Will the Kraton crush the competition?
Big trucks are part of R/C culture. From the Clodbuster to the E-Revo, monster trucks have been with the hobby for a long, long time. ARRMA is honoring that tradition with the introduction of the Kraton. While the vehicle came out a few months ago, they've been on backorder and we were unable to get our hands on one. Until now. Will the Kraton stand up to the stiff competition? That's what we're here to find out.
The Kraton, like its smaller 1/10 scale siblings, looks sharp. Personally, I like the blue body they released internationally a bit better than the green one available in the US, but otherwise, the body is aggressive-looking and has plenty of detail without being too busy. The tires are nice and soft and should be quite grippy. It's the same tread that's used on the ARRMA Granite, actually. Or at least, very similar. I noticed the tires were very well glued - there were no spots missed. Quality job.
Taking the body off reveals the first stand-out feature: a removable plastic rollbar. It appears to help the body keep its shape and lessen the blow to the chassis in the event of an upside-down landing. We'll see how well that holds up; it looks sturdy, but who knows?
Other stand out features include red-anodized, aluminum, threaded-body shocks, sway bars on the front and rear of the vehicle, a center differential, steel dogbones in the rear and steel CVDs in the front. This truck is well-equipped and has features not seen on other trucks at a higher price point.
The speed control is rated for 180A, higher than even the popular Mamba Monster ESC from Castle. It's also rated for up to 6S operation, though we won't be running that high in this review; we're keeping it at 4S. The motor is rated at 2050kv, a little lower than the Mamba Monster, which I think is a good thing. A lower kv rating means more torque, and torque is essential for these kinds of trucks. Plus, you can always gear it up if you want more speed. The motor is held in place with a red-anodized aluminum motor mount, would should help to both keep it in place and also dissipate some heat.
I love that ARRMA included a jumper for anyone wanting to run a single 4S or 6S LiPo instead of putting two batteries in series. Most vehicles require you to make your own jumper if you want to do that. I also love the thought that went into designing the battery tray for those that did want to run two packs; the little feet are designed to offset the two batteries, preventing the wires from getting pinched should the packs try to move. Most of the reviews I've done have had some of these little touches, and I'm pleased to find some on the Kraton as well.
The steering servo probably bears some mention. It's a strong one, weighing in at 208oz-in of torque. And it's metal geared, something I wish Traxxas' servos would become. Considering this truck only runs a single steering servo, this little guy seems up to the job. Two would probably be overkill anyway. But looks can be deceiving, and while this servo looks good on paper, our experiences later didn't paint as nice a picture.
Oh, and it doesn't seem like a feature so much as a basic requirement, but all the electronics are waterproof. Snow, rain, and mud don't pose any problem to the Kraton. Just make sure to dry it off well, as there aren't any rust-proof trucks out there. Bearings, screws, and steel parts can and will still oxidise.
There's a lot of red on this truck - all anodized aluminum. While I think the color choice to be a bit odd given the color of the body (the red and green don't complement each other at all), it's still nice to see so much aluminum stuff already on the truck. It's a feature that you don't see on many other trucks in this class, especially for the lower price-point of the Kraton.
The radio system is just blah. Not good, not bad. There's absolutely no stand-out feature in the radio system. Which is par for the course on most vehicles, though it does bear mentioning that the Traxxas E-Revo Brushless comes with all the telemetry features built-in, and has a Bluetooth link to any smart-device (Android or iOS) that can beam the telemetry info to the device. The Kraton doesn't have anything flashy like that.
And finally, it's a small thing, but most of the guys on staff commented that they liked the wing design. The matte black finish seems to compliment the Kraton very well, and maintains that tough look. But that's enough of the specs and impressions. Let's see how this thing runs!
Since the Kraton does not come with batteries or a charger, it's up to the user to decide what they want to use. For the purposes of this review, we're using a 5000mAh 4S 50C LiPo from Dynamite's Reaction line. It's a very reasonable $110 for this battery pack, and cheaper than two 50C 2S packs. To charge the battery, we're using our Hitec X4 AC+ charger, but for those that don't already have a charger, the new Dynamite Passport Ultra 100W charger will be a great buy. It runs around $115, has a 100W power supply built-in, and features a touchscreen display for ease-of-use. And at 100W, you can easily charge your 4S battery at 5A, something our Hitec couldn't do. We always recommend checking with your local hobby shop (LHS) on their recommendations, but if you don't have an LHS, these are our recommendations.
Running the Kraton
I'd been putting off running the truck for as long as I could. The weather, and more specifically, the temperature was concerning me. It's been solidly in the mid-twenties for the entire review process, but eventually, it was time to have the rubber meet the road.
After charging up our battery, we adjusted the aforementioned battery spacers to ensure a good fit for our 4S LiPo (it's set up out of the box for two 2S packs). The hook-and-loop battery straps held the battery in place very well; no adjustment was necessary. We turned on the radio and truck and went outside.
About that Servo
On our third run, I noticed right away that the truck wouldn't steer. Bringing it back in the store, we discovered that the servo was stripped. I suspect this didn't happen while driving, but that the servo was torqued on by a customer while sitting on display. Either way, getting the servo off the truck was a complete pain. The manual shows three steps involved. Rubbish. The servo wires are held underneath the ESC tray, requiring not only the servo tray be removed, but the ESC tray as well. I opted to not run the new servo's wires the same way, making future repairs easier. The most disappointing thing was finding out the stripped gear was brass, not aluminum or steel. While the ARRMA servo looks great on paper, in practice I'd go with a Savöx or similar next time.
It turns out I didn't really have to worry much. Over the course of our review runs, we didn't escape unscathed, but we didn't end up anywhere as bad as I thought we would, considering the cold weather. We went through a front-right axle carrier, which in turn put pressure on the inside bearing and blew the bearing. We also stripped the gears out of the servo, which I have a problem with (more on this in the sidebar). The wing mount broke when I landed it upside-down, and I smoked a curb sideways, and broke the right rear rim (which you can see in the video above). All in all, though, for as aggressive as we were running the truck, to have as few parts break as we did kinda impresses me. There were numerous times we (read "I") landed a jump right on a single wheel, cartwheeling the truck across the parking lot, only to have it be fine and drive away.
As big and heavy as this truck is, I'm impressed that it held up as well as it did for the kind of abuse we put it through. But as rough as we are on our demos, consumers are always rougher, and there's obviously plenty of potential to break parts. But all in all, I'd put the Kraton on the same level as Traxxas in terms of durability.
Some of our staffers that drove the truck thought it felt a bit underpowered on 4S - they noticed that you didn't have much ability to control the truck while airborne when running on 4S, and thought 6S is the way to go. I kinda disagree; personally, I like the way it drove on 4S. I'm not a good enough driver to correct much in the air anyway, but truth is, I don't like too much power in my trucks - enough to push the envelope, but not enough to start breaking drivetrain and putting excessive wear-and-tear on the truck. So, mileage may vary on battery choice; I was happy on 4S, others would have preferred 6S.
You really notice the center differential when driving, to the point that I would recommend most bashers swap the stock fluid for some thicker weight diff oil. We put in Team Associated 100K diff fluid in ours, and it was a bit more lively, but even thicker fluid would have been nice. We're thinking of tossing some Traxxas 500K in at a later date. Out of the box, the front tires won't pick up on 4S at all; as soon as one does, all the power goes to that wheel, and the truck settles back down. This is the center differential in action. Great for handling, but not as great if wheelies are your thing. Wheelies aside, however, I did like the fact that I couldn't get super out of control with it. It made me modulate my throttle more, and I think that would ultimately make me a better driver.
While we didn't time our runs (since there's no "stock" battery for the truck), I estimate we sat at around 20 minute runs with the aforementioned battery.
When we took off the stock tires and wrenched on a set of Pro-Line's Trencher X tires (PRO1184-11), it really added to the power of the truck. Wheelies were no longer a problem. It's amazing just how much of a difference tires make, but it makes sense; they're the only thing connecting your truck to the ground. We'd definitely recommend the Trencher X's for your Kraton.
To me, the most important takeaway from driving the Kraton was just how much fun is was. I had a blast sending this thing over snow piles again and again. From doughnuts in the snow to eight foot air, the Kraton was a pleasure to drive.
Versus the Competition
For us, the primary competition for the Kraton would be the Traxxas E-Maxx and/or the Traxxas E-Revo (we're talking brushless editions here). Both Traxxas vehicles are titans, easily the most popular vehicles in the electric monster truck world. There are obviously other trucks out there as well, but these two are the biggest players, and therefore are the stick by which we measure all others.
It's hard to know which truck the Kraton is most like; it has the sharp truggy look to it, more like an E-Revo. But the suspension set-up is straight up old-school, like the E-Maxx. In truth, the Kraton is not very similar to either beast - it carves its own niche on the shelf.
I really like that the Kraton allows you to run a single 4S LiPo, as opposed to the Traxxas trucks, which require two batteries. A single-port, high powered charger can easily complete the Kraton, where as a dual-output (at least) is needed for the E-Revo and E-Maxx. The Kraton's flexibility helps to keep the cost to own down.
From a wrenching perspective, I think the Kraton is overall easier to work on than either Traxxas vehicle. The E-Maxx is notoriously time-consuming to fix, and the E-Revo isn't much better. The Kraton's open chassis has lots of space to get wrenches in and isn't super-crowded like the others'. But there are some bonehead decisions on the Kraton (like the servo wire routing mentioned above) that require some extra time and work to deal with.
Comparing the Kraton to the E-Maxx, I would have to give the edge to the Kraton. Despite Traxxas being known for durable trucks, the E-Maxx sits as one of the most delicate monster trucks in existence. Back when I owned an E-Maxx, playing in the snow caused me to break the chassis in half, destroy the center half-shafts, and mutilate the front bulkheads. And that was just a single run. Another staffer here broke four rear shocks, the rear shock tower, upper and lower rear arms, and the rear bulkheads because he landed hard one time in the snow. The E-Maxx is also without a center differential, allowing wheelies but also causing handling to be sketchy. The Kraton may not be perfect, but I'd rather own one of those than an E-Maxx.
The choice is a bit tougher when talking about the E-Revo. Whether you like Traxxas or not, you've to admit that the Revo, and the E-Revo after it, was a marvel of R/C engineering. It's truly a brilliant truck to behold. But it's expensive, and that's the big advantage the Kraton has in this match-up. I personally enjoyed driving the Kraton every bit as much as I do the E-Revo. Others on staff preferred the E-Revo's handling characteristics more than the Kraton's. Because of that, I'd call it a tie. But, when you consider the amount of hop-ups available for the E-Revo, plus the cool telemetry I mentioned above, I have to give the edge to the Traxxas-fielded truck, but just barely. If you've got the money, go with an E-Revo. If you want to save a few bucks, the Kraton is a solid second choice.
After spending some solid time with the Kraton, I like it. It's big and powerful and a hell of a lot of fun to just bash around. Since I began writing this review, we've sold two of these trucks. Both customers came back and let us know how happy they were with the trucks, even though both had broken parts already. I have to say that I feel the same way.
Only time will tell whether it will have the staying power enjoyed by its Traxxas counterparts. Based on other vehicles and brands that have tried to go toe-to-toe with Traxxas, I have to guess that it won't. That doesn't mean it isn't a good truck; I'd recommend this vehicle to anyone that comes in the store looking for a big, mean, monster truck. But it's up to ARRMA to support this truck as well as Traxxas supports theirs, with aluminum upgrades and third-party support. I'd love to see RPM make some A-Arms and/or axle carriers for the truck. If that kind of thing happens, the Kraton has a shot at longevity.