Review the Best Tuner Cars to Use Right Now

Modified 1991 Mazda MX-5 Miata for sale on BaT Auctions - sold for ...

A modified Mazda MX-5 Miata. Source: Bring A Trailer.

By “tuner car” we mean a vehicle that is particularly well suited to modification.

Of course, you can tune any car in any way imaginable if you just put your mind to it. But some cars are built in a very specific way—even the slightest modification will throw the whole thing out of whack. The designers essentially said “okay, our stuff works. DON’T MESS WITH IT!” That’s not the kind of car we’re talking about here.

Other cars are just begging to be tuned. For these vehicles, the designers put together a masterful, open-ended build and said, “here’s the starting point, have a party.”

That’s what we’ll be looking at today.

What Makes a Great Tuner Car?

The best cars to tune are those with superb designs but constrained by various restrictions or regulations. For example, many expert manufactures like Volkswagen and Audi have to adhere to the strict fuel emissions standards of the EU. Some manufactures like Ford cater to a wide variety of drivers in all parts of the world. As such, their vehicles are designed with a ‘general audience’ in mind, resulting in a very ‘middle of the road’ (pardon the pun) performance.

Tuning is how you unleash the hidden potential of these expertly designed vehicles. Whether you want better handling, increased throttle, or anything else, the possibilities of tuning are endless.

Sources: Drifted.

modern hot rod - Google Search | Custom cars, Hot rods, Cool cars

A true, modern hot rod. Source: Pinterest.

Types of Tuner Cars

Tuner cars, in fact, have entire subcultures build around them. They are integral to many people’s personal and collective identity and have earned their place in the halls of American history museums. Some general categories of tuner cars include:

  • Hot Rod: an American classic. A hot rod is any car with engine modifications specifically geared towards maximizing speed in a straight line. They have big, heavily tuned engines, flame decals, and can be heard a mile away as they turbocharge down the track.
  • Lowrider: a tuned car that is typically equipped with hydraulic jacks. These allow the chassis to be lowered nearly to the road, hence the “low rider” moniker. These are the vehicles of choice for cruising—perhaps the most American of pastimes, even beating out baseball and arguing about politics over Thanksgiving.
  • JDM: Short for “Japanese domestic market,” this refers to Japanese stock vehicles that are sold in the United States. JDMs are known for being especially well suited to tuning for all kinds of purposes.

Sources: National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The 5 Best Tuner Cars to Go Crazy On

In no particular order, here are 5 cars that tuning aficionados can find hours of fun with.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review, Pricing, and Specs

The MX-5 Miata’s toy-like aesthetic is greatly amplified by the adorable rear-mounted antenna. Tuners who pick up one of these will similarly feel like they’re in a toy shop. Source: Car and Driver.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata is the premier small sports car for tuners to get their hands on.

This little guy is a lightweight, two-passenger roadster with a rear-wheel drive setup. It debuted way back in 1989 and still retains that unique fusion of technological sophistication, beautiful dynamic balance, and classic car look. It holds the title of the best-selling two-seat convertible in sports car history.


The latest version of the MX-5 strikes a perfect balance of features and handling and is available with either automatic or stick shift.

According to the guys at Beavis Motorsport, “to get both rear wheels to grip to the pavement, a factory torsion LSD center is more than sufficient.” Additionally, you can also “improve your handle on the road, reduce body roll, and lower the center of gravity of your car with coil overs.” These will “stiffen up your ride, give you a better feel for the road, and give you as the driver feedback through the wheel.”

Another tip Beavis gave us was to try “lightweight rims 8–9 inches wide and around 20mm offset.” Consider “the N Key RPF 1 … 9 for 9 Racing 6 UL … or the Advanti Storm S1.”

Sources: Mazda; Car and Driver; Beavis Motorsport.

Volkswagen Golf

2019 Volkswagen Golf Safety Features

The Volkswagen Golf. Source: Autoblog.

The Volkswagen Golf has the advantage of a huge selection of aftermarket parts, thanks to a vibrant European tuning culture that it itself helped launch.

The Golf is one of the best-known compact cars on the market, available since 1974. It’s been among the top three best-selling models in the world. It has traditionally been a front-wheel drive vehicle, though all-wheel drive versions have also been produced.


All generations of the VW Golf are extremely tuner friendly. Those with larger engines are best tuned with a full induction kit and cold air. The 2000 1.8T engine is known as one of the most tunable engines on the market and can be modified to exceed 300 HP, so long as you have a larger turbo/injector upgrade. Another notable engine in the VW Golf family is the V6 4motion and the V6 R32.

The engineers at Humble Mechanic told us about their experience tuning the ECU of a Golf. Initially, “our factory numbers at the front wheels was 273.46 HP and 276.41 lf-ft of torque [and] those numbers are pretty darn good.” But, following a stage 1 tune, “we jumped up to 319.10 HP and 352.34 lf-ft of Torque, for an improvement of 45.46 HP and 75.93 lb-ft of torque.” Overall, “an awesome improvement on the car!”

Besides ECU tuning, other popular modifications for the VW Golf include:

As an added plus, the Golf is well known for its reliability and will hold its resale value quite well. Tinker away!

Sources: Digital Trends; Torquecars; Humble Mechanic.

Audi TT

2020 Audi TT Prices, Reviews, and Pictures | Edmunds

The Audi TT, ready to take on the world. Source: Edmunds.

Currently in its third generation, the Audi TT is a 2-door sedan with a multitude of intriguing tuning possibilities. Like many Audis out there, it is known for its front-mounted and transvers engine, quattro four-wheel drive, and independent front suspension.

The Audi TT takes its name the British Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorcycle race. Why would a sedan be named after a motorcycle race, you ask? There’s a lot of complicated business history there, involving the companies that merged to form Audi way back in the day. Don’t think about it too much. The “TT” just connotes “racing” for a lot of European gearheads out there. But if anyone told you the TT stood for “technology and tradition,” you’ve been lied to.

Audi TT Tuning To Drive The Euro Tuner | LovelyMotor

A heavily tuned Audi TT. Source: LovelyMotor.

Anyway, if you’re looking to boost the power output from the Quattro engine, a few suspension tweaks and exhaust mods will get you the extra HP and a smooth ride to boot. Some choice motorsport modifications for your Audi TT include:

  • Lighter flywheel
  • Sports exhaust
  • Suspension upgrade
  • Panel air filter
  • Alloy wheels
  • High-flow fuel injector
  • Sport clutch
  • Ported and polished head
  • Enhanced forced induction (turbo/supercharger)
  • Sports gearbox
  • Competition cam
  • Engine balancing

These upgrades will help you pump out power and fine-tune the transmission and handling on this already top-rate sports car.

Sources: Torquecars; Autoblog.

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang - Wikipedia

The For Mustang, looking like it’s staring down a rival gunslinger just outside the OK Corral. Source: Wikipedia.

The Mustang is a legend. In continuous production since 1964, the Mustang has evolved over several decades of development into a muscle car for the modern era. It can be modified at reasonable cost and can accommodate tighter emissions standards and electronic fuel injection.

The Mustang nowadays is quite a far cry from the original 1964 muscle car. But it still leaves tons of room for tuning. With the right modifications, you can unleash more power from the Mustang engine than was ever possible just a few decades prior.

As for tuning specifics, most modern Mustangs need supporting software for the PCM to handle the boost in power. Some choice modifications include:

  • Remap
  • Sports exhaust
  • Alloy wheels
  • Lighter flywheel
  • Panel air filter
  • Suspension upgrade
  • Sport clutch
  • Ported and polished head
  • Fuel pump upgrades
  • Fast road cam
  • Sports gearbox
  • Engine balancing
  • Competition cam

In all your Mustang tuning, shoot for a flat torque range. Look to optimize the intake and exhaust durations while boosting power. Do a bit of expert tuning on a Mustang, and you’ll have the muscle car of your dreams.

Sources: Digital Trends; Torquecars.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Used 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Prices, Reviews, and ...

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, in all its futuristic glory. Source: Edmunds.

A few decades ago, Mitsubishi began producing a number of top-class Japanese performance sports cars. The Lancer Evolution, without a doubt, has left the strongest impression some 20 years later. Based on the original Lancer and manufactured from 1992 to 2016, this car was originally intended only for Japanese markets but quickly became popular worldwide.


The “Evo” as it is often known was introduced to the American market in 2003 and quickly became a phenomenon for its high-tech all-wheel drive and extremely tunable turbocharged engines. Its supreme handling has proven particularly popular among tuning aficionados.

Some other notable upgrades include:

  • Suspension upgrade (drop 23mm – 33 mm.)
  • Remap
  • Panel air filter
  • Lighter flywheel
  • Alloy wheels
  • Sports exhaust
  • Boost controller
  • Sport clutch
  • High flow fuel injector
  • fuel pump upgrades
  • Ported and polished head
  • Fast road cam
  • Sports gearbox
  • Competition cam
  • Engine balancing
  • Internal engine upgrades
  • Upgraded forced induction

As far as handling and suspension upgrades go, you can try to rest the toe for more straight-line stability or better cornering and set up the suspension geometry for optimal performance. That plus a strut brace and anti-roll bars will tighten the suspension even more and enable faster cornering.

Sources: Mitsubishi; Torquecars.