Just about every car enthusiast out there has their favorite automotive country. This can sometimes lead to arguments about which country makes the best cars, but the truth is, every automaker has a different approach. Still, few would argue that some of the best cars in the world have come out of Europe, even if some of them will spend most of their time at the mechanic.
The continent’s automakers are responsible for making some truly incredible sports cars, as well as injecting a fair amount of style into what would otherwise be fairly mundane cars. With all the hubbub surrounding some of the best European cars, some of them have slipped under the radar, which is a real shame.
10 Audi V8
A luxury sedan with a name that perfectly fits the description “short but sweet.” The Audi V8 was the first full-size luxury sedan developed by the Ingolstadt automaker, and it was the first to combine the brilliant Quattro AWD system with an automatic transmission.
As the name implies, this big sedan used a V8 engine. It was a 3.6-liter unit at first, which was then bumped up to a 4.2 in the 90s. Amazingly, it was available with a manual transmission, and they’re surprisingly cheap on the used market. Sadly, it was majorly overlooked by pretty much everyone, and the succeeding A8 got all the attention.
9 Alfa Romeo 156 GTA
If there’s anything Alfa Romeo has always done well, it’s making the driver feel special when they’re behind the wheel. They may not be all that good at making reliable cars, or packaging and ergonomics, but an Alfa Romeo is guaranteed to make the driver feel good.
The 156 GTA is no exception. It was the high-performance version of the revered 156 compact luxury sedan, which was never sold in North America. Despite using the heavy 3.2-liter Busso V6, the GTA was FWD, though the Autodelta front differential fixed the torque steer problems. Still, it was an amazing car to drive, thanks to the sonorous V6 soundtrack and the otherwise well-sorted chassis. Not to mention, the gorgeous exterior styling.
8 DeTomaso Mangusta
DeTomaso received quite a spike in media attention a couple of years ago when they made their grand return with a brand-new supercar, the P72. Otherwise, they’re mostly known for the Pantera, the Italian supercar with an American heart. The Pantera seemed to get all the attention, and even that’s relative, so cars like the Mangusta seem to be overlooked.
The Mangusta had a much shorter production run than the Pantera, and only around 400 cars were ever built. It used a different platform and chassis but was still powered by a Ford V8 which sat in the middle, mated to a ZF 5-speed manual transmission. The stunning exterior design was penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro, including the unique two-piece “gullwing” engine cover.
7 Volvo 480 ES
Even though few people remember this curious Volvo shooting brake, it was much more important than it first seems when it launched back in 1986. For starters, it was the first Volvo model to incorporate a transverse engine layout and an FWD platform.
It was also billed as an indirect successor to the legendary P1800ES, which would classify it as a sports car. The styling was incredibly cool and incredibly 80s, with the three-door shooting brake design and pop-up headlights to boot. There was also a Turbo model, pairing a 120 hp turbo four-banger with a 5-speed manual transmission. Surprisingly, they’re very cheap on the used market.
6 Citroën BX 4TC
By the mid-1980s, Group B rallying absolutely exploded, and quite a handful of automakers were scrambling to get their cars into the class. This included Citroën, who took their BX compact and turned it into an all-out Group B monster.
The road-going version, which was created to comply with homologation rules, shared few components with the regular BX. The turbocharged 4-cylinder under the hood made 200 hp, sending power to all four wheels through a 5-speed manual. Citroën’s brilliant hydropneumatic suspension was also featured. Sadly, Group B was banned the same year the BX 4TC started competing, and the lack of success on the rally stages essentially meant it was DOA.
5 Opel Speedster/Vauxhall VX220
By the late 90s and early 2000s, cash-strapped UK sports carmaker Lotus was trying to think of ways to update their S1 Elise to comply with new crash regulations. That, combined with the lack of money for engineering a new model lead to this unlikely collaboration with GM.
While GM was able to produce their own sports car, Lotus got a big enough cash injection to start building the second generation Elise. The Elise and Speedster/VX220 share the same platform along with various components, but the Speedster/VX220 uses a 2.2-liter GM Ecotec 4-cylinder instead of the Toyota 1ZZ. It was also slightly more refined than the Elise.
4 Renault Espace
Back in the 1980s, Renault revolutionized family cars with the introduction of the Espace, technically considered to be the world’s first proper minivan. The Espace continued to sell well over a million units, but with minivan sales declining, Renault took a different approach with the fifth generation.
The minivan profile is still there, but some SUV styling cues have been thrown in there. Some would even consider it to be a “crossovan.” The Espace V, launched in 2015, signified Renault’s slow but sure shift into a more upmarket segment. It’s very comfortable, there’s tons of space inside, and it’s surprisingly luxurious, yet worth the price.
3 Peugeot 308 GTI
Even though performance crossovers are slowly on the rise, the hot hatch market is still booming over in Europe. There’s quite a big choice of hot hatchbacks in the continent, but most of them are desperately lacking in one thing; subtlety.
The Peugeot 308 GTI solves that problem. It’s a hot hatchback in every sense of the word, but it doesn’t have any crazy aero enhancements or massive scoops and bulges poking out of every crevice. Still, the 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder under the hood makes 260 hp, and combined with a mechanical limited-slip differential, the 308 GTI could still put a massive smile on your face in the corners.
2 Audi TT
The Audi TT is one of only a handful of cars that resembled the concept car so closely, it’s basically impossible to tell the difference. Named after a famed race on the Isle of Man in the UK, the TT was definitely an interesting approach to the sports car formula.
It was FWD only at first, and the sole transmission available was a 6-speed manual. Even in the US, the automatic didn’t arrive until much later. There were also various production delays, and even safety recalls were issued due to a lack of stability at high speed. Today, a decent TT can be picked up for a good price, even the later AWD models and the 3.2 V6 models as well.
1 Ferrari 550 Maranello
Often considered to be the spiritual successor to the Daytona, the 550 Maranello made its grand debut in 1996. It was the last V12-engined Ferrari to offer a 6-speed manual transmission as the only option, before the F1 transmission was made available on the 575.
Not only is the 550 Maranello relatively cheap (in Europe, anyway), it’s also one of the most reliable Ferraris ever made. Befitting of the badge that it wears, the 550 Maranello is also an incredible car to drive, and the V12 makes a sonorous noise as well.
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