The Best Digital Slot Car Brand - Comparing Carrera, Ninco, Scalextric & SCX on Price
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Scott's Slot Cars
The Best Digital Slot Car Brand - Comparing Carrera, Ninco, Scalextric & SCX on Price 

April 1, 2009
By Scott Lewis

Which system is best for YOU? That is a very wide open question. I have seen it posted on message boards a lot. The usual response is "do some research and ask an informed question." I can see why. I have read some threads and there is no clear answer. Each manufacturer has their own way of implementing features, their own style of track, accessories, cars, etc. You cannot just ask which is best. But I can try to answer which is best for ME!

This article is going to be one part of a series of articles to help ME determine which brand to buy. I do not have ANY 1/32 scale track. I have a lot of HO track and want to migrate to the larger cars. I do happen to have two 1/32 analog cars that will get "chipped" to run on whatever track I buy. That means I have already made the decision to buy digital (read this article for the reason I chose digital).

In this article I am going to compare all the major vendor's offerings. Carrera, Ninco, Scalextric & SCX. I will only look at digital solutions. I am not apposed to buying an analog set and adding a digital conversion set, but my research showed that it costs more to go that route. If you want to run cars on an analog track (say at a club) then you may want to buy analog and add digital to it. However, I am pretty sure I will be using my cars at home only, so digital is all that matters.

I could compare each manufacturers available digital sets, but this is just the start. Does everyone offer a digital lap counter? With multiple cars running on the same lane you HAVE to have a digital lap counter. How many offer the lap counter feature built into the controller or "black box"? How much does their lap counter cost if you have to buy it outside the set? How much are their accessories? Extra track? Extra lane changers? Pit lanes? Many brands co-exist with their analog track, and that is refected below as most of the expansion track I priced was analog.

I have over 100 ft of HO track, so I expect to get a fair amount of 1/32 track. I am leaning toward building a table 4x12 or (2) 4x8 boards in a L shape which is the same surface area as 4x16. How much track can you fit in 4x12 or 4x16? I have desided to shoot for 50 ft. of track as a start. Nobody makes a single race set that include 50 ft of track, though Ninco is close with 42 feet.

What other requirements do I have? Let's list my requirements for a fully functional system:

  • 50 ft of track
  • 4 cars/controllers
  • Lap counter
  • Pit lane (with fuel management)
  • High banked curve
  • 4 lane change tracks (preferably straights)
  • Pace or "ghost" cars

I do not expect to buy all of this at once, but some of it will be necessary early on. For instance, I will be racing mostly with my two sons, that means I need 3 cars/controllers immediately. I assume my wife will play with us once in a while, and if either of my sons has a guest over it would be nice to have 4 cars/controllers early on. I want at least one good high bank turn at the end of a long straight so we can get these cars up to speed, but this is not important until the table is built and a layout is determined. Some things can wait and some can't.

For this article I am going to price out everything it would take to meet all of my requirements. I hope to narrow down the list of brands that are right for me based on price and availability of accessories. In a future article I am going to explain the benefits and weaknesses of each brand. Between the two articles I should provide enough information for anyone to make an informed decision.

Budget. I should say something about budget. You may get some "sticker shock" below. If you buy a simple race set you can have a lot of fun. If you get serious then this can become an expensive hobby. I expect to build a decent layout on a table in my game room. I am looking at selling my pool table to help pay for this. Without the sale of the pool table I would expect to be limited to an investment of no more than $500, and that's pushing it. I could see getting a race set with three cars/controllers for $350-450 and waiting on everything else.

All the prices below were from any of a number of web sites. They were all current prices during the Christmas 2008 shopping season. You can find better prices on some of this stuff, but these prices seem to be representative of what is out there with just a little digging. I am listing the brands in the order I expected to consider them BEFORE I did this research. My local race track sells Scalextric and from what I have read their chips to convert analog cars is the easiest to install on other brand's cars. I really like the look of the SCX system with their fuel tower and fuel management. Carrera is great for its size which runs 1/32 and 1/24 scale cars, but takes up a lot of room. Finally, Ninco has a great track that puts 42 feet of racing on a 4x8 board. With those small prejudices let's price them out.


Scalextric

Scalextric Triple Cup Digital Slot Car Set                   360.00
Digital Straight Lane Change Slot Car Track $42.99 x 3       128.97
Digital Slot Car Track Lap Counter                            55.99
Banked Curve, Radius 2, 2X, w/ supports $12.99 x 2            25.98
Scalextric Digital - Power Supply Unit                        29.95
Scalextric C7002 digital hand controller                      12.99
Scalextric C7006 Digital retro-fit chip B                     16.99

Hairpin Curve 90 deg. Pk. of 2                                 9.99
     provides approximately 19 inches of track
Side Swipe Straights (needed for hairpin)                     16.99
     provides approximately 27.5 inches of track
R2 Standard Curve 45 drg. Pk. of 2 $9.99 x 5                  49.95
     provides approximately 8 ft of track
Scale Sport Standard Straight Slot Car Track (2) $8.49 x 7    59.43
     provides approximately 15 ft of track
                                                             ------
                                                     Total   767.23

This particular set from Scalextric is new and includes their new pit lane system. This system may or may not be available when I am ready to buy, so I may have to make adjustments. For this article it is enough to know that the set exists and about how much it will cost. I may wait for a review of this system. I want to be sure the "pit lane game" includes fuel management. Because of this Scalextric is the biggest unknown at the time I wrote this article. If refueling cars during a race is an important requirement then look further into this feature before deciding if Scalextric is right for you.

I added 3 lane change staights and 2 bank curves (enough to make a 180° turn). The set included enough track for an oval with a length approximately 14.25 ft. The banked curve adds 76 inches to the length, and the lane change straights add approximately 61.5 inches for the three pieces. That gives us a total of 308.5 inches, or just under 26 feet. We need a lot more track. I added a hairpin for variety and the necessary side swipe tracks the hairpin calls for. Then I added about 8 ft of regular curves and filled out the 50 ft with standard straight track. If my calculations are correct the total track above should bring us to about 52-1/2 feet of track. This is close enough without knowing what layout I would build.

As I mentioned earlier, I will be chipping the analog cars I have to whatever system I buy. I only included the cost of one chip and the controller to get me to 4 cars/controllers. This brings our grand total to $767.23 for a fully funtional and sizable Scalextric system.


SCX

SCX Digital #10100 GT Pit Box                                  369.95
Digital #20030 Changeover Track 360mm (1)                       21.95
Digital #25030 Lap Counter                                      71.99
SCX Digital #25010 Lap Counter Expansion Module                 31.95
Digital #25100 Banked Curve                                     47.99
SCX Digital #25060 Pit Box                                     114.95
SCX Digital #20070 Electronic Transformer                       49.99
SCX Digital #20090 Control Units Connecting Cable               11.95
SCX Digital #20060 Electronic Hand Throttle                     26.99
SCX Digital #13550 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup                          59.99

SCX Digital #25130 Chicane                                      37.95
     provides approximately 28 inches of track
SCX Digital #20010 Standard Curve (2) $17.95 x 5                89.75
     provides approximately 8 feet of track
Standard Straight 360mm (2) $17.95 x 7                         125.65
     provides approximately 16 feet of track
                                                               ------
                                                       Total  1061.05

The SCX Pit Box set is a 20.3 foot track. It just so happens to come with 3 lane change tracks that are all on straights, so we only had to add one more. Here is one of SCX's good news or bad news items, depending on your point of view. To get 4 racers on SCX means you have to buy a second controller. I decided to skip the controller and priced out a second Pit Box. This gets you the addition fuel "tower" piece. This is also why I added the lap counter expansion module. I need to see how many laps all 4 cars have run. You MUST run a second transformer when running 4 or more cars on SCX, so that gets added.

Scalextric and Carrera have 4 car controllers, so going to 4 cars just required the controller and the car. The good side for SCX is that once you get to 4 cars you have what you need to go to 6 with just some more controllers. Scalextric for instance has a separate 6 car controller, which requires you to abandon the 4 car controller that comes with its sets.

This time I added the Chicane for variety. The Chicane comes with an exit track and I assumed it was the same length as a regular straight and gave them credit for two straights at 28 inches. I added 8 ft worth of turns and rounded it out with straight. If I can count then this should be about 51 feet.

You will notice that I put a car on this list. The conversion to SCX Digitial for non-SCX cars is a very difficult operation. I won't subject my current analog cars to that, so I was forced to add a car to this list so we would have 4 cars to race at one time.

Clearly SCX is the most expensive here at $1,061.05. Notice that the expansion track costs almost twice what Scalextric's expansion track costs. This is because each track carries the digital signal whether it uses it or not. However, if 3 cars are enough I could chop $295.82 off this price bringing it closer to the others. To be fair, I didn't price any of the other brands running up to 6 cars at once. For SCX that would be just an addition $54 to our total here, plus the cars. Scalextric will require a different control unit, while Carrera would necessitate an expansion module or adding wireless controllers. I did try to be fair by including an additional power transformer in the other systems. It really can be an apples to oranges comparison.


Carrera

CARRERA 1:32 SCALE DIGITAL HOT PURSUIT                         219.99
     22.63 ft
CARRERA Digital 132 Electronic Lap Counter                      54.99
Digital 132, Digital 124 Track - Pit Stop Lane                  61.99
2/30 High Banked Curve Slot Car Track (6)                       34.99
CARRERA Digital 132 Track Speed Controller - 34.99 x 2          69.98
Carrera Digital 132 Track - US Transformer 14.8V 42 VA          41.49
Carrera Digital 132 Plymouth Superbird Street                   38.99
Digital chip for all 1/32 cars except hot rods                  18.99

Crossing Track                                                  34.99
     provides approximately 54 inches of track
4 Track Pieces Curve 2/45° - 15.18 x 1                          15.18
     provides approximately 47 inches of track
4 Piece Standard-straight - 25.99 x 1                           25.99
     provides approximately 54 inches of track
                                                               ------
                                                       Total   617.57

Carrera Wireless

DIGITAL 132 GT Racers incl. Wireless Set                       329.99
     29.53 ft
CARRERA Digital 132 Electronic Lap Counter                      54.99
Digital 132, Digital 124 Track - Pit Stop Lane                  61.99
2/30 High Banked Curve Slot Car Track (6)                       34.99
CARRERA Digital 132 Wireless Speed Controller - 39.99 x 2       79.98
Carrera Digital 132 Track - US Transformer 14.8V 42 VA          41.49
Carrera Digital 132 Plymouth Superbird Street                   38.99
Digital chip for all 1/32 cars except hot rods                  18.99

Crossing Track                                                  34.99
     provides approximately 54 inches of track
4 TRACK PIECES CURVE 2/45° - 15.18 x 1                          15.18
     provides approximately 47 inches of track
4 Piece Standard-straight - 25.99 x 1                           25.99
     provides approximately 54 inches of track
                                                               ------
                                                       Total   737.57

I priced two complete Carrera systems when I discovered that they offered wireless controllers right out of the box with one of their race sets. Each Carrera set above comes with 2 cars and controllers. I added the cost for 2 more controllers and included a single additional Carrera digital car. I also included a chip to convert one of my existing analog cars, which gets me to 4 cars/controllers. I did not think it fair to price Carrera with only two cars while the others we being priced with 3. Just doing my best to keep this an apples to apples price comparison.

Remember when we priced SCX. It required gettimg everything for 6 cars just to run 4. Well, Carrera is a mix of SCX and Scalextric in execution. Scalextric gives you a 4 car power base, but requires you to buy a 6 car power base to go beyond 4 cars. Carrera's "black box" will handle up to 4 WIRED controllers forcing the purchase of an extention box to have 6 controllers. However, the same black box will handle 4 wireless controllers and 2 wired controllers allowing up to 6 cars on one black box. This means the regular digital set above will go to 4 cars easily (as we priced) but require extras to get to 6 cars. The wireless set will require nothing more than buying two wired controllers for cars 5 & 6 when that time comes. Either way 4 cars is easy and works in our favor during this pricing exersize.

Remember, Carrera's track is for BOTH 1/32 and 1/24 scale cars. In other words their track is larger. By the time I was pricing extra track to fill out 50 feet I was too tired to try and find accurate dimensions for Carrera's curves. So I guessed. I went right in the middle of Scalextrics R2 & R3 size and used that for the 2/45° track above. This means each 4 pack of 2/45° track above was estimated to provide approximately 47 inches of racing length. This seams reasonable when you consider a standard straight for Carrera is 13.58 inches compared to 9-1/2 inches for Scalextric and SCX. Keep this in mind as you price extra track for yourself.

Again, I wanted to be different and went with the crossover track to help expand the Carrera set. This crossover has pieces curved to go up and down hill to make an over pass. I really like this instead of just leaning straight track up and getting kinks and such at the track joints. If I end up with Carrera I will consider using the crossover pieces for any track elevation I go with.

Carrera seams to have a really nice selection of race sets. Besided the two here I was very impressed with a NASCAR oval. It was a very large oval of over 29 feet of track with banked 180° turns at either end. Had I went with this I would not need the extra banked curve priced above, but instead just a little extra flat curve to round out the 50 ft requirement. My family watches NASCAR casually. I have been a Jimmie Johnson fan for about 6 years (it is cool to see your driver take three championships), so having a NASCAR oval would be cool. We all have our drivers and we could all get their cars. I know I could do this with other brands, but Carrera seems to make it easiest.

Wireless. Carrera is the only brand that offers wireless out of the box. I believe you can get aftermarket wireless for other brands, but having it from the same manufacturer as the track seems a plus. With my 4 car/controller requirements I am able to do wireless for an addition $120. If wireless is not important than that money can be used elsewhere (or saved).

I was surprised Carrera was the cheapest at $617.57. From the price of some of their race sets when I started researching this article I thought for sure Carrera was going to be expensive with a leveled playing field of 50 feet of track. Two things happened to work in Carrera's favor.

First there are a LOT of web sites out that that price Carrera equipement aggressively. When I discovered the wireless set above it was prices at $383. I eventually found it as low as $289. I went with the $329 as a reasonable compromise. If I was willing to get each item above at the best prices available I could save a few dollars. However, I think shipping from many sellers will hurt. After the initial race set, extra track, cars and accessories cost less to ship all together, so it is enough that you get very good prices consistently if not the absolute best price.

Second is the size of the track. A standard straight at 1/32 scale is about 9-10 inches. Carrera's standard straight track is 13-1/2 inches. Big difference. Keep in mind that we were able to get to 50 feet of track fairly easily with just one set of curves and one set of straights. The downside is that those 50 ft will take up a lot of floor or table space. Carrera track is wider, and once you add border pieces (something I did not price for this article) you could have a tough time keeping the track size reasonable.


Ninco

Ninco N-Digital Master Track Asphalt 2 Lane 1:32 Race Set        459.95
Ninco #40205 N-Digital Control Tower (20 cm)                      86.95
N-Digital Pit Lane Kit (120 cm)                                   77.95
N-Digital Double Lane Change Track (40 cm)                        53.99
SCX #88680 Banked Curve                                           49.99
Ninco #10110 Chicane Adapter Half Straight Track - 2 pack         16.95
Ninco #10301 Transformer                                          31.95
Ninco #40301 N-Digital Controller                                 49.99
Ninco #40304 N-Digital Decoder Chip                               21.95

Porsche 997 Road Car 1:32 slot car                                49.99
BMW M3 Tuning 1:32 slot car                                       53.99
Monogram #4862 Corvette Grand Sport #2 Sebring `64 1:32           37.95
                                                                 ------
                                                         Total   991.60

Ninco has a really nice setup. The Master Track Asphalt set comes with 42 ft of track that can be run on a 4x8 board. This can be an extremely attractive offer when starting out. In fact, since I have a 4x8 board I am very tempted.

The Master set includes 4 lane change tracks... all on a straight. However, they are all one way. I really like the double lane changes, so I included one here. As for banked curves, it seems Ninco does not offer it. I did find a Ninco adapter track and SCX (analog) banked curve listed under track for Ninco. So I guess this is the way to do it. The control tower is a lap counter with some extra features (again making it hard to compare apples to apples across brands).

With the the pit lane the Ninco track goes to just a hair short of 53 ft. No extra track is needed to meet my 50 ft requirement. That's a nice touch. I did add an extra transformer on the assumption that 4 cars would require the extra power.

The downside to Ninco is the cars. The Master set does NOT include cars. It does include 3 "chips" to modify exiting analog cars. I selected three cars from the site I priced the Ninco equipment on. I also included the cost of one conversion kit to chip one of my existing cars.

The total for Ninco is $991.60, second only to SCX which has a lot of features for its price. This price difference makes it hard to go with Ninco. Even if I was to stay on a budget, I would have to spend at least $601.88 for the Master Track Asphalt set and three cars. That's a lot for the basics. But then I would have 42 feet of track. Is that worth it?

Details

Keep in mind that the above items are not everything. For instance, I did not price borders for any of the vendors. A decent layout like I plan to build will require a fair amount of borders. I don't want guardrails, which is one of the reasons for graduating from HO to 1/32 scale. I saw some vendors offer extension cables for the controllers, which might be nice to spread out the drivers. Also, I did not price special cables to spread power around a track, or anything that was not specifically listed as required for the items I did price.

As you can see this can be an expensive hobby. We go from around $600 to over $1,000. And this price does not include the cost for me to build a table. Though a simple table from plywood and some 2x4 framing will not cost a lot, it does add up. Since the table will be permanent it will have to look nice, so I expect to cover it with some kind of astro-turf. My brother-in-law is a contractor and will surely have ideas to make the table look a lot nicer for a slight increase in price.

Conclusion

Sorry, we don't have a full conclusion yet. That will have to wait until Part II when we compare each brand on features. The next article in this series is going to cover the pros and cons of each brand.

You may have enough here for your own decision. Cheapest seems to be Carrera, but it requires a lot of space. SCX has some of the best features and many come in the starter set, so you can build slowly to spread out the high costs. Scalextric seems to be in the middle both in terms of price and features. Ninco seems to be expensive for the features you get, unless the 42 ft of track on a 4x8 board is important than Ninco may be right for you.

I will pick which is right for me at the end of the next article. However, if cost is your only criteria you can't go wrong with Carrera. Pricing on the Internet is aggressive with the only downside being the size of the track. We will get to that next time. I have seen a huge selection of cars and accessories from Carrera as well.

Stay tuned for Part II of this comparison.

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