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Best Autocross Cars

Autocross is a motorsport known for being both exciting and easy to pick up, even for amateurs using their regular day-to-day cars. Racers compete by darting around a series of cones to see who can get the best time without veering off-track or knocking over cones. Tracks are small and racing is low-speed, but the rapid-fire turning, shifting, braking and accelerating make the sport thrilling.

The best autocross cars have a “fun factor” say Brett Becker, communication director at National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Mike King of Sports Car Club of America (SSCA). With their help, we selected eight of the best new and used cars — many $25,000 or less — that not only offer quick acceleration, braking and maneuverability, but have proven records in autocross competitions. These cars have also received favorable ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), when available.

Best new cars for autocross

There can be significant variations between model years, each affecting a car’s performance. For this list, we reviewed the manufacturer’s specifications for each model’s base trim for the most recent model year available.

2019 Mini Cooper Classic

MSRP $23,400

Not yet rated by NHTSA

As far as well-regarded, new autocross cars go, this is one of the most affordable choices around. The base Cooper Classic is a two-door, subcompact hatchback with front-wheel drive and a 6-speed transmission, available in manual or automatic, though racers might want to opt for the faster Cooper S or John Cooper Works.

Front-wheel drive may not be your first choice for an autocross car, but Becker suggested that the Cooper is an exception worth considering. This two-seater sits low, adding to its handling, but beware of trims with bigger tires as they make handling less smooth.

Off the track, the Cooper outshines other vehicles in terms of its charm and playful details, making it a big winner for customization, assuming you’re able to spring for extras. IIHS gives the 2019 version good marks but did not name it a Top Safety Pick, a designation the Cooper received in 2018.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

MSRP $25,730

Not yet rated by NHTSA or IIHS

The Miata has been a go-to sports car since its debut in 1989. Becker even quips that no matter what kind of car you’re looking for, the answer is the Miata. That’s because it’s affordable and well-equipped for autocross, without any need for modifications.

At a curb weight of only 2,339 lbs, the 2019 Miata is the lightest car on our list. It’s also one of the smallest, and only second to the Mini Cooper in terms of affordability. However, its size can also be a drawback, especially for taller drivers. Before buying, King recommends getting into a vehicle with your helmet on to make sure you fit comfortably inside.

Becker, who’s owned seven Miatas, noted that he considers the 2018 and 2019 Miatas probably the best models yet, due to a new engine and increased power, but “any year you want to pick is fine … in terms of just being able to grab it and go autocrossing.”

2020 Honda Civic Si

MSRP $25,000

5-star NHTSA rating

The two-door Honda Civic Si coupe comes equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission and summer tires, and the second front-wheel drive on our list. However, according to Becker, the Si is a great model if you’re looking for a new car you can take right out of the showroom and onto the autocross course.

There are several types of Civics offered by Honda, but this sportier version is great for autocross because of its low weight. Honda has shortened the drive ratio on the newest Civics to improve acceleration.

And the new Si isn’t just a great autocross car — it’s a vehicle you can proudly drive on the street. Both of our experts are fans of used models, and Kelly Blue Book (KBB) has consistently lauded the Civic with its Small Car Best Buy award. IIHS has also given the Civic coupe mostly high marks.

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI

MSRP $27,595

5-star NHTSA rating

IIHS Top Safety Pick

If you require four doors or a hatchback, the Golf family of cars has both. VW’s “hot hatch,” the GTI has several new performance upgrades that make it attractive for autocross drivers. Those include a more powerful engine, improved brake system and a 7-speed automatic transmission, in place of its previous 6-speed. Competitive drivers may want to consider an upgrade from the base trim, since the standard all-season tires can slow you down.

Off the track, you’ll appreciate the surprising amount of cargo space and rear legroom given the Golf’s small size. The car also comes with an impressive, 6-year/72,000 mile transferable, bumper-to-bumper warranty.

2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4

MSRP $99,200

Not yet rated by NHTSA or IIHS

While the Cayman isn’t listed in autocross forums favored by amateur drivers, it’s still a powerful car for those who might want a luxury sports car off the track. An expensive car isn’t necessary for autocross, according to Becker — “autocross is not a rich man’s sport.”

This car is simply In a different class. It has excellent balance and braking when tested on the track, superior handling and a return of the GT4 trim. The 2020 also sports a lower ride height than past models, rivaling all other cars we analyzed except the Miata. The Cayman is also highly customizable.

For that autocross driver who’s in the rare position to drop around six-figures for a luxury car, you may want to pre-order this 6-cylinder, 414 horsepower GT4, available spring 2020. But if you’re looking for a comparable car with excellent performance, but at a slightly lower price-point, consider waiting for the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette.

Best used cars for autocross

Some of the most beloved and highly recommended autocross cars are older models. Here are a few favorites that stand the test of time:

Honda CRX

The Honda CRX has been a mainstay on autocross tracks over the last several decades. That’s in part because of its reliability, fuel efficiency, ample after-market support and the fact that it’s just an all-around fun car to drive. The second generation, produced from 1988 to 1991, is recommended by King and often mentioned as a fan favorite. If you’re in the market for one, though, beware: it’s difficult to find an older CRX, and what you do find will likely have modifications, ultra-high mileage or significant wear-and-tear.

Chevrolet Corvette

Despite its size, the Chevy Corvette is repeatedly named as an outstanding autocross vehicle. With a 104.5 inch wheelbase, it’s about as big a car you can get without losing the quickness and maneuverability needed for autocross driving. However, noted Becker, the weight distribution and balance are part of what makes the car distinct, in particular the fifth generation: “Corvettes 1999 [and newer] are your best [used vehicles]” for the sport.

BMW M3

BMW created the M3 sedan for racing and placed the fuel tank under the seat as part of its efforts to perfectly balance the car’s components; as Becker said, “[a] BMW 3 series of almost any vintage will be fun… anything from [1983] and up, you’re going to have a pretty-well balanced, fun car to drive.”

Edmunds named the 1995 BMW M3 one of the 100 Greatest Cars of All Time, but stock M3s of most any year are great for autocrossing, without any modification necessary. Just be sure that old recalls are resolved before buying a used model and putting in on the track.

How we chose the best cars for autocross

We consulted with autocross experts and scoured driver forums to identify the best autocross cars. We took into consideration the following factors:

Base MSRP or the lowest resale price recommended by the manufacturer for the base trim of the new cars on this list.

Curb weight or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, measured in pounds, with lighter being better.

Size is measured by length, width and height (LxWxH), with smaller size being preferable.

Wheelbase in inches, as an indicator of maneuverability.

We’ve also provided the following safety ratings, when available:

NHTSA score. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates how well vehicles perform in crash tests and how well they avoid crashes. The highest rating awarded is 5 stars.

IIHS rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests the ability of vehicle technology to prevent crashes and to protect occupants in a crash. The highest rating awarded is Top Safety Pick+.

Ways to finance the best cars for autocross

Financing an autocross car is essentially the same as financing non-autocross car, and should be navigated using the same rules of thumb. That means shopping around for financing through your bank, credit union or another reputable lender, before choosing a car. Once you have an idea of what you’ll be approved to borrow, you can use that figure to help you shop within budget.

You could fill out a single form at LendingTree and receive up to five potential loan offers from lenders, depending on your creditworthiness. Fortunately for autocross drivers, finding a great car for the track doesn’t mean having to take on major financing for a big purchase.

 

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