We here at Roadshow love cars, which I hope would be obvious by now, but for most of us, our love of cars predates our ability to actually drive them. So how did we get our automotive kicks as kids? For many of us, it was radio-controlled cars and for some of us, that love never went away.
There’s an almost infinite variety of remote control cars available now. You can get hardcore on-road remote control car racers in both battery-electric and nitro fuel (aka gas-powered), two-wheel drive stadium trucks and buggies, monster trucks, drift cars and even rock crawlers with locking differentials and portal axles. For the more aesthetically inclined and fanciful, there are the wild creations from firms such as Tamiya, and that’s before we even talk about the vehicle’s size and scale.
Getting into remote control cars can be intimidating, but we’re here to help, so strap in, charge those radios and get ready because these are our favorite radio-controlled cars. We’ve got picks ranging from a high-speed toy car to a rough terrain rock crawler.
Kind of like real cars, RC cars are specialized. On-road touring cars are low to the ground and fast as can be, while rock crawlers are slow and capable of climbing up just about anything. Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes lies the Traxxas Maxx. This monster truck has big tires and plush shock absorbers to make off-road driving a blast, but it’s also got tons of power and it’s lower to the ground than some other monster trucks making it more fun than it should be off-road.
As is the case with most Traxxas radio-control toy vehicles, the Maxx is sold ready-to-run. That means it comes fully assembled with everything you need to start driving it, except for the rechargeable battery pack. This is a great all-around RC truck and while you’re not likely going to win any races with it, you’re not going to be short of things to jump it over, and that’s more fun anyway.
Like our first place truck, the Team Losi Mini B RC buggy comes ready to run and focuses on fun rather than on outright performance, but unlike the Maxx, the Mini B does it in a small, portable remote-controlled car package.
The 1/16-scale Mini B also comes ready to run, including a battery, and it will only set you back around $160. This makes it easy to toss in a backpack and take to your local park or a friend’s backyard to blast around in style and speed without worrying about breaking a more expensive battery RC vehicle.
Remote control cars are often thought of as being for kids, but with as much as some of these things cost, I’d be nervous about handing the controller over to an eight-year-old. That’s where the excellent Feiyue FY-15 1/20 scale RC truck comes in.
See, it’s cheap at just over $100, it’s also sold ready-to-run so all you need to do is charge the battery pack and go. It’s also not super fast, with speeds topping out around 7 mph, and all-wheel drive means it should be easier to control even for kids unused to driving radio-controlled vehicles. Like many of our other remote control car picks, it should be tons of fun both off-road and on.
Like the FY-15, the Traxxas Rustler should prove a perfect first or second RC car for kids. This battery-powered toy buggy is made of tough reinforced plastic, so it should be hard to break. If it does break, Traxxas offers replacement spare parts so fixing it will be easy. It’s 1/10 scale, which means it looks more like the faster, fancier and more expensive remote control cars that you’re keeping for yourself and the electric car is sold ready-to-run.
The Rustler is available with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, so if your kid decides they want to get into off-road RC racing, the jump from a Rustler to a more advanced stadium truck should be pretty manageable.
Sometimes you want to get a remote control car that you can drive anywhere — even in the house — and you don’t want to go crazy spending tons of money on it. For you, there is the amazing Kyosho Mini Z. These little battery-powered dudes are sold ready-to-run and they have some of the best-looking, most detailed and robust bodies out there, not to mention a huge selection of everything from race cars to 4×4 trucks and just about everything in between.
The Mini Z is, as you might expect, super small (1/27 scale, to be exact) which means it’s easy and fun to set up indoor tracks and race against other people when the weather is bad. The batteries last a long time and unlike most RC cars which take lithium-ion batteries, the Mini Z runs on good old AAAs. For around $200 I challenge you to try and have more fun with RC cars.
A lot of the RC cars and trucks on our list are geared towards maximum fun, rather than outright speed. The Mugen Seiki MTX7 is different. It’s powered by a tiny combustion engine which means it’s not only super fast, but it sounds awesome, too. The MTX7 chassis is made from exotic materials like carbon fiber and it’s been relentlessly engineered to go fast on pavement.
All that excellence comes at a price. In this case, that price is just shy of $1,000. Most of us on staff at Roadshow have owned full-size cars that cost less than that, but none of them would perform as well as the MTX7. Unlike most of the other battery cars on the list, if you’re buying the Mugen Seiki nitro car, you’re going to have to provide your own radio, servos, receivers, and all the starting and running equipment necessary to use a nitro-powered car, so those without deep pockets need not apply.
Drifting is huge. It’s exciting to watch, difficult to do well and what was once a sport composed of cheap and often disposable cars has now become prohibitively expensive. Thankfully, the RC community has come to the rescue with purpose-built RC drift cars like the RMX 2.0 S from MST.
RC drift cars run hard plastic tires, have tons of steering angle and can be either rear or all-wheel drive. The best part is that if you lose control of the drift car when going tandem with a friend, you won’t have to worry about replacing whole quarter panels or bumpers and even if you have to replace your RC car’s body, it’s not a ton of money. It’s win-win.
RC rock crawling, like RC drifting, has gained popularity in recent years and we’re at a point now where crazy capable and realistic-looking remote control rock crawlers are available ready-to-run from companies like Traxxas.
The TRX-4 is one of the coolest and most capable remote control crawlers on sale today. It’s got a locking front, rear differentials and beefy portal axles just like a G-Wagen. The chassis is available with several different cool-looking bodies. We’re especially into the classic Land Rover Defender. The TRX-4 is a popular model and as such it’s got a healthy aftermarket, so you can tweak your truck to be exactly as you want.
Team Associated has been around for decades and its RC10 series of remote control off-road racing vehicles have become legendary over that time for being super fast and robust. Add in a healthy aftermarket of hop-up parts and you’ve got the recipe for a race-winning, dirt-jumping battery-electric truck.
This is a serious RC truck that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The basic RC10T6 is available in kit form for around $350, and then you have to add your own radio and electronics. There’s a reason you see tons of these in the pits at your local RC track, and it’s because they work.
Back in the early aughts, Traxxas came out with the original T-Maxx nitro-powered RC monster truck. It was huge, had a beefy drivetrain, a plush suspension and huge tires. It was also surprisingly fast and way too much fun to tear around backyards and parks with. Fast forward to 2021 and Traxxas still makes the T-Maxx but it’s seen some revisions over the years.
The T-Maxx 3.3 comes ready to run with the exception of fuel, which is awesome. It’s also high-tech because you can download the Traxxas app and the truck’s electronics will communicate wirelessly with your device, allowing you to view telemetry and finely tune a bunch of parameters. The T-Maxx 3.3 packs a two-speed, forward-only transmission too, with metal gears, so the whole truck, including the drivetrain, should take one hell of a beating.
Tamiya is arguably the best-known name in remote control toys and while its products span the range from kids toys to detailed working models of tanks and semi-trucks, it also produces some seriously competitive touring cars. The TA07RR is just such a vehicle.
The TA07RR comes only as a kit, but offers up some real performance bonafides like carbon fiber construction, belt-driven four-wheel drive, metal shocks and more. As with most kits, you’ll have to bring your own electronics and body to the party, but once you do, you’ll be rewarded by a 1/10 scale RC race car that would put most full-size cars to shame.
Comparison of the best RC cars for 2021
|Model||Power||RTR or kit||Price|
|Best RC car overall||Traxxas Maxx||Electric||Ready to run||$647|
|Best RC car overall runner-up||Team Losi Mini B 1/16 scale buggy||Electric||Ready to run||$160|
|Best RC car for kids||Feiyue FY-15||Electric||Ready to run||$107|
|Best RC car for kids runner-up||Traxxas Rustler 2WD||Electric||Ready to run||$230|
|Best cheap RC car||Kyosho Mini-Z||Electric||Ready to run||$210|
|Best RC car if money is no object||Mugen Seiki MTX7||Nitro||Kit||$950|
|Best RC car for drifting||MST RMX 2.0 S||Electric||Kit||$225|
|Best RC car for rock crawling||Traxxas TRX-4||Electric||Ready to run||$589|
|Best off-road RC car||Team Associated RC10T6||Electric||Kit||$360|
|Best RC monster truck||Traxxas T-Maxx 3.3||Nitro||Ready to run||$569|
|Best RC car for speed||Tamiya TA07RR touring car||Electric||Kit||$523|
Living the RC car life
Radio-controlled cars is one of those hobbies that can take you from a cheap and fun car like the Kyosho Mini Z all the way to bank-breaking, high-speed, competitive racing with plenty of stops in-between. It’s fun for kids and adults and it’s a great way of teaching kids some of the technical aspects of working on cars. Given all the time we’ve all been spending at home with our families lately, RC cars provide a great alternative to binge-watching more British police procedurals on TV.
If you’re thinking of getting into RC cars, one of the best things you can do is go and find your local hobby shop. They’re usually packed with people who’ve been doing this for years and they’ll generally be glad to share their knowledge with someone just getting interested in things. From there, it’s a matter of finding out which slice of the RC hobby you like best and diving in. But if you don’t want to do that, you can’t go wrong with any of our Roadshow-approved RC car picks above.