Driving at over 200 miles per hour in a barley legal street car while struggling to avoid busy traffic is what modern racing games are all about. Racing games of the current generation have evolved substantially since the genre’s inception. Players can change gears using manual or automatic transmissions and upgrade the parts of vehicles.
Players don’t have to be a gearhead to appreciate the nuances of racing games either. Whether they are visual or performance upgrades, vehicle customization is a subtle detail that enhances racing in a noticeable way. As an often underutilized feature, vehicle upgrading provides seemingly boundless potential.
Updated July 13, 2022, by Tom Bowen: Modern racing games owe a lot to the Need for Speed franchise for the way that it spearheaded the car customization revolution. Where once players were held back by the limitations of their vehicles, they’re now able to tweak and tune their rides to squeeze out every last drop of power. There’s a lot more to it than just speed though, with many players opting to customize their cars for aesthetic reasons as well. The very best racing games with car customization mechanics allow players to do both: achieving breakneck speeds while also looking stylish as they do so.
15 Gran Turismo 7
The Gran Turismo series styles itself more as a driving simulator than a racing game these days, though that’s not to say that there isn’t still plenty of racing to be done. The series’ most recent installment, Gran Turismo 7, also places a lot of emphasis on tuning, with players able to tweak and tailor both the appearance of their cars and their performance.
Unfortunately, upgrading cars in Gran Turismo 7 can be incredibly expensive, with tire sets often costing more than an entirely new vehicle. Still, for those who want complete control over just about every single aspect of their rides, few games are better. The fact that there are more than 400 cars to choose from certainly helps, as too does the ability to create and share custom decals and liveries.
14 Forza Horizon 5
Where the Gran Turismo series strives for realism, the Forza Horizon franchise is geared more toward fun, and that’s certainly something that racing game fans can expect to find in abundance while playing Forza Horizon 5. The game features hours and hours of entertaining activities with which to keep players busy, one of which is its extensive set of vehicle customization options.
Unlike Gran Turismo 7, Forza Horizon 5 places more of an emphasis on how the cars look rather than how they drive. Creating and sharing liveries feels a lot more intuitive and the bright and vibrant visuals of the game really allow the wide variety of paint types and colors to shine. Of course, there are some mechanical upgrades available as well, but it’s the surface-level alterations that really take center stage here.
13 Project Cars 2
Not only is Project Cars 2 one of the best-looking games of the past decade, but it’s also incredibly fun to play. Though realistic in many respects, the experience has been expertly tailored to appeal to players of different skill levels and is bolstered by a decent amount of performance and aesthetic customization options.
While it doesn’t delve quite as deep as some of the genre’s other titles that dabble in customization, it does have everything that players will need to get the best out of their cars. The lack of bells and whistles may be disappointing to some, but those just looking to tweak their cars for maximum performance while adding a little bit of flair to the exterior will find everything they need to do so right here.
12 F1 2020
When it comes to realistic racing experiences, few games can compare to F1 2020. Granted, this realism can be a little restrictive in some respects and many will prefer racing on streets rather than on tracks. If neither of these things is a deal-breaker, however, then racing game fans would do well to check the game out.
Like the racing itself, customization in F1 2020 is a lot more grounded than in other racing games, with far more emphasis placed on performance than visual modifications. Selecting the right engine, tires, and turbocharger can make a huge difference to how a car drives and will be essential for those hoping to consistently finish on the podium.
11 The Crew 2
As a startup franchise, The Crew didn’t hold much appeal to the racing game community. The first title, in particular, often felt a little lethargic due to the infuriating AI racers that players competed against. Fast forward to The Crew 2, however, and the series is starting to look like a decent endeavor.
Players can race using a variety of vehicles, including boats, motorcycles, and F1 cars. The game also contains robust car customization, allowing players to change out body parts for better performance and add decals or vinyl types to improve visuals. Assuming the series’ third entry can expand on this a little more, Ubisoft might really be onto a winner.
10 Dirt Rally 2.0
Rising high from the ashes of the old Colin McRae Rally series, Codemasters’ Dirt Rally games really are the cream of the crop when it comes to the realistic rally driving experiences that they’re able to offer. Few racing games require players to focus on physics quite like they do, making the series’ most recent installment, Dirt Rally 2.0, a great option for fans of offroad driving.
Solid driving mechanics aren’t all that the game has going for it though, with vehicle customization also being incredibly important. Granted, there aren’t too many things outside of suspension settings for players to tinker with, but getting this just right can have a huge impact on the way that a car performs. The ability to create and use custom liveries is also nice, allowing players to really express themselves through their rides.
9 Street Legal Racing: Redline
Released in May 2016 on the Steam Store, Street Legal Racing: Redline offers a complete package when it comes to car customization. If anything, it could perhaps be argued that more emphasis is actually placed on the customization than the racing itself, although some players will see this as a good thing.
The racing simulator allows players to add a great deal of customization to their vehicles. They’ll be in charge of repairing the vehicle when needed, as well as tuning it for the best performance. What makes Street Legal Racing: Redline stand outis not its racing or graphics, but more its vehicle customization.
8 Assetto Corsa
From a vehicle customization perspective, Assetto Corsa is a knockout title. It allows players to build their own vehicles and tracks and even share their designs with other players. What’s more, the customization tools at their disposal are some of the same ones used by the game’s developers, which ensures that no design ever feels out of place in the game’s hyper-realistic engine.
The immersive racing game is widely recognized as being one of the most realistic racing simulators out there, comparable with the likes of Forza and Gran Turismo in many respects. Players come for the vehicle customization, but stay for the robust car lineup and excellent racing mechanics; the latter of which is greatly enhanced by the use of a steering wheel and foot pedal.
7 Car Mechanic Simulator 2018
Photorealistic graphics ensure that players have an immersive experience while playing Car Mechanic Simulator 2018. As the name might suggest, the game gives players an opportunity to test their skills as a mechanic, while also serving as a highly detailed and incredibly enjoyable racing simulation game.
With a multi-level garage at their disposal, players won’t need to worry about having space for their vehicles and can instead focus on getting their hands dirty. They’ll need to repair and customize their vehicles and are given access to over one-thousand parts in order to get them running exactly how they want them.
6 Need For Speed: Payback
While many of the shortcomings of Need For Speed (2015) were rectified in Need For Speed: Payback, it still isn’t the perfect Need For Speed game. Thankfully, however, developer Electronic Arts at least took the series back to its roots by re-introducing car customization; a feature which to many is synonymous with the franchise.
Payback allows players to tweak and change just about everything about their cars and is one of the few games that let players add a neon glow to the undercarriage of vehicles. This is just one of many added visual options that really allows players to make their cars feel unique and is a big part of what makes the game worth playing.
5 Need For Speed: Underground 2
Need For Speed Underground 2 was a significant improvement over its predecessor. It served as the perfect response to the series’ past criticisms, with better arcade racing and more vehicle customization options than ever before. At the time of its release, there wasn’t a game on the market that could really compare in either respect.
The ability to add vanity features like trunk speakers or rims was a deal-breaker for many and really helped sell the “Street” vibe that the developers were trying to push. If players are strictly looking for a racing game to soup up a vehicle, Need For Speed Underground 2 remains a solid option, even today.
4 Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V, a game that revolves around stealing cars and killing people, contains more vehicle customization options than anyone could have ever anticipated. The series really has come a long way since the humble Pay ‘n’ Spray shop, which was originally used only to evade pursuing police officers with a new coat of paint.
Nowadays, players can customize everything about their vehicles, from spoilers to horn sounds. The game’s racing modes also give players an opportunity to race and test out their creations online, either with friends or strangers. None of the vehicles in GTA V are officially licensed, unfortunately, although as with most things, this can be remedied with the use of mods.
3 Forza Horizon 3
Although an argument could be made that every Forza Horizon deserves praise for its customization options, Forza Horizon 3 stands out from the rest. It features an impressive array of body kits and custom parts for players to tinker with and also allows them to add custom paint and liveries before selling a vehicle at the auction house.
The game even allows players to import special vinyl groups from other Forza games like Forza Motorsport 6 and Forza Horizon 2; a nice way of rewarding longtime fans of the series. Forza Horizon 3 was also the first Horizon game with HDR (High-dynamic-range) compatibility, which makes everything look just that little bit more stunning as a result.
Not only does Automation let players customize existing vehicles, but cars can also be built from the ground up. Those with knowledge of vehicles will therefore find the game’s level of customization to be extremely satisfying, not to mention, incredibly realistic.
It’s possible to customize just about everything, including the chassis, engine, and suspension, among other things. Many other games have tried vehicle customization, though most fall some way short of Automation, “the car company tycoon game.”
1 Forza Horizon 4
For the most detailed vehicle customization with arcade gameplay, Forza Horizon 4 really does lead the way. The game lets players change non-essential parts of their cars to make them more visually appealing, while also giving them complete control over things like engine upgrades, which can be used to increase horsepower and acceleration.
Though players can get down to the nitty-gritty by changing individual parts themselves, it’s also possible to use the game’s quick upgrade function to save time. It more than lives up to expectations, offering both the most expansive open-world map and the most detailed vehicle customization mechanics in Forza history.
MORE: The Fastest Cars In Forza Horizon 4 (& How Fast They Can Go)