It’s no secret that, in the car world, there are different classes of vehicles that cater to the needs and desires of different people. Those who need to get from A to B regularly can pick up a simple daily driver. Speed-obsessed playboys have their pick of high-end sports cars. And off-the-grid adventurers almost always turn to overlanding SUVs.
What you might not know is that there are other, lesser-known categories that fit between the lines. In this case, the rides we’re focusing on are too performance-focused to be considered daily drivers, to small and stripped-down to rank amongst sports cars, and they’re definitely not made for off-roading. Sometimes classified as exocars, motorcycle alternatives, trikes, and more — we’re calling them go-karts. And the following 10, while being stripped-down speedsters, are also completely street-legal.
Polaris Slingshot SLR
We know you’ve probably seen the Polaris Slingshot out on the roads and thought to yourself, “who would drive such an ugly and strange vehicle?” The answer: anyone who has taken one out for a test drive and realized exactly what a fun little street demon the thing is — especially the SLR trim. While it certainly looks like you might have driven it off the track at your local putt-putt golf course, this little topless trike is completely street-legal. And while it’s definitely a pared-down racer — with 173 horsepower, 166 foot-pounds of torque, and a stripped-down weight of just 1,743 pounds — it’s also got a few handy features that make it a bit more versatile than you might first think. That includes a navigation-equipped full-color 7″ display, an upgradable interior with killer sound system options, and an option for a removable top (perfect for when the sun is a bit too high and hot in the sky.
Vanderhall makes some very interesting and sleek pared-down three-wheeled driving machines, but our favorite might just be their all-electric Edison². It boasts enough room to sit two people comfortably, but it still saves on weight, clocking in at just 1,400 pounds — making a lot more out of its twin electric motors, which offer the equivalent of 180 horsepower and 240 ft-lbs of torque. That means this little speed demon can do an impressive 4-second 0-60 run but it still gets an impressive 200-mile range per charge. With styling that’s reminiscent of the early days of professional car racing, this modern, all-electric, aluminum monocoque roadster is a tiny track terror you can take out on the roads.
Caterham Seven 360
The origins of the Caterham Seven date back to the mid-1950s, when the British carmakers at Lotus built their version of the Seven as an entry-level replacement for their Mark VI. That car went on to become legendary in both the racing world and the larger automotive world — even after Lotus killed it off. It was then that Caterham bought the rights to the design and started producing their own versions of the little roadster. Today, the Caterham Seven 360 is the culmination of decades of racing, engineering, and design. And it has an insane power-to-weight ratio, with its 180-horsepower engine and a curb weight of just under 1,290 pounds. Done up with loads of carbon fiber, both inside and out, this is a classically-styled go-kart loaded with modern components that make for a whole lot of fun, whether you’re hitting the race track or just going for a quick spin around the neighborhood.
Ariel Atom 4
The Ariel Atom — in all its iterations — has no doors, no roof, very little in the way of body panels, and a cockpit that lacks just about everything outside of the bare essentials. And that makes it a formidable driving machine — especially when you pair those features (which keep the weight down to an impressively-lightweight 1,312 pounds) with the 4th generation’s gargantuan 320-horsepower beating heart. What’s probably most impressive, however, is that the Ariel Atom 4 comes with all that and it is still perfectly street-legal. That Honda-sourced powerplant also gives this little four-wheeled rocket a 0-60 time of 2.8 seconds — that’s supercar-level quickness — and a top speed of a whopping 162 miles per hour. With just a five-point racing seat separating the driver and the road, we’d like to see the man brave enough to push this little two-seater go-kart to its limits. We’re just not sure if he’d be a fool or our hero.
Campagna T-Rex 16SP
Another tricycle like the Polaris Slingshot, the Campagna T-Rex has one of the stranger designs of any of the street-legal go-karts on our list. But that oddness also comes with a bit of added safety not found elsewhere. You see, while the roof of the T-Rex doesn’t do much to block out the sun or elements, it does hide a roll cage — a handy safety feature that’s a good deal more effective than the roll hoops you see behind the seats of the other offerings here. Of course, that’s hardly all this Campagna has to offer. It also boasts a weight of just 1,199 pounds — an especially low weight that pairs masterfully with its 160-horsepower engine. And while this performance-focused go-kart is plenty killer with a gas powerplant, the brand also offers an all-electric option — if that’s more your speed.
Most of the go-karts on our list look either like a car with all the external bits taken off or like something out of a 1980s sci-fi epic. Clearly, neither of those options are for everyone. If you like your cars to look like cars, rather than space fighters or Mad Max mobiles, then the Elemental RP1 might just be the street-legal go-kart for you. Of course, it’s not all looks, either. The RP1 is powered by your choice of two Ford power plants — a 2.0L EcoBoost or the 2.3L option. What that translates to is a horsepower of 280-320, a 0-60 time between 2.8-2.6 seconds, and a maximum speed of 155-165 mph. The bigger point is this: the RP1 is a lightning-quick two-seater street-legal go-kart that can go toe-to-toe with the best of them and looks damn good while doing it. And if you’re not fond of the idea of getting bugs in your teeth, there’s even an optional windscreen to stave off the flies.
Torque: Up To 332
With a name that sounds like it could be a Lord of the Rings or Warcraft character, the Drakan Spyder is appropriately intimidating from a performance standpoint. That’s because it hides away a naturally-aspirated LS3 E-Rod V8 engine that’s good for a class-topping 430 horsepower and 424 ft-lbs of torque in a package that weighs just 2,000 pounds. That also means it can do 0-60 in 3.2 seconds and has a top speed of 165 miles per hour. Granted, that comes at a high price, but what are you willing to pay for one of the most thrilling driving experiences of your life? This ride also comes with an added bonus for the DIYers out there. If you want to turn it into a project car and drop your own engine into it, they also sell a rolling chassis version for $25k less than the turnkey price. And if it can fit an LS3 engine in the bay, guess what? It can also fit Mopar’s Hellephant 1,000 hp crate engine. But you’d have to be absolutely mad to try such a thing, right?
KTM X-Bow GT
You might take a look at the KTM X-Bow GT and think it looks an awful lot like the Polaris Slingshot SLR. But there are some very big differences between the two. For starters, the KTM has four wheels. It’s also over $100k more than the Polaris. Of course, that price difference can also be counted in horsepower — the Slingshot gets just 173 to the X-Bow’s 300. And that’s just the beginning. The X-Bow GT also has a top speed of 144 mph, does 0-62 in 4.1 seconds, has a wider and lower center of gravity (making it safer and more stable), features a monocoque carbon fiber chassis (the first of its kind), and comes with a racing-developed suspension. It also gets underside protection, ergonomic integrated Recaro seats, and so much more. The KTM X-Bow GT isn’t for people who want the Polaris Slingshot SLR. It’s for people who want a good deal more out of their street-legal go-kart.
One of just two single-seater street-legal go-karts on our list, the Briggs Automotive Company’s Mono has one major upside not found elsewhere on this list: unparalleled customization via their online service. That means, from tip to tail, you can craft your Mono to look exactly how you want without having to deal with a salesperson nosing in on your business. And the list of options is pretty impressive — ranging from colorways, to a higher-end exhaust system, to ceramic brakes, to car covers, and more. You can even get a bespoke racing suit to go along with your ride. Then, once you’ve got the perfect look, you can just buy it and have it shipped to your house. And that’s when things get really fun because you’ll get to enjoy its 285-horsepower engine on the track or around your neighborhood.
Donkervoort D8 GTO-RS
Most of Donkervoort’s iconically-styled vehicles are not for road use. But when they decided to make a road-going go-kart, they managed to still capture their same style and spirit in a street-legal version they call the D8 GTO-RS. Loaded with an Audi 2.5L R5 TFSI engine, the D8 is good for 380 horsepower and 369 foot-pounds of torque — which makes for a speedy drive by any measure that is helped by the fact that it weighs only 1,532 pounds. That means it can do 0-60 in a blistering 2.7 seconds. For reference, that’s about the same as a modern Porsche 911 Turbo. To cope with all that power, Donkervoort had to completely redesign the body to optimize downforce and improve aerodynamics. And they managed that beautifully — 20 percent better than previous iterations — without sacrificing their iconic looks. The big issue you’ll find with this vehicle, however, is that every example is already spoken for — meaning, if you want one, you’ll have to get it used.
10 Best Race Tracks In The USA
The roads can get a bit crowded, curbing the potential fun you can have in your street-legal go-kart. Of course, you could always take it down to one of the best race tracks in the USA and really push it to the limit.