Growing up doesn't mean you can't still play.
There's an old saying that goes: "Boys never actually grow up, their toys just get bigger.” However, we’re not sure it’s just boys and we would definitely change bigger to expensive. The underlying point stands though and, like many, we have no intention of losing our childlike sense of wonder. We still love toys, particularly sophisticated ones we can park in the driveway but we also still like smaller ones that don't need gas or insurance.
We’re also not the only ones that believe that you don't have to be a kid to play, and if you look at the demographics of video games you’ll see the average age of today’s gamer is 35. We’re not so sure that's the case for some of the other things on this list, but there’s definitely a lot of fun out their beyond virtual driving and we’ve picked out our favorites for you.
These are not so much as toys as pieces of art you put together yourself. They are clearly not for young children as both cost over $300. Then, once built, you won’t want to take it apart again, and instead, just marvel at how detailed it is. Which is good for parents or anyone that has trodden on a Lego piece in the early hours of the morning on the way to the bathroom. There are other Lego Technic car models, but these two are definitely the cream of the crop.
Slot car racing has been around forever and there’s a huge amount of choice in cars and accessories. Scalextric has been a staple of British childhoods and adulthoods since 1957 and available here in America. The reason we like the Scalextric system so much is that it's robust, infinitely expandable if you want to recreate your favorite racing tracks. The other big name is Carrera and their track is wider and also has a big following but its impossible to say which is better.
The RC car world is huge, and you can go any way you want from bashing around with an electric powered monster truck to going to race meetings with 1/8th scale gas powered buggies and anything in between. Currently, our favorite form is drifting, and a few companies including Tamiya are making chassis specifically for sliding around a track. You can pick up ready-to-run models with a radio set, servos, a battery, and a motor or you can go pick up the chassis kit to build yourself and buy better internals to go in it. Either way, it is a zen-like experience to hang out with some friends and drift RC cars around a track for a couple of hours.
One of the big pluses with hobby-level RC cars is you can go full nerd and tune them in the same ways you can tune a full-size car including alignment, suspension, and gear ratios. There's also a huge amount of body shells to fit most chassis. There are many makes out there, but Tamiya is a great recommendation to get started.
Somewhere in the intersection of toys and art is Candylab. The company draws on a 1960s American modernist vibe, serious craftsmanship, and love of wooden toys. These are the kind of things kids love to play with and adults enjoy looking at on their desks, then, when nobody is looking, zoom them around making engine noises. They are simple, elegant, durable, and range from around $10 to $70.
A little less serious than the Technic Lego series, but just as fun and with an elaborate amount of detail is Creator series. Our favorite is the Aston Martin DB5. If the detail of the straight-six engine, logos, and wire-rimmed wheels aren’t enough, then the inside even has a working ejector seat, a concealable radar tracker, and pulling the gear stick reveals the front wing machine guns.
We also love the Volkswagen T1 Camper Van. It’s a little more chilled out but just as detailed down to the split screens, the pop-up camper roof, and air-cooled flat-four engine in the back.
For an adult with $280 to spend on toys, the epic Hot Wheels set has to be on the list. It comes with 4 1:64 cars but you probably have a few already you wouldn’t mind sending down the track. We love the configurability, and well-placed loop-the-loops can help ensure hours of hilarious fun. And then, like any Hotwheels track, it can be expanded to run out of the house and into the yard.
Drones have gotten very popular, but let's face the fact they are a bit boring. It's all very nice being able to take a picture of the roof of your car, the neighbors yard, or delay aircraft at a major international airport, but once you've flown one for a few minutes the novelty wears off. That is unless a couple of buddies pick up some racing drones and pit their skills against each other.
There's a lot of four rotor racing drones at the entry level and under $200 for a ready run unit with radio and a battery included. The Odyssey Starfall X is just one of them and has a built 1080p camera and a 55-mph top speed. Just make sure you grab a couple of extra batteries as hooning them around can drain one battery in around 6-12 minutes.
Got a toddler? Like RC cars? If the answer to both is yes, then the Big Toys Green Country ride on toys is perfect. We like the AMG GT R as it looks wonderful in its scaled-down cartoony form, but there’s plenty to choose from. Just pop your kid onboard and give the little one a fun ride around the yard or let them take control of the wheel and pedals themselves. What could possibly go wrong?
We tried to pick a favorite driving game, but it’s impossible. For those that have not played one before, and we doubt that’s many reading this, then the latest Forza title for the Xbox, or Gran Turismo for the PlayStation, is the perfect introduction. Both have had years of crafting games with a fine balance between arcade and simulation racing, and although people have their preferences they’re both very high-level.
Our favorite outright simulation is the cross-platform Project Cars with a good steering wheel setup although the granddaddy for the PC is still iRacing. However, there is Assetto Corsa if you want as close to true driving dynamics as possible, then there’s the F1 series for fans of Formula 1, or the Dirt series if you like rally driving. The list goes on as it's a great time to like driving games.