10 Canadian cars you can't buy in the U.S.

Phil Berg
September 18, 2012


A long history of differing car tastes show Canada is not just another state. Automakers from the U.S. and around the world sell versions of their cars in Canada that you can't buy in (and they go to great lengths to keep you from importing them to) the U.S.

BMW 320i

BMW's brawny, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines are available only in the X1, X3, Z4, and 5-series in the U.S, where they make 240 hp and score a decent 34 mpg on the EPA highway test. In Canada, however, you can get a milder version that makes just 181 hp and returns nearly 40 mpg on the highway, in the 320i. The 320i (a designation that harkens back to the original progenitor of the fabled 2002) would cost about $33,800 if sold in the U.S., $600 cheaper than the least-expensive five-seat 3-series in the U.S.—the 328i, which gives you nearly 50 hp more than the 320i. But with gas that costs about $5 (U.S.) per gallon, Canadians seem to be more willing to a pay a premium for mpg over horsepower.

Chevrolet Optra

In China this car is called the Buick Excelle. In Korea it's the Daewoo Lacetti. And in Australia it's the Holden Viva. GM sold it in Canada from 2002 to 2008 but never in the U.S. Afterward it was replaced by the Chevy Cruze. The Optra was available as a wagon and a hatchback in addition to a four-door sedan and used a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 119 hp. The similarly sized Chevrolet Cobalt, which was sold at the same time in the U.S., used a 2.2-liter four-cylinder that produced 145 hp, though the Optra was cheaper.

Chevrolet Epica

While Chevrolet was selling the compact Optra in Canada, it also introduced a version of the Suzuki Verona sedan named the Chevrolet Epica in 2004. It came with a 2.5-liter inline-six-cylinder engine, mounted transversely, driving the front wheels. Slow sales against more powerful and less expensive four-cylinder sedans led to GM discontinuing this car in 2006.

Chevrolet Orlando

Canadians can get South Korean–built versions of this seven-seat, tall wagon built on the Cruze platform. GM also builds this car in Vietnam and in Russia's Kaliningrad port city and sells those Orlandos to the rest of the world—except the U.S. The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, it starts at just under CA$20,000.

Volkswagen Golf Wagon

Volkswagen's sixth-generation German-built Golf debuted in 2008; the newest generation of the Mexico-built Jetta followed in 2010. Before this newest version, VW had sold a wagon version called Jetta in both the U.S. and Canada. But in 2010 it changed the name of the car to the Golf Wagon for Canada only. One of the reasons was to differentiate it from the older Jetta wagon, which did not have the sought-after TDI diesel engine in Canada until the new-generation wagon arrived.

Mercedes-Benz B200

This front-drive, Ford Focus–size compact hatchback came to Canada in 2005 and was sold through 2011, when a new generation was announced at the Frankfurt auto show. There was no 2012 model of the B200, but we expect the 2013 to arrive in Canada. It's also expected to be launched in the U.S. by 2014, though the powertrains are not yet known. In Europe the B-series comes with a wide range of gasoline and diesel four-cylinders, although Canada cars had a pair of 2.0-liters making 136 hp and 193 hp with turbocharging.

Nissan X-Trail

The Nissan X-Trail is a compact crossover SUV that Nissan has built since 2001 but never sold in the U.S. Canada, however, got the X-Trail from 2004 to 2006. It was replaced in 2007 by the current Rogue, which then also became available in the U.S. The second-generation X-Trail/Rogue is sold in Europe with a 2.2-liter diesel engine and is called the X-Trail or Renault Koleos. A Japanese market GT version uses a 280-hp gas engine, while the Australian version gets a 177-hp model, similar in output to the 170-hp U.S. Rogue.


With the Cold War still in full bloom in the U.S., Russian automaker AvtoVAZ began selling its Fiat sedan knockoffs in Canada under the name Lada from 1979 until 1998, well after the Soviet Union had crumbled. Two Ladas, the 2006 sedan and the Niva compact SUV, were popular in rallying and had a reputation for being overbuilt.

Asüna Sunrunner, Optima

Consider Asüna the Canadian word for Geo, a sub-brand General Motors set up to sell import cars in North America. Geo was created in 1989; Asüna began in 1991 and sold an Optima sedan (based on an Isuzu-built Opel) that later became the Pontiac LeMans. The Asüna Sunrunner was a rebadged Geo Tracker/Suzuki Sidekick that lasted in Canada until 1995.

TVR 3000M

Toronto-area car-enthusiast John Wadman fell in love in the 1970s with unique English fiberglass-bodied roadsters created by Trevor Wilkinson in 1954. The quick, handmade sports cars used V-6 and V-8 engines from the 1960s through the 1990s, and Wadman became the sole Canadian distributor. Modern models of TVRs were never certified for U.S. sales, and Wadman strongly discouraged potential U.S. customers from trying to import them south of the Canadian border. In 2004 production was halted in England and the company sold, and buyer Nikolay Smolensky was quoted in AutoCar magazine this summer saying that he would not resume production despite talks of Corvette-engined future models.