Europeans Broaden Their Lineups

Imports include small, powerful and everything in between. By size or volume, alone, they're not much. But this year's crop from across the Atlantic could have a big impact on reshaping the U.S. market, all the same. The list of new European entries includes an exotic destined to make a splash in the new-car-market's upper reaches, some entry-level luxury and near-luxury models that may help convince

Imports include small, powerful and everything in between.

By size or volume, alone, they're not much. But this year's crop from across the Atlantic could have a big impact on reshaping the U.S. market, all the same.

The list of new European entries includes an exotic destined to make a splash in the new-car-market's upper reaches, some entry-level luxury and near-luxury models that may help convince more Americans small is beautiful after all and a pair of more mainstream imports counted on heavily to put some vigor back into a couple of waning brands.

Challenging Ferrari, Porsche and the rest in the upper echelon is the new Audi R8, an exoticar that doubles as an everyday driver and - strictly by segment standards - won't empty your Swiss bank account.

Priced at $132,000 in Europe, the R8, with its mid-mounted 420-hp 4.2L V-8 and lightweight aluminum underbody, is a veritable bargain. And its civilized clutch, short-throw manual gearbox, perfectly balanced chassis and full luxury amenities mean the driver easily can control the car, not the other way around.

The ideal blend of power, drivability and luxury, the eye-catching R8 very well could put Audi on the high-performance map while making its German and Italian competitors just a little twitchy.

Consumers more interested in fuel economy and ecology - and on a tighter budget - can opt for a couple of new entries that are part of a growing small-car movement in the U.S. Expected to make a big splash is the long-awaited BMW 1-Series, which already has been on the market in hatchback form in Europe for three years but comes to the U.S. for the first time in spring 2008 as a 2-door coupe.

Preceding it to the market is the new Volvo C30, a 3-door front-driver featuring a turbocharged 2.4L 5-cyl. engine and priced below $26,000. It bows in the U.S. in October and puts the Swedish brand up against cars like the Mini and Audi A3 for the first time.

Mini, meanwhile, is going in the other direction with a bigger - but still tiny - Clubman model. It is 9.4 ins. longer than the standard Mini and includes a rear-access door on the passenger's side that means those relegated to the more spacious back seats won't have to pull a Houdini simply to enter or exit the car. Dutch doors at the rear provide a wide-open approach to the cargo area.

Also among critical launches is the new XF sedan that replaces the maligned S-Type in Jaguar's lineup and serves as a cornerstone in the brand's latest comeback attempt - likely to be conducted under the auspices of new ownership. Breathtaking styling and a host of high-tech features, such as blind-spot detection, front- and rear-parking aids, adaptive cruise control and interior mood lighting, are meant to set this cat apart from the pack.

In the same vein is the new Tiguan, a Honda CR-V-size cross/utility designed to add some spark to a faltering Volkswagen brand, which has seen U.S. sales slip 3.6% so far this year. Based largely on Golf mechanicals, with some Passat thrown in, the Tiguan will be equipped with a 2L 4-cyl. engine and is expected to be priced in the mid-$20,000 range. It leads an assault of a dozen new models coming from Volkswagen and Audi over the next three years as the German auto makers promise to make the U.S. market a “top strategic priority.”

BMW 1-Series

In Showrooms: Spring, 2008

Price: $27,000-$28,000 (Estimated)

Pro's: Rear-wheel drive coupe with two engine choices at 300 hp will make this vehicle very fun to drive. Buyers will accessorize the heck out of this car, which means more profit.

Con's: Are there any?

Volvo C30

In Showrooms: October

Price: $23,445 - $26,445

Pro's: Hitting showrooms at the right time, as auto makers expect small cars to be the rage.

Con's: Volvo is touting the vehicle as being accessory friendly, but much of that is based on factory accessories that need to be ordered with the car — which will lead to longer wait times for customers.

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