Best driving games to get out while staying in

  • The best racing games
  • Family-friendly arcade games and hardcore simulators
  • For PlayStation, Xbox, Switch and PC

Enthusiastic drivers, and those too young to drive, can find the open road thanks to the immense power of consoles and computers these days. Gone are the days of giant pixels and low-polygon angular cars with unrealistic behaviour – the recent crop of driving games is absolutely incredible.

It’s not all about being focused on the screen on your own, either. We’ve brought together some educational, family-friendly and calming driving games that step away from the frantic pace of stereotypical classics, such as Need For Speed or Burnout Paradise.

Though there’s plenty to be said for blowing off some steam in a virtual world – it’s just as enjoyable to pick up a game the whole family can enjoy, or one that’s all about the scenery and driving sensibly.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Nintendo Switch

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe - Nintendo Switch

Price: £38.95 | VIEW OFFER

Okay, zero points for realism – dinosaurs can’t drive go-karts, tortoise shells aren’t homing projectiles and antigravity does not yet exist. However, Mario Kart remains the ultimate party game: daft, high-speed fun, where a race’s outcome can depend on either skill or sheer dumb luck, sometimes both at the same time. The latest release – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Nintendo Switch – is also an incredibly good-looking game, with graphics that belie the console’s comparatively humble processing power.

The controls are intuitive, the selection of racers and karts is extensive, and the track choice is exceptional. The solo championships are good fun but the real laughs come when playing in a group. Luckily, online play is near-seamless – you can go in with your friends, with strangers from across the world, or a combination of both.

Recommended by Tom Wiltshire

Car Mechanic Simulator – Multi-platform

Car Mechanic Simulator - Multi-platform

Price: £17.99 | VIEW OFFER

Normally, we’d recommend spending the time we’re advised not to drive maintaining and learning about your car – but that’s tricky to do all of the time. If you have the itch but nothing to work on, there’s a brilliant answer, though, and it comes in the form of Car Mechanic Simulator 2018.

This unusual game doesn’t involve the open road or impressive supercars, though you can get some cool muscle cars and off-roaders and drive them on test tracks. Rather than racing, you can progress through barn finds, old bangers and classics to work your way up to restoring high-value vintage models.

In the meantime, you’re learning about every aspect of how your car works, diagnosing faults, and replacing routine parts as well as repairing body damage.

The experience on different platforms can vary – be aware that the Nintendo Switch version is closer to the mobile experience than the detailed nature of the Windows PC or Mac game – but in all cases, by the time you’ve been playing for a few hours, you’ll have learned about brakes, clutches, gearboxes and engines, and will have more confidence in understanding what your mechanic is showing you or what to look at when buying a used car. It’s no substitute for experience, but it beats trying to work it out from an old Haynes manual.

Recommended by Richard Kilpatrick

Gran Turismo: Sport – PS4 & PS5

Gran Turismo: Sport - PS4 & PS5

Price: £13.99 | VIEW OFFER

Truth be told, the Gran Turismo nameplate is special for people who grew up in the nineties. Impressionable gamers of this era will practically salivate at the mention of the game. Memories of Mazda Demios, Nissan Skylines, and of course, the Suzuki Escudo Pikes Peak are instantly conjured just hearing the name.

Gran Turismo Sport has moved the game on a great deal since 1997. It still has tournaments to take part in offline, but its main focus is online. It even has a fully sanctioned FIA championship. We understand that it might seem a bit try-hard for some readers. But in the wider racing game world, it strikes a middle ground between full-on sim racer, and light-hearted arcade-ness, all while delivering a huge dollop of nostalgia.

While the latest Gran Turismo has landed, there’s something about Sport that still sells it as an experience for us. Plus, you can’t knock the price.

Recommended by Murray Scullion

DiRT Rally 2.0 Game Of The Year Edition – Multi-platform

DiRT Rally 2.0 Game Of The Year Edition - Multi-platform

Price: 15.99 £ | VIEW OFFER

The first thing to highlight is the confusing naming structure for the continuation of the rally simulation series that used to carry Colin McRae’s name. This one – DiRT Rally – is the one you want, and the good news is it’s getting on a bit now, so it’s quite cheap.

There are several reasons you need this game – the most crucial is because rallying is the best and most exciting motorsport in the world, and this is the best digital representation of it.

Gran Turismo may excel in visual splendour and handling realism, but DiRT Rally stands above all other off-road racers (even the WRC’s own licenced title) simply for being belligerently, grindingly difficult. You will crash. A lot. And you will finish stone-cold last. A lot. But eventually, you’ll start stringing corners together with something like the balletic poise you need in order to shave seconds from your competition.

Sooner or later will come the moment you’ve worked and worked for – a stage win – and it’ll mean more to you than a virtual achievement ever has. Much like rallying in real life, winning is far from a given in this game, which makes it all the more satisfying when you do. Plus the list of cars is simply heroic – ’84 Audi Sport Quattro, ’69 Alpine A110 and the ’88 Peugeot 405 Turbo 16 Pikes Peak to name but a few. Get it bought.

Recommended by Adam Binnie

Forza Horizon 4 – Xbox One, Series S|X & PC

Forza Horizon 4 - Xbox One, Series S|X & PC

Price: £29.99 | VIEW OFFER

The fourth instalment of the hugely successful Forza Horizon series sees players take on the familiar surroundings of the Great British countryside. From the snaking B-roads of the Cotswolds to the mesmerisingly lifelike cobbled streets of Edinburgh city centre, Horizon 4 combines iconic UK scenery with a rich and varied list of cars – all with their own individual handling characteristics.

Collect, modify and drive over 670 examples of your favourite real-world vehicles, while competing in a variety of championships sprawled across the in-game map. Dynamic weather and season changes bring a new element of fun to open-world car games, with icy snow-covered roads quickly turning into a vibrant Spring scene perfect for fast-paced fun and high-octane racing.

Boasting a friendly and approachable handling model, Horizon 4 is suitable for gamers of all levels and offers quick progression through its vast single and multiplayer modes. And, for those who love Lego, a downloadable expansion pack brings the popular toy to life with a whole brick-based world accessible in-game.

Recommended by James Dennison

American Truck Simulator – PC

American Truck Simulator - PC

Price: £18.99 | VIEW OFFER

Taking to the open road for hours might seem like work, but when you’ve got scenery like this, it really becomes almost hypnotically calming. American Truck Simulator can be configured to be as easy or realistic as you’d like and taking it to the extreme, you can get steering wheels, gear-levers and buttons to build a real cab to drive from.

Starting as a driver for hire, it doesn’t take long to earn enough to buy your own truck; the process, once you’ve learned how to steer, brake and most importantly, reverse that immense trailer, is almost zen-like. Calm, steady progress with just the open road and a photorealistic cab with a full complement of mirrors are unbelievably satisfying, and there’s no need to feel competitive.

You’ll be frustrated enough attempting to reach the loading bay straight on. You don’t need to travel so far – the delights of more familiar HGVs are on offer in Euro Truck Simulator. It’s a little trickier to get into, suggesting how much harder life is for our hauliers, but where else can you play a game delivering carpets from Kidderminster or trying to tackle Birmingham’s roundabouts…

Recommended by Richard Kilpatrick

Our sister title, CAR magazine, has put together a list of the best racing games – ideal if you’re looking for a little extra F1 action.

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Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this page, we never allow this to influence product selections – read why you should trust us.