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Kicking Up Rocks – The Traxxas Rustler 4X4 VXL Upgraded

Kicking Up Rocks – The Traxxas Rustler 4X4 VXL Upgraded

One of the most popular RC vehicles that Traxxas offers is the stadium truck called Rustler. Available in no less than six variations, Rustler is offered in two or four wheel-drive and is motivated by your choice of a brushed motor, brushless motor and even nitro engine option. It’s definitely a versatile and fun vehicle to drive.

We previously managed to get a hold of a Rustler 4X4 VXL to review in the January issue of RCCA. Our pink and purple liveried four-wheel drive truck is driven by Traxxas’ powerful brushless Velineon motor and electronic speed controller combination. Those who read our previous review of the Rustler will remember that we were enthralled with its dynamic driving and robust durability characteristics.

Now that we have had some time with it in its stock form, we thought that it was a good time to upgrade it for even more driving fun with a selection of Traxxas factory upgrade parts. We could never leave anything in its factory configuration after all. Before we jump into how we upgraded our Rustler, let’s recap what the Rustler 4X4 VXL is all about.

Out of the Box

Traxxas’ Rustler 4X4 VXL amps up the already impressive performance of its base-model version by further augmenting it with generous amounts of brushless power for aggressive off road speed and sure footed stability. This four-wheel drive stadium truck already features plenty of upgrades straight out of the box including a completely brushless electronics package as well as a low-center of gravity (low-CG) composite chassis.

The Rustler’s low-CG chassis positions the truck’s mass low for improved stability and confident handling. The wheelbase of the stadium truck has been lengthened by 20mm in order to provide enhanced balance for stability and responsiveness. The result is a truck that confidently careens around tight corners and jumps with ease.

If you’re looking for pure speed, it’s good to know that the Rustler 4X4 VXL’s Velineon 3500kV sensorless and brushless motor can power it to over 65 miles per hour while running the recommended battery and gearing pairing. This is possible thanks to a robust transmission set up that includes a larger Revo-Spec slipper clutch and extreme heavy-duty driveshafts. Its one-piece aluminum driveshaft distributes the power between front and rear gearboxes, resulting in an impressively smooth and efficient driveline operation.

The truck’s set of oil-filled Ultra Shocks is complemented with progressive rate springs that help maintain a smooth ride rough terrain and big air jumps. Thick 4mm turnbuckles are made from heavy-duty steel and can be adjusted for custom toe and camber settings. Its fully captured rod ends are designed to not pop off even under extreme stress.

Back to the crux of this article, the all-important upgrades. We took a gander at the ocean-deep catalog that is Traxxas’ website and saw that the company has a deep understanding of what makes RC enthusiasts like us come back for more… upgrades. They offer upgrade parts for most, if not all of their offerings. Some parts are meant to increase the durability of the vehicle while others can enhance any of its performance aspects including its stability, handling or power output.

We took a dive into their online catalog and selected a few upgrades that we thought would enhance our weekend bashing sessions. It was decided to concentrate on fortifying our Rustler’s suspension and driveshafts while also enhancing the VXL’s cooling system. Making our Rustler stand out from the crowd by making it our own with factory upgrades ended up being quite an enjoyable process and the results are fervently satisfying.

We started by disassembling the Rustler’s front and rear suspension so that we could install upgraded steel constant-velocity (CV) driveshafts, heavy-duty suspension arms, aluminum shock towers, as well as front aluminum caster and steering blocks and rear stub axle carriers.

The heavy-duty steel CV driveshafts we installed are engineered specifically for stadium truck applications and are built to withstand the large amounts of torque that are fed to them by powerful motors such as the Traxxas brushless VXL that is in the Rustler. These upgraded steel CV units can handle the excess power without issue. Aside from making the driveline stronger, Traxxas’ unique splined telescoping design delivers full-range articulation so there isn’t any need to limit suspension travel.

Rustler is already outfitted with Traxxas’ powerful brushless Velineon VXL system, so we didn’t need to upgrade the motor or ESC, but we did want to add a cooling system to it. Keeping your motor and ESC cool is the best way to extend its operational life. We did this by installing a cooling heat sink and a cooling fan kit to the motor. We also installed an ESC cooling fan for good measure. Because Traxxas pre-wires their electronics at the factory for future upgrades, it was all too easy to install these items; they were literally plug-and-play.

Front upgrades include heavy-duty steel CV driveshafts, heavy-duty suspension arms, and aluminum caster and steering blocks.

These upgraded Traxxas blue-anodized aluminum front and rear shock towers are made of extremely robust 7075-T6 grade aluminum.

Steering & Suspension

Next, we swapped out the plastic steering and suspension parts for aluminum upgrades. Focusing on the steering components, we took out the stock servo and replaced it with a Traxxas High-Torque 330 Blue Servo. The fully waterproof 330 Blue servo combines maximum steering power with high-performance features that include full metal gears for strength, dual ball bearings for smoothness, and an aluminum center section for added heat dissipation.
After the servo was in, we readied a pair of aluminum steering blocks for increased steering enhancement. The blue-anodized 6061-T6 aluminum parts are precision-machined for steering accuracy and bulletproof strength. This upgrade helps give Rustler razor sharp agility on and off the road. The blue aluminum does look great too.
With the steering portion taken cared of, it was time to move on to the suspension components. But first, we installed a heavy-duty chassis brace. The heavy-duty oval-shaped chassis brace is made from thick extruded aluminum and is designed to increase torsional rigidity and dramatically strengthens the chassis to reduce flex.
We then replaced the stock plastic front and rear shock towers with blue-anodized 7075-T6 aluminum versions. It’s important to note that Traxxas utilizes 7075-T6 aluminum in the upgraded shock towers, not softer formulations of the material. Traxxas engineers chose to use this stronger aluminum due to the greater stresses and impacts that the shock towers have to endure. The shock towers are also used as body mount foundations, so greater strength in this area can help shrug off damage from rollovers and crashes too. Added strength with an upgraded look; can you tell we just love the look of aluminum in our RC vehicles?

Next, we installed a set of heavy-duty suspension arms. These Traxxas arms are constructed of the company’s latest proprietary composite material and are designed for high loads and hard landings with just the right amount of flex to resist breaking—even in cold weather. Bulletproofing the Rustler couldn’t be easier.

We also upgraded the stadium truck’s caster blocks (C-hubs) and rear carriers with blue-anodized aluminum versions. These aluminum C-hubs and rear carriers are even stronger than the sturdy stock units. The rear carriers include hardened-steel hinge pins and e-clips to for even more strength.

Traxxas heavy-duty Rustler body reinforcements help spread impact forces to ensure body longevity.

To extend the motor’s operational life, we installed a Traxxas cooling heat sink and a cooling fan kit

Final Touches

We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that since all the upgrades we installed are designed and manufactured by the same designers and engineers that make the Rustler, we did not encounter any problems when installing the upgrade parts. Every screw, pin, e-clip and part fit perfectly without any issues whatsoever. Since they are made to factory specs using quality materials, we have absolute confidence that they will last.

Topping off the build, we finished off our upgrade-fest with two more installs that would upgrade both the utility and looks of the Rustler. First, we installed a Traxxas Link Wireless Module into Rustler’s transmitter. The Link module and downloadable smart device app arms the driver with three major functions. It allows for real-time telemetry to be displayed of your vehicle while it is running via high-definition graphics that are displayed on your Android or Apple smart device. Also view the temperature of your motor or speed control, battery voltage, or real world speed in real-time.

The module also allows you to fine-tune your model via the Traxxas Link app, which provides a user interface to make and save your custom settings in seconds. If you need to reverse a servo direction, set servo end points, or fine tune the steering rate or braking percentage, you can do it with just a few taps of the screen. Additionally, the Link module easily allows the activation of Traxxas’ Training Mode. Training Mode cuts the power and speed of the truck in half for new drivers to familiarize themselves with the vehicle’s control before going full-speed.
The final upgrade we installed was Rustler specific body reinforcements. These heavy-duty polymer body brackets sit on top of the Rustler’s hood just forward of the windshield and at its rear just forward of its rear body mount. The reinforcements help spread impact forces through the body ensuring longevity. They are subtle upgrades, but give the body a rugged look too.

Last Word

With the Rustler upgraded with our chosen selection of factory Traxxas enhancements, we sat back and reveled in its greatness. Our pink and purple Rustler was ready to bash once again. We hit a gravel trail for an all-day bash session and immediately felt the payoff of the upgrades. Rustler’s steering felt crazy agile, its suspension soaked up the bumps and hearing the dual cooling fans doing its thing was, for the lack of a better term, very cool too. It’s good to know that Traxxas does make plenty more upgrades for Rustler. We’ll have to look into a second upgrade session in the near future.

Text and Images by Jerry Tsai

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Updated: May 18, 2021 — 10:27 AM

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