- We’ve rounded up 25 cool but banned cars that might make you want what you can’t have.
- The list includes affordable Toyota and Honda models as well as expensive Lamborghini models.
- Let’s get into the details and dig into why these 25 vehicles never made it to the United States.
The American auto market is huge. In fact, there are so many choices that shopping for a new car can be overwhelming. But not every vehicle makes it to the U.S. car market. There’s a long list of cars that don’t meet the standards set by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
There are some exceptions — for instance, some banned foreign models may be able to be imported under the “Show or Display” law. Additionally, banned cars can be imported once they’re at least 25 years old. Having said that, let’s take a look at 25 cool cars the United States has banned.
A hatchback with butterfly doors? That’s right! Toyota proved butterfly doors weren’t just for supercars when it introduced the Toyota Sera in the ’90s. Car and Driver says, “the Sera is tiny, fun, and modern. And it looks all those things.” However, this eye-catching vehicle didn’t meet U.S. regulations.
According to the source, Toyota designed the Sera without regard to American crash standards, so doing the necessary structural engineering would have meant starting over. As a result, the wraparound-glass roof hatchback was never sold in the States.
Jaguar XJ220 S
TopSpeed.com says only six Jaguar XJ220 S supercars were produced, but those six were enough for the NHTSA to ban it. According to Jaguar, the XJ220 remains the fastest Jaguar ever — it has a maximum speed of 213 mph.
Sadly for lovers of fast cars, that was just too fast for the government’s liking at the time. TopSpeed.com says the XJ220 S can reach record-breaking speeds because of how light it is. The S model’s reduced weight is because it doesn’t have heavy seats, air conditioning, or pop-up headlights.
Lamborghini Sesto Elemento
Made of carbon fiber, the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento is famously lightweight. As a matter of fact, HotCars says it’s “extremely lightweight compared to other supercars.” As a result, it’s incredibly fast. Case in point: it accelerates from 0-to-60 mph in 2.5 seconds, according to the source.
So, it’s just too speedy to be street-legal. That said, the astronomical price probably rules it out for many drivers anyway. According to Lamborghini Palm Beach, the Sesto Elemento cost $2.76 million in 2017.
Land Rover Defender
While the Land Rover Defender was sold legally in the United States between 1993 and 1997, but Motor1.com says its visa was revoked in 1998. According to the source, that’s because it didn’t have airbags, so it didn’t meet new federal safety regulations.
However, Land Rover started selling a new version of the Defender in 2020 in the U.S., according to Car and Driver. So, you can now drive an updated model that’s reminiscent of the banned original.
Rover Mini Cooper
If you love the iconic retro look of a Mini Cooper, then you have a few options as an American driver. However, the Rover Mini Cooper isn’t one of them because it’s banned. HotCars describes the Rover Mini Cooper as “much more macho,” distinguishing it from the legal options.
So, what happens if someone gets caught bringing a car into the country before it meets our nation’s 25-years-or-older import laws? It’ll be seized, and it might even be crushed. In 2014, the Associated Press reported on a Mini Cooper and Land Rover Defender that were destroyed to “highlight safety standards.”
HotCars calls the Pagani Huayra “an adrenaline-pumping Italian piece of art.” But it isn’t something you’ll see zooming around American streets. Since it doesn’t have “an advanced feature that allows airbags to be deployed in a controlled manner,” NHTSA banned it.
U.S. drivers will have to be content to admire its beauty from afar. HotCars says the Huayra’s “the definition of art meets science,” and unlike some hypercars, it has a gorgeous cabin. It’s a luxurious mix of wood, leather, and metal.
Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R
Some people have wanted a Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R since they saw it in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Unfortunately, we have some bad news for U.S. drivers hoping to channel Brian O’Conner: the R34 GT-R is illegal in most cases.
Hagerty Media says the 1999 Midnight Purple II and 2002 M-Spec Nur can be imported under the Show or Display exemption. Additionally, the company MotoRex modified a handful in the early 2000s to meet safety and emissions standards.
The Toyota Hilux was introduced in Japan in 1968, according to HotCars. It then made its way to the States soon after. And thanks to its durability, smooth ride, and comfortable interior, the Hilux was successful in North America. So, why can’t you buy one in the U.S. any longer?
It may have to do with safety and emissions standards, but the source says it’s mostly about the Chicken Tax. As a result of the policy, “importing a light truck built outside of the US requires a 25% tariff.” U.S. drivers have the Tacoma as an alternative, though.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta isn’t a notably fast car, according to TopSpeed.com. And the source says it doesn’t have glaring safety concerns such as no airbags. Nevertheless, the Giulietta is banned in the United States. Since it doesn’t have automatic emergency braking, the ban still might have something to do with safety.
At any rate, the Giuletta is banned from U.S. streets. But Americans might not be missing out on too much. While it’s a handsome hatchback, Auto Express says it’s cramped and has drive mode settings that may disappoint sporty drivers.
This sleek British-made supercar doesn’t meet NHTSA requirements for several reasons, according to TopSpeed.com. The source says the Noble M600 doesn’t have an anti-lock braking system or airbags, so the government’s decision makes sense.
Although its $350,000 price tag might rule it out for many drivers anyway. According to TopSpeed.com, it has a V8 engine that produces 650 hp and accelerates to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds. So, it’s probably a fun car to drive.
This is another British sports car that doesn’t meet NHTSA or EPA standards, according to HotCars. In fact, the source says the TVR Sagaris “packed a powerful punch under the hood — far too powerful as far as the U.S. authorities were concerned.”
The source says the Sagaris weighs less than 2,000 lbs and generates 380 hp, so it’s a dynamic drive. However, TopSpeed.com says the Sagaris doesn’t have airbags or an anti-lock braking system. Therefore, it didn’t make the cut here.
HotCars says the Porsche 959 was one of the “fastest production cars in its heyday.” It can go from 0-to-60 mph in 3.6 seconds and hits a top speed of nearly 200 mph. It’s gone on to become a sought-after collectible because only a mere 337 were built, according to the source.
There is some good news for U.S. drivers hoping to get behind the wheel: HotCars says a significant number of 959s are now street-legal in the States because the company Canepa Design brought them up to emission standards during a restoration program.
Here’s another sports car you won’t see racing down U.S. streets. HotCars says, “the Lotus 340R is just as much a thing of beauty as it is a thing of speed.” However, its exotic design is one of its biggest downfalls in our government’s eyes.
For one thing, it doesn’t have doors. “That was an instant reason for the government to ban all units of the Lotus 340R,” according to the source. Additionally, it doesn’t have a roof. As a result, this unconventional sports car is illegal.
As MotorBiscuit puts it, “you can’t blame the U.S. for banning” the Smart Crossblade. Not unlike the Lotus 340R, the Crossblade’s unconventional futuristic design kept it from getting approved in the States. For instance, the Crossblade doesn’t have doors or a roof.
The source says the windshield is also a big issue. Since it’s much smaller than standard windshields, it leaves the driver vulnerable to bugs. And even more concerning, it doesn’t offer protection in the event of a head-on collision.
Saab 9-5 SportCombi
The Saab 9-5 SportCombi is one of the last models the company made before it went bankrupt, according to Brake For It. The source says the wagon-style 9-5 SportCombi was something like a luxury crossover, and it was expected to sell well. However, it never made it to the United States.
The source says the 9-5 SportCombi was banned because it failed safety testing. Back in 2011, Motor Authority said it was noteworthy the 9-5 SportCombi was a wagon because many U.S. car companies had written off the style. Of course, wagon lovers in the States never got it as an option.
Aston Martin Virage
MotorBiscuit says there are two reasons the Aston Martin Virage is illegal in our country. Firstly, it doesn’t have enough airbags. Secondly, it doesn’t pass U.S. emission standards. MotorTrend says the Virage has “a ride that’s firm and beautifully controlled, yet impressively quiet and supple.”
So, undoubtedly, there are American drivers who would love to get behind the wheel of this vehicle. Perhaps this will serve as inspiration, though — MotorBiscuit says one such driver was able to turn a Virage into a street-legal drag car.
Ford Focus RS500
A Ford Focus that’s banned in the United States? It may seem unexpected, but the Focus RS500 was only sold in Europe. According to Endurance, this “juiced up” Focus “can hit 62 mph in 5.6 seconds.” No wonder the source calls it a “pocket rocket.”
Perhaps to the dismay of some Americans, Forbes says Ford decided it would be too costly to make the Focus RS500 street-legal in the United States. Adding insult to injury, U.S. drivers haven’t been able to get their hands on a new Ford hatchback of any kind since the company discontinued the Ford Focus RS in 2018.
While U.S. drivers can buy rugged Nissan SUVs like the Pathfinder and the Armada, they can’t buy a Nissan Patrol. MotorBiscuit says the Patrol is banned in the States because its safety features don’t meet our country’s standards.
That said, Americans may not be missing out on that much in terms of the interior. According to CarExpert, the similar Armada has a much more modern look. The source describes the Patrol’s interior as “luxe in a very ’90s way.” And the infotainment system? That’s “even more dated,” according to the source.
Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Roadster
The Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Roadster is a gorgeous sports car that’s just too fast for U.S. roads. According to HotCars, the 8C Spider Roadster’s powerful speed is the primary reason the vehicle was banned. The source says the 8C Spider Roadster is “undoubtedly a member of the elite.”
As such, the source says it sits alongside “the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster.” There is good news: MotorBiscuit says Alfa Romeo introduced a U.S.-compliant version in 2014 — the 4C Spider. It’s 220 lbs heavier, so the source says it isn’t “quite as fast.”
TVR Tuscan Speed Six
The sculpted design of the TVR Tuscan Speed Six has a beautiful throwback vibe. In fact, Supercars.net says it’s destined to be a “future classic.” However, it’s banned from the United States. According to Forbes, it isn’t difficult to see why the Tuscan Speed Six didn’t cut the mustard.
The source says the sports car doesn’t have airbags, anti-lock brakes, or a catalytic converter. In other words, the Tuscan Speed Six “places performance and handling above all else,” according to the source.
Lamborghini Strosek Diablo
HotCars says there are two main reasons the Lamborghini Strosek Diablo is banned in America. In the first place, it’s too fast. In the second place, some of its design choices rule it out. For instance, the source says the Strosek Diablo’s side mirrors and headlights aren’t the most practical.
If you have your heart set on a Lamborghini, then there’s the Lamborghini Huracan STO. The source recommends it as an alternative because it’s a street-legal option that still delivers what you expect from a Lamborghini.
According to Carsoid.com, every car TVR produced between 1996 and 2006 is banned in the United States. So, like the Sagaris and Tuscan Speed Six, the TVR T350 is another beautiful sports car that didn’t enter the American auto market.
Unfortunately, you can’t get behind the wheel of this exotic sports car because it failed several safety tests, according to HotCars. For instance, the source says the T350 doesn’t meet airbag requirements. But it’s still a cool car to marvel at from afar.
Lotus Elise Series 1
Classic & Sports Car says the Lotus Elise Series 1 is a relatively affordable sports car. For instance, the source says the Elise Series 1 is “50% cheaper than the Elan S2 and a third of the price of an Esprit.”
Despite that, the Elise Series 1 is out of reach to American drivers because it’s banned. According to HotCars, the Elise Series 1 is illegal for a host of reasons. For one thing, it’s a right-hand drive vehicle. Additionally, it’s too fast and doesn’t have a roof.
The Honda Beat isn’t technically banned in the United States, according to HotCars. However, it was never available either. Even though it was affordable, comfortable, and cool looking, it never made it to America. The source says the Beat was exclusively sold in Japan.
If you really want to own a Beat, then the source says you can get one shipped. But that’s a pricey proposition that not only takes money, but also the right connections in many cases.
HotCars says the impressive Alpine A110 wasn’t built to American safety standards. The source says that’s to be expected since Alpine is owned by Renault, a French company that hasn’t sold cars in the United States since the ’80s.
If it’s any consolation, Top Gear says Australia also banned the Alpine A110 in 2021. So, Americans aren’t the only drivers who can’t own this powerful sports car. As an alternative, HotCars suggests the Porsche Cayman and the Audi TT RS.