The best radio control cars

Driving in miniature is superb fun with a great RC car. We recommend the best.

Three types of radio control cars in action

by Chris Williams |
Updated on

While racing games are becoming the most prominent form indulging in car stuff, there are other options. One is to stick with full-size, real-world cars. Whether racing or just tinkering, this tends to be an all-consuming hobby in terms of time and money. Another is Scalextric, the slot racing phenomenon that is still very much with us. Models are worthwhile too. Kits from brands like Tamiya and Revell allow you to build exact replicas or decorate them how you please. Then of course, there is LEGO.

Remote control cars have that edge over other car hobbies because they actually move. Furthermore, due to the combination of realistic and creative RC cars available, one could argue the choice is even better than full-size cars.

Radio control car buying tips

Choose your terrain

Sealed, dirt and grass, or mud. Superb RC cars exist for all terrains. You’ll have a preference, but we’d personally argue off-road is more fun with RC cars. As demonstrated by our RC rock crawler group test, there is so much fun to be had.

Budget

Smartphones vary from a few pounds up to hundreds depending on performance and features. Likewise with RC cars. While the law of diminishing returns can easily rear its head, we suggest paying for high quality components. Not only does it aid longevity, it massively improves the driving experience. Tacky models available from Amazon don’t hold a candle to the thoroughly engineered models from specialist producers.

Scale

The most common size is 1:10. It’s big enough so that the vehicle can tackle the terrain without looking like a flea trying to cross a lawn. But it’s not so big the car is hard to store or transport. Smaller scales are available, such as 1:24. Naturally, these are less expensive on average than the 1:10 cars.

Fuel

The obvious option is an RC car with an electric motor. They’re quiet, simple, and are becoming very powerful and efficient too thanks to brushless motors. However, they are constrained by batteries and therefore runtime is limited.

Some RC cars are fuelled by gas or nitro (methanol-based fuel that contains nitromethane). These models use a combustion engine and have crankshafts, air filters, pistons, and all the usual components employed in a combustion engine. These are more customisable, and more powerful (for now). But gas and nitro RC cars are also loud, more complicated, and more expensive.

For hobbyists looking for fun, electric motors are best. Gas and nitro RC cars are better for serious enthusiasts.

Customising

If you are the sort of person who will enjoy tinkering and customising their RC car, make sure you get a model that can be. Some models, such as the FTX Ravine, are superb but are very restricted in what can be changed due to the design.

The best RC cars

Editor's pick

Traxxas TRX-4 Bronco RedCAR

Traxxas is a RC vehicle heavyweight that goes to truly impressive lengths to develop its models. The TRX-4 has a range of body options, of which our favourite is the officially licensed Ford Bronco.

We’ve tested this truck and its off-road capability is astonishing right out of the box. It comes with a host of features not seen on any other rock crawler, such as cruise control, two-speed gearbox, and remote-locking diffs. However, it’s also hugely customisable.

Traxxas has focused on the underside of the TRX-4. The body is impact-absorbing plastic, which is a good thing. It means you can get stuck into driving the TRX-4 without feeling nervous about damaging the body.

It’s also quick for an electric rock crawler, so you can enjoy high-speed rallies too. The primary drawback is cost. It’s expensive to buy and you need to buy a battery and charger separately.

Read our full Traxxas Bronco review

Pros

  • Very tough
  • Loads of handy features
  • Fast for a rock crawler

Cons

  • Expensive

Best on-road RC car

Like Gran Turismo or Hot Wheels, Tamiya is a very famous name is the world of cars. Its detailed models and RC cars are loved by many. The brand also enjoyed a surge in popularity during lockdowns.

Like the Traxxas TRX-4 Bronco, the Tamiya Quattro sits on a platform that hosts many different bodies. It’s just that we love the Quattro so here it is. The platform in question is Tamiya’s TT-02 chassis, which offers four-wheel drive and independent suspension. To drive, the TT-02 is very sharp but smooth, with the suspension providing stability through bends.

The polycarbonate body needs to be stickered and painted yourself, so you can colour it how you please. Likewise, there are many mechanical upgrades available for the TT-02.

Pros

  • Excellent to drive
  • Build yourself
  • Many bodies for the chassis

Cons

  • Maybe a bit too nice to thrash

Best value RC car

Although the Ravine isn’t a model to customise, it is a fantastic out-the-box rock crawler. Its off-roading ability is on par with far more expensive options.

The Ravine is powered by two 380-size electric motors. That’s not for speed, it’s for crabbing. One motor sits on the rear axle, the other on the front. From the controller, you select from four drive modes: front steering, front and rear opposite, front and rear crabbing, or rear-wheel steering. Not only does this make that Ravine amusing, but also amazingly agile on very rough and technical terrain.

As with most rock-quality rock crawlers, the Ravine is waterproof and is happy to tackle mud puddles. Though be warned, it’s quite a pain to clean. Also in the Ravine’s favour is the inclusion of a battery and USB charger.

Read our full FTX Ravine review

Pros

  • Great value
  • Serious off-road ability
  • Ready to run

Cons

  • Can’t customise

Best dirt RC car

Tamiya Racing Fighter

Rrp: $112.70

Price: $104.86

Combining attention to detail and value, the Racing Fighter is a wonderful RC car for first-timers. The Racing Fighter uses a different chassis to the Quattro above, a DT-03 chassis. It’s two-wheel drive but runs the same, powerful 540 electric motor. So you can churn healthy rooster tails while ripping around the lawn.

Given the knobbly rear tyres, the Racing Fighter is definitely at home on flat, loose surfaces rather than sealed. It’s rear-heavy design and skinny front tyres make tarmac running an exercise in understeer anyway.

Building this machine offers another dimension to RC cars too. It means you get to understand a little more about how it works, plus the satisfaction of DIY.

Read our full Tamiya Racing Fighter review

Pros

  • Looks brilliant
  • Ideal for learning RC car control
  • Good value

Cons

  • Easy to scold yourself on rear-mounted motor

Best RC car for kids

Getting an RC car for a child as a gift provides the largest temptation to buy something cheap. Granted, you don’t have to spend too much to get a good RC car, but you have to know which ones are worthwhile.

Revell’s RC VW Amarok truggy is worthwhile. It’s a simple but solid 1:24 scale model that can roam around on easy trails and sealed paths. It comes ready to run, including a battery and USB charger.

It’s not a quick RC car but its run time from the 500mAh battery is good. We’ve used the same capacity battery in a 1:24 scale Element rock crawler and had had enough before it ran out of charge.

Pros

  • Much better built than others at this price
  • Decent run time
  • Tackle road and trail

Cons

  • Easy to outgrow

Batteries

We have a comprehensive guide on the subject of batteries. The summary of it is that there are two types of batteries used in electric RC cars. Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries.

The former are compact and robust with a decent life cycle. But one of NiMH batteries’ flaws is something called memory effect, which means they need to be fully discharged before recharging to maintain their capacity.

LiPo batteries have even higher energy density than NiMH batteries. They also have higher voltage, which means they give better run time, more power, and can be smaller. Nor do LiPo batteries suffer from memory effect. Sounds perfect but they are more expensive than NiMH batteries and have a shorter lifespan.

Cameras: capturing the carnage

Not necessarily carnage, but it certainly makes good watching.

FTX Mauler climbing a rock face
©CAR

Best mini action camera

Insta360 GO 2

Rrp: $315.00

Price: $299.99

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Going micro is fantastic fun but it can be challenging to capture it. The Insta360 GO 2 is a great action cam for attaching to 1:10 scale RC cars, not least because it weighs 27g and is just 5.3cm tall.

But there is substance within the tiny body. It’s IPX8 waterproof and can record at up to 1440p. Crucially for RC cars, the GO 2 will also capture in slow motion (Full HD at 120fps). You can also do a time-lapse, and to keep footage crisp, the GO 2 has superb image stabilisation.

We also love that it comes with a charge case like wireless earbuds. It means you can charge the camera while out and about. It also comes supplied with a mounting clip.

Best entry-level camera

For capturing moments happening at speed, camera phones don’t cut it. But spending thousands of pounds on a camera is overkill for most. Happily, there is a middle ground. If you’re keen on some amateur photography for (but not limited to) your RC car action, Sony’s α6400 is a solid option.

While it’s still an interchangeable lens camera, the α6400 is mirrorless and therefore very compact. Its mid-sized sensor captures clear images, even in low light conditions. If you’re under a tree canopy, for example, the α6400 will still deliver.

Superfast autofocus is another strong trait. The α6400 can pick and focus on subjects in 0.02 seconds. Given that things happen at x1.5 speeds with RC cars, speedy autofocus is very handy.

Chris Williams is a Senior Product Writer for CAR, also working for Live For The Outdoors. An expert in camping and muscle cars, he spends most of his time up a mountain or laying rubber.

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