July 15, 2020

Here Are 5 Great Rally Inspired Street Cars

The sole reason car manufacturers spend millions of dollars competing in motorsports stems from this theory: “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday.” The idea being expressed here is, if a car company can get their car competing in, and maybe even winning, motorsport events, fans will want some of that pedigree in their own car. This is one of the reasons rallying is so captivating. The cars are relatable. The vast majority of people will never get to feel the dynamics of a Formula 1 car or a Le Mans prototype because their architecture shares very little with normal street cars. In rally, the cars may be heavily modified but they are based off of mass-produced street cars. Even the cars from the over the top Group B era of the 1980s trace their roots back to conventional Audis and Puegeots that were sold at the time. As a result, spectators can understand what the professional drivers are doing to get the car to perform.

The cars World Rally Championship (WRC) fans watch fly through the woods spraying gravel in their wake may be made of exotic materials and use expensive components but homologation standards keep them structurally similar to the streetcar on which they are based. Manufacturers also need to sell a certain amount of the cars they are using to compete in order to comply with these requirements. Manufacturers often road-going versions of the race car to the public. For rally enthusiasts, cars like these are very desirable and a great way to capture what you love about the sport in your daily driver. Here are five great rally inspired street cars from the past decade.

1. Subaru Impreza WRX/STI
The Subaru WRX has been a staple of the road-going rally car segment for decades. With its distinctive hood scoop, fender flares and wing, it has an aesthetic that connects back to is rallying heritage. It is even offered in the famous world rally blue, a color Subaru has used since the late 1990's on its works rally cars. Aside from the rally inspired looks, the WRX has a trick
all wheel drive system with a viscous center differential. In the STI, the driver can even adjust the torque split front to back. Coupled with more aggressive suspension, and more power over a standard Impreza, the WRX and STI give the driver lots of confidence and traction on a technical road to feel as if he is Colin Mcrae. Solid late-model WRXs can be had for as low $15,000 and STIs are available closer to $25,000. There is a huge aftermarket support network for these cars, and the sky's the limit for modification.

2. Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta has become a hugely popular platform in rallying in the modern era. Attend any rally around the world and you will surely see a Fiesta on the stage. Although there is no all wheel drive homologation version, the front wheel drive Fiesta ST has a strong connection to the sport. With its lightweight and lively dynamics, the Fiesta ST turns a highway on ramp into a tarmac stage. It has a 1.6 liter turbocharged four cylinder which turns the econobox it is based upon into a proper hot hatch. The suspension is stiff but it does have a decent amount of travel, resulting in impressive handling on bumpy back roads. Unfortunately there is no factory-limited slip differential, at least in the United States. Despite this, it captures the essence of rallying in a practical, affordable package. The Fiesta ST is an incredible bargain, with worthwhile examples starting just under $10,000. Like the WRX, the Fiesta has huge modification potential and lots of companies selling aftermarket parts.

3. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (or the Evo) is a seriously competent vehicle. With WRC heritage, the Evo was a major rival of the Subaru WRX STI throughout its 10 generations. Unfortunately the Evo went out of production in 2015 but it still has a strong cult following. It has a high-strung turbo engine with variable valve timing and a very advanced all wheel drive system that can send varying amounts of power to each individual wheel. As a result the Evo gained a reputation for punching well above its weight, giving Porsches and Nissan GTRs a run for their money on twisty roads. This ability to tear up anything the road can throw at it means the Evo gives a very unique driving experience based on its deep roots in rally. A good Evo X will start at $25,000 and will likely be more needy in terms of maintenance than the other cars on this list. The Evo is also less practical and a little raw for daily driver duty. But if you want a rally car above all else, look no further. 

4. Ford Focus RS
For years the special rally-derived Fords were reserved for the European market. Luckily in 2016, this changed with the MK3 Ford Focus RS. The Focus RS looks the part (especially in nitrous blue) with a more aggressive front facia, rear diffuser, and big wing on the hatch. Underneath it packs a 2.3 turbocharged motor with over 300 horsepower and a fancy all wheel drive system with selectable drive modes, including drift mode. The different modes alter the suspension settings throttle response and torque split front to rear making the Focus RS very adaptable for different scenarios. In 2018, Ford stopped making the Focus RS, so these days they can only be bought second-hand. Prices start at $25,000 and go up from there, which is a value for those searching for a modern-day Escort Cosworth.

5.Hyundai Veloster N
Hyundai is the new kid on the block when it comes to rallying. Hyundai runs their I20 in the World Rally Championship and has had great success in the sport. Although the United States does not get the I20, Hyundai sells a hot version of their three-door Veloster called the Veloster N. Developed by Hyundai’s N division, who run the WRC cars, the Veloster N is available with a factory mechanical limited slip differential and a choice of dual clutch automatic or manual gearbox. Although Hyundai is new to the game, the Veloster N had been a surprising hit, even being crowned Road and Track Performance Car of the year in 2019. It has only been out for a little over a year so prices are still in the mid $20,000 range for a pre owned one. New prices start at $27,000. Its great dynamics and distant WRC relatives make the Veloster N a viable alternative to established old guard.

Writer - Drew Crowley