The Hot Wheels I grew up with were die-cast, detailed replicas of actual cars or outrageously exaggerated hot rods, running down orange plastic tracks snapped together in any configuration I could imagine. The two latest Hot Wheels sitting on my desk are plastic, fold flat so they can fit into an iPhone-size carrying case, and require neither gravity nor muscle power to move.
Stealth Rides are Hot Wheels' latest remote controlled cars, with the unique feature of stowing away into their own remote controllers. The company designed them so that boys, its major demographic, can easily carry them around and play with them.
Currently, Stealth Rides come as either a race car or a treaded crawler, with a Batman Tumbler available in October.
The remote controllers/carrying cases use colors and stickers that match their associated vehicles, a nice touch to keep clear which belongs in which. Among the cars on my desk, the Z9 racer has a red body with an orange stripe, a theme picked up by its case, whereas the Chromium FX treaded vehicle is silver with aqua accents.
Stowed in their cases, the canopies of the cars stick up out of a slot. These canopies, besides protecting the assumed miniature drivers, serve as buttons. Pushing them down causes wheels or track mechanisms to fold down, so the vehicles can fit in their cases.
Taking the Z9 racer out of its case, I found a little black switch underneath the car with positions marked as 3, 0, and 4. The 0 position is off; 3 and 4 represent its two possible channels. I set it to 3, then set the matching switch on the remote controller.
That remote has two buttons with forward and back arrows. It didn't take long to figure out that pushing both buttons forward made the car go forward in a straight line, pushing just the right one forward made it turn to the left, and pushing the right one forward and the left one back made it spin in place.
All systems go, I sent the car flying across my desk, moving fast enough that it was hard to keep it from bashing into staplers, USB drives, pens, and other assorted work paraphernalia. Eventually the car took a flying "Thelma and Louise" leap off the edge, landing on the carpeted canyon floor.
As it was upright, testing continued. But progress on the carpet was much slower than on the wooden desktop, this partly because of the very thin wheels on the racer.
Time to give the Chromium FX a try. Its channels are marked as 1 and 2, but it operates on the same principles. Starting out again on the desk, this treaded vehicle climbed over most of the obstacles, albeit at a slower overall speed than the racer. Because of its slower speed, it was much easier to control. And instead of moving in a forward curving motion as the racer did when only one button was pushed, the treaded vehicle moves more like a tank, turning in place.
The Chromium FX proved its mettle by working its way up and over a phone cord, notepads, calculator, and a mouse pad. It even demonstrated a little bit cockiness by climbing over the other Hot Wheels Stealth Ride.
Hot Wheels says the cars have a 15-foot range. In testing, the cars seemed willing to go up to 20 feet away, but control became spotty. The remotes use infrared to send control signals to the cars. I found that they were still controllable when even under a sheet of paper at short range.
Each vehicle is powered by three calculator batteries, and each controller uses two similar batteries. Each car is supposed to run for 45 minutes on a set of batteries. Replacing the batteries is easy, but requires a small screwdriver.
Currently, the Stealth Rides racer is available in two colors, as is the tank. The Batmobile Tumbler comes out in October. Each vehicle retails for $25.