Rally cars for the street that you can buy right now
If you’ve been in the Middle East long enough, you’ll know that there is only one motorsport that predates all the others around here — rallying. It should make sense, considering the UAE’s first proper racetrack was only constructed 10 years ago, and the first drifting academy only opened last year, while we have rally champions here who’ve been racing since the 1980s! Rallying can be an expensive sport thanks to the expense of modifying the cars for competition, but there are a few that provide a strong base to start with, good enough that with a few mods, you can be on your way to do some amateur rallying of your own.
2000-2007 Subaru Impreza WRX STI
The Subaru brand never gained traction in the GCC, but they do have some of the most amazing rally-bred cars among their offerings, with boxer engines and symmetrical all-wheel-drive as standard. Prime among them is the Impreza WRX STI, a nameplate that started life in the early 1990s and continues to this day. However, the best of the breed is widely considered to be the second generation that ran from 2000 to 2007, with a reliable 4-cylinder turbo motor that made up to 280 hp in stock form.
First offered with round headlights, it underwent two more facelifts until it was replaced by a completely new model that’s actually considered inferior in terms of reliability. These older-gen cars are harder to find, but when you do, pick it up immediately to enjoy as is, or to form the base for your rally car, with the first mods being suspension and more aggressive tyres.
2001-2007 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
The Evolution may be based on the pedestrian Lancer, but it became a force to be reckoned with in rallying, starting from the early 1990s. There have been ten iterations of the Evolution since then, but most of them were just minor updates. One major change came in 2001, spawning the Evolution VII, Evolution VIII and Evolution IX, before a tamer model replaced it in 2007. Making 286 hp from a 2.0-litre turbo 4-cylinder in its most standard form, there have been several variants with more horsepower, but even the base engine is infinitely tunable, with more than 400 hp easily achievable with minor mods.
It’s possible to jump into rallying by adding mods such as a rollcage, raised suspension, rally-spec tyres, a stronger clutch, better brakes and other bits if you want to get serious, but the fundamentals are already there, namely a powerful engine and an excellent all-wheel-drive system.
2006-2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser
The FJ has been around for the good part of a decade and it’s widely seen as the best desert offroader around, straight off the showroom floor. That also makes it a good candidate for desert rallying, with modified variants taking part in the tough Baja 1000 races since the FJ made its world debut in 2006. Officially coming to our region as a 2008 model. Starting off with the 240 hp 4.0-litre V6, it was eventually upgraded to 271 hp, but the versions you should buy are 2013 models and later, when they gained improvements such as a second fuel tank.
With the standard transmission is a 5-speed automatic on most trim levels, the ideal desert demon is the 6-speed manual model that finally came here in 2012. Buy one while you can, because rumour is production will end in a year or two, given that it’s already discontinued in the States, which was its primary market. And there likely won’t be a replacement.
2010-2015 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Until 2010, the F-150 could be had either as a work truck or as a lifestyle truck. In regular form, it’s also a decent driver, both on and off the road. However, Ford really pushed the bar to a new level when they launched the SVT Raptor, quite possibly the only stock vehicle designed to be driven fast over rough terrain.
With standard Fox Racing shocks, a unique wide body, fat all-terrain tyres and an electronic differential locker, it is a ridiculously capable truck that initially came with a 310 hp 5.4-litre V8 and a quad-cab body before switching to a 411 hp 6.2-litre V8 with an optional 4-door crew-cab body as well. Ford even sells a Baja Rally version, although it is possible to have your own Baja-style fun with the stock truck itself.
1997-2015 Nissan Patrol Safari
The older Patrol Safari is so good that it continues to be built alongside the new luxury-oriented version even now. Based on a body-on-frame chassis that dates back to the 1980s, the Patrol has seen very few updates over its life-span, but the 1997 change in body style brought with it a host of major updates, including the availability of the bulletproof 4.8-litre inline-6 option that continues to be popular with local tuners.
Known as the Y61 generation, it received a facelift in 2004, but the basic mechanicals remained the same — part-time 4-wheel-drive with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. These Patrols are also a major fixture at local rally championships, such as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and Rally Jeddah, where stripped-out examples are raced with just a rollcage, bigger tyres and few other mods.
Tell us what other cars you think are great for a bit of rally fun.