Drones are now the remote vehicle of note with all the amateur film-makers and shade tree spies, but they weren’t always the norm. Originally if you wanted to control a vehicle from afar, you were going to be stuck with a buggy Buggy that was operated using a dodgy radio control built by a drunk college student with an antenna intended for blinding children rather than for sending out signal waves. Today you can have a fully gas-powered RC car for serious park races, demolition derbies, or high-flying trick contests, all using your phone as a remote control.
As radio controlled cars get more sophisticated, there’s more intricate electronics that are involved, creating more potential for problems. Manufacturers who once led the industry around by the nose can’t hold the tiniest of candles to the advanced vehicles of today’s market. They have forgotten the fundamentals, which is what we focused on. We know that the keys to a good RC car are responsiveness, durability, user-friendliness, power, handling, and choosing the proper vehicle for your intent. Whether you’re a mud dog or an asphalt fiend, we’ve found the 8 best RC cars for drivers of every racing stripe.
Redcat Racing Electric Volcano EPX Truck
Pro: Body is durable polycarbonate
Con: No manual. Awful construction information.
Tow Package: Under the hood on the Volcano is a 27T 540 electric brushed motor that breaks away from the brushless models that have become popular in recent years. Intended to be taken into the field, the shocks are capped with aluminum and filled with oil to prevent hard drops or tough terrain from slowing it down. Made to go anywhere, its difficulty level in both assembly and operation make it a beginner’s RC truck for learning to drive off-road. The bumpers are effective, and it’s balanced well for avoiding RC rollover syndrome when you try to tango with too much hill.
Losi Night Crawler
Pro: Enhanced, oversized shocks
Con: Low top speed
Vampire Friendly: It’s not as common now as it once was to see RC cars outfitted with running lights. As the emphasis moves more toward speed and toughness, it’s nice that there’s a brand out there standing up for those who enjoy an evening boulder hop to spending their time under the speedway lights. Powering the chunky body and immense tires is a 35T Rock Crawler, a motor made for torque and power. That’s attached to Losi’s HD 21T Wormdrive Gear Set, so that short of a flat wall there’s few obstacles that can stop the Crawler. A full bank of top lights give you wide LED illumination that brings terrain into topographic relief for easy navigation long after twilight.
Tamiya Toyota Land Cruiser Cr01 Crawler
Pro: Independent axles
Con: Requires experience building RC car kits
Jacked Up: Tamiya has been making models of various kinds since 1948. The company has a long history of painstaking quality that is apparent in every line of the Crawler. It’s a reproduction of a Toyota Land Cruiser that manages to be spot-on when it comes to details, until you get down to the undercarriage. Able to climb hills at grades no Land Cruiser could manage, the Crawler is a remote controlled dune buggy meant for off-road action. A broad spring construction let’s the Crawler dig itself out of situations that would confound smaller vehicles.
Pro: Long motor size offers enhanced power
Con: Does little well besides rock racing
Parkour!: Rock racers are a different breed with different needs. Built for the sole purpose of rock racing, the Yeti is engineered from bumper to bumper exclusively to be one of the most technically adept rock hoppers ever to play the game. Using the 3150kV 4-Pole Brushless Motor for both torque and speed is a complicated procedure that the Yeti makes look easy. An independent front suspension gives it the stones to take on rough terrain while not sacrificing speed as it moves across whatever unusual course stands before it.
Carisma M10DT Volkswagen Beetle Desert Edition
Pro: Brushless motor
Con: Comes fully constructed
Throwback: More of a conversation piece, the Beetle from Carisma is a real scrambler of a car that can compete with much larger opponents when it comes to climbing, and it has a playful, kitsch style at the same time. If you’re a vintage fan, this is a tough one to pass up since it captures the desert buggy craze that took hold when every gas-breather decided to turn their bug into a sand crawler. The transmitter is a dual channel and both the amplifier and the receiver are waterproof, so take it into the mud and do some puddle jumping.
HPI Ken Block WR8 3.0 Ford Fiesta
Pro: Racing style clutch
Con: Expensive fuel
Power Boost: Ken Block approved and just as polished as the racer himself, this takes the original WR8 and amps it up with a Nitro Star G3.0 HO engine meant to blow the carbon off anyone’s cylinders. It’s fully legal and authorized, so there’s no concerns about illegal N.O. landing in your hands. The chassis actually comes from an RC monster truck, the Bullet 3.0. Having the extra bulk and protection makes the body hard to hurt, and a beast to try to break.
Pro: Speeds up to 100mph
Con: Requires Apple device to break speeds of 50mph
Track Star: Those whose need for speed comes in very small packages should give themselves the X0-1. It’s a sleek, slick bastard that comes from one of the most respected names in RC racing, Traxxas. Somewhere between a Corevette Stingray and a Viper, it’s built to use every advantage when trying to get that quarter mile flag. It’s powered by a 5000mAh LiPo battery that gives it hours of juice, a TQi 2.4GHz radio system with a long range, and a docking station for your i-Device, where the X0-1 will tell you all about speed, RPMs, and telemetry.
HPI Racing Baja
Pro: Includes upgrade options in the box
Con: Does not come with radio control
Beachcomber: Asphalt and off-roading are the most common types of RC cars around. It’s understandable, given that those are the most common types of terrain, but anyone who gets their kicks on the sand will want something a little different. The Baja is a nasty little 1/5th scale climber that is light enough for the loosest ground beneath it’s wheels, but has enough torque to climb wooded hills and enough spunk to make an appearance during a race. The skeletal frame handles jumps and impacts well, so it can also be your trick car, once you learn its particular, exacting handling needs.