Review: Duratrax 835E R/C buggy
July 26, 2013
Hobbico has produced a wide range of remote-controlled vehicles over its long history, but its latest offering still managed to pique our interest. Earlier this month, when the company released the Duratrax 835E, a remote-controlled buggy that's built to handle a lot of punishment without losing its speed, we knew we had to try it out for ourselves. During the course of our review, we put it through almost any scenario we could think of and spent several hours trying our best to break it under typical circumstances. Here are the results.
What's in the box?
The Duratrax 835E R/C buggy comes fully assembled out of the box and costs US$399.99, which includes a transmitter that's already linked to it. The version I received had a yellow and blue color scheme on the body and rear wing, but it's also available with black or white substituted for the yellow.
Inside the box, I found:
- the Duratrax 835E
- a 2.4GHz 2-channel radio transmitter
- a package of replacement screws, tubing, and various plastic parts
- a sheet of decals
- an instruction manual
One item noticeably absent from the package was a battery and charger, which you'll have to purchase separately unless you already have your own. For the purposes of my review, Hobbico sent me a TrakPower LiPo 4S 14.8V 5600mAh 60C battery and an Onyx 235 AC/DC charger, which are priced at $159.99 and $89.99 respectively. This is the specific equipment recommended by the manufacturer, but other hard-case LiPo batteries can be substituted if they have the correct specifications.
Bottom line, though: if you don't have a proper battery and charger handy, be prepared to pony up a bit of extra cash in addition to the car itself. You'll also need four AA batteries for the transmitter, but those are easy enough to come by.
Under the hood
The 835E is meant be 1/8 the scale of a regular buggy and measures 19.9 x 11.9 x 7.5 in (50.5 x 30.2 x 19 cm), putting it somewhat on the larger side of R/C cars. Combine that with its weight of 8.4 lb (3.8 kg) when the battery's installed, and it's still portable, but won't fit in an average backpack easily. The plastic body is mainly just for aesthetics and to provide some light protection for the electronic components underneath.
Beneath the body, the car boasts a few standout parts, such as an Onyx 2200kV brushless motor paired with an Onyx 120A waterproof ESC (electronic speed control). The tires are designed for racing and contain foam inserts, so they never need inflating and grip the terrain firmly while in motion. A set of heavy-duty shocks combined with front and rear sway bars help keep the car level on unstable terrain and soften the impact after a drop. All of this is affixed to a 3.25-mm anodized aluminum chassis, which adds some much-needed protection to the buggy's underside.
The charger I received is designed for multiple types of batteries, so recharging the battery proved to the most difficult part of getting the car ready to drive. I had to read the charger's manual just to figure out how to program it correctly, which seemed a lot more daunting with the text's repeated warnings that choosing the wrong settings could cause a fire. After that, though, the rest of the setup was just a matter of strapping the battery to the car and switching it on.
The plastic body is secured with two R-clips and two strips of Velcro. Removing it reveals the motor, ESC, battery compartment, power switch, and any other component you might need to access on the fly. The battery is held in place with four Velcro straps and plugs into a corresponding cable that tucks into a space on the side. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell whether the power switch is set to "on" or "off" at first glance, but the battery cable let me know when it began sparking as I tried to connect it.
You can fine-tune other aspects of the vehicle if you want – the camber and alignment of the tires, the distance of the chassis from the ground, the roll center, etc. - but I just left them as is, with the chassis and everything else completely level. The ESC can also be reprogrammed to apply more or less force to the brakes and throttle, but I left those settings at the default as well.
Once the car and transmitter were switched on, I gave the throttle a gentle squeeze to test the connection and immediately decided to take the car outdoors for any further testing, as it quickly launched halfway across my living room.
Off to a rainy start
According to the manufacturer, the Duratrax 835E is designed to be completely waterproof. As luck would have it, a rainstorm hit my neighborhood the day after I received it, giving me a perfect opportunity to put that claim to the test. I took it out to an empty parking lot while it was pouring outside, turned it on under a shelter, and started cruising it around.
The transmitter's controls are fairly straightforward. Pulling the trigger drives the car forward and determines its speed by how hard it's pressed, while the turning the wheel on the side steers it. Pushing up on the trigger once will activate the brakes and pushing it a second time will put it into reverse.
By default, the buggy is set to a mid-range punch (i.e. how quickly it picks up speed as you press the throttle), but I still found it would take off almost immediately with even a light touch. At a moderate speed, it's a breeze to control, even on the wet asphalt. With all four tires gripping the ground, the car was able to turn on a dime the exact moment I turned the wheel. After just a few minutes of practice on the controls, I was able to weave it in between a row of streetlights like a slalom without any trouble.
The rain had turned into a light drizzle by this point, but the car was already dripping wet and still seemed completely unaffected. It even submerged three-quarters of the way underwater when I accidentally drove it through a deep puddle, so the waterproofing claim seems valid. I wouldn't recommend dropping the 835E into a swimming pool or a pond, but it's nice to know that you can drive it in the rain without worrying about any irreparable damage.
High speed, low control
Naturally, after I'd grown used to the controls, the first thing I did was position the car at one end of the lot, aim it straight down to the other side, and squeeze the throttle as hard as I could. After the tires spun in place for a brief moment, the buggy hit full speed within a second and went straight across the parking lot, kicking up water the whole way.
In reality, it was probably only traveling about 30 - 40 mph (48 – 64 km/h), but since it's such a small-sized car, it looked like I'd used a speed power-up in a racing game. This car moves fast. Within about five seconds, it had already reached the end of the roughly 100-foot (30.5-meter) strip of pavement, and I had to slam the brakes to avoid ramming a curb. Fortunately, the brakes did a solid job of stopping the car almost as quickly as it started. Even at full speed, activating the brakes will bring it to a screeching halt in about 10 ft (3 m). After some further testing, I found this was the case whether the road was dry or wet.
Of course, sending the buggy tearing down the road at its maximum speed is fun, but comes with a predictable loss of control. At full speed, the front tires will visibly lift off the ground a tad with each little bump in the road. Luckily, the combination of the weight on the front and the rear wing kept it from flipping backwards over itself, but steering it more than a touch sent it drifting shakily back and forth. Re-tuning the chassis so the front wheels are lower may keep them from rising off the ground, but basically, don't expect to drive any direction other than straight ahead at that speed.
Power and range
One important thing to note is that I spent a full hour testing out the Duratrax 835E before I had to pack it up, but the battery showed no signs of draining yet. When I went to recharge it later, the charger's display told me there was still enough juice left for just a few more minutes of driving. It took almost two hours to completely refuel the battery, which could be an annoyance if you're pressed for time and don't have a spare. Still, an hour's worth of driving time on one charge seems like it would be more than enough in most cases.
I also made a point of driving the buggy as far down a nearby street as I could to test the range of the transmitter's signal. After passing 15 houses and reaching the next cross street, I had to stop it because it was almost impossible to spot, even with its bright colors. I still don't know what the transmitter's range is, but unless you're controlling the car by looking through a pair of binoculars, I doubt it will be an issue.
Kicking up dust
The Duratrax 835E's marketing materials focus on racing over dirt tracks, and the manual assured me the ESC was dustproof, so I knew I needed to test it far away from the paved streets. Speeding down a watery parking lot was fun on its own, but after just a couple minutes driving it on a barren patch of dirt, it became clear that this R/C car was made to go off-road.
I had an absolute blast sending it zipping over the dry earth, tossing up a cloud of dust and debris everywhere it went. With its heavy-duty shocks, the car practically glides over rough terrain, even at higher speeds. It performed almost as well as it did on the pavement, except the tires would spin a bit longer when fully squeezing the accelerator. It even plowed through some tall grass nearby without even slowing down, though I wouldn't recommend that since I had to pull a few plants out of the front shocks afterwards.
Of course, ramping the buggy off stray dirt mounds to send it sailing through the air is one of the most exciting parts of driving it. After locating a few choice spots, I mostly just drove in a circle trying to launch it higher and farther. The majority of the time, it would fly perfectly through the air and then land flat on the ground without even losing speed. Mostly it only reached a small distance off the ground, but a couple times it did jump as high as my chest, about 4.5 feet (1.4 m).
Even though driving off-road was fun, cleaning the buggy afterward was definitely a chore. I'm actually amazed it's still running, since the car looked like it had been caught in a sandstorm when I pried off the body later. I spent quite a bit of time with an air duster and some cotton swabs to wipe away the layer of grime that had collected underneath.
One aspect of the Duratrax 835E that intrigued me the most was Hobbico's claim in some promotional materials that it's “virtually indestructible.” The company even backs this up with a free one-year warranty on some of the buggy's more breakable parts, which is unusual for R/C vehicles. After a handful of mishaps while testing the buggy's capabilities though, I can see why the manufacturer isn't too concerned about it getting seriously damaged.
Almost any driving accident you can think of, it survived with ease. Slamming it into a pole just stopped it in its tracks until I switched to reverse. Running right into a curb about as high as the car itself actually tilted it enough to drive right on top of it.
With the sturdy bumper right up front, it sometimes felt like I was piloting a small battering ram. Several times, if a particular dirt mound was too steep to climb, it would just plow right through it like a bulldozer, leaving a demolished pile in its wake. During a crash, I'd honestly be more worried about it damaging something else over itself.
There were a few occasions where it hit sharp bump at a high speed and flipped over repeatedly. More often than not, it would just roll a few times and then land on its wheels, ready to go again. Even after a few particularly nasty tumbles where it was left upside down, the most permanent damage it ever suffered were a few scratches on the bottom of the chassis and some peeling on one of the decals. I'm sure if you intentionally tried to break the car just from driving it around, you'll probably succeed eventually; it just might take a lot longer than you'd expect.
I've spent several hours driving the Duratrax 835E around, and it hasn't lost its charm yet. Sending it careening down the road at max speed or jumping off a ramp is still just as fun the hundredth time as it was the first, even though I'm fairly sure it's annoyed a few of my neighbors with its shrill noise. With its durability and waterproofing, you can drive it however you want and rest assured that it will keep running without much trouble.
The main drawback is the cost, which is still a sizable chunk of cash, even if it's relatively low by remote-controlled vehicle standards. Starting from scratch, you're looking at around $650 to purchase everything you need to keep the car running. It's not cheap, but if you want an R/C car that can handle almost anything you throw at it, this one certainly fits the bill.
Hobbico is currently selling the Duratrax 835E R/C buggy through its own retailer, Tower Hobbies.
Product Page: Duratrax 835E