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Axial EXO Terra Buggy RTR Review

Whoa! That’s not a truck! Before you get your undies all in a bunch, relax and hear me out. The EXO is, indeed, not a truck and, yes, this is RC Truck Stop. First, it’s not like it’s a boat (I crack myself up). Second, there are two very legit reasons this RC car, I mean buggy, oh whatever, is being reviewed here. The obvious reason is that the potential EXO purchaser is already here checking out articles. That is to say this vehicle simply isn’t really that big of a stretch. The same type of guy that likes the stuff here is probably going to also be interested in the EXO. The second reason for this review is that the EXO is loaded with truck DNA. As soon as we saw one up close, we saw a 4WD short course truck in the making. Then we blinked and we envisioned a nimble monster truck that could bash around with the likes of the Traxxas Stampede 4X4. So, enjoy the review (we like to think we offer the best in the biz) and, mark my words, we’ll soon be turning this bad boy into a bonafide, true blue party-rockin’ truck that will make your eyes bug and jaw drop!

> Fully assembled ready-to-run
> $479.99
> 4mm thick aluminum chassis
> 4WD drivetrain
> Aluminum sliding motor mount
> Detailed scale roll cage
> 4-wheel independent suspension
> Threaded plastic shocks
> Brushless motor system
> 2.4GHz radio system

The EXO uses a narrow 6061 aluminum chassis that is flanked by molded plastic side plates. The aluminum piece is an impressive 4mm thick. That’s a chassis that can take a beating. The front and rear of the chassis are supported by plastic braces that travel down from the bulkheads to the chassis. The overall layout is very 1/8-scale buggy-esque. Mounted to the chassis is a full roll cage that makes for a very scale 4-seater sport buggy. The cage is molded plastic and not as much of an integral part of the overall structure as it looks.


Technically, the EXO is modeled after a sand car or sand buggy which are 2WD, but Axial states they decided to build what is essentially a RC model of a hypothetical concept car–a 4WD multi-seat sand buggy. 


Unlike the vehicles we’re used to seeing from Axial, the EXO has 4-wheel independent suspension. The front is pretty straightforward with lower H-arms and plastic fixed length upper links. The shocks have all plastic bodies, but they have threaded bodies. The front shock tower is molded plastic. The inboard suspension mounts or toe blocks are available in in machined aluminum. The rear suspension is slightly atypical in that the upper shock mount is part of the roll cage and not a bulkhead mounted shock tower. The rear shock is also longer than the front.

It took Axial approximately 18 months to go from concept to final running sample. The first working prototype assembled from early parts samples was about 12 to 14 months in.

The EXO has a drivetrain that is similar to what is used on 1/8-scale buggies and truggies. That is to say it has front and rear geared differentials and a center differential with a spur gear. The advantages of this type of design or layout are that it is durable, simple and tunable. Changing the thickness of the fluid in the differentials can have a fairly profound impact on handling. The spur gear is molded plastic and Axial includes three additional gears in the following tooth counts: 54, 50 and 48. Stock is 52. The drivetrain is 32-pitch, so finding replacement pinions is easy. The drive shafts from the center diff to the front and rear diffs are steel dog bones–as are the axles. The entire drivetrain is supported by ball bearings. The motor mount is aluminum and has a sliding design to make setting gear mesh easy. Our review sample included a replacement motor mount.

The EXO gets its name from the term exoskeleton (the armor that protects and supports some insects). Axial chose EXO because much of the cage can be seen from the outside.

Axial has outfitted the RTR version of the EXO with an electronics package that is appropriate for beginners, but will also satisfy experienced RC’ers who want to add the EXO to their collection but don’t want to do the build and source electronics. The power is handled by a Castle Creations built Vanguard brushless sensorless system. The motor is 2900Kv and the AE-3 speed control can handle 11.1 volts or up to a 3S LiPo battery. Axial also states the Vanguard system is waterproof.

The AX-3 radio system is Axial’s 2.4GHz setup which is a relatively simple, no-frills transmitter, but since it’s 2.4GHz, we chalk it up as a solid pick for a RTR. The transmitter is two channel, but the receiver is three channel.

The AS-4 servo is a plastic geared servo. It is combined with a plastic servo horn (more on that in the performance section).

Axial’s Brandon Coonce designed the EXO Terra Buggy. He also designed Axial’s motor-on-axle XR10 competitive rock crawler. Brandon and the rest of the Axial engineers and designers use SolidWorks 3D CAD program to create products.

Tires, Wheels & Body
We don’t like to sing praise, but we have to give Axial credit. When it comes to the details, these guys are on the ball. Not only does the EXO have some legitimately scale tires Raceline Renegade chrome rims, but Axial also setup the EXO with narrower tires up front than in the rear–34- vs. 41 mm, respectively. That may not seem like a big deal–and it isn’t–but that extra attention to detail takes the realism up a notch. The tires are scale Hankook Dynapro MT tires. They too are two separate part numbers as the rears are wider to match the rear rims.

The body is pre-painted Lexan and actually an assortment of molded panels secured with numerous small 2.6 mm screws. The rear wing is molded plastic.

After a short shake down run around the yard, I pulled out a wood ramp and started jumping the EXO. With a decent amount of power and 4WD, the EXO is an easy vehicle to jump. I was jumping on pavement, and on most jumps, the low slung buggy actually didn’t chassis slap too much. On full speed jumps, it would land with a whack, but other than a healthy amount of scratches on the bottom of the chassis, the hard landings didn’t seem to impact the EXO at all. It was a nice summer day and jumping is fun, so I kept getting the EXO airborne. Eventually, I landed on just one front tire and heard an unsavory, crunchy/cracking sound. I drove the EXO back to me expecting to find some readily apparent shattered plastic parts, but there was no visible damage. I held the buggy up and tested the steering–it checked out. Hmmm. I kept driving and jumping. More than once, the steering didn’t seem right, so I gave everything a closer look. To cut to the chase, the plastic-geared servo stripped out. It still worked, but clearly was on its way out. Given the reletively high price of the EXO RTR, I’d love to see a metal geared servo such as Axial’s AS-2 included. When talking with the folks at Axial, they mentioned to always check that the adjustable servo saver isn’t too tight from the factory.

After replacing the servo, I was back in action. The next RC adventure was out bashing at RC Hobbies & More in Winsted, CT. RC Hobbies & More has an off-road track and not one but two 1/5-tracks. In addition to the tracks mentioned, they have a sand drag strip and an extensive area for all-terrain bashing. Needless to say, I tried out every bit of that terrain. The EXO is right at home off-road. It handled the track well-even with the stock tires. The track was not prepped for racing, so it was loose. Surprising, the stock tires had pretty awesome side grip. That is to say, it wasn’t spinning out–even when I switched to 3S (see below). Out in the open bashing area, the EXO is a smile maker. Since it has 4-wheel independent suspension, it can do some high speed bashing. You do, however, have to watch where you’re going. It is a scale buggy, so big rocks need to be avoided. A little common sense goes a long way. That said, I slammed into a dirt pile at full speed only to dislodge a large rock that was previously hidden and sent it forward a good three feet. I was pleasantly surprised when the EXO–which had been stopped dead in its track with a thud–was completely unscathed.

The Vanguard 2900Kv motor delivers plenty of power off the line. The tires spin, dirt gets thrown and the driver smiles. The EXO RTR is fairly fast on 2S (the stock gearing seems to lean towards acceleration over top speed), but it’s worth noting the AE-3 speed control can handle 3S. And, because a 3S pack can work, it has to be tested (our testing goes well beyond driving just long enough to capture a few glossy photos). Going to 11.1 volts is a 50% increase and it shows. When running 3S, the EXO RTR really comes alive. Plan on a little more limited use of full throttle when off-road on rough terrain or plan on going on some wild rides with a few rolls, flips and crashes. I used a MaxAmps.com 5000mAh soft-sided 3S pack and it fit with no issues. The battery system is innovative, but I have to admit I feel ham fisted every time I install a pack.

As said above, the stock tires provide plenty of grip–more side bite than forward bite–so the EXO is pretty easy to drive. The suspension works great at soaking up a lot of small bumps and jumps. I did notice that the EXO does have a slight nose down tendency when getting big air. I really didn’t notice too much until I tried jumping off the big banked turn of the large-scale oval track.

Overall, the EXO RTR is a solid performer and a lot of fun. The suspension works great and is clearly well engineered. The acceleration and top speed are very satisfying. On 2S, it not too fast for beginners who make buy the EXO RTR, but still fast enough to entertain more experienced. On 3S, the EXO RTR rocks and really pushes the suspension to the limit.

The EXO Terra Buggy is an entry for Axial into the short course segment. It is designed to appeal to the absolute masses of people drawn to short course trucks. As such, while it is technically a buggy, it’s a pretty close cousin to the trucks everyone is grabbing up. In fact, the footprint (length, width, wheelbase) is the same as the average short course truck. It’s also built with the common three gear differential setups (front, center and rear) that many short course trucks use and which was borrowed design technology from 1/8-scale off-road vehicles. If you wanted to convert the EXO Terra Buggy into a EXO SC, you really only need to remove the cage assembly, fabricate a rear shock tower, throw on some short course tires and rims and work out some body mounts. Making a EXO MT to compete with the likes of Traxxas Stampede 4X4 is a pretty similiar process. The wheelbase will be longer than the Stampede, but that would only help the hypothetical EXO MT perform better. We have decided to go the EXO MT route, so keep checking back at RC Truck Stop for updates.

I forgive the EXO RTR for not being a truck … mostly because it’s so much fun. The EXO platform–the kit and RTR–is an awesome addition to the Axial lineup. And, it fits in the lineup. It’s distinctly and unmistakingly Axial. Like I said before, I also see the EXO as a truck in the making. I just haven’t decided if I want to go basher or short course (actually, I have decided to make an EXO MT). I’d say the quality is great, the overall design is innovative and the performance has exceeded my expectations. The 4mm thick aluminum chassis is very beefy and almost overkill. The motor and speed control are a good match for the vehicle and the suspension design works very well. Run one and you’ll be surprised how much rough stuff the suspension can soak up at speed. I see the EXO being a companion to a racer’s short course truck or a go-fast alternative for a crawler guy. Or, if you’re like me and can’t keep well enough alone, I see it as a few quick and easy mods from being a truck.

> Realistic body, cage and stance
> Great performance (acceleration, top speed and handling)
> Waterproof brushless system
> 2.4 GHz radio system

> Plastic gear servo failed early in testing
> Easy-to-use battery system isn’t always so easy

The EXO Terra Buggy was first released as a kit. In addition to the obvious difference that the RTR arrives fully assembled and with the above described electronics installed, there are some key differences. 

Kit Version Includes:
> Extra scale accessories
> Steel adjustable turnbuckles
> Clear body
> Black rims
> Light bar (LEDs not included)
> Scale engine body panel
> Lightened differential outdrives
> Aluminum toe blocks with inserts to adjust kick up and toe settings

RC Hobbies & More

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  1. Nice Matt! I am actually building myself the kit version of the Exo and it is by far one of the coolest RCs I’ve seen in a long time. Axial did a great job.

    1. Very cool. The EXO is cool vehicle and I hope it catches on. I’m turning our test sample into a monster truck to show off the versatility of the platform, but I have to admit I wouldn’t mind having on in the stock buggy stance (even though I’m a truck guy).

  2. How does the Axial EXO RTR compare to the Exceed Madbash(short Course)1/8 racing addition with 0.28 nitro eng?

    1. The Axial has a more up-to-date and sophisticated design and the quality of the materials is nicer. There are also far more hop-up options for the EXO. The Exceed performs better than expected (not sure about the nitro version) and is a pretty good value.

    1. While it is similar to a short course vehicle, it unlikely you’ll find a class just for the EXO. Some tracks do have classes with more relaxed rules, so always ask before assuming you’ll have no where to race it.

    1. Josh, there are numerous choices. Definitely get a metal gear servo. A Futaba or Savox (and others) servo will bolt on without having to change the servo horn. I also recommend a servo with over 125 oz.-in. of torque, and I am of the school that more torque is better. Just make sure the transit time is close to or less than .15 seconds. Before I mention not having to change the servo horn, but I actually recommend replacing that part also. Buy the servo you want from Hitec, Futaba, Savox, etc and then get the aluminum servo horn (Axial makes these) that fits the servo. I hope that info helps.

  3. look at my review of the Savox Servo, its a bit over kill for your EXO but the price is so hard to beat. i have 20+ more runs on mine with out a sign of it getting “tired”

  4. hey love this car truck buggy thing im geting one next week and im also new to the rc life what does that servo do that u replaced

  5. thanks and how do i make the esc watter proof if it isnt already i have seen some wheres on a site that it is watter proof and would hope the heck that it is for that kinda money all should be unless u dont want or need it watter proof

    1. It’s not a vehicle I would run in deep water, so the fact that it may not be 100% waterproof isn’t an issue. If you plan on getting it wet, I’d pack geese around the servo output shaft to keep water out and then use silicone glue on the wire loom entering the servo case. The receiver is already well protected and Axial states the speed control is good to go. I have not tested the waterproof capabilities of the speed control and motor. I would just have fun and not park it in a lake.

    1. The entire vehicle is not fully waterproof. The receiver is well protected in a waterproof receiver box and Axial states the Vanguard speed control is waterproof. That doesn’t mean the servo and motor are waterproof. We also haven’t tested the Vanguard to see how waterproof it actually is.

  6. Just to be clear on the the spur gear/gears. The rtr comes with 3 additional spur gears? If so what gear would you suggest for all around bashing and how much will it effect the motor temps?

    By the way great information. Best page i’ve come across on the exo terra buggy rtr 🙂

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words.

      Yes, the RTR comes with three additional spur gears. I personally suggest going with a 3S LiPo and installing the largest spur gear–the 54-tooth.

      If a 3S LiPo isn’t an option, I’d install the 48-tooth spur and just check temps on the motor and speed control.

    1. I use packs with a variety of C-ratings and since they are from a variety of manufacturers, it is hard to find value in comparing numbers on labels. Generally, I use the highest C-ratings I can get my hands on.

      1. So even though a 65c-130c that supposedly max amps is around 200 I can still use it with the rtr ESC? Sorry I’m a noob and value your opinion just don’t want to burn things up. A lot of research fries your brain!?

        1. Absolutely, a higher C-rating will never hurt. Higher voltage, as I’m sure you know, is a totally different story. Too much voltage will definitely let the magic smoke out. Incorrect gear will also ruin electronics. When messing around with LiPo and brushless, I highly recommend picking up a cheap temp gun–the kind nitro guys use. You’ll get more use out of it than they do. Motor, battery and speed control temps are the ONLY way to ensure you have proper gearing. Check out this article: http://rctruckstop.com/2012/01/02/gear-your-truck-correctly/

  7. Thanks Matt for such a fast reply!!! Your awesome!!!!!

    I have few more questions for you Matt.. I have a Castle Creations combo Sidewinder SV2 ESC with 4600kv 4-pole motor. Can i pull out the stock brushless motor and plug in my 4600kv 4 pole motor to AE-3 speed control and still use 3s Lipo’s or should i swap out the Stock ESC also and should i keep your suggested gear ratio the same?

    How do you think the 4600kv 4 pole motor end results will be in the Terra Buggy?

    Thanks for you time!!!

    1. That setup could be a drivetrain destroyer even on 2S. 4-pole motor puts out more torque and torque breaks stuff.

      On 3S, I imagine all sorts of stuff is going to break BUT it largely depends on how you drive.

      More on the subject: The stock speed control can only handle a 4200Kv motor on 2S and a 2900Kv motor on 3S, so a speed control swap is definitely needed for the motor you mentioned.

      I hope this information helps.

  8. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your explanations and advice… I bought the kit yesterday and I am completing the electronics right now. I am really looking forward to the first run. I mounted the Castle Creations SV3 Sidewinder 4600KV Combo. I am struggling with a Savox SW-0231MG Digital Waterproof Servo. The enclosed Axial servo clamp doesn’t fit because the Servo looks a bit thicker. Do you have a solution?

    Regards, Ronald

    1. Some hand filing and sanding/grinding with a rotary tool. If you’re not comfortable with that, you’ll have to use a different servo. personally I would go with the hand fitting method. I’ve had to shoehorn a few servos in different vehicles and have never had a problem.

  9. Hey matt,
    Love the review and now i m getting the exo but was wondering what 2s battery would you recommend to have the longest run time possible? Or which 3s would you recommend?

    1. I personally recommend 3S. The EVO just comes alive with 3S. In my opinion, capacity is going to be limited mostly by your budget. The higher the mAh capacity rating, the more you’ll pay. It is, however, worth noting that if runtime is important to you, 2S may actually be a better choice as you’ll be able to get a higher capacity 2S pack in the EXO compared to 3S.

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