gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Playmobil Kitt Kit

Playmobil had slipped off my radar for many years. I’m not totally sure why. LEGO had followed me from my childhood, doggedly determined to entice me into building ever more elaborate super-cars. But Playmobil? Even with a toddler who, by all estimations, would love the stuff it has played second fiddle to Duplo.

But then a couple of months ago Playmobil dropped a press release into my inbox that raised an eyebrow. They’ve built an online customization tool where you can style your dream model VW Camper and get the result in a presentation box. This is a clear shot aimed across the bow of LEGO’s appeal to adults, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued.

Fast forward a handful of weeks and Playmobil pop up into my inbox again. This time they’ve brought the big guns just in time to hit a special millennial someone square in the nostalgia for a totally not imminent and related celebration of paternity.

And, oh boy, they’ve done quite the job. Included in the announcement were Playmobil’s take on the A-Team Van, the absolutely iconic Back-To-The-Future Delorean, an achingly swish Aston Martin DB5 of James Bond fame and some not-quite-so-movie-tie-in classics in the Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

Not one to take a press release full of pretty pictures at face value I tried my luck for a sample- and lady luck shone upon me, folks, for Playmobil were kind enough to send me a Kitt Kit. That’s K.I.T.T or Knight Industries Three Thousand. The fictional techno-wondercar from the early-90s TV show Knight Rider. Let’s be real here- I’m not *quite* old enough for Knight Rider to have been a mainstay of my childhood TV viewing. I was -2 when it stared airing. But it still occupies a corner of my distant memory along with the A-Team and Airwolf. That sure was a time for cheesy action shows. The Knight Rider theme is irrevocably etched into my memory, and the signature Larson-scanning lights have been something that’s followed me through my hobby electronics career in a dozen implementations.

Awwww hell yeah!

— Phil Howard (@Gadgetoid) June 10, 2022

Now, a quick aside. I had forgotten about Playmobil, but in order to forget I had to have some experience with it. These new and shiny unlocked a vague and dusty memory of borrowing a Playmobil F1 car with removable wheels and a little pit crew from the church toy library. I remember my childhood self thoroughly enjoying the straight-forward playability of such a purposefully built toy. I think it’s too easy- as adults- to shower our kids with construction toys and educational toys in the vague hope they’ll be some future genius. Sure I thoroughly enjoyed construction toys when I was a nipper, but I also loved Playmobil for simply not falling apart while I tried to play with it.

Aaaaannnd… swiftly back to the here and now. The Kitt kit is shockingly well presented, beautifully implemented and lavishly accompanied by an array of appropriate accessories. It has Devon Miles’ freakin’ desk for crying out loud. Not to mention tech-tinkering Dr. Bonnie Barstow figure, complete with a toolkit. Also the Playmobile rendition of David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight is strangely compelling. It works. Somehow. It really works.

Accessories aside, the attention to detail on Kitt itself is astonishingly good. Even the underside is – battery compartment notwithstanding – true to the 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. At least insomuch as a plastic replica can be. Just as well, since you’ll be seeing it a lot as you jump obstacles, drive on two wheels and perform all manner of st… I mean as your toddler… does these… things.

Hahahaaha it’s amazing! @playmobil

— Phil Howard (@Gadgetoid) June 10, 2022

Perhaps most compelling of all is the touch-sensitive sound-and-lights setup. While the few select, highly compressed TV voice lines aren’t pushing the boat out (I swear it sounds like it’s saying JITT) the Larson-scanning lights are spot on. The – what I presume to be capacitive – touch sensitive portion of Kitt’s bonnet means there’s no visible, ugly button to fill with grime or wear out over time, lights and sound are activated with a tap. This is the first time I’ve seen such a setup on a toy (I mean, presentation replica) and it feels like magic. Kitt takes two AAA batteries, so a couple of IKEA LADDA (not to be confused with ladder, which has rungs and not much electricity) should set you right.

Assembly – yes, it requires some – is straight-forward, requiring the four wheels to be popped onto tiny axles, the tires (somewhat trickily) popped onto the wheels, and the hub caps clipped into place. The resulting four wheels click securely (and semi-permanently) into the bottom of the car. There are some stickers to apply, too, including lights, license plates and reflectors. You might need some adult supervision for this s… wait no you’re almost 40! You’ve got this!

Some assembly required!

— Phil Howard (@Gadgetoid) June 10, 2022

Perhaps a little disappointing are the flip-up headlights. I’d have loved to see these both be illuminated and automatic, even if they’re just mechanically spring-loaded. As such they’re just a sticker, and a little bit award to manually flip up.

On the flip side the little Playmobil figures sit beautifully and snugly into any of Kitt’s four seats. Their tiny little plastic hands will even hold the steering wheel. Slick!

The accessories are so-so and great for putting together a little almost-TV-accurate display scene. I’m not sure how *playable* a desk and chair are likely to be, and with the emphasis on Kitt crashing through things and performing death-defying vehicular stunts I’d liked to have seen something a little more off-piste. A barn door to smash though? A display stand to prop up onto two wheels? Kitt’s no desk jockey, I want *action*!

Overall I’m mighty impressed with what Playmobil have put together in here. If it’s the shot across LEGO’s adult-targeted marketing that I suspect to be, then it rings loud and true. My three-year-old is absolutely furious that I wouldn’t let him play with it until I’d taken some glamour photos.

Now… about that custom VW camper

Tuesday, June 14th, 2022, Toys.