Tricked-out treehouses, Nerf slingshots, retro gaming consoles, Hot Wheels cars — all the trappings of a picture-perfect childhood. But the epitome of boyhood rad-ness? Go-karts. They were fast, loud, and undeniably dangerous, which, of course, made them irresistible to most of us.
Fast-forward a decade or three. You may be (mostly) grown up now, but you can still relive your street-racing glory days. Some automakers are thinking way outside the box with compact, adult-friendly “racecars.” Behold the world’s best street-legal go-karts for adults.
For 20 years, the good folks at Germany’s Wimmer-RST have been chip-tuning anything with an engine to within an inch of its life. It focuses on bringing race track-worthy performance to street-legal rides. So, its Limited Edition transformation of the stock, but already stunning KTM X-Bow (pronounced “crossbow”) to an absurd, open-cockpit rocket made perfect sense.
From the available lineup, we think the flagship GT trim is the only way to fly. It’s tuned to a max 435 horsepower — enough to propel it to 62 mph in just under 3 seconds and to 124 mph in less than 10.
If Batman had a daily driver, it’d likely be Polaris’ Slingshot Grand Touring autocycle. It’s the tamest, most “livable” go-kart on this list, with car-like creature comforts, including touchscreen navigation, quilted touring seats, and a solid 100-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system. However, the door-free design, removable hardtop, and GM 2.4-liter four-banger pushing a respectable 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque make this more of an adult go-kart than a traditional drop-top sports car.
Like Britain’s legendary Morgan Motor Company, Vanderhall builds street-legal go-karts (though they both prefer the term “roadsters”) for the discerning gentleman. While its competitors tout outrageous, over-the-top designs, Vanderhall deftly blends marine-inspired sleekness with the looks of vintage, early 20th-century racecars. Make no mistake, though: Under the hood, its offerings boast plenty of power. The flagship Carmel Roadster pushes 194 horsepower and 203 lb-feet of torque thanks to a 1.5L GM turbocharged four-cylinder. The removable roof, swing-out doors, and 19-inch wheels make it all the more fun to drive.
The Ariel Atom racecar is basically a street-legal go-kart for automotive purists. It strips away the frivolous luxuries of every traditional sports car and even those of most of its competitors. This is a high-performance, no-nonsense, race-track-ready ride built for speed and fun. In the early 2000s, it became the world’s third-fastest-accelerating production car, just behind the Bugatti Veyron, and has since continued to make and break dozens of records. If speed is your priority, it doesn’t get any better than the Atom. Just bring your wallet — a customized version of the company’s flagship, built-to-order Ariel Atom 3RS starts near $120,000. They’re so popular that you’ll be lucky to even find one.
The compact footprint of the original three-wheel T-REX 16SP likely resembles the go-karts of your boyhood dreams. This next iteration of the OG T-REX — the T-REX RR — is the latest flagship offering from Montreal’s Campagna Motors. It’s bolder, faster, more aggressive, and just plain cooler in every way. Like the Ariel Atom, this is a pared-down “skeleton” ride built for speed. Liberal use of carbon fiber, composites, and high-tech alloys helps trim the weight down to a scant 1,098 pounds. Coupled with a 208-horsepower, 4-cylinder Kawasaki engine, the T-REX accelerates to 60 in less than 4 seconds, pulling 1.3 smile-inducing lateral g’s in the process. And all that power feels a whole lot faster in an open-cockpit ride than in a traditional roadster.
For roadster lovers, automotive purists, or anyone who just feels the need for speed, it’s hard to beat a street-legal go-kart. If raw, open-cockpit driving isn’t your style, though — if “traditional” supercars are more your thing — check out the fastest cars in the world right now. Or, if you like things extra spicy, these are the world’s fastest motorcycles.
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