This holiday season, a number of irresponsible carmakers will goad you into giving entire automobiles to friends and family, festooned with oversized bows on their roofs. But friend, cars happen to be expensive. And once you’ve gifted your seventh or eighth one, the debt starts to add up — trust me. There’s got to be an easier way!
There’s actually a wide variety of things that aren’t cars that will nevertheless make the automotive enthusiasts in your life happy. You can even procure them for yourself to satisfy your own fondness for motorized vehicles. I’m told that’s not in the spirit of the season, but rest assured — your secret is safe with me.
We’ve curated this gift guide into two parts. First, you’ll find racing games that let you drive in anger without compromising anyone’s physical or financial well being. And in the back half, there’s an assortment of gizmos that aim to improve the experience of driving and caring for your vehicle.
Let’s begin with the must-have arcade racer of the year. A number of fun racing titles were released in 2020, but Dirt 5 is notable for a couple of reasons. First off, it’s really, really good. The developer behind the latest entry in the mainline Dirt franchise, Codemasters Cheshire, previously worked on Motorstorm, Driveclub and Onrush. The latter two in particular were flush with jaw-dropping dynamic weather effects and impeccable track design that is pretty much uncontested in the genre right now. Dirt 5 continues that tradition, across a variety of off-road racing disciplines, from ice racing to rally raid trucks and even those weird Scandinavian tube-frame Jeep Wrangler looking things that most definitely are not Jeep Wranglers.
The other reason you want to own or give Dirt 5 is that it’s on practically every platform under the sun, including those next-gen systems everyone’s been chattering about. Sure, Dirt 5 is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC, but if you or your gift recipient was lucky enough to squirrel away a PS5 or Xbox Series X/S, you’ll be able to experience the game in all its ray-traced, 60 frame-per-second glory. And Dirt 5 is already so pretty, that’d definitely be the optimal way to play it.
Project Cars 3 has attracted some criticism for being a markedly less authentic experience than the heavily sim-focused games in the franchise that preceded it. If you’re expecting something on the level of Assetto Corsa or iRacing then, no, Project Cars 3 isn’t for you, so let’s get that out of the way.
That said, for those who have been itching for a Gran Turismo- or Forza Motorsport-like experience with a fantastic roster of cars and tracks and a solid single-player career, Project Cars 3 is sure to please. The physics are responsive, weighty and engaging without being overly challenging to more novice pad-players, and again, I have to stress that the selection of vehicles and circuits is truly on point. I can think of few games that offer up the Audi V8 Quattro DTM, Renault-Alpine A442B prototype and such a vast selection of ’70s and ’80s Porsche GT cars; I also can’t think of many games that feature Cadwell Park or Japan’s secret best racetrack, Sugo. Best of all, you can nab Project Cars 3 for decently cheap now, just a few months since it launched.
Art of Rally’s beauty lies in its simplicity. The minimalist visual style almost seems a bit too well-worn for an indie racing game of this ilk, but Art of Rally really is captivating in motion. It’s also flush with cheeky fake names for obviously real cars, and a clever conceit: what if Group B was never canceled, and evolved into the even more maniacal Group S?
But don’t let Art of Rally’s deliciously colorful and clean look fool you. In my humble opinion, this is easily the hardest racing game I’ve recommended on this list. Drifting really is a skill you must hone in this game, and only once you’ve mastered it can you find the proper rhythm through the corners.
Art of Rally’s lone shortcoming is that, at the moment, it remains exclusive to the PC. In what is sure to be the most scalding-hot take you read all day, a game this fun and refreshing truly belongs on Switch, so here’s hoping it winds up on a wider range of consoles in due time.
Here’s a racing game you can play on the Switch, as well as Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered is a re-release of the 2010 classic of the same name. What makes it particularly noteworthy is that, as far as I can recall, this is the only example of a racing game with licensed cars ever being remastered for a new generation of platforms.
That makes Hot Pursuit Remastered’s car list amusingly odd, as it’s chock full of the latest and greatest sports cars ... from exactly a decade ago. Nevertheless, this is still a fun arcade racer with thrilling pursuits, a visual style that hasn’t aged much at all and the kind of blistering drift-and-crash-happy gameplay the folks at Criterion are known to provide. It was a bit expensive at launch at $39, but expect that price to slide as the holidays draw nearer.
OK, so Wreckfest isn’t exactly new, having left early access in 2018. However, I happen to be a recent convert and my god, I had no idea what I’d been missing. This game is a blast, marrying an impeccable physics engine developed by the experts at FlatOut studio Bugbear with a massive trove of Finnish folk racing circuits, demolition derby arenas and stunt tracks. It’s just a truckload of honest, stupid fun, and you can nab it for very cheap on PC these days, for just $15 through Fanatical. If you or your friends slept on it as I did, I highly recommend it.
Everyone should have a trusty battery charger at their disposal because you never know when your car’s stock battery is going to unceremoniously kick the bucket after three years (I’m still sour about it, thanks for asking.)
Anyway, Noco offers a range of battery chargers and maintainers, from the diminutive Genius 1 all the way up to the Genius 10. The models primarily differ in terms of amperage, which translates to faster charging for the pricier offerings that are capable of greater power output. The middle-of-the-road Genius 5 featured here as well as the Genius 10 also have exclusive modes, like the ability to repair damaged or sulfated 12-volt batteries and recharge 6-volt, deep cycle AGM batteries. Earlier this year I replaced my Fiesta ST’s stock battery with an AGM option, and given that all four Noco Genius chargers can recharge AGM batteries, I picked up one of these myself.
I should probably buy a dash cam, given that I park my car in a crowded and heavily-trafficked lot. Rather than spend the money, what I’ll probably do is continue ignoring that good sense until something happens, at which point I’ll lament my procrastinating ways. Reader, don’t be like me, or let your friends and family who love their cars be like me. Buy a dash cam.
The mid-tier Garmin Dash Cam 46 is a fine choice, with its built-in 2-inch screen that makes for easy viewing, automatic incident recording, support for “OK Garmin” voice commands to begin and end filming as well as lane departure and collision warnings. Garmin also offers a mobile app, called Garmin Drive, that allows you to manage and view all footage collected by the dash cam easily from your smartphone.
This cell phone mount from iOttie is designed to accommodate devices of all sizes, from a tiny iPhone 12 Mini to a gargantuan Samsung Galaxy Note. It also supports wireless charging, which is perhaps the one useful feature that differentiates it from the trusty old phone mount that’s left indelible rings on the inside of your car’s windshield. So long as you have a phone that supports Qi charging (most high-end models do these days), it’ll charge in this mount, at up to 10 watts for supported handsets. That at least saves you the trouble of having to plug your phone in every time you’re about to take a trip. The Easy One Touch can also be purchased with either a suction cup-style arm that fixes to a car’s dashboard or a clip to latch onto a climate vent or CD slot.
Anyone with a newer phone could likely benefit from a new car charger, built to take advantage of the latest fast-charging technologies in today’s gadgets. The PowerDrive PD 2 from Anker is a good choice for most people, in that it features a USB-C port that can ferry along juice at the 18-watt Power Delivery spec supported by a variety of devices, from smartphones to tablets and even the Nintendo Switch. Power Delivery allows for charging speeds similar to what you get at home. Better yet, there’s a second USB-A port on this adapter that can supply up to 12 watts of power to another device at the same time.
You love your friends and family too much to let them lug their bulky home vacuum cleaners all the way over to their cars when they finally muster the will to do a little cleaning. Fortunately, Bissell makes a reasonably-priced, rechargeable compact vacuum that presents a solution to this problem, as it’s small enough to leave in the back seat. The AeroSlim comes with a crevice tool — because what are cars if not gigantic, concentrated clusters of crevices on wheels — and the battery lasts for 12 minutes on a full charge, which should be long enough to corral dust, dirt, debris and any other unwanted, alliterative particles clinging to a vehicle’s floor and upholstery.