UPDATED: The Top 15 Cars for Street Racing
The first automobile race, as the old yarn claims, occurred shortly after the second automobile was built. While the accuracy of this anecdote is, to put it gently, questionable, it wouldn’t at all be a reach to assume the first race took place on a public road. It would take a few years before someone would suggest racing cars on dirt ovals designed for horses, and the first racecourse designed specifically for motorcars – England’s Brooklands circuit – wasn’t constructed until 1907, a full 21 years after Karl Benz received a patent for his self-propelled tricycle that was steered with a tiller from the comfort of a park bench.
But even after the invention of permanent circuits, street racing has endured; sadly, there are far fewer legal street races (with roads closed to traffic and temporary barriers set up) staged than there are illegal ones. While we here at Sub5Zero unequivocally do not endorse illegal street racing (mainly because our legal department – which is comprised of a magic 8-ball and a law school textbook written around the time Ralph Nader started potty training – says we shouldn’t), we realize we can’t reach out of your monitor or phone and bitchslap you for deciding to do it anyway. If you truly insist on endangering the safety of yourselves and others and risking getting your ass thrown in the pokey (You do know why they call it that, right?), at least do so in something that has a decent chance of winning. Something like one of these fine rides.
One of the biggest – if not the biggest – keys to victory in the “stoplight grand prix” is getting a good launch. And few street legal cars launch with the kind of ferociousness that the Nissan GT-R does. The current one has 545 horsepower (600 horsepower if you go with the Nismo model) and a please-don’t-call-it-launch-control function to get it out of the hole, but the speed just. Keeps. Coming. Not bad for a nearly two-ton 2+2 coupe.
Ford Shelby GT500
No list of top notch street-racing hardware would be complete without at least one muscle car, and the most recent leader of Ford’s Mustang herd, the Shelby GT500, is one of the best you can buy. Later ones featured an all-aluminum supercharged 5.4L V8 generating up to 640 horsepower, and was matched with a take-it-or-leave-it 6-speed manual transmission. However, the most valuable component as far as street racers are concerned might very well be the solid rear axle, which is far less susceptible to wheel hop than most independent rear suspension designs.
While the Porsche 911 forms the backbone of the company’s lineup (and has for many years), the Cayman is arguably the real driver-focused member of the family. The Cayman GT4 pictured above is the mightiest one yet, but even the early base versions of Porsche‘s mid-engine hardtop can be formidable foes in the right hands, especially if the “track” in question is heavy on corners.
Toyota Supra Mk. 4
While the Toyota Supra‘s beginnings were humble (as an upmarket Celica sub-model with an extended nose to make room for an inline-six engine), by the time the fourth and final (for now, at least) generation arrived, it was a proper high-end sports car, with up to 320 horsepower in the double-throwdown Twin-Turbo model. But the performance car world has moved on, you say, and 320 horsepower is now small potatoes. Good thing, then, that the Mk. 4 Supra Twin-Turbo’s engine – the 3.0L 2JZ-GTE – is one of the strongest and most tuner-friendly engines on the planet, even today.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is born out of the Japanese firm’s success in rallying. And in rallying, acceleration and grip are key to setting fast times, so it’s no surprise the Evo is a force to be reckoned with on the street. The turbocharged 2.0L inline-four provides 291 horsepower, and the MR version features a dual-clutch 6-speed transmission for rapid-fire shifting. It also has Bilstein struts, Eibach springs, and two piece front brake rotors, should the impromptu track on which you’re competing include some curves.
You seldom see “Volvo,” “station wagon,” and “high performance in the same sentence…unless you’re talking about the V70R. With a 300 horsepower turbocharged 2.5L inline-5, AWD, an optional 6-speed manual, and a sophisticated multi-mode suspension system, this wagon definitely hauls more than jumbo packs of toilet paper. And unless your adversary knows what to look for, he won’t know the sort of beat-down that’s coming.
BMW M3 (E92)
By the time the fourth-generation BMW M3 (based on the E92 3 Series Coupe) came along in 2007, the model had matured from a simple, rambunctious homologation special into a polished, refined sporting machine that you could easily drive seven days (and nights?) a week. Its naturally-aspirated 4.0L V8 produces 414 horsepower, so there aren’t many other cars in its class that can touch it and, lest anyone forget, sedan and convertible variants were offered, too.
We know what you’re thinking: What’s a car that’s often bought by senior partners in law firms and semi-retired stockbrokers doing on a list of star street racers? The answer is 11.9, because that’s how many seconds it took one to cover the standing quarter-mile when Car and Driver tested one in 2004. The 5.5L twin-turbo V12 produces 493 horsepower and 590 lb.-ft of torque, but this car’s real calling card is being able to catapult from stoplight to stoplight…while still having toys like a retractable hardtop and massaging seats. It’s beautiful in its absurdity and, because it’s a decade-or-so-old German luxury car, alarmingly cheap to buy.
Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
If you consider 707 horsepower from a bone-stock street legal production car with a warranty to be weaksauce, the door’s over there, bub. For the rest of us, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is crazy in the best possible way. The most powerful production automobile engine Chrysler has ever concocted – a supercharged and intercooled 6.2L version of the Gen 3 Hemi V8 – is able to push the going-on-two-tons retro muscle coupe to dizzying speeds, particularly when fitted with the rapid-fire 8-speed automatic transmission (though the Viper‘s 6-speed manual is also offered). And in case the Challenger‘s two-door body isn’t practical enough for your tastes, you could always get a Charger SRT Hellcat…
Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
When Toyota and Subaru first announced they were working together to develop a new compact, rear-wheel-drive sport coupe, gearheads of almost all stripes were sent into a frothy frenzy of anticipation. And the dynamic oversteery duo – which answer to Subaru BRZ and – depending on the market – Toyota 86, Toyota GT86 or Scion FR-S – were indeed worth the wait in many respects. Alas, power wasn’t one of those respects, as the 2.0L flat-four is pumping out a modest 200 horsepower; luckily, there are fixes in the forms of aftermarket superchargers and turbochargers available.
While most of the cars on this list derive their speed from brute power and copious grip, the Caterham R500 is fast by being feathery. Like 1,116 lb. feathery. That figure looks even crazier when you factor in the 263 horsepower Ford four-banger that supplies the power. Caterham claims the R500 does the 0-60 sprint in 2.88 seconds and tops out at 150 mph. Not bad for a car whose basic design dates back to 1957.
There are many cars that are faster, flashier and more powerful than the Volkswagen GTI. However, it’s unlikely that any of them are more practical or easier to live with on a day-to-day basis than Wolfsburg’s pioneering hot hatch, which is now in its seventh generation. And should you be a bit more flush with cash, consider stepping up to the Golf R, which boosts the turbocharged 2.0L inline-four‘s output to even loftier heights and, more importantly when the starter’s arms drop, doubles the number of driven wheels.
Think the Nissan Skyline has never come to America on an official basis? Think again! The Infiniti G37, like the G35 that came before and the Q60 that followed, is based on the concurrent Skyline sedan and coupe (chassis code V36, in the case of the G37). And while it might not be as mighty as a GT-R, the G37 has no trouble getting going thanks to its 3.7L VQ37 V6 making well over 300 horsepower. Of course, we’d stick a Stillen supercharger on said V6 so we could smoke even more opponents.
Ford Mustang LX 5.0
We know we’ll probably catch some flak for featuring more than one Mustang, but the Fox-platform 5.0 LX is just too cool to ignore. Available in all three body styles (hatchback, notchback and convertible), the 5.0 LX featured the same 302 cubic inch (which actually works out to 4.9L) Windsor V8 as the GT, but without the GT’s flashy body kit and slatted taillight covers. And since the Fox Mustang is one of the vehicles most heavily supported by the aftermarket even today, increasing the stock 225 horsepower figure is a piece of cake.
For much of its history, Honda has gone against engine design conventional wisdom, which says you need big displacement and/or big boost to get big power. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the Honda S2000, a fantastic rear-drive roadster that, in its original guise, extracted 240 horsepower from a 2.0L inline-four that revved to 9,000 rpm. Granted, there wasn’t much in the way of torque (which is why the North American and Japanese markets got a 2.2L version later on), but thanks to responsive handling, slick 6-speed manual transmission and monstrous top end mojo, the S2000 is one four-pot droptop that can punch above its weight.
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