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Nissan GT-R, Acura NSX, Mazda RX-7 - 10 Best Track Cars

Come Bench Racing With Us As We Contemplate What The 10 Best Track-Day Cars Might Be.

David Pratte
Jul 23, 2010
Photographer: Modified Archives

Before you do a quick scan of this list and fire off an outraged email because the Porsche 911 GT3 or Corvette ZR1 didn't make the cut, keep in mind this selection is purely based on sport compact-oriented automobiles. But I'm guessing you knew that already. So, within those confines, what are the 10 best track cars currently available?

Modp_1009_01_o+10_best_track_cars+logo Photo 2/12   |   Nissan GT-R, Acura NSX, Mazda RX-7 - 10 Best Track Cars

Truth be told, 10 different people would probably come up with 10 different lists, so please don't be offended that we didn't include your beloved SRT-4 or B13 Sentra SE-R. It's nothing personal. We've developed our selection criteria based on years of experience building and thrashing on track cars of all shapes and sizes at events like HPDE, lapping days, time attack and road racing, so we thought we'd share some of our thoughts on what machines you might want to consider when you go shopping for your next track car. We've tried to cover the full gamut, from baller status and brand spankin' new to old school, cheap and cheerful. Here are our criteria:

2018 Nissan GT-R
$99,990 Base Model (MSRP) 16/22 MPG Fuel Economy

Price The cheaper your starting point, the more money you'll have left over for track-oriented modifications, safety gear, driving lessons and track-day consumables like tires, brake pads and fuel.

Stock Performance If you want to go fast around a racetrack, it's never a bad idea to start with a car with a high performance level right out of the box. Higher stock performance level often translates to higher overall performance potential, too (though not all cars respond well to modification).

Mod Friendliness Everything from how technically difficult it is to modify the car (for example, is the ECU uncrackable or ready for a re-flash?), how strong its aftermarket support is and how deep and accessible its tuning knowledge base is.

Ease Of Atl Driving In both stock and modified forms, some cars are remarkably easy to drive at-the-limit (ATL) because they're well balanced and inspire confidence, while others feel like they're trying to kill you the second you toss them into a corner. We like cars that are rewarding to drive hard.

BFTB Bang-for-the-buck (BFTB) is really meant to capture how much track-day fun a car can provide for the money it costs to own and prep it. Consider this a smiles/track mile ratio, factoring in that less money spent does tend to leave a smile on most people's faces as long as the car is reliable, fun to drive and reasonably quick.

10
R35 Nissan GT-R
Price 1/10 ($50,000-$100,000+)
Stock Performance 10/10
Mod Friendliness 5/10
Ease of ATL Driving 10/10
BFTB 3/10
BFTB 29/50

Modp_1009_02_o+10_best_track_cars+r35_gtr Photo 3/12   |   Cobb Tuning's lightly modified R35 GT-R finished third overall in our '08 Modified Tuner Shootout, proving just how capable a machine it is even when measured against fully prepped race cars.

If you've got a big enough wallet, you'd be hard pressed to find a better track-day car than a R35 Nissan GT-R. You've read the reviews and seen the videos. The new GT-R is quite simply the greatest all-around performance car to ever come out of Japan. With its dual-clutch flappy paddle gearbox, highly sophisticated electronic driver aids and endless torque and horsepower, it's ridiculously easy to drive at speeds most other cars on the planet can't even approach. But because of its high entry price, high cost of modifications and high cost of maintenance and repair (a replacement transmission will run you $25K and its 3,800-lb curb weight means you'll chew through tires and brakes in a hurry), we only ranked it 10th on our list. If money were no object, we'd flip the script and rank it first.

09
Acura NSX
Price 3/10 ($20,000-$50,000+)
Stock Performance 7/10
Mod Friendliness 7/10
Ease of ATL Driving 9/10
BFTB 4/10
Total 30/50

Modp_1009_03_o+10_best_track_cars+nsx Photo 4/12   |   FXMD's awesome NSX is one of the fastest time attack machines in the world, but replicating it for yourself would cost cubic dollars.

Bin its heyday, the Acura NSX was widely considered the best handling car ever built and was labeled a daily driveable supercar by the automotive press. But its bonded aluminum chassis is rather delicate, as are its aluminum body panels. So any unscheduled off-track excursions can get expensive in a hurry. Add to that the cost of modifying a NSX and as much as we love the fighter jet seating position and "plugged in" feeling you get when driving this mid-engine classic, we can't rank it any higher than ninth.

Mid-Engine
Honorable Mention
It's no secret we love the Lotus Elise around here. Sure, it's pricey (though you can find some early S2s for around $30K) and tough to fit into, but once you strap into one of these little pocket rockets you'll have a tough time wiping the smile off your face.

08
FD Mazda RX-7
Price 5/10 ($8,000-$25,000)
Stock Performance 7/10
Mod Friendliness 7/10
Ease of ATL Driving 8/10
BFTB 5/10
Total 32/50

Modp_1009_04_o+10_best_track_cars+fd_rx7 Photo 5/12   |   FD RX-7s are hugely popular in Japan as track-day cars, but in America we see a lot fewer of them at the track, perhaps because of the tuning challenges that come with a rotary engine

Still among the most attractively shaped Japanese sports cars of all time, the FD RX-7 has huge tuning potential and a wonderfully balanced chassis. This platform doesn't seem to be particularly popular as a track-day option in America, but in Japan and Australia they're still a top choice and extremely potent in the hands of super tuners like Panspeed and R-Magic. Perhaps it's the fact that the 1.3-liter 13B rotary engine runs hot and has apex seals that are sensitive to detonation that has scared a lot of Americans away. Truth be told, the FD RX-7 isn't a machine for the novice or the financially challenged, so as badly as we want to put it higher on the list, it only ranks eighth because of its engine's temperamental nature.

07
Nissan 350Z
Price 5/10 ($10,000-$35,000)
Stock Performance 7/10
Mod Friendliness 8/10
Ease of ATL Driving 8/10
BFTB 5/10
Total 33/50

Modp_1009_05_o+10_best_track_cars+mworkz_305z Photo 6/12   |   The MWorkz 350Z is one of the fastest Z33s in America, but keep in mind it has a fully built turbocharged engine.

When Nissan brought the beloved Z moniker back to life in 2003, it was to rave reviews and strong showroom sales. As a result, there are literally thousands of clean examples ripe for the picking on popular sites like autotrader.com and craigslist. With a rigid and responsive chassis, strong aftermarket support and a naturally well-balanced driving experience, 350Zs represent a solid platform to build your track-day weapon with. On the downside, the VQ35DE V-6 isn't particularly responsive to all motor tuning, so to squeeze some real power out of these big 3.5-liter lumps, you have to go with a pricey and complex turbo or supercharger kit.

06
Honda S2000
Price 6/10 ($8,000-$25,000)
Stock Performance 7/10
Mod Friendliness 8/10
Ease of ATL Driving 7/10
BFTB 6/10
Total 34/50

Modp_1009_09_o+10_best_track_cars+full_view Photo 7/12   |   Honda's S2000 has proved to be immensely popular as a track-day car, but with a highly optimized engine they're not easy to squeeze more power out of.

While it's true that low-mileage AP2s still fetch well over $20K, you can find higher-mileage AP1s for less than $10K these days, and that represents a serious performance bargain in our books. For top-down fun at 9000 rpm, you simply can't beat Honda's screaming roadster. With the right suspension setup and aero, it's hard to beat in the corners. On the other hand, its highly optimized engine is tough to extract more power from without an expensive forced induction setup, and with no ability to carry a set of track-day wheels and tires in the trunk, it does force you to pack light, street drive on your track tires or invest in a truck and trailer. And don't forget to install a roll bar before you start to seriously track these.

05
S14 Nissan 240SX
Price 8/10 ($3,000-$10,000)
Stock Performance 3/10
Mod Friendliness 10/10
Ease of ATL Driving 7/10
BFTB 8/10
Total 36/50

Modp_1009_08_o+10_best_track_cars+sk14 Photo 8/12   |   S14s like Dave Briggs' are best known for drifting, but with the right engine and suspension setup these are also extremely potent grip machines.

Although the popularity of drifting has forced the price up and made it harder to find unmolested examples, if you dig deep enough and don't mind traveling to find the right car, you can still find a relatively fresh S14 in the $2-$6K range. If you're willing to do an auto-to-manual transmission conversion, you might even find a clean grocery-getting version for less. The aftermarket support and engine-swap possibilities with this chassis is virtually unlimited, and the relatively low cost of performance parts and SR20DET engine swaps make them a very attractive option from a BFTB point of view. They may be better known for their sliding ability, but S14s are also a great grip platform if you stuff enough tire under them and set them up properly.

04
GD Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Price 5/10 ($15,000-$30,000)
Stock Performance 8/10
Mod Friendliness 9/10
Ease of ATL Driving 8/10
BFTB 7/10
Total 37/50

Modp_1009_10_o+10_best_track_cars+gd_impreza_sti Photo 9/12   |   The GD Impreza STI remains a very popular choice among track-day junkies, thanks to its tremendous grip, stout drivetrain and tuning-friendly nature.

When Subaru finally blessed us with a USDM version of the WRC-inspired Impreza WRX STI, it became an instant hit with track-day warriors around the country. It's torquey 2.5-liter boxer engine and bulletproof 6-speed gearbox teamed with an intelligent center differential made for ego-boosting lap times and even tolerated some amateur-hour Scandinavian flicks. With a reflash-ready ECU and high-quality aftermarket support, the sky's the limit when building a track-day STI. The biggest downside we've encountered with the STI is the chassis' preference for understeer, making it hard on front tires and requiring either a slow-in-fast-out or Solberg-inspired, back-it-in-sideways driving style.

03
CT9A Mitsubishi Evolution VIII/IX
Price 6/10 ($13,000-$25,000)
Stock Performance 8/10
Mod Friendliness 9/10
Ease of ATL Driving 10/10
BFTB 7/10
Total 41/50

Modp_1009_11_o+10_best_track_cars+evo_iii Photo 10/12   |   We've never been to a track day without seeing at least a few nicely prepped EVO VIIIs and IXs in action. These have all the upside of the STI and none of the understeer.

The CT91 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is, simply put, a hero car. Get behind the wheel and drive one of these things hard and you're immediately rewarded by quick lap times, thanks to its razor-sharp handling, rev-happy engine and rock-solid brakes. Where the STI understeers and feels a bit vague at the limit, the EVO willingly rotates and feels telekinetically dialed in to your every thought. It just goes where you want it to, and does so very quickly. Its 2-liter turbocharged engine doesn't have the down-low grunt of the STI, but it sings a wonderful song up high in the rev range, making it feel like a AWD version of an Integra Type-R.

02
DC2 Acura Integra
Price 8/10 ($2,000-$15,000)
Stock Performance 5/10
Mod Friendliness 10/10
Ease of ATL Driving 9/10
BFTB 9/10
Total 42/50

Modp_1009_12_o+10_best_track_cars+dc2_integra Photo 11/12   |   DC2 Integras (as well as EG and EK Civics) remain among the most common machines to see at any lapping day thanks to their great combination of affordability, ease of tuning and driving and speed.

The DC2 Acura Integra is one of the most popular track-day cars in America for a reason. It's incredibly mod-friendly, cheap to buy and build, and has ample power potential if you swap a built B-series or K-series engine into one. And before all you EG and EK Civic owners get your panties in a wad, since the DC2 is basically an EG/EK under the skin, we're lumping them in with the Integra here. With a lightweight chassis, double-wishbone suspension and a huge selection of go-fast goodies, it's easy to build a potent track-day Integra (or Civic) because the tuning path is so well established.

01
NA/NB Mazda Miata
Price 9/10 ($1,200-$10,000)
Stock Performance 5/10
Mod Friendliness 9/10
Ease of ATL Driving 10/10
BFTB 10/10
Total 43/50

Modp_1009_13_o+10_best_track_cars+miata Photo 12/12   |   With more Miatas racing in America than any other model, it's impossible to deny this roadster's fun-factor or budget-friendliness.

Zoom-Zoom Nation has spoken. No single model is raced more frequently or more competitively at road courses across America than the Mazda Miata. With more than 4,000 Spec Miatas out there - some of which can be bought fully prepped for as little as $7-$8K - you'd be hard-pressed to find a more affordable or fun way to go door-to-door racing. Add to that Mazda's incredible contingency support and racing ladder program and it's easy to see why the Spec Miata continues to be so popular. If autocross or time attack is more your style, NA and NB Miatas have proved their mettle in those forms of motorsports, too. The Miata also has huge aftermarket support and even some funky engine-swap possibilities like a Mustang 5-liter V-8 and the S2000's screaming F20C. It may not be the fastest machine down the straightaways, but you simply can't have more fun for so cheap in the twisties than from behind the wheel of this lightweight little roadster.

By David Pratte
216 Articles

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