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I'm remembering that in my childhood, my brother and I were certain that you had different attributes depending on the driver you chose. For instance, Toad and Yoshi were a tiny bit faster than the others.

Is this true, or were my brother and I just having illusions about differences between the drivers?

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Yes, generally speaking, Mario Kart drivers are broken into 3 main types:

  • Lightweight Peach, Yoshi and Toad - They have the fastest acceleration but the lowest top speed. Toad is slightly lighter than Yoshi or Peach, but the difference is so small it's not really noticeable.
  • Middleweight Mario, Luigi - The only differences between the middleweights and the heavyweights are that they're lighter and also have quicker acceleration when going on dirt, mud etc.
  • Heavyweight D.K., Wario & Bowser - They have the slowest acceleration and the highest speed. In Battlemode you can make an opponent lose a balloon by ramming them at high speed.

Source: Mario Kart Central (Link has since gone down). See also Keanu's answer on a previous question for more information.

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