Driving in a straight line is undoubtedly the most efficient way to go fast. But is it necessarily the most fun? Fans of drifting would suggest otherwise, and we’ve picked the cars that could help you get in on the sideways action.
Let’s be clear – we’re talking about cars predominantly (but not entirely) with rear-wheel drive, and enough power to create slides on demand. That isn’t the same as lift-off oversteer, a phenomenon familiar to drivers of old-school hot hatches such as the Peugeot 205 GTI, for example.
It’s also worth remembering that drifting should only ever be done on a circuit, and not on the street. Not only is it dangerous, but we also promise you nobody on social media will be impressed if you drift on the public highway. Especially when it goes wrong.
In December 2017, the BMW M5 drifted into the record books when it set a Guinness World Record for the longest drift. Instructor Johan Schwartz completed a sustained drift of 232.5 miles, smashing the previous record by 143 miles. To achieve this, the M5 had to be refuelled during the drift in the same way that jet fighters refuel in mid-flight. As a result, a second Guinness World Record was awarded for the longest twin-vehicle water-assisted drift.
Ford Focus RS Mk3
What better way to get drifting than with a car that features a ready-made ‘drift mode’ setting? Using it won’t instantly turn you into Ken Block, but it will make getting things sideways that little bit easier. Drift mode sends 70 percent of the torque from the 2.3-litre turbo engine to the rear axle, and initially transfers the torque to the outer rear wheel to get things moving. Once sliding, it then splits torque equally between each rear wheel to keep the drift going. The result is lurid slides, but in a controlled manner.
Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic
Imagine the same ‘drift mode’ principles as the Focus RS, but applied to a 604hp twin-turbo V8 super saloon. While the E63 S may be 4WD most of the time, a complicated series of menu options allows you to disengage drive to the front wheels. This means 627lb ft of torque going to the rear tyres unchecked, as the ESP system is turned completely off. You’ll need a lot of space, and access to lots of fresh rubber if you get too carried away.
Ford Mustang GT V8
The weapon of choice for professional drift racer Vaughn Gittin Jr. is a Ford Mustang, and it could be yours too, even if your name isn’t quite so cool. With the adoption of independent rear suspension for the sixth-generation Mustang, Ford eliminated much of the criticism which the ’Stang had previously garnered from drift enthusiasts. Add in a 5.0-litre V8 engine with 435hp, and 400lb ft of torque, and there’s no reason why you can’t make this muscle car dance.
Jaguar F-Type R
Drifting a Jaguar? Oh yes, this particular Jag likes to slide. Rather a lot in fact, although with a 542hp V8 turning the rear wheels it’s hardly surprising. An electronically controlled limited-slip differential is standard at least, making the tail-out action controllable. Jaguar later introduced the AWD version of the F-Type R for those who preferred to keep things in a straight line.
How far can a Toyota GT86 drift? A rather impressive 102.5 miles, in fact, based on the recent efforts of one South African car journalist. It shouldn’t be surprising though, as the GT86 – and its Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S siblings – has the natural inclination to slide. Mix rear-wheel drive with relatively narrow tyres and even the oft-criticised power output of only 200hp from the 2.0-litre boxer engine is enough to move the back axle. Just be sure to pick the six-speed manual gearbox rather than the automatic.
Mk1 Mazda MX-5
Cheap, plentiful, and with a thriving aftermarket parts industry, the original MX-5 is often touted as the answer to most motoring questions. Learning to drift is just one more solution covered by the Mk1 version. Ideally, with the optional LSD and some cheap and narrow tyres on the back, the MX-5 will be more than happy to start sliding at a fairly low speed. With any luck, you’ll develop sufficient drift skills to move on to something more powerful before rust destroys it.
Nissan S13 Silvia / 240SX / 200SX
Another contender for the perfect entry-level drift machine, the S13 may be known by various different names throughout the world but the popularity remains consistent. The choice of the SR20DET 2.0-litre turbo engine is what reinforces the drift credentials, allowing anywhere from 200hp to 500hp, dependent on tuning. The neat pop-up headlights only add to the coolness, and a wealth of body kits and upgrade options make it extremely appealing to those in the scene.
BMW M3 (E36)
It may not be the most renowned car to wear the coveted M3 badge, but that works in the favour of the E36. Lower demand has helped keep prices down, meaning they become affordable options for drifting. A standard limited-slip differential is just one reason why it makes sense, while the 3.0-litre straight-six engine adds 286hp of assistance when needed. Today, used E36 M3s can be bought for less than the price of a nearly new supermini, but will be undoubtedly far more fun to drive. Buy one while they’re still cheap.
BMW M3 (E46)
Should your drift car budget stretch that little bit further, the E46 M3 offers many of the same sideways thrills as the E36, but with a slightly more modern look. It also brings more horsepower to the drift arena with 338hp from the larger 3.2-litre engine. This is often still not enough for hardcore drifters, however. Adding a supercharger is one common way of boosting power, while the brave have been known to swap the engine for the 500hp 5.0-litre V10 from the contemporary BMW M5.
With rear-wheel-drive and a muscular 3.5-litre V6 beneath the bonnet, the 350Z has the ability to get sideways as much as styling suggests it should. Having been used in top-level Formula D and D1 Grand Prix drift competitions, there should be no doubts about the potential of the 350Z. With earlier cars having 287hp, rising to 306hp for later versions, that should be plenty of power for sideways antics.
Not every drift car needs to be a coupe; even a practical saloon can still get in on the action. It might not be everyone’s first choice, but the IS200 – or Toyota Altezza as it was known in Japan – still displays basic drift ability. A relative lack of power limits potential in standard format, so those wanting to really drift competitively may swap the engine for a turbocharged unit from the Toyota Supra.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
UK buyers may associate Hyundai with superminis and SUVs, but in the USA and Korea, the brand produces a V6-powered rear-wheel-drive coupe. In 3.8-litre Track specification, the Genesis comes with 348hp, a Torsen limited-slip differential, and stiffer sports suspension. Drifters are also keen on the large amount of steering lock available, which allows for sufficient counter steering to deal with really big slides. Not something you could do in an i10 hatchback.
If we gloss over the troublesome reputation for the rotary engine in the RX-8, known for failing at relatively low miles, this could be another practical car with sideways agility. With a nearly perfect 50:50 weight distribution and standard limited-slip differential, the RX-8 is nimbler than many other cars on this list. The only drawback is the low level of torque from the Wankel motor, but that can easily be overcome by swapping it for a 5.7-litre Chevrolet V8. Doing so would probably make it more reliable, too…
For those familiar with the Gran Turismo series of video games, or the never-ending Fast & Furious movie franchise, the fourth-generation Toyota Supra is synonymous with Japanese tuning culture. However, as a weighty and sizeable grand tourer, the Supra needs to go on a diet before it can really start sliding around. Thankfully the famed 2JZ-GTE engine can be tuned to over 1,000hp; providing somebody hasn’t already taken it to fit into a Lexus IS200, that is.
Saturn Sky Red Line
Just before General Motors killed off the Saturn name, it produced this compact two-door roadster with rear-wheel drive and up to 290hp. In performance Red Line trim, the Sky benefitted from a torque-sensing limited-slip differential and enhanced Bilstein suspension, making it far more capable than the cute looks might suggest. It also enjoyed a short-lived career in the Formula D drift championship, competing against the platform-sharing Pontiac Solstice.
Toyota Corolla (AE86)
This is the famous ‘Hachi-Roku’ Toyota, credited by many as helping create the modern drift scene in the hands of Japanese driver Keiichi Tsuchiya. With a lightweight construction and short wheelbase, even the 130hp of the four-cylinder engine was enough to make wild slides possible. The AE86 was also immortalised in the Initial D manga series, something that has created a cult following for the diminutive hatchback and kept values high.
Nissan Skyline 25GT-T (ER34)
While the AWD Skyline GT-R might be the car that gets all the attention, that grippy drivetrain is no good for drifting. Instead you need the GT-T model, which uses a 2.5-litre turbocharged straight-six engine, but sends power to the rear wheels only. While you can have your GT-T in a two-door coupe body, there’s something infinitely cooler about opting for the four-door saloon. You can even convince yourself that it’s a practical family car.
Also known as the Toyota Soarer, the Lexus SC was pitched as a rear-wheel-drive luxury grand tourer to rival Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti. Initially available with a 4.0-litre V8, in 1992 the SC300 was launched with a 3.0-litre straight-six, just ripe for the addition of a sizeable turbocharger. This has made it popular with drifters moving up the ladder to more powerful machinery, but the SC300 does require a radical diet to shift the added bulk of leather seats and wood interior trim.
Mazda RX-7 (FD)
As with the RX-8 earlier, the RX-7 uses the characterful but delicate Wankel rotary engine, with the added bonus of twin turbochargers. This means up to 276hp, and the potential for much more with modifications. The car pictured belongs to ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett, a professional drift racer from New Zealand, and is known as the Madbul. With up to 537hp at the rear wheels, it represents what can be achieved with an RX-7.
Nissan Silvia (S15)
Unlike the previous generations of Nissan Silvia, the S15 was created to go faster on track rather than simply for drifting. That meant out with the old viscous limited-slip differential, and in came a new helical one. It did also gain a new six-speed gearbox, and 250hp turbo engine, along with bigger brakes and uprated suspension though. Drifting fun is still available; you’ll just need to work harder to unlock it.
If working hard for your drift is important, then look no further than the Caterham Seven. On paper it sounds so easy, with an ultra-lightweight construction and power to the rear wheels. Caterham even offers drifting experiences – so confident is it in the abilities of the Seven. But being so delicate to throttle and steering responses means the hard work comes in keeping it sideways through longer corners without ending up facing the wrong way.
Vauxhall Monaro VXR
Feeling brave? Then welcome to the world of drifting a 6.0-litre V8 muscle car, originating from Down Under. As a thinly disguised Holden HSV GTO, the Monaro VXR packs 397hp and a chunky 390lb ft of torque. Despite the monster engine, and big coupé body, the VXR is surprisingly capable on-track and can be made to pull lurid slides as long as you dare.
Volvo 360 GLT
Stop laughing; we’re being completely serious here. While it may look like something your grandmother would (and probably did) drive, it does have genuine drift potential. This comes courtesy of standard rear-wheel drive, but also the gearbox being a rear-mounted transaxle that aids weight distribution. The 360 GLT is the pick of the 300 Series, with the 2.0-litre engine being the only with sufficient torque to enable drifting. Just try to think of a decent explanation to friends and family when you buy one.
Dodge Viper SRT-10
The 8.4-litre V10 Viper is a pretty scary car to begin with, thanks to 600hp and 560lb ft of torque that can easily overwhelm the rear tyres. You’d need to be mad to want to drift one, but that’s exactly what Samuel Hübinette from Sweden has done. Oh, but his particular competition-spec Viper has 825hp. Having won the Formula D drifting championship twice, we can surmise that Samuel is rather handy behind the wheel. Best leave the Viper to the professionals.
For entry-level drifting, look no further than a compact pick-up truck. Consider the positives of a Chevy S-10: there’s a plentiful supply, so they’re cheap as chips; all the weight is over the front wheels; and they’re rear-wheel drive. Even a lowly four-cylinder S-10 is easy to provoke, but a V6 would deliver the maximum fun. Think of all the spare tyres you can carry in the back.
Vauxhall VXR8 GTS
What do you get if you cross a Holden Commodore with a Chevrolet Camaro? Aside from clouds of tyresmoke and a fuel bill to rival the national debt, the answer is the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS. This Anglo-Aussie-American rear-driver was powered by supercharged 6.2-litre V8 to make it about as planet-friendly as dumping a mountain of plastic carrier bags in the Arctic. But don’t let that trouble you.
Ford Mustang (Fox Body)
Head to YouTube and you’ll discover the drifting potential of the Fox Body Mustang. Why are they so good? Well, they’re not too heavy, they’re affordable, parts are cheap and creating a modified monster is a realistic prospect. Avoid the wheezy 4.2-litre V8 and opt for the 302-inch V8 Windsor for the maximum thrills.
Rear-wheel drive, a short wheelbase and a punchy 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine sound like the ingredients for a perfect drift car recipe. You’d be right, as the M2 has the ability to go sideways with relative ease, meaning it spends most of its time hemmed in by the ESP system. But select ‘M Dynamic Mode’ and the stability control will allow for some oversteer on-demand action before stopping the fun. There’s also the added bonus of the ‘Smoky Burnout’ launch control setting, just in case you need to finish off your rear rubber.