I must admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for Kei trucks. These little 660cc nuggets of early 90’s goodness do so much with so little, yet still retain an almost child-like personality; it’s easy to see why they are so popular in Japan. With America’s 25 year import rule most of these mighty mini’s are now legal to own and drive in most states and doing so means being the center of attention wherever you go. WPL, best known for their line of 1/16 RC vehicles that blur the line between toy and hobby grade have given RC enthusiasts the opportunity to experience the goodness that is the Kei lifestyle, this time in 1/12 scale. Introducing the D12.
OUT OF THE BOX
Upon opening the box you will find a plastic clamshell that hugs the D12 firmly in place, preventing any damage due to shipping. The transmitter fits into the bed area along with the accessory bag which contains the USB charger as well as the injection molded detail pieces and a small phillips screwdriver that is needed to attach them. Side mirrors, light lenses, a rear window headache rack, a full interior and a decal set are included to detail the D12, giving it even more character. While not officially branded the D12 bears a strong resemblance to the 9th generation Suzuki Carry that received a facelift in 1991.
Getting the D12 going is fairly straightforward and only requires attaching the detail pieces, placing batteries in the transmitter and charging the included 2s LIPO battery with the USB charger. I plugged mine into a spare Samsung USB brick that I had laying around and had the battery charged in a little less than an hour. I’m not a fan of these cheap USB chargers but they do the job and will be more familiar to younger kids who may get this truck as a gift. Installing the battery into the truck is another matter. The battery door is disguised as the spare tire under the rear of the truck and fitting the relatively large battery, battery connector and balance plug into the small space allotted is a chore for anyone with adult sized fingers, much less large hands like mine. The tabs on the battery door broke on the first run with the car as well, but more on that later. Once the battery is plugged in and the power switch flipped the truck comes to life with LED headlights which are a warmer yellowish hue, reminiscent of sealed beam headlights, a nice nostalgic touch. Leave the truck on without the transmitter and the headlights will flash to alert you of this blunder which is a much better way to discover the issue than to just have the truck take off full speed out of control.
The D12 is 2wd and doesn’t handle terrain any rougher than textured concrete. I tested my truck on several different surfaces and found that smooth, polished concrete was where the truck felt most at home. The factory tires are surprising grippy, given their size and design, enough so that the truck will traction roll if pushed too hard. On slick surfaces the tires slide predictably and it makes for a fun driving experience without becoming tedious trying to catch the rear at every flick of the wheel. On higher grip surfaces the truck changes direction quickly and the challenge is to slow down just enough to not traction roll without scrubbing too much speed; get it wrong and the truck will end up on its side. Acceleration is strong for the size of the truck and can even break the tires loose with a hard launch. The transmitter includes options for increased steering and throttle dual rates; I recommend setting the throttle to the maximum setting but leaving the steering at its reduced setting as this helps prevent rollovers. Having both set high is good for drifting on very slick surfaces, otherwise the impressive steering angle can get you in trouble quickly.
As for durability, the D12 has some weak points. Keep in mind that this truck is designed to be a mix of toy-grade and hobby-grade so concessions were made to ease the manufacturing and assembly process. On the first run my truck lost its battery door when the posts that key into the chassis broke off while running. This is a shame because I personally liked the spare tire battery door; it was functional and aesthetic, a combination that isn’t often seen in RC these days. The rear axle is another source of issues with the D12; it is not bearing supported and allows the gear mesh of the ring and pinion to wander. The housing isn’t exactly the strongest either allowing things to shift around even more. WPL makes a bearing supported alloy rear axle set that fixes both of these issues and only costs around $20; I will be adding this to my truck as its first upgrade. The mirrors are only pressed in which allows them to pop out should the truck turtle itself; keep an eye out each time the truck rolls to see if they have become dislodged so as to not lose them. In its credit my D12 rolled more when turning left and lost its right mirror much more frequently than its left. Permanently affixing the mirrors could lead to breakage, thus I will leave mine as a press fit.
For an adult with larger hands the 3:4 scale transmitter is not very comfortable to hold. For kids it is great, the lightweight feel and placement of the trigger and wheel are perfect for smaller kids but adults will have to make concessions here. If it becomes a hindrance I will swap out the electronics for individual hobby grade pieces and use my own transmitter. The WPL electronics work well, the steering has decent torque and holds its center, the ESC/RX doesn’t glitch and powers the 280 motor with no problems; all-in-all its a reliable system that does what it was designed to do, just without any extra frills.
I love this little truck; it looks incredible sitting on the shelf and while putting around. I wouldn’t dream of trying to drive the truck off-road as its torsion rod front suspension and rear leaf springs are lacking in travel and damping ability. When kept on road the truck handles well and is easy to drive. When driven past its limits it will go shiny side down but those limits are easy to establish. Personally I would have no qualms about handing the transmitter to a child and turning them loose. For an adult, the truck is best used as a show piece that gets driven occasionally. It isn’t fast, it isn’t a crawler, and the transmitter isn’t easy to hold. As a project truck the sky is the limit; the truck can be transformed into whatever your imagination can dream up. I will be using mine as a shelf-queen that gets ran on special occasions to remind myself of why I love Kei trucks so much. I must say, for a $60 truck from a brand known for their toy-grade models the D12 is an impressive machine and I would recommend snagging one while you can.
-Easy to work on should the need arise
-Battery door is tricky to use and can be fragile
-Rear axle isn’t bearing supported and can wear quickly
-Transmitter is small for adult hands
-Non-standard battery connector is finnicky to use and oversized for the battery compartment