by: Damon [ ]
introductionRecently a rather drab box arrived from my local postal carrier with a rather nice surprise in it, the new Kinetic M109A2 kit for review! Now I must admit that I have no serious love for the “big guns”, save that years ago they used to lull me to sleep at Grafenwoehr. . . .ahh how I loved to listen to that crack become a thud so far off in the distance late at night. . . .but I digress. The Kinetic box also contained a set of Skunk Models Workshop’s new T-136 Individual link-to-link tracks for the same kit. Nice! Now I was very excited to get this into my hands as 1) the Italeri kit is like, 30 years old now, and how could it hurt to have a new improved version? And 2) the new kit has been much discussed on the site here and I have liked what I have heard, especially the input back from our friends at Kinetic. Listening to your customers can be both a blessing and a curse for a business, trust me on this, but I know it pays to at least listen, even if what is being said is complete garbage (although that’s usually not the case here on Armorama, of course!).
contentsThe box comes with the now usual full color glossy exterior - with some nice artwork I might add, even if it seems a bit simple. Upon opening the box you are greeted with three bags of sprue trees that contain most of the parts for the kit, and one bag with the included SMW tracks. The decal sheet is found at the bottom and is not contained in its own bag. Other than the included link-to-link tracks there are no extra frills included. No string, wire, PE or resin bits to make you all warm and fuzzy, but as usual there will be plenty of other companies that will be happy to provide these at an additional cost to you. . . .
The tan plastic reminds me of a Tamiya kit at first glance. All of the small parts seem to be laid out well and are nicely secured to the trees with some ample plastic around to help with the molding process. One thing to note immediately is the absence of flash. I was very happy to see that there will be little to clean up in that department, if any at all (none that I can see at first pass). Also of note is the absence of sink holes and ejector-pin marks. Release marks seem to be only on the back side of parts where they will never be seen. Even the hatch interior sides are free from any issues - nice touch.
Sprue A consists of the turret top parts and detail items. All seem to be laid out nicely with the numbers large and easy to read even for those of us with failing vision, and I might add they are raised too so even if the lights go out and you need to “read by Braille” it should be easy to figure out what is what just by tactile reconnaissance, sort of.
Sprue B holds the Main gun parts and its assembly. Again things seem to be laid out in a pretty straightforward way with easy-to-read numbers. Sprues A and B will consume most of the first 13 steps of construction beginning with the assembly of the gun mantlet and elevation mechanism (Gino and Mike, don’t call me out on the technical stuff, I am just an old CDAT).
Here I should mention that the instructions seem well thought out, from a first glance. Parts and assembly are called out in logical steps (again, first pass) with nice clean drawings of parts and letters and numbers that are easy to read. Parts are set out from the area they will attach to and drawn to the assembly area with arrows, so it is easy to see where they will go and how they will get there. Again this reminds me of Tamiya’s easy-to-follow instructions from the 80’s. Let’s face it there are still idiots like me that need the help (I still get confused with the LEGO instructions!). So, again points to Kinetic for this feature.
Sprue C (there are two of these) contains the wheels and drive housings. Drive and suspension assembly does not start until step 17 so this is a bit different than most armor kits. The wheels come in three parts: the inner wheel, the main “hub” or center, and the outer rubber rim, all molded in plastic. Make of this what you will. The drive sprocket is two pieces and no poly caps to be seen, anywhere.
Sprue D has the lower hull pieces as well as the turret top and bottom. Have to admit that I am frightened by the small size of the lower hull piece; I really don’t know how you guys can sit in those things for hours (I thought our Abrams was cramped, but man!) Again, I digress.
Sprue E contains the hull detail pieces such as the driver hatch the rear stabilizers and other items such as handles and “fiddly” parts.
Sprue F is the upper hull, side skirts and other “main” hull pieces.
While I was handling all the sprue trees one of the pieces of the main gun assembly fell off, but only on the desk and was added back to the box for safe keeping.
reviewAfter looking through all of the sprues why am I feeling a bit unsettled for some reason about the “look” of the parts? It’s not that they are lacking detail, but I feel like they are. Now granted that much of the detail for this kit is added on from the sprues but there just seems to be something missing, that I cannot put my finger on.
The plastic seems good, but not great. Again, maybe I am being too picky or critical, but there is something about this that reminds me of the 80’s, and not in a real positive way. Tamiya plastic always seems sturdy. The Meng Merkava seems sturdy. There is something about this that reminds me of Italeri kits from the 80’s. There is a “thinness” to the plastic that seems off. I am not even sure if I am right here - this is just a feeling, something that is barely perceptible, but it nags at me.
The details included on the kit are nice: sunken bolt heads, raised bolt heads, and the items that Italeri molded onto their kit so many years ago are now separate pieces that are attached to the kit during assembly. Now I know that there are many who will say I have no business comparing this with the Italeri kit and they are probably correct, but how can I not? That kit with all of its faults is still the benchmark as nothing else has come along since. So, to me, to not compare the two would be doing neither the kit nor any of us any service and that really is the point of these reviews, right?
So here in a nutshell are the issues that I see with this kit - please feel free to make up your own mind, as I am here to review NOT to market anything. After looking over the sprue trees I am again left with that feeling that something is missing. First glance this kit seems nice, but I must admit I am not “blown away”. Maybe it’s me coming in with a more critical eye or that these vehicles just don’t offer up all that “stuff” that most tanks do on their surfaces. There is just something that is unsettling about this kit when I look at it. And I cannot shake this feeling. After looking closely at the sprues there are some great detail items and very nice detail. But, then there are some items that I wonder why the same effort was not applied to. The .50 cal looks poor, to me - the details are soft on one side and almost nonexistent on the other. All of the detail on this kit just doesn’t “pop”. But then the holes on the barrel of the .50 cal, near the body, go all the way through and are clean. Again, maybe it’s the M109 itself, maybe they just aren’t that detailed, but I suspect that is not the case based upon the photos I have seen at prime portal and other places.
Someone might complain that there is no interior with this kit, and that is a valid point, but an interior could have delayed the release of the kit and driven up the price, so I can understand that a manufacturer would not include this. But on the other hand all of the hatches including the turret sides and rear can be mounted open, so this would usually BEG for at least SOME interior detail. Again, I get the potential issues so I will not harp on this. But my real beef is there are no tow cables included. Not even the ends. Really? This might seem like a small omission, but when was the last time you bought a kit that wasn’t a plane, ship or car that did not include tow cables? To me this is odd. There are no clear pieces for optics, either. Again to me, this seems like an omission.
Again, it’s not that the kit lacks detail(s), it’s just that the detail(s) isn’t consistent and isn’t super crisp, which is what I think all of us have come to expect in this day and age. Why? I don’t know. But it seems that certain parts were looked after well and others were not. To me there seems to be some inconsistency with the process. Looking at the Italeri kit for some comparisons I see that the detail is better, but not 30 years better. Go back and watch the first Star Wars, there are scenes where you can see the shots that were pieced together from single frames. Now watch something like Avatar where the CG is like stepping outside and you see what I mean. We have come a long way in technology. This kit, to me, is what I would have expected in the mid 90’s. Good detail, nicely laid out trees and really good instructions. But that modern day “crispness” just isn’t there.
I have to admit that I really hate saying this. I really want to LOVE this kit. I have been waiting for a great new M109 kit for over 20 years. This is a good improvement on the Italeri kit, but I do not think that this is the one that we were all hoping for. Now having said that, this kit IS NOT a bad kit, not by any means. This is a solid kit that should be tons of fun to build and give you a really nice looking finished product. But, this is not a home run. A solid base hit, maybe a double. Do not mistake my hesitation for anything other than just my opinion, please. I think this is a solid kit and I look forward to building it but had I shelled out $50 for this, I might be a bit disappointed with what I got in the box. I do not want to harp on prices, all manufacturers have their prices they need to meet, but I do not see this as a VAST improvement over the Italeri kit from 30 years ago. An improvement, yes absolutely, but not head and shoulders above. Which is a shame given that Kinetic has some really nice aircraft kits from what I have heard.
Final thoughtsI like this kit. I do. I do not love it, however. I think the kit has some good detail and I love the instructions, they are easy to read and follow and well thought out. The pieces are laid out well on the trees and easy to find. The link-to-link tracks are nicely detailed and look to be free from any clean-up and blemishes on the surface, although some of those tracks will be upside down on the finished kit, which normally would require some filing and sanding, but not here. Again, there is the inconsistency that I have been going on about. Someone thought long and hard about those tracks, how the end connectors would need to go on and how the underside of the tracks needed to be free of ejector pin marks so that there was no filling and sanding needed.
But then there are the issues of no clear pieces, no tow cables and detail that is not super crisp. Again, maybe it’s me, maybe the kit actually really rocks and I am just expecting too much. I don’t know. My feeling is that this kit is a good improvement over the old one, but that it could have been so much more. With a bit more effort this could have been an amazing offering from Kinetic. Not to take away from what they have done, as I said it is a solid offering and had a lot of potential. My gut feeling is that with a bit more effort, and I am sure more money spent on development, this could have been “the one” we were all dreaming of. Granted that would have come with a higher price tag. But if it took it from $50 to $60 and you were able to squeeze out more really crisp detail and some bonus items like even SOME interior I think it would be well worth it.
All in all this again, is a good kit, worthy of your time and effort and one that will build up into a really nice representation of the real thing. Add some aftermarket PE and maybe some other details and it could be really banging. But when you start at $50 and start adding on aftermarket because you need to you kind of wonder what your $50 is going towards. . . .
Out of 100 I would give this an 85 to 86. Solid offering but would benefit from al little TLC and attention to detail (no pun intended). Kinetic is giving us some good kits on the level of what Italeri was giving us back in the 80’s (yes, I am that old - shut it!). Solid kits, good subjects but in need of a little TLC and some detail improvement. But maybe that is what this hobby is missing these days is some good old fashioned want.