Wednesday, June 29

In-Boxed: Meng's Leopard 2 A7 German Main Battle Tank (Part I)

Meng’s new Leopard 2 A7 German Main Battle Tank in 35th scale is a promising looking kit on the website’s features set. Andy has taken a good look at it before he gets to cutting, sanding and glueing, and his review with some great pictures and text explains his thoughts on the kit so far…

In-Boxed: Leopard 2 A7 German Main Battle Tank (Part 1)
Manufacturer - Meng
Kit Number - TS-027
Scale - 1/35
Price - £52, ¥7,380, US$71, €64 from Hobbylink Japan
Meng is no stranger to modern German armour, having released several versions of Germany's successful Main Battle Tank over recent years, from the older Leopard 1 to the more recent Leopard 2 A4. And now the latest to be added to the range is also the latest variant of this tank to enter service with the Bundeswehr, the imposing Leopard 2 A7.

We'll dive into the box momentarily, but first some background on this big cat.
The Leopard 2 was developed by Krauss-Maffei in the 1970's as a successor to the Leopard 1, which had been Germany's front line tank since the mid 60's. Like it's predecessor, the Leopard 2 has seen wide use beyond Germany, serving with nations as diverse as Chile, Indonesia and Qatar, along with many European armies.
The tank has received many upgrades, the most noticeable of which came with the 2 A5 when the slab-sided turret of the earlier models gave way to a much more menacing wedge-shaped look due to the addition of an appliqué armour package to the turret and side skirts.

The newest version to enter service is the 2 A7 which, although visually similar to the previous A6 model, features many new systems and enhancements based on experience derived from operations in Afghanistan by Canadian and Dutch forces. These are actually upgraded A6's, 20 of which were returned to Germany from Canada (who had originally acquired them from the Netherlands) to be converted to A7's. The first tank was handed over to the German Army in December 2014, with 14 now serving with Tank Battalion 203. Four of the remaining tanks are in training roles, with the last retained by the manufacturer.

The Model
Time to get in the box and see what Meng have in store for us but, before we do, a quick mention of the box itself. OK, I know... on the face of it, a box isn't that exciting, but I think the way a manufacturer packages its products says a lot about that company, and Meng has always been great in that regard. From the smooth satin finish to the fabulous artwork and the rigid construction of the box itself, it all makes a great first impression before opening the box.

There's also a reminder on the side of the box that Meng have now teamed up with AK Interactive, who provide paint references, and also produce a Meng branded paint set specifically designed for this and other German Army releases.
Inside we get 14 sprues in total, 9 in a very dark green plastic, 4 in black for the individual track links and one in clear. In addition to these we have the main upper and lower hull, and the turret as single mouldings, also in the same dark green styrene, along with 3 frets of photo-etch (more on those later), a set of poly-caps, two self-adhesive foil stickers for the rear view mirrors and lastly a piece of string (yes, I know... string!) for the tow cable. Everything comes individually wrapped in cellophane, with double wrapping on the clear parts for extra protection. Topping the box off we've got the instruction manual and a well-printed decal sheet.

Sprue A (x2)
The first two sprues feature the road wheels and idlers. Both feature some beautifully moulded bolt detail with the road wheels having separate hubs too. 
 Both the road wheels and idlers come in inner and outer halves, but only the road wheels have a poly-cap added between them. Presumably, the idlers are too small to fit one, so you may need to glue them in place unless the fit on the axle is tight enough to hold them on.

Sprue B
Mainly hull details here, plus the rear hull panel and engine deck. In common with the rest of the sprues, everything is very cleanly moulded, with no sign of any flash or sink marks. Having said that, I'm not at all keen on the excessively dark plastic that Meng have used here. It doesn't have any real bearing on the finished model, but it does make construction more of a chore, as it's simply harder to see what you're doing.

The rear hull panel has some nicely done louvre detail along with some really fine weld beads around the raised details. Interestingly, it also features moulded detail on the reverse side of the part (along with some heavy ejector pin marks). None of this can be seen on the finished build but Meng have previously produced interior sets for some of their other models, so maybe they'll do the same here with an engine set, although this is pure speculation on my part.

Reverse side

Sprue C
Here we've got the hull floor armoured plate, the side skirts and the forward engine deck panel. The engine deck, in particular, has some very refined detailing, with a fine cast texture and minuscule casting numbers on the hatches.

Forward engine deck panel
As already mentioned the detailing here is very nice. Some of the small grab handles are moulded solid, but that's not a big deal considering their size, and could be easily replaced with thin wire if you wish
Like the rear panel, the engine deck features some detailing on the reverse side, along with another nice collection of ejector pin marks. You can't blame Meng for the pin marks being there. The back of parts is where they belong, but it does mean that detail would be hard to use without a lot of careful clean up.
Oddly the instructions show the engine deck from the earlier Leopard 2 A4 kit which featured areas of non-slip texture and slightly different details, although the actual part supplied is correct for the 2 A7.

Sprue D
This holds the base of the turret along with the Rheinmetall 120mm main gun. The rest of the sprue is made up with smaller details.

Despite being effectively hidden, the underside of the turret features a full set of weld beads and bolt detail. Nice attention to detail from Meng.

And to give you an idea of the impressive size of the Leopard, here's the turret base plate next to Meng's French FT 17

The main gun comes in two halves meaning an inevitable seam to clean up. It does feature a separate one-piece muzzle, though, which will make the job slightly easier. 
 Meng has also replicated the texturing on the fume extractor. The gun is attached via a couple of poly-caps leaving it poseable.

The bars of the turret stowage basket are very cleanly moulded, with virtually no mould line to remove. The main section comes with its own protective surround on the sprue, but you'll still need to take care when removing it, and is probably best done with a fine razor saw.

Sprue E
Here we have many of the turret appliqué armour panels, some of which feature a nicely rendered anti-slip texture.

Meng has done a great job with the anti-slip here, giving it a realistically uneven look without being over scale.

Sprue F (x2)
This supplies the main running gear including the drive sprockets, return rollers and the torsion bar suspension which, like many of Meng's recent AFV kits, is fully workable, allowing the model to be posed on uneven terrain.

The drive sprockets are as well done as the road wheels, featuring bolt detail on both the inner and outer sides.

Sprue G
The last of the dark green sprues holds lots of smaller details including parts for the various stowage baskets and the turret mounted air conditioning unit. You'll also find the smoke dischargers, the gunfire simulator and the gunner's and commander's sights. There's also the Commander's display unit, which has a very nice map decal to finish of the display screen.

You have a choice of two MG3 machine guns for the loader's hatch, either with or without a stock.

And speaking of the loader's hatch, you get two beautifully detailed hinges, one used if you have the hatch open, the other if it's closed.

Sprue T (x4)
Four sprues of working track links. These may look a little daunting at first sight, but Meng has engineered them very cleverly and they include a small jig on the sprue to help with construction.
There are three sets of components on the sprue; the track links, the trackpads and the retaining pins, all well moulded in a semi-translucent black.
Assembly is actually quite straight forward. First, six trackpads are placed in the jig

After which, a set of track pins are laid on top so as to sit in the grooves between the pads. The pins come in sets of five on short sprue stubs and are left attached to the stubs while you construct each section.

Finally, the main track link is clicked onto the pad, trapping the pins between each link. No glue is required as the links and pads clip very securely together. It's important here not to click the last link onto the pad or you won't be able to connect this run to the next one, despite the instructions showing all six links attached.

With the links added, the sprue stub can be removed and you're left with a fully articulated run of five track links. You then simply repeat the process, joining each resulting section together until you have two complete track runs. 84 links are required for each side. Yes, they take a bit of time, but you don't have to do it all in one go, and the finished tracks will look great with the working suspension.

Sprue R
The clear sprue with parts for the various periscopes, sights and headlights.

Hull and Turret
The final plastic parts are the lower and upper hulls and the one-piece upper turret. There's lots of nice detail scattered across the hull deck and turret with weld beads and areas of non-slip texture.

Non-slip detailing on the hull deck

Photo Etch
Three PE frets, although only two are mentioned in the instructions. The third, smaller fret duplicates the two circular frames for the engine screens, albeit with additional bolt detail. These are maybe included as a revision to the original parts but, as I say, they're not mentioned in the manual, so I'm only guessing.

Decals and Extras
The last little goodies include the decal sheet, which has been beautifully printed by Cartograph with everything sharp and in register. You also get two mirrored stickers for the rear view mirrors, which are probably my favourite bit of the kit. They should add a nice touch of bling to the finished model. Less welcome is the length of string that Meng has included for the tow cable. This has a whiff of 1970's Tamiya about it and isn't something you should be finding in a kit in 2016. It's not a big deal to replace it with an aftermarket copper cable, but then you shouldn't really have to.

Instruction Manual
The manual is Meng's standard portrait format booklet, printed on nice, heavy-weight paper with clear black and white line drawings for the construction steps, and text in English, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. There are 28 build steps in total, although some of those steps are broken down into further sub-steps.

One nice touch with Meng instruction books is the way they tell you exactly what you're building and adding in each step, which helps you understand the subject much better.
Since there are so few of these tanks in existence it's no surprise that the marking options are quite limited. Meng provides a choice of two vehicles, both in regular German Army NATO 3-colour camo. One is for an operational vehicle with 203 Panzer Battalion and the second is for a training vehicle-based at Münster. The only real difference between the two being the number plates and the hazard panels on the 203rd Battalion tank. As mentioned earlier, the paint codes are for AK/Meng.
It's great to see the latest variant of the ever evolving Leopard in kit form. Meng has been really quick off the mark with this one as the real tank has only been in service for around 18 months. Everything I've seen in the box points to this being a great build, with nothing that seems overly complex for the majority of modellers. The level of detail is certainly among the best I've seen in a 1/35 scale kit, although the dark plastic does make that hard to see at times.

All in all, I can't wait to get started (just loose the string next time, Meng).

Thanks to MENG Models for sending this kit to us. Andy will be building and painting this in the next few weeks to show us more about this kit.