JJRC Q39 Highlander RTR 1/12 Scale Buggy

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Medium-scale, backyard-bashing 4WD fun for just over eighty bucks delivered to the US?  Yes!

It almost doesn’t seem possible, but the proof is right here.  That proof is the new JJRC Q39 Highlander from GearBest.com.  For US$80.91, the lucky buyer will receive a fully assembled 1/12 scale model of a short course racing truck, a 7.4V 2S lithium-polymer battery with wall charger, a 2.4GHz radio system and even a pair of extra 48-pitch pinion gears of different sizes.  All one needs to do is slip three AA-cell batteries into the transmitter (not included), charge up the li-po with the enclosed charger, attach the spare tire to the frame, peel off the protective film from the body panels and it’s fun time.

GearBest occasionally runs flash sales which lower the price even further to $68.99, again with free shipping.

Before I start tearing up the desert, let’s take a closer look.

Specifications:

Scale:  1/12

Construction: Composite frame, gearbox housing and suspension components; steel differential, axle shafts, axle sliders and pinion gears; composite coilover shock absorbers with aluminum caps and steel shafts; five plastic wheels with vinyl tires; plastic rollcage, vacuum molded body panels and driver figure

Radio:  JJRC two-channel, 2.4 GHz surface pistol grip with two-channel receiver

Motor:  Brushed RS-390 with JJRC forward/brake/reverse ESC

Servo:  JJRC 19g five-wire proprietary

Battery:  JJRC 1500mAh 2S 7.4V hard shell lithium polymer with Deans Ultra-Plug power connector, JST-XH balance tap and 120V wall charger

Dimensions: (LxWxH):  15.35 x 8.66 x 6.3″ (39 x 22 x 16 cm)

Claimed Top Speed:  19 – 25 MPH (30 – 40 km/h)

Claimed Running Time:  15 minutes after 2.5 hour charge with the supplied charger

Minimum Skill Level/Operator Age:  Beginner through advanced; 8+

Available From:  GearBest.com

Price (USD):  $80.91 with free shipping to the USA

Contents:

Fully assembled model

Spare tire and wheel which can be mounted to the body for scale appearance

Lithium polymer battery and charger

Four-way wrench

Two additional 48-pitch pinion gears

Two hex head wrenches

Two extra body clips for the battery retainer

Extra pinion grub screw

Illustrated instruction manual

Required For Operation:

Three AA-cell alkaline batteries

Getting Started:

JJRC does a nice job of packaging; the box would look great on a hobby shop shelf.  The box art is a good representation of what this model will do.

Inside the box, the Highlander is well protected.

As for the model itself, it manages to do something visually that few RTR models can do, namely pull off a convincing, semi-scale look.  The composite chassis and its components are surrounded by a plastic roll cage decorated with printed Lexan body and number panels.  At first, I thought the panels looked too dull, until I realized that they were protected by transparent plastic film.  Removing the film resulted in shiny, beautifully printed panels.  First undoing some of the surrounding allen screws made it easier to completely peel off the protective layer.

It’s shown here before I removed the film.  Note the sliding u-joints and the zip ties used to secure the front suspension in shipment:

It was here that I noticed that all fasteners on the Q39 save for the wheel nuts were hex head cap screws; the entire model can be disassembled with the provided metric wrenches and four-way nut driver.  Even the driver’s helmet is held in place with a hex head screw.  This is a lot of perceived (and actual) quality for 81 bucks.  More of the protective film can be seen on the panels and yes, the rock guards on the off-road lights are removable.  Other versions have lights which plug into the receiver, so doing the same with the Highlander will be a cinch. Not visible is a master power switch on the headrest behind the helmet.

The two countersunk screws at right are the main screws for the body.  The screws which hold the driveline components in place are flush with the bottom of the chassis.

Something which made me look twice was the li-po battery.  It looked like a soft-sided aircraft battery at first glance, but it’s actually a hard shell battery designed for the rigors of on-road use.  It fits loosely in its tray and there’s plenty of room for a larger pack.  The supplied balancing charger did a good job of fully charging the pack in roughly 45 minutes.

The transmitter is a two-channel pistol grip unit and it’s a simple as can be.  An analog rotary knob serves as a steering trim control while colored LEDs atop the unit indicate power on and successful binding to the receiver.  There’s no manufacturer’s label, but two foil labels proclaim it to be a “2.4GHz Remote Control System of Electric Cars.”  That machine-translated English carries over to the manual as well; it’s seemingly typical of JJRC products. If there’s one thing I really liked about the transmitter is that it feels full sized or nearly so.  It was a comfortable fit in my big hand, but lefties should note that the transmitter is not reversible for left-handed drivers.

Indoor testing showed a lot of promise with smooth throttle response and a tight turning radius.  The non-proportional braking function brings the Q39 to a skidding stop.  Fortunately, there’s a factory installed and adjusted slipper clutch which should do a great job of protecting the transmission and rear end.  Although the clutch isn’t mentioned in the manual, my recommendation would be to leave the factory setting as is to avoid excess slippage and loss of power.

Right out of the box, it becomes apparent that the Highlander is a good looking little model:

Gone are the plastic bushings of yore, replaced by bronze bushings.

After much experimentation, I was finally able to remove the body to get a look at the composite chassis.  This setup wouldn’t be out of place on a more race-oriented model.

The laid down front shocks and their linkages are truly marvelous.

Initial Testing:

The only final assembly needed is to attach the spare tire to the rear of the model.  It’s identical to the road wheels and could actually be used as a functioning spare if necessary.

Gearing as shipped seems to be a good compromise between torque and speed.  Out on the street, the Q39 hustled along at an estimated 18 – 20 MPH (29 – 32 km/h), not shabby at all for a 1/12 scale off-road model.  Some online research backed the claim.

Handling on asphalt was quite good, save for a tendency to lift the outside front wheel in turns due to excessive squatting of the rear end. Any further steering input results in a forward somersault.  I’m not going to chalk those up as a minus since that’s a direct result of the friction shocks and the fun nature of the model.  The composite shock bodies with their anodized aluminum caps look like oil-damped units, but they aren’t.  There are O-rings which appear to seal the caps, so it might be possible to convert them.  Of course, a swap to new shocks would be best.

For fun, climbing and general backyard bashing, the Q39 is fine as it is.  Jumping curbs and driveways show the shocks as a weak spot; the body reacts as if the axles and swing arms were solidly mounted.  The old-fashioned “drop test” onto a tabletop would, on a properly dampened setup, absorb the energy and not rebound.  The rear of the Q39 bounced twice and the front end once; that tendency is shown in slo-mo in the factory video linked below.

As for the drivetrain, it was a lot quieter than I thought it would be.  No weird noises and no binding; the battery was cool to the touch after a few minutes of pavement bashing; initial tests with my GoPro Session further bore that out via the camera’s own audio track.  On the video side of things, driving over unpaved surfaces showed the near total lack of body damping.

No instructions are given regarding removal of the body in order to access the chassis and change a pinion gear.  Hex head screws hold the body together and it isn’t readily apparent what needs to be removed.  The secret is removing two screws where the body meets the battery tray, removing a total of four recessed screws under the chassis, removing two more screws at the rear shock towers and loosening two screws at the nose.  This allows the body to be pivoted forward once the power switch behind the driver’s figure is unplugged from the receiver.

It seemed obvious that removing the three screws holding the motor clamp in place would allow access.  Problem:  Two of the screws proved impossible to remove since any wrench I used wouldn’t engage the heads.  Couple that with the number of screws which must first be removed to swing the body out of the way and you have a real recipe for utter frustration.  There’ll be a point where I might buy a ball head wrench and try it again, but for now, I’m content with the overall performance.  Besides, by the time this review is published, my grandson Stephen will be the proud new owner of the Q39.

Of course, yours truly would first have to finish wringing it out.

Further Testing on Asphalt and Off Road Performance:

The perfect testing spot wasn’t an off-road track but instead, the Coachella Valley Radio Control Club east of Palm Springs.  The club boasts a large, asphalt-paved control line and helicopter pad surrounded by desert.  The club is on leased land from the Bureau of Land Management and it still serves as a flood control basin for the nearby All-American Canal.  Flat-topped earthen berms about five feet high with 45-degree slopes parallel one side of the pad.  Again, a perfect testing spot.

Now that I had room to open the throttle, acceleration and top speed were good with the factory installed pinion gear.  The same handling issues were apparent, i.e., three-wheeled turns and tumbles.

I hate getting a new model dirty for the first time, but such is the life of a product reviewer.  Quite honestly, I was looking forward to seeing how well it would climb the berm.

Once I found the line along a natural trail on the berm, climb it did!

Heading straight while attempting to climb the berm as a rock climber might resulted in all four wheels resulted in spectacular rooster tails and no forward motion  in the rocky sand.  In short, it got stuck and its all-terrain tires were no help at all.  A running start and climbing at a slight angle did the trick.  The Q39 scrambled up the slope like one of the local bighorn sheep and I was even able to drive along the flat top of the berm with no problems at all.

I must have gone up and down that slope at least ten more times before the battery started losing power.  Despite the rather severe testing, it remained cool to the touch.  Even if I wasn’t able to test different gear ratios, it did quite well as is.  Once I figure out how to swap in one of the other pinion gears, I’ll report back on the comment section.

Videos:

Here’s both onboard and external video, including some hill climbs:

JJRC did a terrific video which was linked on this model’s sales page:

Conclusion:

With a price this low, it’s difficult to fault the JJRC Q39 Highlander RTR since it’s a terrific little rough-and-tumble model.  It’s quick and handles well on pavement so long as one doesn’t go crazy with steering input, but it’ll definitely need upgraded shocks in order to tackle the rough stuff.  Even the official JJRC video bears that out.

Another issue is that of parts availability, at least for now since GearBest lists none.  The model is sold under at least two other brand names, namely as the Feiyue FY-03 and  WLtoys 12428.  Parts are not only plentiful from a number of sources, but are affordable as well.  GearBest sometimes sells R/C models before parts hit the pipeline, but they do carry them eventually.  The link to the WLtoys version links back to GearBest, so I suspect that it’s only a matter of time before JJRC-branded parts become available.

A 4×4 short course truck with these kinds of features would have likely sold for nearly three times the price a few short years ago.  Today, one can get an entire RTR model for less than the cost of a large, high-voltage aircraft li-po.  The Highlander Q39 gets two thumbs as high as I can give.  It’s a nearly perfect way to introduce young drivers to the fun of radio control without breaking the budget and without the worry of outgrowing it too quickly.

My sincerest thanks go to “Anny,” my contact at GearBest for making this terrific little buggy available for review.  I’ve worked on behalf of GearBest for several years and it’s always a pleasure to work with them.  Extra special thanks go to my grandson, Stephen Squillace for being the driver in the video.  Stephen is a constant companion whenever I visit the Coachella Valley Radio Control Club and he now owns the Q39!

Thanks too to Nathan Maat at the administrator’s desk here at RC Universe and, of course, my thanks to you in our audience for taking a moment to stop by.  As for me, Stephen and I are going out for a little bit of backyard bashing with his new Highlander!

Pluses and Minuses:

Pluses include:

  • Affordably priced with free shipping
  • Fun to drive
  • Parts are readily available through a number of online sources
  • Rugged, composite construction should stand up to a lot of abuse
  • Room for a larger battery pack
  • A lithium polymer battery and wall charger are provided right out of the box
  • All hardware is hex head with ball link ends
  • Packed with features normally found on more expensive models
  • The perfect first backyard basher, rock climber or pavement pounder

Minuses include:

  • Nearly ineffective friction shocks
  • Manual has no information regarding service beyond basic maintenance
  • Difficult to access the motor in order to change the pinion
  • Difficult to remove the body

 

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