Find out the best RC cars money can buy and learn how to choose the perfect radio-controlled buggy for you
Remote-control cars can provide countless hours of speedy fun for kids and adults alike. Be it at the local park, a sandy beach or that disused warehouse at the end of your street, these dinky scaled-down vehicles come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and prices, with models suitable for everyone from younger kids to grey-haired adults and everything in between. Whether you want speed, drift-happy kids cars or crawlers designed to climb the toughest terrain, you’ll find something here that fits the bill.
You’ll doubtless be pleased to hear that the times of RC cars being solely a geek’s favourite toy have 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. If you’re not sure which of the new breed of radio-controlled cars is perfect for you, then read on and we’ll help you decide.
Best RC cars: At a glance
- The best RC car for younger kids: Nikko Omni X (~£42) | Buy now
- The best RC car for bigger kids: FTX Tracer (~£66) | Buy now
- The best entry-level RC buggy: FTX Vantage (~£110) | Buy now
- The best cheap RC crawler: FTX Ravine (~£110) | Buy now
- The best budget-priced nitro fuel option: Nanda Racing NRB-5 (~£225) | Buy now
How to choose the best RC car 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 as 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 one-eighth scale RC buggy is about 500mm in length while one-tenth 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?
- Easy to use; best choice for beginners
- Much faster than nitro to get up and running
- Electric motors are quiet so better suited to urban and public park use
- Brushless motors can be faster in many instances than nitro-powered cars
- Easy to clean
- The average 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?
- Run all day long – only need a top-up of nitro fuel between runs (nitro methanol is easily obtainable at most hobby stores).
- More exhilarating to drive – excitingly noisy, and the sweet smell emitted by the exhaust is also strangely pleasant
- Often faster than their battery-powered cars
- 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
- 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 a one-eighth scale car to speeds in excess of 60mph, and that’s often faster than the majority of nitro cars.
Which is better: A NiMh, NiCd or LiPo battery?
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 in 2023
1. Nikko Omni X: The best RC car for smaller kids
Price: £42 | Buy now from Amazon
Nikko sent us two of its latest products and they’re both crackers, though this one was the bigger hit with our seven-year-old tester. The Omni X is about 11in long, so it’s better used outdoors on hard, flat surfaces where it can best show off its main party trick – the ability to drift spectacularly and even spin on its own axis. This colourful trick car has a top speed of around 8mph and comes with a built-in 6.4V LiFe-PO4 battery pack and a concealed, hard-wired USB cable for charging it on a laptop or with any compatible mains adaptor. We managed to get about 20 minutes out of it but had to wait an hour for it to recharge.
Despite the small remote control’s awkward button-based steering system, our young tester nailed it very quickly, and before long he was performing amazing four-wheel drifts and spins. Mind, he did start on a freshly-cut lawn where it was much easier to grasp the four-way button-based power and steering controls. For added fun the controller also features three buttons for left, right and full 360˚ spins.
The Omni X is super tough and proved to be impervious to damage even when driven at full speed into a brick wall. That, ultimately, is what you want from a toy that’s going to be on the receiving end of a lot of punishment. A top choice for kids aged five years and up.
2. FTX Ravine: Best cheap RC crawler
Price: £109 | Buy now from Amazon
Where FTX’s similarly-priced Vantage delivers off-road speed on a budget, the Ravine is designed to conquer the roughest terrain that you can find. With twin motors, 4-wheel steering, smooth oil shocks and a super-supple chassis, the FTX Ravine is a stunningly capable RC crawler for sensible money.
The Ravine looks awesome straight out of the box, but it’s even more impressive once you get it rolling. Even at top speed, it’s not a fast-mover, but the sensitive throttle allows it go from a tortoise crawl to a brisk walking pace, making it perfect for calmly handling steep ascents and inclines and the lumpiest, rockiest, rootiest terrain you can find.
In practice, the soft, chunky tyres and twin motors allow it to crawl over obstacles which you’d never imagine possible, and the twin steering servos allow it to swap between front, rear and 4-wheel steering modes, which helps to navigate the tightest routes.
FTX recommend the Ravine for ages 14 and up, but we’d suggest that the Ravine’s slower pace is actually suitable for much younger kids with a bit of adult supervision – one of our 4 year old testers loves driving it around the local woods and BMX track, for instance, and doesn’t find it too hard to control even at top speed.
3. Nikko VelociTrax: A great off-road RC toy for smaller kids
Price: £43 | Buy now from Amazon
If your child hankers after an off-road RC vehicle that handles even rough off-road terrain with consummate aplomb, then this is the model buy. Although the control system is quite crude – it has buttons instead of incremental joysticks – our little tester soon got a handle on it, and before long it was ripping up steep, gnarly inclines and leaping of ledges.
Available in either orange or green, the VelociTrax has tank tracks instead of wheels so grip in all conditions is excellent. It zips along at a fair old rate – 8.6mph – and is tough enough to withstand a head-over-heels tumble down a flight of steps. You should reasonably expect about 20 minutes of running time if used on hard-packed earth and a little less on steep terrain or grass.
Like its stablemate, the Omni X above, this model also features a built-in battery and USB charging cable so you can expect up to 60 minutes of grumpiness while it’s being recharged. Frustrations aside, this is a sterling RC model that never fails to amuse.
4. FTX Tracer: A tough, fast, kid-friendly RC car
Price: £66 | Buy now from Amazon
FTX is a go-to brand for brilliant budget RC cars, and its Tracer is another huge hit. This 1:16 scale truck is a little smaller than FTX’s pricier 1/12 and 1/10 scale models, but its cute dimensions mask a seriously big personality.
The Tracer is outrageous fun. It’s surprisingly fast for its size, thanks to a maximum speed of 30km/h, and you can dial that top speed down to suit younger drivers with the built-in speed limiter. Whether you’re ripping through the local woods, sending it flying across the skatepark or bouncing around the garden, it’s far more capable than you’d expect for the money.
A decent selection of spare parts from FTX means that repairs – and upgrades – are on the menu, and the tough chassis shrugs off crashes and bumps that would destroy some RC cars, which may come in particularly handy when underage drivers are involved. Great value.
5. HPI Trophy Buggy Flux: The best high-end, race-ready electric option
Price: £389 | Buy now from Model Sport
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. If you prefer the smell of nitro in the morning, consider the equally speedy HPI Trophy Truggy 4.6 reviewed above.
6. FTX Vantage 1/10 4WD Brushed Buggy RTR: The best entry-level model for lumpy terrain
Price: £112 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’re new to the world of RC cars and don’t want to spend a fortune, consider this keenly priced, entry level electric buggy. The 1/10th scale FTX Vantage is 52cm long and features a durable moulded tub chassis, four-wheel-drive transmission, a weatherproof brushed 550 motor and fully adjustable big bore oil-filled shocks. It comes ready to run straight out of the box – just put some AA batteries in the hand controller and hit the rough.
This is an ideal starter car for youngsters since it’s easily controlled using the steering wheel-style Etronix Sport radio transmitter. Acceleration is pretty spritely for a car at this price and it handles most terrain extremely well. Top speed isn’t anything to write home about but this can be a good thing for the novice who is likely to crash it a lot more than someone more experienced (lower speeds = less damage). That said, you will get more speed and much longer runs out of it by investing in a 3,300mAh battery or two. Or you could just forego this model completely and go for the brushless motor-equipped version instead (around £185).
7. Nanda Racing NRB-5: The best budget-priced nitro fuel option
Price: £225 | Buy now from eModels
This entry-level 1/8th-scale RTR model is a great intro to the wonderfully noisy and smelly world of nitro. Bear in mind that nitro cars are more fiddly than their electric counterparts so be prepared to first run the engine in before making any final adjustments to the fuel and air mixture.
The Nanda is an exceptional little ripper that handles brilliantly and is built well enough to stand up to a lot of abuse. It comes equipped with a brawny little SH 3.5cc pull-start engine, aluminium chassis, aluminium shock towers, a 125cc fuel tank with ring pull for mess-free filling and a rather dashing body shell. The steering wheel-style radio control transmitter is included so all you need to get is a one-litre bottle of Professional 25 nitro fuel (£7.80 and available from the retailer), a Fusion Nitro Starter Set (£14.99) and eight AA batteries (four for the car’s communications system and four for the radio transmitter).
If you don’t mind doing a bit of engine tweaking and some regular maintenance then a nitro car like this will almost certainly provide a bigger adrenaline rush than the majority of electrically powered versions. You’ll love the noise (though your neighbours won’t) and you may even come to love the sickly sweet smell of all that nitro smoke.
8. HPI Trophy Truggy 4.6: The best high-end nitro buggy
Price: £489 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’re looking for a blisteringly quick nitro-powered alternative to the electric HPI Trophy Buggy Flux reviewed above, consider this 1/8-scale, four-wheel drive rocket. Its big and powerful 4.6cc Nitro Star engine will take it to a scarily quick top speed of around 50mph in the blink of an eye. And because the whole package is waterproof, you can even take it out on a rainy day for a spot of mud plugging.
The Trophy comes out of the box pretty much ready to run but you will need to buy a few extras first, namely eight AA batteries (four for the excellent HPI 2.4GHz radio system and four for the car’s receiver pack), a bottle of nitro fuel, a mini fuel-filling bottle and a glow plug igniter; thankfully, these only amount to about £21 of extra outlay. As is the case with all nitro cars, you are also advised to carefully run the engine in before letting it loose at full chat.
This ultra tough truggy (half truck, half buggy) is an exceptional off-roader that handles superbly well on any surface and any type of terrain. For older teens (and dads who enjoy a bit of tweaking), it’s nothing short of an adrenalin-pumping riot of noise, smoke and smell.