A look at remote-controlled LEGO Technic vehicles

LEGO Technic has been playing with remote controls for years now – where did it all begin? And where has it come to?

For some, it goes against the point of LEGO Technic, but folks, let’s be honest. Despite often featuring lower piece counts and a less challenging build, remote- and app-controlled LEGO car sets have earned their place. These dynamic motorised marvels have earned their keep, too, as remote-controlled sets take up a notable slice of the LEGO Group’s yearly Technic portfolio.

Ignore the superfluous in-app features like minigames and fart noises (42124 Off-Road Buggy, we hardly knew ye), and try to tolerate the inevitability that the Control+ app will one day be discontinued, rendering these awesome sets inert. There’s a lot of good in these sets regardless of age. The LEGO Group’s history of remote-controlled cars, models and machines in the LEGO Technic theme is well worth looking in to – even in a world where brands like Traxxas and Redcat have far speedier products.

Of course, we’re not going to start with Control+ – we’re diving into the very beginning of LEGO Technic’s remote-controlled history and ending with everyone’s favourite app-controlled era. The team at Blocks, the monthly LEGO magazine for fans, has just one reminder: don’t forget to fasten your seatbelts.

What came first – the construction dozer or the crabs?

Not every LEGO remote-controlled vehicle was part of the Technic theme. As a matter of fact, other themes removed their ball and chain to go wirelessly remote before we’d ever see a remote-controlled Technic car, construction vehicle or crane. Here are some notable entries:

  • 5600 Radio Control Racer released in 1998, the first real LEGO remote controlled vehicle.
  • 2949 Remote Control Dozer came out for the pre-schooler demographic in 2001.
  • The first and only remote-controlled LEGO BIONICLE set, 8539 Manas, released in 2001.
  • Even trains with remotes arrived in 2006, replacing stationary powered speed regulators.

The sheer variety of these remote-controlled sets is astounding. It wasn’t until 2007 with the release of 8275 Motorized Bulldozer that the first LEGO Technic remote-controlled model came out. Though there were earlier remote-controlled models using Technic parts – like 8366 Supersonic RC from 2003, a hyper-realistic car that spawned a legendary 3D web game – these were part of the Racers theme and typically lacked advanced functions.

Power Functions – now you’re playing with power!

The first step to understanding the infrared signal Power Functions era of LEGO Technic’s remote-controlled vehicles is to understand that sets like 8275 Motorised Bulldozer were revolutionary. For example, not only was the Motorized Bulldozer driveable; its mechanical functions could be activated with a single remote. This literally ground-breaking masterpiece had a ‘working engine’ with pumping pistons, an angling front blade and a lowerable dozer rake at the rear.

If 8275 was the introduction to remote controlled Technic sets, 8043 Motorized Excavator from 2010 was the next step. It had two remotes to accommodate the excavation arm’s moving joints. Four medium motors powered this beast. Two XL motors and two medium motors brought the aforementioned bulldozer to life, so some may consider the power downgraded in spite of its more advanced functionality. Regardless, both models were exciting for their time and accessible to older children, teens, and adults.

Notably, 2013 saw the release of a rarity – 41999 4X4 Crawler Exclusive Edition, a dark blue LEGO fan competition winner limited to 20,000 units. The first remote controlled licensed Technic set was 42030 Volvo L350F Wheel Loader, which featured an exclusive green engine. These wouldn’t be the end of luxe Technic models, especially as the Control+ era arrived.

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Control+ – trials, tribulations and apps

In 2019, the LEGO Group launched Powered Up, an app-controlled system of Bluetooth-controlled motors, lights, and sensors. 21323 Grand Piano was an early adopter of Powered Up, utilizing a battery box, motor, motion sensor and smartphone to play music. On the other hand, the Control+ app made specifically for LEGO Technic models came some excellent innovations and a few notable problems.

Instead of using infrared with limited range (and the need to have the model visible to the remote to control it), these models use mobile phone Bluetooth for smarter, faster reactions. The app introduced minigames and trials and sound from the phone speaker, like the aforementioned fart noise horn. Sure, these unneeded features irk some, but one thing irks serious fans more. Just look at 42100 Liebherr R 9800 and 42146 Liebherr Crawler Crane, two massive, motorised beasts with the exclusive app control being the only burden.

There’s no answer yet as to how soon the app will be discontinued following the retirement of Control+. Nevertheless, this modern era of LEGO Technic has been extremely satisfying, with nine remote control models released so far:

  • 42100 Liebherr R 9800
  • 42099 4X4 X-Treme Off-Roader
  • 42109 App-Controlled Top Gear Rally Car
  • 42140 App-Controlled Transformation Vehicle
  • 42114 6×6 Volvo Articulated Hauler
  • 42129 4×4 Mercedes-Benz Zetros Trial Truck
  • 42124 Off-Road Buggy
  • 42100 Liebherr R 9800
  • 42160 Audi RS Q e-tron

Further down the track – what lies at the finish line?

The LEGO Group’s early motto, ‘Only the Best is Good Enough’ is something the company strives for in all their products. That said, there’s always room for improvement. Some of the models in the Control+ line-up are very successful toys, like the two Liebherr models, though the crawler crane’s price has also been a pain point for many fans.

If there’s one thing this contributor wants to see, it’s more powerful motors with higher torque and, as a result, speed. Smaller Control+ vehicles fare well with the current line-up, but medium-to-large models tend to cruise at a slower speed. Sets like the 4×4 X-Treme Off-Roader crawl where they could run (you could argue it’s a rock crawler, but it’d arguably be an even better toy with a little more speed).

Don’t get me wrong – the LEGO Group’s remote controlled vehicle line-up over the last 25 years has been anything but a nightmare. But the dream – an 18+ Mad Max Pursuit Special or Mad Max: Fury Road War Rig – will likely stay a dream. Nothing to witness here!

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