Sphero Ultimate Lightning McQueen Car : Hands-on Review

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sphero ultimate lightning mcqueen

Being 9 years old, and a car-mad child when the first Cars film came out, it’s only right that I get to review the the new Sphero Ultimate Lightning McQueen Car – considering I did grow up surrounded by the films. Admittedly, I was probably a little too excited about getting to play with this car – of course receiving some criticism from my colleagues, being the youngest employee. However, my excitement was not misplaced – Sphero have well and truly done it again; and I can confidently say that I have never driven a car like this before.

Design (“Float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beemer”)

Now, we’ll get on to the amazing animatronics in a minute, but first, the static design definitely deserves a mention. Sphero have really left no stone un-turned with Lightning. Before even opening the box, the heart begins to pump with excitement as every minuscule, seemingly unimportant detail is thoroughly thought through. It all begins with the beautifully crafted box – Sphero have made it all about Lightning, it isn’t plastered with their name, or lists of tech specs – at least not on the front.

sphero ultimate lightning mcqueen box

The front of the box boasts a full size image of Lightning himself, grinning and gazing down the camera – with his name beautifully calligraphed in silver below, a perfect contrast to the matte black background. The veneer of realism is carefully maintained as the lid is removed – with Lightning not being held down by any clips, ties – or, God-forbid, any sellotape. Lightning is sat on a raised tower with plastic moulds around his tyres, an excellent design which makes it look like he is having his tyres warmed in the pits, as opposed to being tied down from the factory. A small tab on the side hints to a hidden compartment in Lightnings pit-stop platform which, when pulled out, reveals his “service manual” – a well designed industry-esque user guide – and his charger, along with every adapter you could possibly hope for.

sphero utlimate lightning mcqueen_manual unboxed unboxing

Moving on to Lightning himself, there are a lot of Easter Eggs built in that die-hard fans will absolutely love. From his Lightyear tyre decals down to his fuel-pump charging port. The underside of the car is even moulded as the chassis of a car would be, so if you do get the urge to peek underneath, the illusion will not be spoiled.

sphero utlimate lightning mcqueen_chassis underside

Lightning is decorated in true-to-life style with an amazing paint job – no tacky decal stickers which fall off after a week. The detail goes right down to the studs around the rear windows, and the illuminated head and tail lights. The headlights even use an ambient light sensor to turn on when it’s dark! In a more practical way, Lightning’s plastic shell gives way to a rubber bumper on the front of the car which, at first irked me. It seemed to make him feel more toy-like and less like a four-time Piston Cup champion. However, after driving around a few times, I was very thankful to the extremely shock-absorbing bumper, for keeping my precious Lightning safe.

sphero ultimate lightning-mcqueen_fuel-cap-charging-point

Undoubtedly one of my favourite details that Sphero have worked into the car is the absence of a power button. You truly feel like Lightning has a mind of his own when there is no need to even turn him on or off. You can put him to sleep using the app, and wake him up by just pressing connect on the app, pretty cool, right?

sphero ultimate lightning mcqueen wheel detail

Ultimate Lightning McQueen App

We’ll discover more about this shortly, but the setup for Lightning could not be more painless. Out of the box, he does come with factory charge but, as always, we recommend fully charging any product before using it. So plug Lightning in, and get to work discovering the app. Head on over to your relevant app store and download the “Ultimate Lightning McQueen” app by Sphero. It is a fairly sizeable app, weighing in at 229 MB, but it’s certainly packed full of features.

Don’t fret about being bored out of your mind while you wait for your new toy to charge, get that app installed and head on over to Pit-Stop Panic! Sphero has included a mini-game into the app to keep you preoccupied during charging down-time. The game requires you to fix cars in the pits by dragging the correct spare parts from a conveyor belt, to the correct car, a simple idea but a fairly exciting game nevertheless. I won’t lie, I got very, very into it.

sphero ultimate lightning mcqueen pitstop

There is also a section of the app where you can write scripts of pre-defined phrases for Lightning to say whilst driving. The clips were in fact recorded specifically for the app by the voice of Lightning, Owen Wilson himself! This great little quirk has provided endless hours, yes hours, of fun driving around the office making Lightning shout at people. Don’t fear, I know what you’re thinking – and you can change the volume of his voice down to almost a whisper.

sphero ultimate lightning mcqueen script

Classic “RC” Driving Mode

Now if this isn’t enough to expect from the app, don’t worry – there’s more. Sphero has provided two different driving modes for Lightning and I, honestly, cannot decide which I prefer. The “Classic” two stick RC mode is great for first time Sphero users, it’s very simple to use and pretty responsive for a smartphone controller. No fancy tricks, just your classic car driving style.

sphero ultimate lightning mcqueen sticks

Default Sphero Driving Mode

Now, there is also the option for the default Sphero controller mode which is used to control other products, such as the Sphero SPRK+ and the Sphero BB-8. It is a more feature-packed mode, but can be tricky if you’ve never used a Sphero Product before. It works based on Lightning’s orientation, relative to you. You first have to calibrate your phone with Lightning by pressing the button on the bottom left of the screen. The single joystick then works with the 4 directions being relative to you, i.e. down is towards you, up is away from you. However, because Lightning is a car and not a spherical robot, like almost all other Sphero toys are, it can seem odd to get used to – Lightning has a much larger turning circle compared to the spherical robots, which can twist on the spot.

Don’t fear, there is reward in perseverance – master this mode and you’ll have a lot more fun, using the drift button. You heard me, drift button. You can make Lightning drift on command by either holding the drift button, to see continuous donuts, or tap the button to kick out the back end and slide round a corner in true McQueen style! This mode also utilises a separate reverse button, which does exactly what it sounds like, and a boost button, which gives Lightning an extra speed boost for those long straights.

sphero ultimate lightning mcqueen app control


In Classic Sphero style, it will take you far less time to read this setup section than it will to actually set up the car. You simply charge Lightning, download the app that we spoke about earlier and press connect. That really is it. No syncing, no assembly, nothing. The only thing which you may have to do is wait while an update is installed. Luckily enough I haven’t had to endure an update yet, but I have read that they tend to only be around 5-10 minutes – just enough time for a few games of Pit-Stop Panic ayy?

Driving In Style

So Rory, what else could we possibly want from this car, I hear you ask. Well, hold on to your hats, folks. This is where it gets cool. Lightning has an animatronic mouth and suspension, as well as a trapezoid LED screen for his eyes, and 5 separate capacitive touch panels. Now, in English, that means he genuinely seems like he’s alive and has a personality. As Lightning turns, he leans into the corners like in the movies, and he reacts when you crash, shying away from the collision point and coming out with quips such as “It’s cool, it’ll buff out”. If left idle, he’ll ask where you’ve gone, or let you know he’s dying to have a race, all the while moving his mouth in sequence with each word to make it look like it really is him that’s speaking. Check the video below to see him in action!

His animatronic suspension really brings him alive, it seems just like the movie when he rises and falls with the intonation of his voice. He even raises part of the suspension to move away from you when you touch him. Furthermore, the LED screen provides the cherry on the cake, really bringing him alive with darting, blinking and rolling eyes. Truly another fantastic creation from Sphero.

sphero ultimate lightning mcqueen in action

Admittedly, a 6mph top speed does not set my heart pumping, but you’d be surprised by how fast it seems, plus, there are plenty of other features to keep you entertained. This is certainly not a fast car, but neither is it trying to be. It’s trying to be a unique, lifelike and captivating car, which is a specification that I believe it most definitely fulfils.

Final Thoughts

One thing that we are yet to tackle is the question of price. At £299.95, Lightning really does push the budget for a child’s toy, especially considering that you could buy a Sphero BB-8 and a Sphero SPRK+ and still have money left to spend. However, the reason that this is such a highly priced product is because absolutely no expense has been spared in the design, production or implementation of all of its wonderful features. It is a very high quality product which would be the perfect gift for any die-hard Cars fan. If you can afford to stretch up to the £299.95 price tag then it is guaranteed to impress, if not check out some other great gifts from our Gadgets section.

The reason that I am captivated so much by this car is because I can feel myself transforming back into my 9 year old self every time I pick it up. As a person who grew up around the era of the first Cars film, I can personally attest to the excitement that this product really does instil.



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