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By RONAN MCGRATH

If you were trying to picture the United States from a collection of auto advertisements, you might conclude that it consists of a single, perfect empty blacktop that leads from northern Arizona, through Monument Valley, up some empty Rocky Mountain passes and down along a deserted Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur. In this idyllic drive, a single vehicle runs, driven by a golf-shirt-clad 30-year-old guy.

Of course, reality is different, and the drift toward cities is constant. With the increasing concentration of people comes increased traffic, longer commutes and more searching for parking in downtown areas. Yet, the United States is still a relatively unpopulated land mass. If you want to see real urban density, visit Tokyo. With a population equal to the entire state of California, this is a city where you cannot legally buy a car unless you already own a parking space, and driving to the airport from downtown can take four hours on a bad day.

The domestic auto market in Japan is therefore very different with cars in the under-660-cc class getting lower taxes and commanding 50 percent market share. There are all sorts of cars that never make it across the Pacific. Recently I had a chance to try one of them in Canada, in unaltered, right-hand-drive domestic form.

The Mistubishi i is a tiny four-door sedan with the engine mounted in the rear, almost under the passenger seats. The small turbocharged engine puts out 55 hp and 65 lb-ft of torque, and the car is surprisingly well equipped with keyless start, remote central locking, automatic transmission, complete iPod integration and even a hard drive with memory-stick slot. The driver
 
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