The Best of the Best
Most of the performance features that you see and experience in today's road cars are descendents from a form of race. Rallying is no exception. In addition to safety features, rallying has greatly influenced the off-road handling dynamics, and made great progress in the never-ending journey of more grip on any surface. It certainly isn't easy to decide on the best rally cars, and anyone's list will be subjective and unofficial. With that said, it is easy to pick out cars that have really changed the sport itself, so that's what this list is going to be about. In no particular order...
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (Evo)
Starting off the list is perhaps the easiest and most obvious choice. Although the future of the Evo is uncertain (the standard Lancer will definitely continue to be made however) this car is still one of those machines with the most recognizable rally roots you will see on the road today. Everything about the Evo screams competition and racing. When it was first introduced to everyday drivers back in 1992, it produced more than 240 horsepower from the 2.0 L turbo charged engine, which was incredible and admirable at the time (and is still quite quick by today's standards.) When the Evo X was brought out in 2007, the car had almost 300 horsepower, stock. That's a lot of power pumped out of a small engine, and the type of engineering ingenuity that could only come from rallying.
Perhaps one of the biggest moments that rocked the rally world was when the Audi Quattro debuted in 1980. The Quattro showed the world the power of four-wheel drive in a road/rally car, and is consistently referred to as one of the greatest advances in automobiles. On the racing side, the Quattro achieved tremendous amounts of success right out of the gate, and secured its place near the top of all rallying classics. On the road car side, it greatly influenced Audi's lineup. All road cars now roll right off the lots with a similar four-wheel drive technology to that which debuted so many decades ago. A 2013 driveable Quattro concept was also revealed, but despite lots of support from the public, it is unlikely that it will ever be put into production.
Another car you will almost always see towards the top of rallying lists is the Lancia 037. After Audi's initial success with all-wheel drive cars in 1980, it looked like rear-wheel drive in this form of racing was a thing of the past. And it was. However, Lancia sent out this more traditional setup with a bang with the 037, which won the world rally championship in 1983, the last rear-wheel drive car to ever do so, a record that is likely to stand the test of time. A very rare version of the car was also built for road use, the 037 Stradale. Only 220 of these were made, but the car's good looks have resulted in many kit cars being modeled after it.
Ford Escort RS Cosworth
Chances are, you've seen a Ford Escort before. In fact, chances are, you've seen a lot of Ford Escorts before, because a lot of them were sold, especially throughout the 90s and early 2000s. But what you probably have not ever seen before is the very rare, and very fast Ford Escort Cosworth. As you can tell by the name, the London engineering company Cosworth built the engine, and it was known for being modifiable to reach incredibly high power outputs. Doing a simple search of the car on YouTube will result in showing you some of these cars with 700 or 800 horsepower. Some have even taken this car to over 1000 horsepower! Although it never did win the world championship, it was certainly memorable and has cemented its place in history.
The WRX is also an iconic rally car, and in many ways, represents the future of success in the sport. Unlike many of the other cars on this list, the WRX is affordable and sells relatively well, which makes up for the ever-forgotten but also important part of a racing team- finances. With immense amounts of success with both rally racing and street car sales and popularity, the WRX perhaps gives you the best conjuration in your mind when you think about modern rally cars. It shows us that there is at least some hope for gear-heads in a world that consistently pushes forward new technologies that owe a lot more of their influence to advancements that often forget the most important aspect of driving- fun.