Autocross is growing in popularity among enthusiasts and even those who just want to be better drivers. Here are the top ten cars to start with.
Autocross is a motorsports event almost always located on a huge section of open pavement like an airstrip or an event center parking lot. Drivers take turns making their way around a course typically laid out in cones so that there’s very little chance of damage to the car or danger to those in attendance. It’s also incredibly cheap to participate with most events costing less than $75 to enter. Due to that low barrier of entry, Autocross has proven itself as one of the best ways to improve driver skill and ability in a short time. Here are some of the best cars to start with.
We realize we’re cheating from the get-go but it’s hard to go wrong with any BMW that starts with a 1, 2, or 3. The 1-Series is compact and powered by an inline-six which provides more than enough torque to push the car out of tight corners quickly. The 2-series is only slightly larger and can also be found with a torque-rich six-cylinder engine as well as desirable sporting options like a limited-slip differential. Die-hard fans might prefer the 3-series which dates back decades and is often credited with popularizing the sports sedan segment. No matter which one you choose you’ll get great driving dynamics, excellent feedback, and enough power to do well at autocross.
Mid-engine cars are naturally more balanced than alternative layouts and that’s highly beneficial at Autocross events. Most courses are full of incredibly tight turns or slaloms so a car like the Porsche Boxster and its hardtop sibling the Cayman are right at home. Each one is low to the ground and built with this sort of sporting activity in mind. Depending on the generation and the year you choose, engines can range from four to six cylinders. Buyers can also choose between a proper three-pedal manual transmission or Porsche’s excellent dual-clutch automatic.
The Honda S2000 might be long out of production but it’s alive and well in the minds and hearts of autocrossers. While the engine might be ahead of the passenger compartment it’s actually behind the front axle so in a sense it’s mid-engined just like the Porsche above. That, combined with a truly historic four-cylinder engine and a compact size make the S2000 a proper weapon on the street and on the track. No, it’s not a horsepower monster like some of the options we’ll discuss but it doesn’t need to be at Autocross events. Light, nimble handling and good power delivery do far more to cut down lap times than outright power ever could.
Toyota’s 86 and Subaru’s BRZ also deserve special mention on this list because each one is exceptional for the task. In fact, of all the cars we’ve mentioned so far these two might be the most economical and practical for those on a budget. It’s one of the very least expensive cars on this list to buy brand new and offers an awesome package for that money. Under the hood is a four-cylinder engine which powers the rear wheels only. First generation versions of these cars are known for being somewhat underpowered but in truth, each one has more than enough grunt for autocross and each one takes kindly to modifications that can increase power.
While the newest Corvette is no doubt great at just about every athletic task you might put to it, we’re thinking of older cars as the way to go here. The later years of the C4 Corvette offer a bargain for autocrossers who are willing to do a little work on them. The C5 and C6 Corvette generations are even faster out of the box and can really challenge the average driver to improve their skill. The big V8 up front is often more powerful than new drivers can handle coming out of tight turns so using a Corvette at autocross provides a lot of opportunity to grow and learn. In addition, buyers won’t be in search of more power as quickly as those who start with cars like the BRZ or BMW 3-series.
Take everything we said about the Corvette and turn it up to eleven. The Dodge Challenger is a brute but it’s also a blast at Autocross. Even those who opt for the V6 version will appreciate its better than advertised handling prowess and decent power. Still, we’d go for a V8 version because much like the Corvette, it challenges the driver to handle that power and improve in their skills. Unlike the Chevy though, it’s not uncommon to find stock Challengers that make north of 500-horsepower so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be in need of modifications that add power. On the other hand, adding suspension improvements to aid in traction will likely be on the list of to-dos. And when you accidentally slide out just turn the Autocross course into your own personal Gymkhana.
The Ford Mustang deserves mention for a number of reasons not least of which is the wide array of different powertrains and suspension layouts available. Get an older Mustang and you’ll have a live rear axle which can be challenging but rewarding to master. Newer Mustangs use independent rear suspension which is easier to manage but they typically have more power on tap. Depending on the year you could end up with anything from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine to a big brawny supercharged V8. Parts are widely available too so you can customize the car to your liking. The possibilities and the fun are endless.
The WRX was born from rally racing which in itself contains a lot of low speed corners with fiery exits. The streetcar is well matched to Autocross because of that. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine is the only powerplant you’ll find in a WRX and it’s full of torque and power. Thanks to Subaru’s AWD system, the WRX grips and rips out of corners happily too. I personally used a WRX for nearly a decade in various Autocross competitions and can confirm that, while it’s prone to understeer, practice in the seat can make the WRX a proper contender.
Here’s the wildcard nobody expected. Many companies offer custom kit cars that are perfect for autocross. Exocet, Factory Five, DF, and many other brands offer super low weight street legal cars that are made out of other base vehicles like the BRZ, the WRX, the Mazda Miata and others. They offer the most extreme speed and handling for the least amount of cash. It’s not uncommon to see these types of cars putting others with two or three times the power to shame at Autocross events.
No best autocross cars list can ever be complete without the Mazda Miata on it. Unquestionably no other car here can claim to be as versatile and fun as the Miata. No, it’s not the fastest, and in fact, it might be the least powerful option here. But at the same time it’s such a reliable, quick, and fun car to drive that it’s impossible to ignore. The Miata might not have a lot of power but it’s amazing in every other aspect of Autocross. It’s light, it’s nimble, it’s easy to work on and to maintain. It’s also great to live with each and every day that you’re not driving in an autocross race.