The best tuner cars for 2019

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 sheet metal 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 some 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 is 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 racer, an autocrosser, or a showpiece.

Not all Civics are created equal, though. Pre-2000 models are preferred because they handle better and their engines are easier to tune, but the current, tenth-generation model is the first to feature a turbocharged engine straight from the factory. So while the Civic has been around for awhile, its tuning potential is just beginning.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Best tuner cars Mazda MX-5

It may look like a toy, but the Mazda MX-5 Miata is about as perfect as a small sports car can be. It’s light, it handles well, it has rear-wheel drive, and it’s relatively affordable. 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.

The Miata feels right at home whether it’s on a road course, at a drift event, or dodging the cones at an autocross. It’s relatively simple to squeeze more power out of the stock four-cylinder engine, but 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 on the tuner scene is looking especially bright.

Toyota Supra

Best tuner cars Toyota Supra

Toyota isn’t usually associated with automotive excitement, but the performance cars it has made over the past few decades have turned out smashingly. Case in point: The Supra.

Over the course of its first four generations, the Supra became one of the most iconic cars ever to wear a Toyota badge. That’s why the fifth-generation model introduced at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show was so hotly anticipated. We haven’t discovered the new car’s full tuning potential yet, but the older variants of the car are highly coveted for their 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 prized by tuners, the Supra is somewhat less exotic than its rivals, making it reliable and relatively easy to modify. Act fast if you want one, however, because Supra prices are skyrocketing.

Volkswagen Golf

2018 volkswagen coming home event
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

The original Volkswagen GTI’s combination of performance and practicality remains as appealing in 2019 as it was in 1975.

The GTI helped launch a Euro-themed tuning subculture that’s as vibrant as any in the car world, and both the R32 and the Golf R cemented the model’s 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. Some start with a GTI, while others prefer the simplicity, availability, and affordability of a basic, entry-level model.

Mazda RX-7

Best tuner cars Mazda RX-7

Few cars in the world have a fanbase that’s as passionate as the Mazda RX-7’s. Why? One word: Rotary.

The Wankel-type 13B engine 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 Wankel was a joy. We’re hoping the rotary-powered sports car makes a triumphant return soon, though Mazda has made it clear that it has other priorities for the time being.

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, the 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 by winning races in the World Rally Championship (WRC), but PlayStation games and an introduction on the American market in 2003 turned it into a true performance phenomenon. Featuring sophisticated all-wheel drive systems and endlessly tunable turbocharged 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 compact cars that have been turned into rally machines. With a turbocharged, flat-four engine and all-wheel drive packed into a sedan (and sometimes hatchback) body, the practical yet fun WRX has always been one of the best performance cars for people who, you know, have lives. You can take the WRX to Ikea on a Saturday, channel your inner Vettel on a track the following day, and use it to commute to and from work during the week. What more can you ask of a hot hatch?

Subaru has always made the WRX and the WRX STI impressive right off the assembly line, but many enthusiasts view them as a blank canvas on which to produce truly awesome modern hot rods. Parts from numerous aftermarket vendors can help you build a flat-four whose output approaches supercar levels of horsepower. Make sure you upgrade the brakes, too.

Ford Mustang

Best tuner cars Ford Mustang

Ever since Ford commissioned racer and engineer Carroll Shelby to build the very first GT350 in 1965, the Mustang has been one of the go-to platforms for speed junkies looking to make serious performance upgrades without breaking the bank. 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 ever-tighter 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, four-cylinder engines plus track-focused Shelby models are increasing the Mustang’s appeal even more. If it’s more power you’re after, you can either send your car to an aftermarket tuner like Shelby, or go on a shopping spree to build your own.

Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ

Best tuner cars Toyota 86

In a world obsessed with horsepower and top speeds, 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 back roads.

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. Some owners simply make suspension tweaks, while others have gone as far as fitting a Ferrari-sourced V8 engine under the hood; seriously, we’ve seen it.

The Scion brand recently folded, so for the 2017 model year, the FR-S became the Toyota 86, a clear homage to the drift-loving AE86 Corolla of the 1980s. Subaru’s version has always worn the BRZ nameplate. All three are essentially identical under the sheet metal. Regardless of which route you take, you’ll be putting one of the most tuner-friendly coupes of the 21st century in your garage.

Honda S2000

Best tuner cars Honda S2000

Honda’s S2000 was a convertible-only sports car designed to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary. Production spanned 10 years, from 1999 to 2009, and during that time the car built a cult following for its precise handling, light chassis, and high-revving engine (its redline was 8,800 rpm for the first few model years). Honda doesn’t seem interested in giving the model a successor, so the S2000 is well on its way to becoming a modern classic. It’s the last of a breed, in a way.

Along with Mazda’s Mx-5 Miata, the S2000 is one of the best entry points for those looking to conquer track days. Some of the best mods you can make to an S2000 include fitting 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.


General Motors and Volkswagen are ignoring hybrids to go full electric

GM and VW are done spending money on hybrids, according to a new report. The two massive automakers will direct funds to electric cars instead. Both companies are confident that all-electric power is the future.

The most reliable cars of 2019

We all dread the thought of our car turning into a money pit, but choosing a dependable vehicle from the start can help us rack up countless care-free miles. Here, we've rounded up some of the most reliable cars available.

Limited-edition Subaru BRZ tS returns for 2020, WRX and STI get minor tweaks

Subaru performance cars remain mostly unchanged for the 2020 model year. The big news is the return of the limited-edition Subaru BRZ tS sports car, with production capped at 300 units.

Camaro vs. Mustang: Differences and similarities between two premier pony cars

The Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang are two of America's favorite sports cars. In this comparison piece, we highlight the main differences between the two machines when it comes to their design and performance, among other factors.

Beach to Baja: Dune buggies in the news, from VW ID concept to McQueen’s Manx

It was a big week for dune buggies. VW revealed an electric concept vehicle, the ID. BUGGY. Steve McQueen's Thomas Crown Affair buggy is headed to auction. Glickenhaus revealed the Baja Boot, a street-legal Baja-racing-capable dune buggy.

Starman on Tesla Roadster makes first orbit around sun, braces for loneliness

Starman and his Tesla Roadster, sent by SpaceX to outer space last year, have completed their first orbit around the sun. The people on Earth may be able to catch a glimpse of the cherry-red electric vehicle on November 2020.

France’s first-ever solar panel road appears to have some serious issues

France launched its first-ever solar road to much fanfare in 2016, partly in an effort to discover if the technology provided a viable route to greener highways. Recent reports, however, suggest it has some serious issues.

Mercedes downsizes its plug-in hybrid tech with the new A250e sedan, hatchback

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is getting a plug-in hybrid variant. Dubbed the A250e, the compact plug-in is set to go on sale in Europe in both sedan and hatchback forms. Mercedes hasn't confirmed U.S. sales plans.

Ford is looking to recruit gamers for its first-ever esports racing team

Ford is getting into esports in a big way with the launch of its own racing team, called Fordzilla. The automaker is planning to start recruiting for national teams at the Gamescom gaming event in Germany this week.

You could soon see electric scooters driving themselves to charging stations

It might not be too long before electric scooters used by companies like Bird and Lime begin driving themselves to charging stations rather than having to be collected by a team of people at the end of the day.

The best iPhone car mounts to keep your smartphone in sight and stable

The best iPhone car mounts are designed to securely hold your device in place and keep it in view while on the road. Here are some of the mounts you should look into if you're in the market for a quality piece of equipment.

The directors of Avengers: Endgame have made a commercial for Cadillac’s XT6

Cadillac brought in directors Anthony and Joe Russo to make a commercial for its 2020 XT6 three-row crossover. The brothers have directed four Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, including the record-setting Avengers: Endgame.

Be the fastest commuter standing on two feet with the 40-mph Mantis e-scooter

If you like a shot of adrenaline during your daily commute and weekend wanderings, Fluid Freeride's Mantis escooter can deliver. The Mantis comes with two 1,000-watt motors that can power you along for up to 55 miles at incredible speeds.

This Porsche Taycan prototype was driven 2,128 miles in just 24 hours

A Porsche Taycan prototype recently went to Italy's Nardo test track for a 24-hour endurance test. The electric car covered over 2,000 miles in that time, stopping only for recharging and driver changes.