Unless you’re already well versed in modern radio control cars, take everything you know about the hobby and toss it right out the window. RC cars and trucks aren’t like they used to be. Gone are the days of incomplete kits, super short runtimes, slow speeds, and easily broken parts. It’s a whole new game now. In fact, you may have seen that the hobby-grade products are pretty serious business and can deliver some hardcore fun. Knowing that these machines are way better than they were even a few short years ago (yay, technology), who wouldn’t want to take an RC vehicle on the next trail ride or camping trip? Experienced RC enthusiasts may point you towards a kit that has to be put together piece by piece, but why make life more complicated? There are lots of ready-to-run (RTR) vehicles to choose from. We selected the best of the best in each of the hottest categories. So, whether you want to tackle the Rubicon 1⁄10-scale-style or bash like a rock buggy, we have your next RC right here.
Axial ’12 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon SCX10
Rockcrawling is a fairly new segment within the RC hobby, but it has quickly evolved from only homespun creations to offering a slew of factory-ready ’crawlers from a variety of manufacturers. The undisputed king of RC rockcrawling is Axial Racing. Recently, Axial teamed up with Jeep to develop the 1⁄10-scale ’12 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon SCX10. The SCX10 part of the rather long name indicates the foundation that this vehicle is built on-the SCX10. The SCX10 is Axial’s scale platform that uses a steel ladder frame and linked suspension with coilover shocks. Axial partnered with Jeep on the body, which is highly detailed and fully licensed. The company also worked closely with Poison Spyder Customs, and as such, the Jeep comes outfitted with Poison Spyder’s Brawler bumpers and Crusher fenders.
To prove the RC Jeep’s capabilities are legit (and it was a handy excuse to go), the Axial team traversed the Rubicon trail with its RC model and their matching full-size version. On a related note, a great deal of the staff at Axial have dialed, dedicated, fullsize off-roaders. They bring their involvement with the off-road lifestyle to their products and it shows. There are two versions of the Axial Jeep Wrangler- a kit and a RTR. The kit includes an optional hardtop and some upgraded components such as Icon Vehicle Dynamics shocks and aluminum steering and suspension links. Both versions roll on Maxxis Trepador tires wrapped around Walker Evans wheels. Bottom line is this Jeep might be better equipped than the ride in your driveway, and you can make it even better at a fraction of the cost. Speaking of cost, this Jeep will run well under $400 for the fully ready-to-run version.
Why You Want This:
- It’s a Jeep! But it can be made into a Ford, Chevy, Toyota or whatever, if you want to swap the body out.
- It’s available as a prebuilt RTR and as a kit.
- It May have even more aftermarket accessory support than a real Jeep.
- It does everything you’d be too scared to do in a real Jeep. When you roll it, just flip it back over with your foot—no trip to the hospital needed.
- It’s built like a real Jeep right down to the frame and looks just as real with the body off.
Also Worth Looking At:
RC4WD Gelande II: It’s got an odd name, but it also has an incredible Defender 90 body with full interior. Upside: This may be your only chance at owning a D90. Downside: Currently only available as a kit.
Axial SCX10 Honcho: It’s highly reminiscent of the Tacoma-based truggy-style rigs and it’s highly popular. Other than obvious cosmetic differences, it’s pretty much the same as Axial’s Jeep, so if you’re not one to understand the Jeep thing, check this truck out.
HPI Crawler King: The Crawler King looks like a late model Jeep on 50-inch-plus tires, parked at the mall. That said, it’s quick, easy fun. And, best of all, it’s dirt cheap, ready for action, and can be found for less than $250. Not a bad choice if you’re not too serious about the rockcrawling capabilities.
In RC, monster truck means something a little different than what you may be used to. An RC monster truck is really just any big basher that may or may not be modeled after a fullsize car crusher. The E-Maxx, our top pick, has been around for years and has seen many changes and improvements in its life. The E-Maxx that is available now is really a true second generation. What hasn’t changed is the fundamental configuration of the big beast. It’s got huge tires, 4WD drivetrain, eight shocks, four-wheel independent suspension, and a lot of power. The E-Maxx makes its power, in part, from its use of two batteries. Two batteries are great for performance, but obviously complicate things on the ease-of-use side. The good news is there are now many chargers that can juice up two battery packs at once. It’s also worth noting that all Traxxas models are RTR (no building required, even if you want to) and they are all waterproof. There’s also a nitro-powered version, the T-Maxx, if you crave some noise and smoke with your RC fun. The electric one is just easier. The E-Maxx is a great choice for you if you want to get some massive air, throw huge rooster tails and plain go big. If you want to wreck stuff and have a lot of fun doing it, this is your truck. And, while the body is fairly generic, there are companies such as Pro-Line Racing that sell bodies to turn it into just about whatever suits your fancy. And, it doesn’t have to stop with the shell. Just like your real truck, Pro-Line can help you upgrade the tires and wheels. If you want more power, Traxxas’ brushless (higher-end electric motor) version of the E-Maxx is capable of 65-plus mph.
Why You Want This:
- It’s big, bad and capable of backflips, frontflips and destroying landscaping in about two minutes.
- It’s waterproof—a bonus if breaking the speed limit through mud was on your bucket list.
- There is absolutely tons of aftermarket support for the E-Maxx. You can literally upgrade every part. You’re only limited by your imagination with this platform.
- Traxxas vehicles and parts are easy to find online and in brick and mortar hobby stores. If you do break it, you will be able to get the parts needed to fix it.
- Traxxas specializes in RTRs. Everything from the detailed manual to the inclusion of batteries and charger is geared toward the first-time buyer.
Also Worth Looking At:
HPI Savage Flux HP: The Savage is the Traxxas Maxx line’s archrival. These two brands have been fighting for monster truck market share for a long, long time. The Savage can do everything the E-Maxx can do but isn’t as beginner-friendly, as it doesn’t include everything you need and its big, brushless motor setup requires higher-end batteries.
Traxxas E-Revo: The Revo is the more sophisticated brother of the E-Maxx and also comes in a nitro version. It’s a little more low slung and features inboard shocks connected to a pretty high tech cantilever suspension system.
Team Associated Rival: Team Associated is best known for racing-specific RC vehicles, but its big Rival truck is a newer design and well equipped. If you want local parts support, make sure your hobby store of choice stocks parts for this truck or can get them quickly.
Vaterra Twin Hammers
If experienced RCers were asked to rattle off some bashers, they may not instantly mention the Vaterra Twin Hammers. Odds are they’d list a bunch of monster trucks, but we already have monsters covered. And, while the Twin Hammers may seem like an unlikely pick, it was selected for good reason. It’s a best of both worlds basher as it’s a scale replica of an Ultra4 racer. So, like a real Ultra4 machine, it’s no one-trick pony—it has to be able to go fast and rockcrawl. You can literally have King of the Hammers in your backyard. The versatility of the design really adds some multi-dimensional fun to your bashing. It’s also not huge like a monster truck, so you can easily take it off-roading, camping, or anywhere you and your 4x4 go. The Twin Hammers, like the Vaterra brand, is new, so aftermarket support is limited. There are plenty of tires and wheels that will work as well as a handful of hop-ups from the factory and the aftermarket, but if you’re looking to go fully custom, this may not be the rig for you. If you do, however, like cool tech, you’ll love the remotely activated two-speed transmission. The Twin Hammers features a solid rear axle (with locker) and independent front suspension. It’s waterproof—an absolute necessity to be a bashing top pick—and the transmission is engineered to be able to handle brushless power. The Twin Hammers includes a LiPo pack and a simple charger to get you started, and the radio is also 2.4GHz, which is a nice feature in a RTR.
Why You Want This:
- It’s an Ultra4 race car, and if you have seen the real guys climb the famous Hammer trails in the race, you know they bash.
- It has a two-speed transmission that you control remotely.
- It’s like getting two vehicles in one.
- It’s one of the hobby’s newer platforms, so it’s fresh and exciting. New stuff is already coming out for it.
- It’s more portable than what is typically thought of as a basher.
Also Worth Looking At:
Traxxas Stampede: The Stampede and its Monster Jam replica cousins could easily have been picked as the top bashers. They’re fairly inexpensive and tons of fun. Great for the backyard. Maybe not ideal for trails, campsites and taking it with you off-road.
Axial EXO Terra Buggy: This machine doesn’t get the love it should. If you like the dunes, get this 4WD buggy and some paddle tires and you’ll never want to come home. It’s fun to bash just about anywhere.
Losi 5IVE-T: If you got some big bucks burning a hole in your pocket and don’t need a lift kit or new tires for your real ride, this 1⁄5-scale (it’s huge) gas-powered race truck is an ultimate basher and will get you instant RC street cred (that’s funny just saying that).
Traxxas Slash 4x4 Ultimate
Speed thrills. That’s nothing new. After all, who doesn’t like going faster than they really should? We have the speed of sound, the speed of light, but it’s really just fun to outrun the speed of commonsense. You can do that in RC without the risk of tickets or bodily harm (well, I guess you could hurt yourself or someone else, so exercise some restraint). The Traxxas Slash 4x4 Ultimate is modeled after the trucks you see driven by famous off-roaders such as Robby Gordon, Ricky Johnson, Rob MacCachren, Casey Currie, and company. This short-course-style truck includes a LiPo battery, but if you upgrade the pack you’ll be flying over dirt at 60-plus mph! That’s fast and it feels like 600 mph when the vehicle is 1⁄10-scale. There are faster RC rides out there, but this full-bodied race truck can rip on pavement and dirt and really make good use of its speed. The Slash 4x4 features a composite plastic chassis (low CG version included on the Ultimate) and a durable shaft-driven drivetrain. Unlike a real short course or desert racing truck, the Slash 4x4 uses four-wheel independent suspension. The Slash vehicles (Traxxas also has a slew of 2WD Slash trucks) are well known for durability. These trucks may not get the respect they deserve from the racing crowd or jaded hardcore hobbyists, but Traxxas trucks are hard to break and easy to modify. In addition to some key aluminum upgrades, the Ultimate comes with a high-power LiPo battery to fuel its brushless motor. The stated 60-plus mph is just what the truck can do out of the box with the right battery. If you can’t leave anything stock, and odds are you can’t, you could very realistically build a truck that goes 80, 90, or even 100 mph. Finding power isn’t the issue—finding traction, downforce, and a big enough space are real barriers.
Why You Want This:
- It’s fast and can be made to go even faster. But honestly, going 60-plus mph by simply using an upgrade battery is as fast as you need to go.
- The truck includes a LiPo battery and a charger to get you started.
- It looks just like a real race truck and you may even be able to get your favorite driver.
- If you wanted to, you could race it. Odds are there is a RC racetrack near you.
- It’s versatile. Fast on dirt, pavement, dunes, and so on.
Also Worth Looking At:
Duratrax 835E: This is a 1⁄8-scale buggy that sorta looks like a desert-race buggy. Very few vehicles in RC deliver a real sense of speed like a 1⁄8-scale buggy.
Losi TEN-SCTE Brushless RTR: Losi’s TEN-SCTE is an electric-powered 4WD short-course truck like the above mentioned Slash 4X4 Ultimate, but is built more for the racing crowd.
Traxxas E-Revo Brushless Edition: It’s a monster truck, but it’s got a low CG and overall low profile that makes it capable of actually handling its ballistic top speed.
Best Bang for Your Buck
Duratrax Evader EXT2.4
The quick and dirty of this off-roader is that it only costs $170 and includes everything down to the battery and charger. The Evader gives you toy store ease with hobby-grade features and performance. It also includes a one-year parts replacement warranty, called the Stress-Tech Guarantee that covers many of the vehicle’s parts. So, go ahead and drive a little recklessly. In addition, this open-wheel truck (called a stadium truck in RC) is waterproof and includes the latest radio technology. The Evader chassis has been around for a while, but gives you a really inexpensive way to get your feet wet in RC. The truck is 2WD and a no frills, no nonsense machine, but it’s lightweight, straightforward and easy to use. Duratrax has done some smart upgrades such as metal shock caps to help keep the suspension in one piece and full ball bearings. Because the Evader is truly hobby grade, it can be upgraded to grow with. Even better, run the truck for all its worth, keep it for the friends or kids and move up the vehicle ladder as your skills improve. If you do go with upgrading, there’s plenty that can be done including the instant satisfaction of installing a brushless motor system. As is typical of RC vehicles, with the exception of the rockcrawlers, the Evader uses four-wheel independent suspension. Thanks to its long suspension arms, it can handle surprisingly rough terrain. The Evader may not impress any friends you have that may already be knee deep in the hobby, but it’s money well spent and a great way to get started.
Why You Want This:
- It’s a great buy. For well under $200, you get a prebuilt off-roader that includes everything—battery, charger, and even AA batteries for the transmitter.
- The Stress-Tech Guarantee is a huge added value item, especially for a first-time vehicle that’s going to take a lot of hits.
- The radio system, waterproofing, and full bearings are better than you expect for the price.
- The aggressive tires and updated styling keep this older platform fresh.
- The truck’s suspension works great on just about any terrain.
Also Worth Looking At:
Team Associated SC10 2.4 GHz RTR: You can find these short-course trucks for around $200. This version is pretty basic compared to others in Associated’s SC10 fleet, but it’s based on the same championship-winning design.
Traxxas Slash 2WD 2.4 GHz: It’s not super cheap (still well under $300), but this truck packs a big punch (better said, it can take a big punch) and has probably opened the door to the hobby for more people lately than any other truck.
Duratrax Evader EXT2: Toned down version of the above Evader. You lose some features, but keep the warranty and only shell out $130. Can’t beat that!
Toy-grade vs. Hobby-grade
So, what’s the difference between the $125 truck in the toy store and the $250 truck at the hobby shop? Great question. First, hobby-grade RC vehicles provide fully proportional control. Turn the transmitter’s wheel a little, and your vehicle’s wheels steer a little. Same deal with the throttle. Hobby-grade RC vehicles can also be repaired (parts are available separately), modified (components can be replaced with higher performing units), and have a modular design. The last one takes a little explaining. The components that control steering, speed, and signal reception are all separate units on hobby-grade vehicles (there have been exceptions that blurred the lines). In toy-grade, when the body comes off (which it’s not really designed to), all you see is one big circuit board. You may be able to identify the steering components, but odds are the speed control and receiver look like one. That’s fine for a toy that is essentially disposable, but the modular design of hobby-grade parts allow for the previously mentioned abilities to repair and improve.
If you go into a hobby store and start asking questions, it may seem like they’re speaking a foreign language of geek-gibberish. Fear not. Below are some of the key terms you need to know. Now, if you’re really itching to learn more about RC or want to know what’s new in the hobby, check out the RC Truck Stop website, which is like the RC version of Four Wheeler.
2.4 GHz: This refers to the radio transmitting technology used, which replaces older AM and FM systems. Besides not needing a 3-foot antenna on the car or transmitter, this technology does away with needing to know what channel you’re on to avoid inference from other RC models.
ESC: This is short for Electronic Speed Control. This simply controls how fast you go and gives you fully proportional control.
LiPo: Lithium-polymer batteries are the latest and now just about the most popular chemistry of cells used in RC. They offer more power, less weight, and increased capacity. However, you have to read the instructions. A LiPo-specific charger is an absolute must.
mAh: This is milliamp hours. What? Don’t worry too much about what it stands for, just know that it is the capacity of the battery. The higher the number, the more run time is provided.
NiMH: NiMH, or nickel metal hydride, is a battery type type/chemistry that came out after NiCd (nickel cadmium) cells. They’re an improvement over old tech and better for the environment, but still have their limitations. They are, however, cheap.
Receiver: Electronic device that—get this—receives signals from the transmitter (that’s the thing you hold).
RTR: This stands for ready-to-run and denotes a preassembled vehicle that has electronics installed. Don’t confuse with “roller,” which is assembled but without electronics.
Servo: Mechanical device for controlling things like steering. Think of it as an electric power steering box.