HPI Racing Toyota FJ Venture Hands-on Review

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Since it was announced at the start of the year and first seen at the Nuremberg International toy fair waaay back in January, we have been eager to get our play with HPI Racing’s Toyota FJ. Its a big move for the company and its first ‘properly’ new car chassis in quite a while.

We finally got our hands on it early this month and have put some hours in, selflessly testing it on all terrains; Here is our take on the Toyota FJ Venture!

hpiracing venture toyota fj suspension travel wide

What is in the box?

HPI supply the model ready-to-run and in the box you get

  • Venture Chassis with Toyota FJ Body
  • HPI Plasma 7.2v 2000mAh NiMH stick battery
  • TF-40 Transmitter
  • 4 x Plasma 1.5v AA batteries (for the transmitter)
  • Mains 9v 300mA trickle charger
  • Manuals, book pack and sticker sheet

The supplied TF-40 transmitter is suitable for most hand sizes although we found the steering wheel stuck out a little further than we were used to.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_transmitter batteries included

It has the dual rate and trim adjustments, servo reverse switches and even has adjustable end points (modified by screwdriver in the holes above the steering wheel).

hpiracing venture toyota fj_transmitter detail adjustments switches batteries

HPI Racing ensure you are good to go from the off, including a 7.2v 2000mAh NiMh Battery, charger and international adaptors.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_battery chargerThe package is finished off with the usual manuals, warranty documents and stickers.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_manual

Licensed Toyota FJ Cruiser Body

We were really impressed by HPI’s work with this shell. Its a mix of lexan and hard plastic that mounts on four adjustable posts.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_model

It features a functional plastic roof rack (but don’t try and pick the model up by the crossbars as they just un-clip!). We love the fully-usable spare wheel bolted to the external rear of the chassis upright.

hpiracing   fj_front rear body on

There is a great mix of stickered highlights such as the headlights and indicators, and moulded plastic items such as the signature chunky wing-mirrors, bumpers, towing eyes and roof rack.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_closeup

Finally the front windows on the body are actually clear (its the little details that matter). Overall its a nice shell striking a great balance between form and function, although we are a little scared to think how much a replacement might be!

hpiracing venture toyota fj_body side

Introducing the Venture Chassis

Cosmetics aside, lets look into the new Venture chassis.

Design

The venture chassis was designed from the ground up for crawling, with high ground clearance, long suspension travel, big wheels and low gearing with a full-time AWD transmission. Dual stage adjustable oil-filled coil-over shocks provide a standard ride height of 60mm, with 32mm clearance below the axles.

The metal chassis rails mean that like Traxxas’ TRX4, the wheelbase can be switched between 290mm and 315mm to suit different body styles or terrain ability.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_chassis

Anyway if you are struggling to get access to the chassis remember this, that rear wheel is mounted to the body! To remove the shell you will need to swing the tailgate wheel mount out the way, just like on the real thing. One you have removed the four main body clips (before you try and lift the body off) a small clip needs to be removed from the offside of the shell before swinging the wheel up and out of the securing tab.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_tailgate wheel body

The bumper distance from the chassis can be adjusted as they slide into the ends on posts as seen in the below photo. This image (shot with the chassis on its back) also depicts the steering system with metal mounting points and metal servo horn with servo saver (more on that later).

Electronics

The model is fitted with a SS-20WR (Water resistant) 6.5KG water resistant servo. HPI have engineered a fancy long metal servo horn and servo saver system. The FJ features zero Ackermann steering angle giving it good lock and even angles across the front axle. It even has a functional panhard bar that hooks up to the the chassis via aluminium mount.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_ss 20WR steering servo

The RF-41WP 3-channel receiver is waterproof but sits in its own splash proof  box behind the steering servo.

This controls the fully waterproof Crawler Edition electronic speed controller (SC-3SWP3). The ESC is terminated with a plastic ‘Tamiya’ style battery connector so a whole host of stick batteries (of the right dimensions) can be swapped in. HPI state it will accept up to a 3S LiPo but this is not something we have tested. The ESC features a hill-decent-control via-drag-brake to assist you controlling the model on steep inclines.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_esc switch turn on

The power switch is on a small flylead but is positioned alongside the ESC as standard. We like that you can reach up through the chassis and turn the model on and off without faffing about taking the body shell off.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_battery installation

To spread the weight distribution, the battery tray is located above rear diff, between the shock towers. The standard ESC battery lead is a long one that allows you to slip the battery in with the plus wires running out of the rear of the tray. We aren’t great fans of the battery tray cover, its body pin clip can be fiddly to secure and whilst its hinged lid prongs will hold the cell in place in a roll, fitting a larger (or hardcase battery) will require extensive modification.

Drivetrain

The model comes with a brushed 35 turn motor tuned for crawling. This is mounted over the front axle to simulate the front-loaded weight distribution of the full-scale truck. Its a 540 size motor so there are plenty of replacements available should you wish to upgrade (or even go brushless). In the below photo you can also see the externally adjustable slipper clutch (just infront of the motor plate) allowing you to adjust and manage slip as per the environment without dismantling the entire transmission.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_35t crawler motor

HPI have used all-metal gears throughout the transmissions, the main gear set tried-and-tested in the Savage XS Flux. The centre diff has a gear ratio of 1.5:1 driving two propshafts out to two full-time locked diffs. The effective final drive is 30.4:1 which offers a solid balance between actually getting around and crawling over stuff.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_central differential

The axles are hooked up to the centre differential via composite slider-style driveshafts set at a low angle to maximise power transfer and clearance.

HPI have detailed the chassis with a selection of aluminium parts, some are for cosmetics whilst others are for strength. The metal diff ‘pumpkin’ covers are probably more in the former camp but they look pretty sweet.

hpiracing venture toyota fj suspension-and pumpkin differential cover

Finally those beefy CR10 1.9″ beadlock wheels hook up to metal 12mm hex-hubs and are wrapped in fancy new Rockthorn tyres that are suitable for a variety of terrain.

We get that crawlers designs follow a tried and tested layout, but are we the only ones seeing several similarities to Axial’s SCX10?

Build quality

Overall the model is built pretty solidly and held up to our testing well. Some of our sales team lack mechanical sympathy and normally a few lunchtimes ripping around the local park will see a component give up on even the toughest of models. The Venture chassis was no different, although we were really disappointed at just how quickly the steering servo died, even before the first battery was emptied!

A lot of engineering design has gone into the steering system (just look at the exploded diagram for the steering servo) with metal mounting points, hardened links and solid link bars, but it is only as good as the weakest component. In this case HPI opted to fit their own SS-20WR steering servo which features a metal spline but plastic gears. Shortly after losing steering power we performed a post-mortem on the servo to find that it had lunched one of the internal plastic gears. This a retail unit, we can only assume this was a random manufacturing defect, but to future proof it we swapped it out for a proven Savox metal-geared SC-0252 as can be seen peeking out from under the chassis below.

hpiracing venture toyota fj_savox servo Taking the Toyota off-road

Crawling Capability

Out of the box, the FJ is incredibly capable. We took it to a local park and it clambered up all of the foliage and stones we could find. The short overhangs and high ground clearance

hpiracing venture toyota fj big challengesIf you are new to crawling you might find the initial experience underwhelming as the models are notably slower. This all vanishes the first time you tackle an collectable nearly the same size as your model!

hpiracing venture toyota fj on the move on rocksLooking for a more advanced challenge we headed down to the beach and spent and hour or so climbing the sea defences

hpiracing venture toyota fj_climbing wide

On the drier surfaces the Venture actually performed even better, scaling and descending some really steep rock faces. The only thing that  will stop you is the lack of weight, holding the truck down to the ground.

Power

The 35T motor is a good match for the chassis and we never found it lacking in punch. In fact on grippy, dry surfaces there is enough torque to chuck the front or rear in the air with short sharp wheelies and stoppies.

hpiracing venture toyota fj in action

Its fun enough as a general RC car to drive around a garden, its high ground clearance ensuring it will just scramble over grass, stones and tree roots without much slowing down. Even when we perched the front end on a kerb and ‘gave it the beans’ the FJ would scramble its way up and over without issue.

hpiracing venture toyota fj wheel hang

The locked diffs really come in handy when hanging wheels like this, we lipped the rock to the left and drove down the steps without issue!

Control

Were not a fan of the ergonomics of the transmitter but the trigger and wheel were responsive enough to drive the FJ with some precision.. With the servo replaced/repaired the system seemed robust enough to resist sliding wide on rock ledges.

The design suggests the model will have a low centre of gravity, but as its quite lightweight the car can act as if its top heavy. We found it worst when climbing up steep slopes where the car would begin to wheelie before rolling onto its back like a turtle.  Thankfully the roof rack, thick bumpers and chunky tyres protect the body.

The hill descent control is great, allowing you to confidently take on steep rock faces and park up for some awesome photos.

What did we make of the Venture Toyota FJ?

We like

  • The body, both its style and its detail
  • Robust, we have rolled it seemingly hundreds of times and it took it like a champ
  • You can turn it on and off without removing the shell (Traxxas take note!)
  • The metal diff/pumpkin coverings, axle carriers etc
  • Short overhangs allow it to climb up some steep inclines
  • True ‘Ready-to-Run’, in the sense that you can be driving within minutes of opening the box.

hpiracing venture toyota fj over the top

We dislike

  • The tyres are great to start out with in the dry, but were compromised on really wet mud or slick rock.
  • 3S compatible but the ESC is wired with a low current Tamiya connector. This isn’t a dealbreaker but limits your battery choice
  • Potentially fragile servo (although we may have had a random defective unit)
  • Single speed gearbox means a comprise on control. Providing gearing to give a reasonable top speed then impacts how carefully you can creep with the minimum throttle input.
  • The pricepoint, we were expecting it to arrive on the market at a little under £300. Its appears that HPI have priced it to undercut the Axial SCX10,  sharing some design and specification similarities but coming as a package ready to run.

Overall we feel its a solid package that will appeal to those looking for a true hobby-grade crawler,  or just die-hard Toyota FJ fans!

RC Geeks : RC crawling converts!

hpiracing venture toyota fj climbing cliffs backdrop

The FJ is available over on our webstore in two finishes, sandstorm yellow or gunmetal grey as seen here.

We would recommend buying it with this 4700mAh beast of a battery which will really extend the run-time. We also sell an Absmia NC-1 NiMH charger that will reduce charge times compared to the basic HPI unit included.

As our ‘love of crawling’ grows we will doubtless revisit this model with hop-ups to address is few shortcomings, so keep your eyes on our instagram and facebook feeds! Cosmetically we think its begging for a lightbar kit and a front winch; ‘Under the hood’ we’d like to try some bigger batteries, swap out the tyres and even perhaps a brushless conversion!

Hpiracing venture toyota fj sunset window

Looking for something a little faster, more capable or more iconic? (well in the UK anyway!) Then check out our review of the Traxxas TRX4 Land Rover Defender which offers more performance, albeit at a higher price.

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