The best tuner cars

Bored with stock? The best tuner cars are begging to be modified

2018 volkswagen coming home event
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
The launch of a new car is a momentous event — an occasion where years of planning, designing, and testing finally culminate. Despite that, there are always those who can’t wait to rip that carefully-crafted sheetmetal and fine-tuned engine to bits.

With the right amount of money, knowledge, and patience, you can modify just about any car. Some take better to enhancements than others though, so we’ve cobbled together 10 of the best tuner cars here. Specifically, we’ve cataloged relatively modern vehicles that have carved out a niche in the tuner scene for one reason or another. You should probably start gathering parts now.

Honda Civic

Best tuner cars Honda Civic

Despite what Fast & Furious tells you, the Honda Civic has never been an incredible performer. It is, however, an inexpensive, versatile, and reliable vehicle that works just as well as a starter car as it does as a long-term daily driver. There are also a legion of aftermarket companies that support the plucky compact, which means you can build any type of Civic you like, whether it be a drag car, an autocrosser, or a showpiece.

Not all Civics are created equal, though. Pre-2000 models are preferred for their better-handling chassis and more-tunable engines, but the latest generation is the first to feature a turbocharged engine from the factory. So while the Civic has been around for awhile, its tuning potential may be just beginning.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Best tuner cars Mazda MX-5

It may look like a toy, but the MX-5 Miata is about as perfect as a small sports car can be. It can also be modified for any number of uses, however nearly all of them involve roll cages, crash helmets, and lots and lots of duct tape.

Whether it’s on a road course, at a drift event, or dodging the cones at an autocross, the Miata is equally at home – and dropping a V8 into one of these babies isn’t unheard of, either. Considering the latest version is one of the best Miatas ever, we’d say the MX-5’s future is looking especially bright.

Toyota Supra

Best tuner cars Toyota Supra

One usually doesn’t associate Toyota with exciting cars, but as it so happens, the automaker’s rare efforts at building performance vehicles have turned out smashingly. Case in point: The Supra.

Over four generations, the Supra became as iconic as any model that has ever worn a Toyota badge. It unfortunately isn’t around anymore, though it’s coming back soon, but the two-door remains highly-coveted for its sensual styling and wild engines, which can be upgraded to produce mind-boggling amounts of power.

While it’s not the only Japanese sports car preferred by tuners, the Supra is also somewhat less exotic than its rivals, making it reliable and relatively easy to modify.

Volkswagen Golf

2018 volkswagen coming home event
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

With the original GTI, Volkswagen invented the modern hot hatchback, but its combination of performance and practicality is as appealing today as ever.

The GTI helped launch a Euro-themed tuning subculture that’s as vibrant as any in the car world, and both the R32 and Golf R cemented its place in history. The result is a nameplate that — like most others listed here — comes with an avalanche of available aftermarket parts, as well as a massive nationwide network of enthusiasts. You can tune any generation of the Golf, from the original model made in the 1970s to the current, seventh-generation car.

Mazda RX-7

Best tuner cars Mazda RX-7

Few cars in the world have fanbases as passionate as the Mazda RX-7. Why? One word: Rotary.

The Wankel-engineered 13B that powered the sports car throughout its life is a flawed masterpiece, one that offsets incredible smoothness and eye-opening horsepower potential with mechanical quirks RX-7 owners usually refer to as “charm.” You can recognize these drivers from the extra quarts of oil they keep on them at all times.

Because of its die-hard aftermarket support, you don’t have to look hard to find quad-rotor RX-7s with 800 hp or more, but even from the factory, the lightweight dynamo was a joy. Here’s hoping the rotary makes a triumphant return soon.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Best tuner cars Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

In the 1990s, Mitsubishi led the pack of high-tech Japanese performance cars with models like the 3000GT, Galant VR-4, and its greatest creation, the Lancer Evolution. They’re all gone today, sadly, but the Evo in particular left a long, sideways skid mark in the automotive history books.

The Evo slowly but surely gained its reputation throughout the 1990s with World Rally Championship success, but a few PlayStation games and a 2003 U.S. debut later, and you have a bonafide performance phenomenon.

Featuring sophisticated all-wheel drive systems and endlessly tunable turbo engines, these diamond-star warriors are still favorites among people who spend their off hours at the track.

Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Best tuner cars Subaru WRX STI

Like the Mitsubishi Evo, Subaru’s WRX and WRX STI are ordinary compacts that have been turned into rally machines. With turbocharged boxer engines and all-wheel drive packed into sedan (and sometimes hatchback) bodies, the practical yet fun WRX has always been one of the best performance cars for people who, you know, have lives.

Despite their impressive spec sheets, it wasn’t long before people started modifying the Subaru WRX models, producing some truly awesome modern hot rods.

Ford Mustang

Best tuner cars Ford Mustang

Ever since Ford commissioned Carroll Shelby to build the very first GT 350 in the 1960s, the Mustang has been a go-to platform for performance upgrades.

The 1979 introduction of the “Fox-body” ‘Stang and subsequent decades of development proved that this muscle car could survive in the era of electronic fuel injection and emissions regulations, while still remaining attractive to hot rodders.

That’s still the case today. It may not be your father’s Mustang, but does look (and move) like it, and a new range of turbocharged EcoBoost engines and track-focused Shelby models are increasing the ‘Stang’s appeal even more.

Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ

Best tuner cars Toyota 86

In a world obsessed with horsepower, vehicles like the Toyota 86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ are breaths of fresh air. Much like the Mazda MX-5, the 86 prioritizes handling over brute force, and the result is an incredibly focused machine built for backroads.

Put simply, the FR-S is a return to form for Japanese sports cars. Its compact size, low weight, and rear-wheel drive character will fill Toyota Celica, Nissan 240SX, and Honda S2000 fans with nostalgia, and the car is only getting better and easier to modify as it ages.

The Scion brand recently folded, so for the 2017 model year, the FR-S will become the Toyota 86, a clear homage to the drift-loving AE86 Corolla of the 1980s.

Honda S2000

Best tuner cars Honda S2000

Honda’s S2000 was a convertible-exclusive sports car designed to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary. Production spanned 10 years from 1999-2009, and during that time, the car built a cult following for its precise handling, light frame, and high-revving engine (redline was 8,800 rpm for the first few model years).

Along with Mazda’s Miata, the S2000 is one of the best entry points for those looking to conquer track days. Some of the best mods for the S2000 include bigger front and rear sway bars, more aggressive brake pads, and wider wheels to accommodate beefier tires. And before you consider adding power, try lightening the car for a better power-to-weight ratio.

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