I like Red Dead Redemption Online, but there's something about customising a horse while waiting for the invention of the internal combustion engine that... just doesn't quite do it for me. GTA Online, on the other hand, remains resplendent with the kind of modern-day mounts that most of us can only dream of. And what makes it especially irresistible is not just the cars, but the thriving in-game subculture of modding them.
With over 400 modifiable vehicles to choose from, GTA Online players can modify their cars with over 15,000 different upgrade options before they’ve picked a paint colour. Think of it as a crossover between a modified car magazine and Guns & Ammo, as well as less boundaried car culture experience than something like Forza Horizon 4.
The GTA Online car crew culture
The most significant part of this culture is the player-created crews. As within GTA Online, there is a considerable number of hardcore dedicated car crews who prefer modified car meets and racing over senseless death and mayhem.
Joining a dedicated car crew made the GTA Online sandbox into a virtual Cars & Coffee meet, a place where car nuts of all descriptions meet up to show off their rides and show what they can do to personalise them.
With this crew membership comes a community of like-minded souls, as well as the awesome collective knowledge of vehicles and how to get the best from them. There's a wealth of advice and experience about what cars not to buy, as well as the ones that really sing with modification. And needless to say, my crew was always keeping abreast of the latest in-game glitches, and working out how to take advantage of them.
Most nights of the week the crew meet to show off their rides: sometimes we drag race, merrily bashing into each other, or simply move along in convoy enjoying the sights. The overriding theme is the discussion and love of cars, within GTA Online and without.
This player-held knowledge also stretches to the racing, with a wealth of detail about what cars and methods would shave down lap times. Racing isn’t exactly my strong point, I've had 2200 races completed with few wins, but my crew's tips and practice helped me go from a consistent last-place finisher to someone that could actually compete. You don't get an achievement for that, but it's definitely satisfying.
There's a vast amount of cars in the game that mimic real-world models, and a ride (or several dozen) for everyone in GTA Online. Here are some of my favourites and, yes, you might wonder why there are so few supercars involved: they're great and fast and all, but most have minimal options for personalisation. So I focus on the older and easier-to-obtain cars you can really make your own.
On a budget – Benefactor Panto
For those of you on a budget who don’t glitch money or cannot be bothered to earn it, the miniscule Benefactor Panto is for you. Based on the exceptionally poor real-world Smart ForTwo, it has more customisation options than you can shake a gearstick at.
Like the real-world car, the handling is downright dangerous. But assuming you survive the experience, the 80-odd available mods make the Panto stand out: particular picks would be the terrible 'Stickerbomb' graphics across its bumpers and wheel arches, the roll-cage and fully-loaded 'Roof Rack o’ Crap' - or even do away with the rear bumper for that 'been in a crash' look.
Vape much? – Karin Sultan RS
Similar to the real-world Subaru WRX STI, the Karin Sultan RS is the kind of ride where you expect to see a cloud of vape smoke rising from the driver’s window. As one of the first multi-modifiable cars in GTA Online, the Sultan RS can be modified with 248 different options that would set you back nearly $2.5 million if you spec them all.
In true Subie outlaw fashion I’d recommend one of sixteen different rear wings to make your presence felt, followed by an unsubtle body kit and a full rally spec interior. Who cares if you never take it rallying? Oh, and find a large bunch of like-minded friends to roll with, so you can talk about how great your cars are while wearing Karin clothing.
Got Radwood? – Ubermacht Sentinel Classic
The Ubermacht Sentinel Classic raises an important question – should you modify a classic at all? A take-off of the BMW M3 E30, the Sentinel Classic is the Radwood Era classic most cannot afford in the real world.
In GTA Online though, you can mod it as much as you like without the fear of being crucified by internet aficionadoes. From nearly over 130-plus available options you can pick rally spec kit including lights, grilles and roll cages all the way to 1980s era racing liveries.
But in true Radwood fashion, maybe the best option is to leave it as-is and make sure it still runs.
Entourage rolling – Albany Cavalcade
The best thing about the Albany Cavalcade, aside from that you can fit your large crew inside, is that this early model SUV is available to steal in generous amounts.
Like its real-world counterpart, the Cadillac Escalade, the Cavalcade won’t win you any races and will likely tip over on the slightest corner. To make up these shortcomings, the V8 engine and 1000W ICE install, modified bodywork and tasteless two-tone paintwork are enough to make it a must-have in any GTA Online garage.
Initial D dreams – Karin Futo
The Karin Futo is the car of choice for all of you Takumi Fujiwara wannabes. Yeah, it really is GTA Online X Initial D.
Except, it's not. The Futo is many things, and easy to drift is not one of them. But, it does make up for this shortfall in agility with some 60-plus personalisation options. You can spec your Futo as a full-pelt drift machine complete with ‘Rolling Dude No.7’ livery and a Shakotan exhaust all while playing endless Eurobeat in the background. Alternatively, you can Rally spec the Futo, which looks great but doesn’t really do much for the already very dangerous handling.
With over 400 modifiable vehicles to choose from, GTA Online players can modify their cars with over 15,000 different upgrade options before they’ve picked a paint colour. Think of it as a crossover between a modified car magazine and Guns & Ammo. To me it's also a less-boundaried car culture experience than something like Forza Horizon 4.
That's one of the amazing things about GTA Online. In its early days this series was controversial for what you could do in its open world; these days, that same freedom underpins online sub-cultures in its world. After all, why shoot someone when you could talk about their wheels instead?