The WLToys 284161 is a 4WD 1/28 mini scale RC car that comes ready to run out of the box. It is the latest in a long line of cars that use the same chassis from WL Toys and is the most heavily featured of all. They are inexpensive and have many replacement and upgrade parts available which make them a versatile low cost RC car option that is pretty good out of the box with plenty of scope for modification. In this review I'll look at the car as a stand alone and compare it to the direct competition from the very same manufacturer.
Let's first address the elephant in the room; the the new WLToys 284161 as reviewed here looks to be "heavily inspired" by the MUCH larger ZD racing DBX-07. Obviously this car though is very much at the mini end of the size scale where the DBX-07 is at the maxi so any further comparison can be left there.
Other than looking like the DBX-07, this car is actually underpinned by the same gear as the other 1/28 scale cars launched by WLToys that have come before this... all 7 or 8 of them. See below for the ones that are still available including the 284131 I reviewed here and the 284010 I reviewed here most recently.
Whereas the other mainstream 1/28 releases were realistically designed for on-road driving, this is the first release on this chassis that is actually setup for offroad. It is fair to say that the 284161 desert buggy reviewed here is the most radical take on this chassis of all the releases. There are compromises to achieve this and if you read on I'll draw your attention to these as well as what you gain.
Just the basics are included as is the norm with WL Toys but in fairness just add 4 x AAA batteries and you have everything you need to get going - the car with all electronics, the remote, 1 or 2 lipo batteries to run the car (depending on which option you choose) and lastly a basic USB charger for the car battery. There are also some replacement gears for taller ratios included but they are not much use as you'll see later on. Oh yeah, a decent instruction manual and parts list is also included.
A closer look at the car
As is now standard for my review we'll take a closer look at the main components of the car. If you want to see the review jump ahead, otherwise let's geek out with some close up images and discussion about what I like and what I don't before we drive it.
Powertrain and driveline
This little car is powered by a large (for it's size) 130 brushed motor. It's worth noting that this WLToys 284161 car is unique in that it is the only variant that has a heatsink on the motor and I'll explain why further on. Controlling the motor is a brushed ESC that is integrated with the receiver which is fixed to the chassis top deck. The ESC output power is not specified but these units have been reliable in the past.
The motor connects to the gearbox by a friction-fit 17t brass pinion which is stuck on very tight. I'm surprised they didn't just go with a plastic one which would have been fine. Anyway, the pinion spins a 29t plastic spur gear. Also included is a 19t plastic pinion and 27t spur if you want a slightly taller gear but I would not recommend this. The motor mount is not adjustable so these are you only real combinations unless you get deep into customisation. Power transferred to front and rear diffs via solid 4wd propshaft. All gears other than pinion are plastic which is entirely appropriate for a car of this size. Further out the diffs run plastic cups to drive tiny CVD driveshafts front and rear. All rotating parts have ball bearings which keeps the driveline smooth and efficient. The gearbox binding issues that seemed to be present in cars as recent as found with the 284131 seem to be gone here which is a bonus.
Suspension and steering
This car has full independent suspension, which is impressive at this small scale. Dampeners are friction controlled only because you simply cannot make an oil shock this small but to be honest, a car this light would not really benefit even if you could. Suspension is free moving which is an improvement over early releases like the K969 and K989. Even on a scale basis the suspension arms are short on this car and the results suspension travel is short which is ok for an on-road car like the other releases on this chassis but is a bit of a shortcoming for a car the is more off-road oriented... something to keep an eye on when we get to the performance review.
Short suspension arms for such big wheels
Steering is driven by a 3 wire servo with the newer micro JST connector rather than a regular JR servo connector which is more the norm with mini and micro scale RC. This is a notable change from the the K989 and even the more recent 284131 which uses that classic servo plug. The servo horn has a built in servo saver and this pushes and pulls a plastic non-adjustable tierod which steers both front wheels via a steering assembly. Even though it just has basic plastic tire rods, proper ball joints are used throughout and steering is precise with little slop, certainly when new anyway,
This is the picture from my 284010 which has the same steering setup but it easier to see here
Chassis, wheels and tyres
The chassis is an absolute tank owing to the solid aluminium lower plate AND aluminium top plate. There is no way this thing will be flexing but it is heavy for it's size. This 284161 is quite different to the other WLToys model here as rather than having a polycarbonate body that covers the entire car including wheels, it has more compact polycarbonate body that attaches instead to a plastic skeleton from and the whole thing pivots up on a rear hinge piece to allow quick and easy access to the battery and electronics etc. Speaking of the hinge piece, this also incorporates a wheelie bar (which is essentially useless) and a function spare wheel which just adds weight. For now I'll leave it because it looks cool but it might get the chop later on in the review...
The wheels and tyres on the 284161 are the largest I've ever seen on this platform and have tread that make them suitable for scale off-roading. They are a relatively hard compound so we can probably expect this to grip poorly in the wet but the tread pattern should make up for this in the dry. The diameter is much larger (38mm) than the wheels we usually see on cars from this platform (26mm). Great for ground clearance and off-roading for sure but the increase in rolling diameter of 46% without a change to the gearing it going to over gear this quite a lot. In theory you could take this to mean a 46% higher top speed but realistically the motor/ESC/battery will not be able to put out enough power to get to this speed, rather we should expect this to perform more sluggishly and with poorer battery life - let's keep an eye on this in the review.
Comparison with the WLToys 284010 I reviewed here. Click to enlarge
Body and lights
As mentioned earlier the look of the whole package is modelled after the ZD Racing DBX-07 but that is not a bad car to model off - it is a good looking, realistic(ish) and practical shape for offroad and the hinge access makes it easy to use.
Lights on these cars are getting to be quite a significant feature and this 284161 is no exception - headlights, deer hunter lights, tail lights. I like that the wiring doesn't interfere with the body hinging.
The remote used here is the latest style of WL toys controller. Functions are identical to the prior model (steering trim but no steering dual rate, throttle dual rate but no trim) but that are a little larger and take 4 x AAA batteries instead of 4 x AA which is a little annoying. 2 key improvements are a phone mount for filming your runs and a thumb mount for 1-handed control. The range the remote and receiver offers is more that enough for this little car - further than you can see you can see anyway. Note: One dial is labelled throttle trim but it is actually throttle dual rate (which limits top speed).
Battery and charger
The battery is a genuine LiPo 2s 400mah with red JST connector - an appropriate size for this car and capable of delivery good power with decent battery life. Replacements are available but a little overpriced so I do recommend buying the 2-battery version if possible when you purchase the car.
The charger is pretty basic on only barely adequate - it is a balance charger and is conveniently powered by USB but these are not well known for their quality. I'd recommend plugging into a USB power supply rather than a computer port. If you have or are planning to get other RC vehicles I strongly recommend getting a better charger light this 608AC by ISDT (reviewed here).
Now that we've had a close look at the systems that make up this car, how to they perform when it all comes together?
Well first of all the larger wheels certainly help a car in a very small scale such as this with contact with the ground but do be mindful that you will never do any real offroad with a car this small unless it is fairly well contoured dirt or soil (or fine gravel). It's really the extra ground clearance that these wheels offer that is the main benefit here. With that said the limited suspension travel limits their ability to really perform since the short suspension arms are really only designed for the smaller wheels on the other variants of this car (i.e. the K969, 284131 and 2841010 etc). Still I'd say there is more upside that down with the bigger wheels and they certainly offer more traction in low grip scenarios like mild offroad.
Not a whole lot of difference with unloaded suspension (left) and fully loaded (rightt)
Now, so far as acceleration and top speed are concerned the effect of these wheels is actually more significant and I'm a bit disappointed in the way WLToys have dealt with it. Moving to a larger set of wheels increases the distance the car travels per turn of the wheel so typically we would see rc car manufacturers adjust the gear ratio with smaller pinion and or larger spur to compensate for the not only the larger rolling ratio but also the heavier wheel weight. Unfortunately they haven't done this here, much like they didn't do this on the larger wheeled WLToys 144002 monster truck compared to the 144001 buggy. Like on that setup this compromises the acceleration on what is already fairly aggressive gearing and so it doesn't have the rapid take-off like the other 1/28 scale models do. In a perfect world we'd conversely have an proportionally higher top speed but living in the real world that motor or the system supplying it cannot make enough power to handle this and so we clocked in a top speed of 24km/h which is only 2km/h faster than the 284010 I reviewed here. Yes it is faster but I feel the acceleration you give up isn't worth it - this is my opinion only because I value crisp acceleration highly for bashers.
Taller effective gearing also put more pressure on you motor and power supply as I mentioned above and this has not been lost on WLToys. You can see here that they have included a significant motor heatsink to help draw off some of the excess heat that will be generated by this motor in trying to deal with the taller gearing. Good to include but it does make me nervous about the long term reliability of the motor (not to mention ESC and battery life). I've been driving the car for about 4-5 weeks now so no detrimental effects yet but I shall keep an eye on this.
Durability and battery life
So far durability seems to be good. These little cars tend to tumble a lot and other than scratches I haven't done any real damage get. Typically we'd expect a buggy with open wheels like this to be more fragile than a full bodied car because the wheels and suspension are more exposed but the smaller scale means that is not such an issue here.
Battery life varies hugely, I got between 5 minutes on the toughest offroad and around 12 minutes when doing smoother high speed runs with less direction changes. This variant understandably has the worst battery life in this 1/28 scale series due to the tall effective gearing and so I definitely recommend the 2-battery variant if available.
My Final Thoughts
Now I realise that but this stage I sound a bit like a grumpy old man so rather than getting caught up on the technical side, how many smiles does this little car actually generate? Actually quite a lot. This is a quick car for being so small and is very agile making it look quicker than it is. It's great in small spots and the remote had more than enough range to manage the car well before it is too small to see. It looks fantastic and I love the styling taken from the DBX-07 which is a great look to copy from. I'd say that the benefit in being able to do (light) offroad probably offsets my grumpiness around the acceleration and so it's still a lot of fun to drive. I think that if we keep in mind that this is an inexpensive little car then it's a lot of fun to drive as is and represents good value and it also has a massive amount of parts available if you wish to take things further and customise. Personally I prefer the 284010 from a performance standpoint but for looks, this WLToys 284161 wins hands down.
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