Best Autocross Car
Our picks for the top-tier cone-dodgers, both new and oldby Jonathan Lopez, on
Motorsport can be both ludicrously expensive and extremely dangerous. Luckily, autocross (alternatively known as auto-x or solo) remedies both those issues without skimping on the adrenaline rush. The premise is simple - race against the clock on a cone-lined course without hitting any of the orange things and post the fastest time. The courses are typically tight and tricky, emphasizing driving skill and vehicle setup over raw horsepower, and as a result, you don’t need to drop half a fortune to run at the front. Given just how accessible and inexpensive autocross is compared to most other motorsports, it makes sense that the vehicles which compete in it are equally accessible and inexpensive. With that in mind, we’ve put together the following list to help you find the best autocross car out there.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
When in doubt, Miata is always a good choice. Four generations of this iconic compact sports car are on the books, and every one of them is worthy of slinging around an autocross course. That’s because all four share the same characteristics - small dimensions, low weight, rear-wheel drive, and faultless chassis tuning.
What’s more, every generation also comes with a huge amount of aftermarket support, which means you can easily tune and tweak yours up to a national-level competitor, if desired.
Pricing is budget-friendly as well, ranging from a few grand for older high-mileage examples, to $25,730 for a brand-new model straight off the dealer lot.
|Horsepower||181 hp @ 7,000 rpm|
|Torque||151 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|0-60 mph||5.7 seconds|
|Top Speed||140 mph|
Read our full review on the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
The Honda CRX/Civic has a long history of success in autocross, and for good reason - not only is it absurdly lightweight and surprisingly small, but as a 30-year-old Japanese compact, it’s also extremely affordable. But don’t think it doesn’t have what it takes to post quick times - this H Badge is very good at changing direction very quickly, and the mechanical bits are robust and simple - exactly what you want out of a race car.
The corners offer double wishbone suspension, while Si models come with the popular D16A6 four-cylinder engine.
Throw in huge aftermarket support to tune yours exactly as you see fit, and you can take yours from entry-level fun machine to top-spec competitor with no issue whatsoever. Pick one up for $2,000 to $4,000. Alternatively, step up to the new Honda Civic Type R for the latest and greatest that the auto behemoth can muster.
|Horsepower||108 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|Torque||100 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm|
|0-60 mph||8.1 seconds|
|Top Speed||120 mph (est.)|
Read our full driven review on the 2017 Honda Civic Type R.
Subaru BRZ / Toyota 86
Developed as a joint project between Subaru and Toyota, the BRZ/86 twins are built to spec as dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast cars. That means engine up front, power at the back, and a manual transmission in between.
Both come with a naturally aspirated flat four-cylinder engine, which produces upwards of 200 horsepower.
That’s not a lot, but with just 2,800 pounds to push around, the BRZ/86 twins don’t really need excess output. Instead, these two-doors shine where it matters most - chassis and suspension tuning. Driving either one hard, the word “planted” readily comes to mind. Pricing starts at $25,795 for new models straight off the dealer lot.
|Horsepower||205 hp @ 7,000 rpm|
|Torque||156 lb-ft @ 6,400 rpm|
|0-60 mph||6.2 seconds|
|Top Speed||135 mph|
Read our full driven review on the 2017 Subaru BRZ.
Read our full driven review on the 2017 Toyota 86.
First making its mark in the rough-and-tumble world of rally racing, the modern Mini takes its predecessor’s spirit of bite-sized fun into the next century.
And while the new Mini might be bigger and heavier than the first-gen, it’s still got the goods to tear up an autocross course.
Offered in a variety of trim levels and body styles, we recommend the hardtop two-door John Cooper Works for weekend performance duty, which comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Pricing starts at $32,400 brand-new. Alternatively, you can go with the 189-horsepower Cooper S for $26,400, or the 134-horsepower base-model Cooper for $21,900 if you don’t wanna spring for the whole enchilada. Used models can be good as well.
|Horsepower||228 hp @ 5,200 rpm|
|Torque||236 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm|
|0-60 mph||6.1 seconds|
|Top Speed||127 mph|
Read our full driven review on the 2019 Mini Cooper.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen more or less invented the hot hatch segment with the Golf GTI, so it definitely makes sense to include it in this list. First announced in 1975, the GTI’s formula has remained more or less consistent through the years, with extra power under the hood, sharper suspension in the corners, and a more capable chassis under the skin.
Such is the case with the latest model year, but the previous generations are just as potent, especially once you start applying the right modifications.
That said, go for the latest iteration, and you’ll have some tasty interior bits to pair with the sharpened performance spec. Pricing starts at $27,595.
|Horsepower||220 hp @ 4,700 rpm|
|Torque||258 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm|
|0-60 mph||6.0 seconds|
|Top Speed||125 mph|
Read our full review on the 2018 Volkswagen Golf.
There’s a reason most ultra-high-performance sports cars come with an engine mounted just behind the cabin. Weight distribution can have a dramatic effect on how a car behaves at the limit, and the Toyota MR2 seeks to offer the same balance and delicacy you’d find in a top-dollar supercar, but for a fraction of the cost.
Offered in three generations between 1984 and 2007, every iteration of the MR2 comes with a mid-engine layout, with both naturally aspirated- and forced-induction four-cylinders making the spec sheets.
However, be warned - the MR2’s eagerness to rotate can quickly turn into a spin if you aren’t prepared for it. Pricing varies greatly between models, from $2,500 for high-mileage examples, to $10,000 for well-maintained lower-mileage examples.
|Horsepower||138 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|Torque||125 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|0-60 mph||6.7 seconds|
|Top Speed||135 mph (est.)|
Read our full review on the 2000 - 2005 Toyota MR2 Spyder.
BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 Series has been a segment leader for decades when it comes to performance chops, and earlier model years are now trickling into the autocross scene to demonstrate why.
The most popular examples are the third-generation E36 and fourth-generation E46, both of which offer a fantastic chassis, well-sorted suspension, six-cylinder power, and rear-wheel drive.
Don’t worry about stepping up the M3 trim level, either - the lower trim levels (such as the 328i) can be just as fun on an autocross course, but cost significantly less money. That said, used prices have been shooting through the roof lately, especially for the E36, but you can still get a decent high-mileage example for less than $4,000 if you dig.
|Horsepower||189 hp @ 5,900 rpm|
|Torque||179 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm|
|0-60 mph||7.7 seconds|
|Top Speed||140 mph|
Read our full review on the 1999 - 2005 BMW E46 3 Series.
Porsche Cayman GT4
Now we’re stepping into the more-expensive entries in this list, starting with this factory-tuned superstar from Stuttgart.
The Porsche Cayman GT4 makes for a fantastic autocross car, and has seen a good deal of success in series like the SCCA solo class.
It makes sense given its small dimensions, low weight, and nimble chassis, all of which are refined thanks to Porsche’s always-deft touch. Speaking of which, just about anything with a Porsche badge is a good choice for autocross, including the Boxster, or even an older 911. In fact, one of my first autocross experiences was in an ancient Porsche 944, and I had an absolute blast!
|Horsepower||385 hp @ 7,400 rpm|
|Torque||309 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm|
|0-60 mph||4.1 seconds|
|Top Speed||183 mph|
Read our full review on the 2016 Porsche Cayman GT4.
The Corvette has always been a performance bargain, and its definitely got the goods to perform well at an autocross event. The latest C7 generation is certainly no different, but you can get away with older generations as well.
The C4 might be a good place to start, as it came with a completely redesigned all-aluminum suspension set-up compared to the more archaic C3.
Our pick would be a decently well-maintained C5, which, compared to the C4, offers a more balanced front-to-back weight distribution, updated suspension geometry, lower curb weight, and a more rigid chassis. Either way, the Corvette can fit lots of tire in the corners, plus the big V-8 in the nose makes loads of low-rpm torque, which is a combination that can pay big dividends. Pricing varies, but you can get a decent example for $10,000 on the cheaper end of the spectrum, or spring for a new C7 for $55,000.
|Horsepower||385 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||385 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm|
|0-60 mph||4.6 seconds|
|Top Speed||171 mph|
Read our full review on the 2001 - 2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (C5).
Whatever You Have!
If your garage looks nothing like our list of the best cars for autocross, fear not. Autocross is about as grassroots as they come with regard to motorsport, so rather than worrying about picking the right car, just run what you already have! After all, you aren’t going wheel-to-wheel at triple digit speeds with Lewis Hamilton. You’re just out to have some fun and show your skills, so grab a helmet, make sure the tires have air in them, ditch all the excess weight that you can, and get out there! It doesn’t matter if it’s your Mom’s 30 year-old sedan or a Prius - if you want to go autocross racing, just bring it out and see what it’ll do. You won’t regret it.