The Bonsai 141600 (Jubatas) is a newly released car that at first glance looks similar to the popular WL toys 144001 in the now crowded 1/14 4WD RC Car class. Retail price before discount at time of writing is just under $90 which is also similar to these other cars. In this review I'll look through the specs plus how it actually performs and compares to the other cars and what I recommend.
First let's discuss the title image. I'm a little bit sick of Youtube thumbnails teasing a new product to be the greatest thing ever only to find out following a review that it is in fact not, nor was it ever likely to be. So I've chosen to break convention here and let you know straight up that this is not a great car for reasons I'll cover below. I'll also let you know what I do recommend instead because there are some really good and inexpensive options in this category
Specifications, what's included and a closer look on the bench
2.4GHz digital proportional radio. This is standard for the class, 2.4GHz provides a stable and reliable connection without jitter. The controller is very basic with only steering trim and throttle dual rate. At least they have included the most useful 'feature' in throttle dual rate - it means you can limit the top speed on a continuous scale which is especially useful for learners.
ADS (Active Differential System) 4WD, Center Direct Drive (CDD). Just jargon they have made up to say it has differentials front and real plus a direct drive prop shaft. These are just standard items for a car in this market. Nothing special at all - for example the HBX 16886 I reviewed recently here also has metal gears and a slipper clutch. Not mentioned in their list of features but the driveline is OK. Metal dogbones and cups are used front and rear. I'd have preferred CVDs in the front but it's not the end of the world. Nice to see they are using M4 rather than M3 hardware to hold the wheels on - same as 1/10 scale
Dogbones in the front but metal hardware at least. Hubs don't look too bad
35A ESC/receiver. Pretty standard for this category. Receiver is integrated with ESC which is cheaper to produce and simplifies the build. However, if something goes wrong or you need to upgrade you need to replace with a discrete servo, receiver and ESC - but this is no different to other similar cars in the category.
ESC/receiver unit. Soldered directly to the battery (which I quite like)
3.5kg industry standard servo. Good news? Unlike the smaller 17g servo used in other cars of this size, Bonsai have opted to use full 1/10 scale servo here. This means you have plenty of options to choose from if you want to upgrade later down the track. Downside 1? It uses a 5 pin plug meaning any servo upgrade would need to be accompanied by a receiver and ESC. Downside 2? The stock servo is RIDICULOUSLY slow. Once I get to my review below I'll let you know how it impacts driving but I'll give you a hint - it's not pretty.
Fusion Energy Power Control System. If this Chinese RC car maker has cracked the secret in Fusion then they deserve a sale if not to dominate at the Nobel Prize Science award. Sadly I don't think there really is a fusion unit on board :(
15c 850mah 2s battery. The claimed c-rating and capacity sounds honest here. the c-rating is low because it is a Li-ion pack (twin 18500 to be precise). They are claiming 10+ minutes which is similar to what I have found and fairly common for brushed cars of this size. Sadly they have chosen to use the Tamiya mini connector; these were bad in the 90's and are worse now because of the leaps and bound that batteries have come along mean they just cannot supply enough current. It should hold together for the stock system but any upgrades will quickly need a change of plugs to deans t-plug, xt30 or similar. Also included is a regular USB charger which is the usual. If you do plan on sticking around in the hobby I'd strongly recommend an upgrade to a hobby grade charger. They aren't that expensive, are much safer and will make your batteries last longer
Mini Big Bore Shocks, Progressive Spring Design, Adjusted Shock Rates. More mumbo jumbo. No point in having a big bore shock unless it is oil dampened which these are not. You can adjust ride height with adjustable collars but as you'd expect, friction dampeners make for a bouncy ride. The one redeeming feature is that the length is a standard size meaning you could upgrade with the WL toys front shocks and WL toys rear shocks if you really wanted. Suspension arms don't actually look too bad and I'm actually a fan of plastic tie rods so long as the length is correct (they are).
Heavy Duty Pre-glued Tyres. Actually they tyres are OK. At 75mm diameter they are 4-5mm bigger than the stock 144001/124019 tyres and so offer more ground clearance. The wheel design looks strong but there are no inner foams because the tyres are a pretty hard compound. I do like the tread pattern though and I like they way they grip on concrete - hard wearing and predictable. Offroad they are passable and not much more. If you want a good off-road tyre then check out this article on my favourite tyres in this size
So as not to waste your time we'll go through the rest of the "features" in quickfire:
Review of the actual car running
I'll break this section into performance (power) handling and durability
Handling. I don't mind a car that does 30km/h so long as it handles well. Sadly this one doesn't. Surprisingly it's not the friction dampers that let it down badly because the overall suspension geometry that has been borrowed from the LC Racing EMB-1 / WL Toys 144001 means that it is reasonably good. What does let it down is the (lack of) steering speed - it is abysmal. The steering takes so long to respond to your commands that in small spaces especially it can be practically undriveable. It's a real shame because they made a great move in going for a full sized servo but it's hard to believe it is just so slow. IF (and that is a big "IF") you can look past the steering such as when you drive in a larger spot, the rest of the car handles surprisingly well. Friction dampers are helped by a decent spring rate and the appropriately sized 390 motor makes it light with a really good weight split front and rear. To top it off the tyres grip predictably on concrete surfaces with a nice balance of under and over steer.
In terms of upgrading a servo this is a tough ask since it used a 5-wire plug. The most obvious upgrade is the WL Toys 104001 stock servo of which I have a spare but even then the plug size is different!! Something I might try changing just to prove a point. I made a note in the 104001 review that the steering was slow but even this servo would be an improvement over the one in the Bonsai 141600
Durability. Actually durability is looking good so far. The car isn't fast so it can't get in to too much trouble and even when it does, it's predominantly plastic design means it's pretty light. Furthermore the plastic seems to be fairly well fit for purpose - similar to the slightly flexible plastic used in the HBX cars that has just the right amount of flex to help absorb impact. Time will tell whether spare parts will become available for this car but this is a real necessity if a manufacture expect their product to have a decent life cycle.
Comparisons to other cars
It's probably clear from above that I don't much like this car. Even if you look past the horrible steering servo, the spec of the rest of the car is fairly low. This might cut it in other categories but the 1/14 and 1/16 scale off-road category is extremely competitive with well designed and build offerings from WL toys and HBX at the lower end of the market and the class-leading LC racing EMB series at the top end. I've made a quick comparison of the cars that this competes with and why you might look to buy them instead. Of course if this car is substantially discounted it may be worth a look in - I'd think it's probably worth about $50-$60
Conclusions and recommendations
There is no doubt that I love my small scale RCs and this is an area I've build my expertise in for reviewing and upgrading. As above there are some great models but sadly the Bonsai 141600 is just not one of them. Sure you can upgrade the servo, and the shocks which are the worst things about this car but you still have a driveline that is not likely to hold as well to brushless power as the other cars I've listed. I think if you could upgrade the steering servo more easily to a faster unit this would be better as a little learner car for kids or as a step up from a toy grade care but as it is, the driving experience is just disappointing. My final recommendation is that you consider one of the other cars I've reviewed as above - there are a range of option at top and bottom end of budgets that often go on discount which have proven performance and parts support and tend to work well straight out of the box.
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