The best remote control cars 2021: from aerodynamic racers to hard core off-roaders

On the track, the carpet, or the trail, the best RC cars leave the competition in the dust

Included in this guide:

Red Land Rover Defender in desert-like terrain
(Image credit: Traxxas)

The best remote control cars cover a a whole gamut of vehicle-based desires, whether you're into racing a small version of a supercar you'll never afford, to trying your skills at traction with a rock-crawling off-roader. The best RC cars come in a  range of budgets that's just as wide as what they can do, so you'll definitely be able to find something that matches you for both activity and price limit.

The best remote control cars can get really specialist beyond what we've mentioned – some of the 'road' cars are made just for the thrill of speed, while some can handle drifting. Off-road options stretch from buggies that are designed to be bounced around, up to mountain-climbers built with as advanced suspension as the real thing. We've picked out the best options for all of these and, crucially, everything we've chosen here is tremendous fun. 

If you turn out to love RC cars and want to take it up a gear, there are plenty of options: there are tons of local clubs and tracks running races and regular meets.

But how do you find the RC car that's right for you? There are a few key things to consider, but before we dive into that, make sure to check out the best Black Friday deals if you're keen to pick yourself up a new remote control car in time for the holidays. Is there a more fun present in the world to be unwrapping on Christmas morning? We don't think so! Our live prices below always display the best deals available each day, so you're guaranteed to get an RC at the lowest price possible.

The best remote control cars: how to buy

If you're spending high-end money, high-end repairability should be a must-have. A car with readily available spares is imperative, particularly in faster vehicles which likely won't fare to well if they meet a wall at full pelt. If there are spares that means there may be upgrades, too - many RC cars are great platforms for tinkering and tweaking, giving you the opportunity to play with, say, different tyres, improved suspension, a more powerful motor, or even different motor positions.

A car used for jumping will need that suspension, but think about scale and weight too. Smaller scale cars can often zip along very fast, and they're easy to store, but they'll be affected by smaller bumps and potentially more difficult to control in the air – not to mention that small battery packs tend to need charging more often. Larger scale cars are more expensive, but may offer a more complete and long-lasting experience.

Going cheap isn't a problem, particularly if you're buying for kids, but don't think that means you need to sacrifice quality for cost; there are some very creditable cars available at the low end - the difference, really, is that these will generally not offer replaceable batteries or parts, so you may have to get handy with the superglue at times. 

Maybe you don't want to go super-fast? A new generation of RC cars has trundled on to the scene and made a big impact in the past couple of years. Rock crawlers offer a scale 4x4 experience like no other, challenging you to tackle tricky terrain and rough obstacles, with super-grippy tyres, great torque control, and responsive suspension. 

If you're really into the racing scene, nitro cars may be worth considering. They're a little more messy, understandable given that they're powered by methanol explosions, but they can be instantly refuelled, and their batteries (used for the radio) will generally last a lot longer. They seem to have dropped in popularity recently thanks to improvements in battery-powered cars, so finding one might not be quite so easy, but there's nothing quite like fiddling with a tiny engine.

The best remote control cars: ranked

Wltoys High Speed Vehicle Racing Buggy Car RTR A959

(Image credit: Wltoys)

1. Wltoys High Speed Vehicle Racing Buggy Car RTR A959

One of the fastest RC cars out there

Specifications
Best for: Speed freaks
Type: Off-road buggy
Engine: Electric
Scale: 1:18
Top speed: 45kph
Reasons to buy
+Goes plenty fast+Comes pre-assembled+Bargain price+Spares available
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively short battery life-Plastic gearing

Although its design isn't perhaps the most detailed - there's certainly a lot of raw plastic on display – you'll hardly be able to focus on its looks given how fast Wltoys' celebrated buggy can go. Taking full advantage of an RC390 brushed motor, more commonly found on heavier 1/10 scale vehicles, this thing absolutely rips along, and comes ready to run. All four wheels get decent shock absorbers, so the A959 is just as comfortable in your kitchen as it is careening up bumpy hills. 

We'd recommend picking up a second 7.4V battery just to give you a little extra run time, and keep an eye on its drive train; some owners have found the plastic gearing didn't play too nicely with the torque of that motor. Thankfully there are plenty of spares (including metal gears) floating around on the market.

Kyosho Initial D Mazda Savanna RX-7 FC3S 66602

(Image credit: Kyosho)

2. Kyosho Initial D Mazda Savanna RX-7 FC3S 66602

A super-cool mini car for drifting

Specifications
Best for: Complete control
Type: Drifting
Engine: Electric
Scale: 1:28
Top speed: Around 10kph
Reasons to buy
+Ready to go+Small but nimble+Plenty to tweak
Reasons to avoid
-Slight language barrier

Kyosho is a Japanese manufacturer known for establishing the Mini-Z standard, a set of teeny 1/28 scale cars which replicate real-world vehicles and are custom-made for drifting. This is a great example of the type: it's not super-fast in a straight line, but get it on the right surface (super-low pile carpet and hard floors work best) and it's perfectly balanced to slide around obstacles in style. 

There's a low-speed mode for kids, a stopwatch built into the controller to keep tabs on your lap times, and the whole lot runs on AA batteries, which makes switching out for a new set of rechargeables a breeze. The only slight issue is that this is a straight Japanese import, so the instructions may be tricky to understand – though it comes pre-assembled, and there's plenty of advice from enthusiasts on the internet if you want to try modding.

Traxxas TRX-4

(Image credit: Traxxas)

3. Traxxas TRX-4 Land Rover Defender

Rocks? No problem. This is the ultimate crawler

Specifications
Best for: Very rough terrain
Type: Rock crawler
Engine: Electric
Scale: 1:10
Top speed: Around 10kph
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly solid+Lockable differential+Goes for an age
Reasons to avoid
-Quite expensive

Rock crawlers are a great way to have fun with an RC car if you're more interested in realism and control than going as fast as possible – and Traxxas' officially-licensed Land Rover is one of the very best out there. 

It's just so packed with features: Traxxas' portal axles give it huge ground clearance and eliminate torque twist, it's completely waterproof so you can go crazy in the mud or water, the servos are an all-metal design, and the whole chassis is joined together with a rigid steel ladder frame. 

You get precision control, too, with everything from cruise control to gearing to diff locks available on the handset. There is a fairly large barrier of entry in the form of its price, but given that you can likely get two hours' one-tenth scale trail bashing out of a single battery charge, we think it's worth the investment. Check out our guide to the Traxxas TRX-4 vs FTX FTX5570 Outlaw to see how it compares to much cheaper option.

Lego Technic Off-Road Buggy

(Image credit: Lego Group)

4. Lego Technic Off-Road Buggy 42124

Possibly the most fun you can have with Lego

Specifications
Best for: Lego nuts
Type: Off-road buggy
Engine: Electric
Scale: Not stated
Top speed: Not stated
Reasons to buy
+Great value (no, really)+A fun build+Easy to control
Reasons to avoid
-Not the fastest

Lego's Control+ app has come into its own recently, powering a whole host of interesting Bluetooth-based vehicles, and this is our pick of the bunch. We'd be lying if we said it was fast, and its Bluetooth connection means its range can be a little limited, but this is certainly a fun 374-piece set to build and drive. 

Given that it includes both a 88012 Powered Up Technic Hub and a pair of 88013 Powered Up Technic Large Motors (the price of which, sold separately, comes to more than this set) it's the perfect way to get started with Lego RC, particularly if you're planning to build your own creations. Not that we'd necessarily disassemble this frame, though. It's a bouncy, suspension-heavy buggy which can pull off some supremely fun tricks. Read our Lego Technic Off-Road Buggy vs Lego Technic 4X4 X-treme Off-Roader guide to see how it compares to a bigger and more expensive Lego RC car.

CMJ Aston Martin Vantage

(Image credit: CMJ)

5. CMJ Cars Aston Martin Vantage

A cheap and great-looking way to dominate the carpet

Specifications
Best for: Budget buyers
Type: Indoor car
Engine: Electric
Scale: 1:24
Top speed: Around 10kph
Reasons to buy
+Cheap and cheerful+Nice replica+Pretty kid-friendly
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly basic-Plasticy controller

If all you want is a car for interested kids to trundle around the floor, CMJ's cut-price range of 1:24 replicas is the way to go. They're fast enough for indoor use, they seem to last a long while on their AA batteries, and they're no great loss should someone decide to use the stairs as a racetrack. 

There's a wide selection of car models on offer beyond this neat little Vantage, but we've picked this solely because it's the most affordable of the bunch; the whole range runs on 2.4GHz controllers with around 25 metres range, which means you can easily get multiple examples racing at once without fiddling with radio channels.

Tamiya Hornet

(Image credit: Tamiya)

6. Tamiya Hornet

A true classic in the RC space

Specifications
Best for: Budding hobbyists
Type: Off-road buggy
Engine: Electric
Scale: 1:10
Top speed: N/A
Reasons to buy
+A very solid base+Tried-and-tested +Room to improve
Reasons to avoid
-Not for beginners

The Hornet is fast approaching its 40th birthday, and it has hung around in the market for so long by virtue of its brilliance: this is a true classic in the RC world, and the perfect platform for getting started with the more hands-on aspect of RC cars. It's durable, with an ABS resin frame and a sealed gearbox, and it can take bumps and stunts with style, packing oil-filled dampers on its rear axle suspension. 

Note that there's a certain amount of building involved, and this is just the wheels, chassis, motor and speed controller so you'll need to add your own radio, servos and battery to complete the kit. Once you have, though? Make sure you've got some space to let it run.

Traxxas XO-1

(Image credit: Traxxas)

7. Traxxas XO-1

The fastest RC car you can buy - by a long way

Specifications
Best for: Straight line speed
Type: Supercar
Engine: Electric
Scale: 1:7
Top speed: 160kph
Reasons to buy
+Fast+Really fast+Outrageously fast
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap

We couldn't not mention Traxxas' RC hypercar in this guide, because that statistic above isn't a typo – this can reach 160kph (100mph) in five seconds from standing, at one point in time giving it the world record top speed for an RC car. You'll need to find a wide, smooth surface to hit that sort of speed because to generate the relevant downforce this has minimal ground clearance, though the company has also built in traction control to help with cornering and overall control, and it can handle rougher paths too if you're slightly more conservative. 

This is a huge investment, and it's not made for rough-and-ready jumps and stunts, but this is the fastest RC car you can buy – just make sure you have plenty of batteries to power its Big Block motor.

Riva776Yale Nitro RC Car

(Image credit: Riva776Yale)

8. Riva776Yale Nitro RC Car 94155

Go nitro for the fun of running and tuning an engine

Specifications
Best for: Methanol muscle
Type: Nitro buggy
Engine: Nitro
Scale: 1:10
Top speed: 60kph
Reasons to buy
+Quick to refuel+Plenty to tweak+Very nippy
Reasons to avoid
-Nitro isn't for everyone-Loud

This isn't a car from a known brand, but if you're looking to get into the world of nitro racing it's a very reasonably-priced option. It comes ready to run - you just need to add your own fuel – and its 2.4GHz radio should provide plenty of range. The 75CC engine can make it all the way up to 60kph with ease, with potentially a little extra on top of that, and if that's not quite fast enough you're welcome to pull this apart and start tinkering. 

Such is the way with nitro cars; they start as a fast, dirty way to take flight over local parkland, and quickly become a sea of spares, upgrades and tools.

Lego Technic 4x4 X-treme Off-Roader

(Image credit: Lego Group)

9. Lego Technic 4x4 X-treme Off-Roader 42099

Three motors, great suspension – a great build for rough ground

Specifications
Best for: Custom off-roading
Type: Off-road 4x4
Engine: Electric
Scale: Not stated
Top speed: Not stated
Reasons to buy
+Stunt-capable+Tween-friendly
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively complex build

Another beneficiary of Lego's Control+ app, which maybe even makes a little more sense here – taking full advantage of the 3-axis gyro in the Smart Hub here (as well as the pair of XL motors and single large motor) means you can keep constant tabs on the X-treme Off-Roader's angle of incline and tilt. 

If you're taking it to more extreme climes (or on more extreme climbs) that could be invaluable information, though this is more a build-a-course-in-your-lounge type off-roader than one to fling outside in the mud. 

Again the value is strong considering the number of otherwise-expensive components you get in the package, and the X-treme Off-Roader's massive side-to-side suspension is a neat touch. There's no secondary build included, but there's nothing to stop you employing a little creativity – we're sure its chunky tyres will prove inspiring.

FTX FTX5570

(Image credit: FTX)

10. FTX FTX5570 Outlaw

Rock crawling without the high-end outlay

Specifications
Best for: Budget adventures
Type: Rock crawler
Engine: Electric
Scale: 1:10
Top speed: Around 30kph
Reasons to buy
+Speed and torque+Ready to run
Reasons to avoid
-Not really for kids

Rock crawling doesn't have to be expensive, but we'd recommend steering away from super-cheap cars and starting at the mid-range if you want something that'll work hard. FTX's 1:10 buggy is a top choice if you can't quite afford Traxxas prices: it's fast enough to bomb along flat surfaces, yet offers fine enough control and big enough torque that you'll be able to hit the hills in style. 

This particular model comes ready to run, with only a few AA batteries required, and includes a waterproof steering servo – but while it'll take a few splashes, the chassis shouldn't be submerged.

Alex Cox
Alex Cox

T3 magazine's own Gadget Guru is a 25-year veteran of the tech writing wars, and has the scars to prove it. He's written for the UK's biggest technology publications, and knows everything from smart doorbell voltage needs to how to bend Windows to his every whim.