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Unbelievable RC

Maisto Baja Beast

July 2011
maisto rock crawler jr

Street Price: Ranges, $65 to $82 US
Manufacturer: Maisto Tech
Mfr's recommended min. age: 8
Our recommended age range: 7-11
Primary use: Outdoors
Top speed: n/a
Radio: 27mhz
Includes:

  • Assembled vehicle
  • Controller
  • Instructions
  • 7.2V rechargable battery
  • Charger
  • 9V battery
  • Spare body hold-down clips
Requires:
  • Just a driver!

Initial Impressions

The Maisto Tech Baja Beast got a lot of interest from a lot of people when it was first announced because it promised to be a cut above your average toy-grade RC in features and performance. In fact, it even says right on the box, "Super fast pro hobby grade RC action." Them's big words! As an experienced hobby-grade RC enthusiast, though, I could tell as soon as I took the Baja Beast out of the box that it is not truly hobby-grade, but it is definitely one of the more advanced vehicles I've seen sold in the toy aisle in recent years.

The Baja Beast features a surprisingly thin, pro-style truck body made from Lexan plastic. This material is actually very durable and used by nearly all hobby-grade RC cars & trucks, and it's very light, helping a vehicle to get the most performance it can from a given motor. You can take the body off easily by removing four plastic hood pins, and that lets you see all of the details of the chassis up close. The truck has treaded, semi-pneumatic (hollow with air inside, but not sealed) low-profile tires. There are springs at each corner of the Baja Beast and it has independent suspension. The suspension works a little funny, though. At the front, when you push the truck down or pull either wheel up off the ground, the wheel on that side actually steers inward. So, if you push the truck down on the right, the right wheel will turn left. In the full-scale racing and hobby-grade RC realms, this is called "bump steer." When you push down on the rear, the tires lean out at the tops. The technical term for this is "camber gain," although it's working backwards here -- tires are supposed to lean in when the suspension is compressed. I also noticed that the springs are really stiff, probably too stiff to be useful for soaking up bumps over off-road terrain.

The Maisto Tech Baja Beast comes with all of the batteries you need, which includes a rechargable pack for the truck (with a wall charger also in the box) and the 9V battery the controller needs. Speaking of the controller, it may be the very best feature of this whole set. It's a large pro-style "pistol grip" unit and it has digital proportional steering and throttle control. Not only that, but it has digital trim knobs right on the controller for both steering and throttle, so if the truck steers slightly in either direction when you're just trying to go straight, you can adjust the calibration quickly and easily, without having to touch the truck. Better still, it's a tri-band controller, so you can run up to 3 Baja Beast trucks at the same time without any radio interference, even if they're all identical.

Wow, what a lot of stuff to cover, and I didn't even go into every single detail! I think it's time to stop analyzing, and start driving the Beast!

Testing

I didn't even bother trying the Maisto Tech Baja Beast on pavement at first. It's an off-road racer, so I went straight for off-road terrain, trying it out on a field covered with dirt and gravel. Did it pass the test? You bet. The Baja Beast had no trouble on the dirt at all, and I was able to get a feel for its digital proportional controls. You can drive the truck at full speed, slow down for a turn, and adjust your steering radius in the middle of a corner just like a real race truck, and just like a hobby-grade RC. The steering did feel a little slow to respond, though. As I suspected, the spring-loaded suspension really is too stiff to do much good, and the truck bounced around a lot. I didn't see the suspension compressing over big bumps at all. All of that bouncing frequently kept the tires out of contact with the ground, and that made it quick to spin out if I took a sharp turn at speed.

Next, just for the fun of it, I took the Baja Beast to the local professional RC racing track that I helped design & build. This track is about 70 by 100 feet with a wide variety of jumps and turns, and some of the best pro drivers in the country have run their cars on it. Here the dirt is mostly hard and compacted smooth with heavy equipment, so the Baja Beast had plenty of traction and I had absolutely none of the trouble with spinning out like I did in the open field. Instead, the steering laziness became a lot more obvious on this better surface. It seems to have a "dead zone" where it will wander left or right on its own, even when you're not trying to steer it. You can feel the problem if you hold the truck off the ground -- slightly turn the wheels to either side by hand and you can feel a range where there's no resistance because it's just slipping. The result of this is that it's tough to get the truck to line up straight and just go in one direction, or to follow a precise course. It's slow to begin a turn, but more importantly, once you finish the turn and you want to go straight again, it keeps turning for a little while longer. That makes you have to correct and turn the other way, and by the time you notice it is going straight again, it's too late, it is going too, and you have to correct it one more time. Most toy-grade RCs do not have this problem, and it got a little frustrating. It made me feel like I'm just a bad driver and couldn't "get it."

Video

Conclusion

The Maisto Tech Baja Beast leaves me with some mixed feelings. On the one hand, it looks great, it's fast, and it has some very nice features. On the other hand, the trick independent suspension doesn't really work since the springs are too stiff, and its lazy steering makes it unnecessarily tough to control, to the point of being frustrating and discouraging. If you just want to drive around completely freely in a wide open area like I was doing in the first part of my video, then for around $65 at Amazon.com with all batteries included, I think it's a good deal. On the other hand, if you want to be able to take advantage of the advanced controls to drive around a makeshift racing course in a backyard or at a park, you might have the same steering troubles I did, which can really dampen the fun.

But wait, there's more!

Every now & then I'm fortunate enough to make direct contact with an RC manufacturer. After completing my initial test of the Baja Beast, I disassembled the truck tomore precisely diagnose and confirm the small flaws I had encountered. I then sent my detailed feedback directly to Maisto, and the response I received was nothing short of astounding. Their engineering team is looking into a couple of specific changes to improve the Baja Beast's steering, and they're also considering softer springs to make the suspension work better. There are no guarantees just yet, but if they're able to make "rolling updates" to the truck, I'll make a follow-up review that covers the changes and how they affected the performance of the truck. At the very least, what was learned from this experience will go into making future Maisto Tech RC products perform even better from the start!

C+

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