Find out the best RC cars money can buy in 2017 and learn how to choose the perfect radio-controlled buggy for you
RC cars provide countless hours of speedy fun: be it at the local park, a sandy beach or that disused warehouse at the end of your street. These dinky scaled-down vehicles aren’t just about blazingly fast speeds; they also possess the same driving characteristics of their full-sized alternatives.
That time when RC cars were only a geeks favourite toy has long since passed. You don’t need an engineering degree to construct the things anymore, the days of piles of wires, plastic and metal bits are long gone. You see, we aren’t all rocket scientists, and RC cars now come ready-to-run (RTR) straight out of the box these days. Just open the box, charge it up and let her rip.
Most of these electric RTR cars come packed with everything you need to get things going. There’s the remote controller, the batteries and charger all included. Even those Nitro-fuelled cars, too, come ready built for your driving pleasure.
Radio-controlled cars come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, so many in fact that it might seem a little daunting when choosing which RC car is right for you. We’re here to take the hassle out of your shop.
You see, our experience has told us that off-road RC cars offer the best bang for your buck. There’s always a bit of green space to drive around you see, and for that reason we’re focusing on the best off-road buggies and truggies (half buggy/half truck) below.
How to choose the best radio controlled buggy for you
The first thing you need to decide is whether you want an electric or nitro buggy. Nitro cars run on a mixture of sweet-smelling methanol and nitromethane and are de rigeur among enthusiasts. Nitro cars are noisier and often more powerful than their electric counterparts but their engines do require a lot of maintenance and tuning. Conversely, most electric cars aren’t quite as fast (unless you choose a brushless motor) but they’re much easier for beginners to get a handle on and they also run much quieter.
What size or scale of RC car should I buy?
The next thing to decide is car size. RC models come in a variety of scales such 1:8, 1:10 and 1:14. However, 1:8 (or 1/8th scale) is the most popular standard and the size most often referred to when talking RC models. The average 1/8th scale RC buggy is about 500mm in length while 1/10th scale buggies measure around 400mm. Naturally, the higher the scale number, the smaller the vehicle.
Most RC buggies are available in either two-wheel drive or 4WD configurations. Two-wheel drive vehicles are easier to fix in the event of a mishap but don’t grip as well as their 4WD counterparts.
What are the pros and cons of electric RC cars?
- Electric cars are easy to use and are the best choice for beginners.
- Much faster than nitro to get up and running.
- Electric motors are quiet so are much better suited to urban and public park use.
- If you can afford it, go for a brushless motor which produces an extraordinary turn of speed – faster in many instances than the majority of nitro-powered cars.
- Easy to clean.
- The average electric buggy’s battery runs out of juice after about 12 minutes.
- Extra LiPo batteries are expensive and can take up to 90 minutes to charge.
- Repairs can be expensive if something electrical goes awry.
What are the pros and cons of nitro RC cars?
- Nitro cars can run all day long because all they need is a top up of nitro fuel between runs (nitro methanol is easily obtainable at most hobby stores).
- They’re more exhilarating to drive simply because they make such a glorious racket. The sweet smell emitted by the exhaust is also strangely pleasant, even if it does cling to one’s nostrils.
- They are usually faster than their battery-powered brethren.
- Nitro cars are not the best choice for novices.
- Their engines need to go through a running-in process – usually four or five tanks worth – while sitting on a brick so the wheels don’t touch the ground while you periodically blip the engine.
- They are much more temperamental than battery-powered cars and require frequent fuel mixture tweaking which can be frustrating.
- You’ll need to take along a bottle of nitro fuel and a glow starter.
- Nitro can be quite messy making the cars tricky to clean.
Does a brushless motor make a major difference?
Nitro cars used to win all the speed prizes until the brushless motor came along. Brushed motors are still fitted to most sub-£200 electric buggies and are perfectly capable of providing off-road thrills. However, for ultimate speed, spend a little more and get a car fitted with a brushless motor. Without going into the science, brushless motors are much more energy efficient and longer lasting. Perhaps more importantly, they are capable of powering an 1/8th scale car to speeds in excess of 60mph, and that’s often faster than the majority of nitro cars.
Which is better: NiMh, NiCd or LiPo batteries?
Most of today’s cars use Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries which are four times more energy efficient and a lot more durable than Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH). LiPo batteries are much lighter and hold more power. They also have higher discharge rates, and that means higher speeds and better torque.
What happens if I manage to break something?
There are many different RC car brands out there but not all of them are readily available in the UK. If possible, choose a model that is also sold by a UK-based RC model-specific website. Most model websites stock a wide range of spare parts for specific models. These include suspension arms, springs, shocks, fuel tanks, speed controllers, screws, nuts and bolts. Given that you will almost certainly crash from time to time, having easy access to a multitude of spares will make your hobby more enjoyable and longer lasting.
The best RC cars to buy from £120
1. HPI Trophy Buggy Flux: The best high-end, race-ready option
This sensational 1/8th-scale 4WD electric buggy from renowned RC specialist HPI measures 500mm in length and goes like the proverbial rocket. This writer estimates a top speed of around 60mph using the recommended twin-pack of 2S LiPo batteries (7.4v each) but there’s GPS recorded evidence on YouTube of the car being clocked at a speed limit-breaking 85mph using a huge 6S battery. Needless to say, the car’s acceleration is blisteringly quick, too.
The Trophy Buggy Flux is impeccably built using the highest quality materials. It features a super tough 6061 aluminium chassis, aluminium shocks and wheels, oversized steel gears and a humongous brushless HPI Flux Scream motor. The car is assembled at the factory so it’s pretty much ready to run. All you’ll need to get are a couple of 7.4v 30C batteries (£40 each) and a decent fast charger. HPI also stocks a raft of spares for dealing with those inevitable mishaps.
This writer can’t express enough just how well this buggy handles. The neoprene-covered steering-wheel on the radio transmitter makes it very easy to control the vehicle, even on the most winding terrain and the car’s weight distribution is set just right so it invariably lands on all four wheels when hitting even the highest jumps. Equally mindblowing is the amount of time the batteries last. Our test car kept going for about 20 minutes of near constant driving with regular full-throttle bursts.
Be mindful that when you receive this car, its ride height will be very low so, before taking it for its first spin, open the bag of different sized crescent-shaped plastic bits and choose the largest four. Now clip those to the top of each shock to raise the ride height. Without them the car’s chassis may scrape along on some terrain.
If you’re looking for ultra high-speed thrills and a car that will soak up a lot of punishment, then we can’t think of a better option than this exceptional high-end entry. And if you fancy something a little beefier again, you can always opt for the Truggy Flux – take your pick!
2. DHK RAZ-R: The best budget-priced model for lumpy terrain
The 1/10th-scale 4WD RAZ-R is a great budget-priced intro to RC car frolics. This particular model is of the truck variety so the ride height is higher than normal and the tyres are bigger, which makes the car better suited to gnarlier terrain.
At this price you’re not going to be getting the very best quality components – the chassis is plastic and the 550 Class motor is of the cheaper brushed variety – but then again the car won’t be going quite as fast as some others on this page and that means the parts are less likely to be damaged in an accident. That said, this writer is still mightily impressed by the overall build quality and especially the size of the enormous shock absorbers.
The car itself is ready to run though you will need to fit the wheels (spanner included) yourself. It also comes with a steering wheel-type transmitter (for which you’ll need eight AA batteries), a 7.2v NiCad battery and a very simply mains charger. For an extra turn of speed, fit a LiPo 2S battery instead.
The RAZ-R is a barrel of fun to drive: it tackles tough terrain with ease and is perfectly fast enough for anyone bar the most discerning of speed freaks. Recommended.
3. Kyosho Sand Master: Best electric off-road RC car under £130
This 1/10th scale model measures 395mm in length and looks more realistic than any other on this page – it even comes with a little model driver for added authenticity. For a shade under £130 you’re not going to see blistering speeds but then that can be a good thing, especially if you’re a novice. Nevertheless, it’s till way faster than the average sub-£100 toy car and is an absolute hoot to drive.
The Sand Master features a tough plastic chassis and protective roll cage, a double wishbone suspension system with Big Bore Friction shocks and grippy off-road tyres. It also comes with a steering wheel-type radio transmitter, a 7.2v battery pack and a mains trickle charger. Expect around eight minutes of drive time on a single charge with extra batteries costing a reasonable £13 a piece. Great value all round.
4. Losi Mini 8IGHT-T: A small-scale car with high-tech stability control
At just 319mm long, this small 1/14th scale 4WD ‘truggy’ (half buggy/half truck) is eminently portable and features a top-quality brushless motor for extra off-road oomph, a 4WD drivetrain, aluminium shocks and a durable aluminum chassis. It also comes with everything you need for instant high speed frolics, including a Spektrum radio, a charger and a 7.2v NiMH battery.
If you’ve ever tried steering a powerful RC car you’ll know how difficult it is to control at speed. Too much throttle coming out of a bend and you can be sure the car will squirrel all over the course before rolling off into a tree. Similarly, lining up a jump requires the subtlest of input or you’ll simply miss it completely. This 1/14th scale 4WD ‘truggy’ (half buggy/half truck) doesn’t do that because it has full stability control fitted as standard.
It’s called AVC (Active Vehicle Control) and it works by automatically adjusting both steering and throttle output based on the vehicle’s driving attitude. This means it’ll drive straight as a die no matter how rough the terrain, will corner more predictably and be much more stable in the air (AVC even adjusts the steering automatically so that the car lands at the correct angle). For the well-heeled beginner who just wants to be able to drive quickly without crashing all the time, AVC is one of the most welcome RC innovations in years.