is a huge improvement over the smaller engines that were offered worldwide. 

The next time I bemoan the fact that I couldn't buy a Toyota GR Yaris or a Honda E, tell me to stop for a second and remember that we get our own cool stuff. The unobtanium factor will always be there, but it's not as bad as you probably think it is. 

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