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Having generous aunties and uncles, and two complete sets of doting grandparents means that my son and daughter tend to do quite well out of Christmas. As their Dad, it leaves me with the unenviable task of wrestling with the cleverly conceived packaging, tortuous twist ties and fiendish fasteners that the toy manufacturers seem determined to inflict on unsuspecting parents. It makes for hard work on Christmas day, making sure that the new additions to their burgeoning empire of toys are all batteried up and in correct working order.
The upshot of all this is that I have become a reluctant expert in what constitutes a good, durable, and well designed toy with a decent attention-grabbing shelf-life. As my 16 month old son gleefully ripped apart the exquisitely wrapped box (I keep telling my mother that intricately tied ribbons and bows are wasted on the kids, but she still insists...), Chicco's red remote-controlled Johnny Coupe (looking suspiciously like Lightning McQueen from Pixar's "Cars") fell under my cynical gaze.
Once I got past the overenthusiastic packaging, my first impressions were very positive. The box clearly labels the product as suitable for ages two plus, so at first, it looked like it was going to be too "old" for my toddler, but he's a capable little lad, and got the hang of it pretty quickly. From a safety perspective, Johnny easily passes parental muster. There are no loose parts that can be pulled off, no sharp edges or protruding bits (other than the spoiler, which doubles as a carry handle), and perhaps most importantly, the radio control unit has no external aerial.
The remote control unit consists of four simple buttons - forward, reverse, left and right, each clearly marked with a directional arrow - and thoughtfully, you only have to press one at a time. For instance, we have similar toys that require the forward and left buttons to pressed together simultaneously to make the car turn, but the left arrow is all you need to move the car in that direction. The unit takes three AAA batteries, which are housed in a sticker-decorated and cross-head screw-secured compartment immediately under the controls.
However, the real beauty of this toy is in the way the remote is stored. Anyone with kids will know how hard it is to get them to keep toys with multiple parts together so that each bit is around when they want to play with it. My son also has Tomy's remote controlled Thomas the Tank Engine, and we are forever hunting for the remote - which he likes posting in obscure and interesting places. Johnny is different. His remote actually doubles as the rear window and slots easily and securely into place, so there is an intuitive place to store it once play is finished.
The car is finished in a glossy red hard plastic with soft plastic "body-coloured" bumpers. The faux "air intake" on the bonnet doubles as a nose, the "radiator" as a mouth, and the "badge" as a tongue. The wide open, bright eyes and eyebrows on the front windscreen complete a very friendly and fun looking face. The wheels have chrome "alloy" inserts and the hard black plastic tyres have a rubber tread running down the middle of them. The battery compartment (which takes four AA batteries and is secured by a cross-head screw), discreet on/off switch, and a dial for wheel alignment are located on the flat, black bottom of the car. The design is nicely finished off by opaque LED headlights, which glow green when the car moves forward (or left and right) and tail-lights which glow red when it reverses.
GO JOHNNY GO
The rubber treads give the car excellent traction on both smooth and carpeted floors, although it does struggle a bit with deep pile carpets. I would estimate the maximum operating distance (depending on line of sight) to be around 15 to 20 feet, after which, radio reception is a bit patchy. Johnny cracks on at a fair clip, enough to give a decent illusion of speed, but not so fast as to cause any damage when it hits something. This is a car best suited to the ground, and isn't going to go very far if you try and jump it off a ramp (we tried - purely for testing purposes obviously).
My son absolutely adores this toy and has been repeatedly playing with it, almost to the exclusion of anything else, for the best part of a week - both with the remote (under my supervision) and also with the car (in "off" position) on his own. When we play together, I am not sure he has the directional arrows sussed, but he knows that if he presses one of the buttons, the car goes. The only trouble is that we have a job keeping it away from my five year old daughter, who also loves mucking around with it.
JOHNNY BE GOOD...
Chicco's Johnny Coupe has proved to be an instant hit. It's well worth its £25 RRP and can be found cheaper on-line with a little leg work. It is ideal as a first remote control car for a toddler, and although my 16 month old is having oodles of fun with it, for a child to get the most out of it, the suggested two year plus age range is probably about right. The only real downside is that it eats through its seven assorted batteries fairly quickly - after four days of fairly heavy use, we have already had to replace a set.
Also, the packaging (did I mention it was a pain to release the car and remote from?) doesn't mention how many batteries you need, so it was a combination of luck and previous Christmas experience that we had the right batteries around. In that short time, Johnny has already been dropped numerous times, driven off the top of the stairs, stepped on, sat on, and enthusiastically driven at speed into walls - and apart from a few scuffs on its hardy bumper - it just keeps on cruising.
© Hishyeness 2010
In April this year my nephew turned 2 and I really couldn't decide what to get him. He's a real boyish boy and loves all "boy toys" and cares not one bit for babyish toys so I started Googling words like "car" to see what was available. I find 2 a difficult age to buy for as most toys are too childish for them or aimed at 3 years and over however I came across this remote control car that claimed to be for children 2 years and over so I decided to buy one.
I bought the red Chicco Johnny Coupe car from Amazon but there is also a yellow one available, the price at the time of purchase was about £22 and I see it's now up to £24.99. The car comes packed in a huge box with every language you can think of on the sides and back but not really saying much in any language. I couldn't even figure out from reading the box which batteries this toy needed so warned my brother to have plenty of various sizes in.
The car is 10cm long and chunky, it's a very basic looking car and not at all like the more adult remote control cars. The remote only has forward, backward, left and right buttons so it's not supposed to be too complicated for 2 year olds to use. It's also supposed to be educational as it teaches the child how the car moves when they use certain buttons. The headlights light up when the car is in use too which I really liked and if I'd had one of these when I was a child it would have tempted me to play at night with it!
Pleased with my purchase I delivered it on the day and watched my nephew's face light up when he saw it. The battery situation was resolved by unscrewing the plate on the back of the remote and the other one under the car and establishing the remote took AAA size while the car took AA size. Remember that if you buy one because the box isn't clear about it at all! The remote is a small, lightweight affair that also slots into the back windscreen of the car so you can keep them together and avoid losing it. It isn't too small or fiddly for little fingers though and the buttons are all about the size of a penny and clearly marked.
My nephew sat on his Dad's lap and had a bit of a fumble with the remote however we soon realised he wasn't really paying attention to how the car was moving or which buttons he was pressing. After a few minutes he actually seemed to get tired of the remote and got down on the floor to lift the car and play with it that way. We discussed this and all felt it was more suitable for 3 years and over so hopefully in a short while he'll have another go and get to grips with it!
I personally couldn't wait for my turn and didn't feel my nephew's half-hearted play with the car had really put it through its paces so in the spirit of the tomboy I used to be I started to have a go. I found the car quite easy to steer with the buttons but I did find quite quickly that the reverse mode doesn't work with either left or right at the same time so you can only reverse in the direction the wheels are turned. Of course the left and right do work with forward.
My sister-in-law then wanted a turn so again in the fashion of a whooping tomboy I crafted a ramp from a hardback thin book and we decided to see if the car could make it over the ramp and land in one piece. I'm pleased to report, especially as it wasn't mine, it did! The car climbed the ramp with no problems and even if it flipped over on the other side it didn't break anything, it's a very sturdy little car! We also crashed it into furniture a few times (lady drivers eh?!) and no damage occurred to either the car or the furniture!
My brother is confident my nephew will try again in the future and I do stand by the earlier statement this would be better for 3 year olds and older but it is a fun chunky car that whizzes around the room on either carpets or hard floors and at least entertained my sister-in-law and I for a while! It won't be easy to break and as it's 10cm long and about 6cm high it shouldn't be too easy to accidentally stand on either. It will do ramps and knocks and bangs and the fact the remote fits into the back window means it shouldn't get lost. The remote is a bit more delicate than the car and could easily be crushed underfoot but it's still fairly robust as long as it's kept out of the way of feet! I still think this is an excellent toy for children and a great first remote control car but probably not a great buy until they are 3.
4 stars from me and I recommend this car.