What is it?

On the face of it, this is just another piece of merchandise being pushed by the latest instalment in Pixar's

Cars

franchise. Visit your local toy shop, and you'll see what I mean. But on closer inspection, this is much, much more. Sphero's latest tech offering is so believable, I'd even go so far as to say that after just one weekend, Ultimate Lightning McQueen has become part of the family.

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What does it do? He's a remote-controlled trickster for one, able to pull quick turns, burnouts and doughnuts on your lounge floor. But McQueen is so much more. When he talks, his mouth moves. When he's driving, his eyes dart all over the place. Yes, he blinks. Tap him, and he'll respond. He breathes too. Just sitting there, on a table in the corner of the lounge, he'll move in subtle ways that make him feel alive. It's the most realistic toy to ever grace our home. We've barely taken our eyes off him.

How does it work?

Ultimate Lightning McQueen is powered by an app, an easy download on one of your devices that turns your phone or iPad into a controller. From there, you can drive him, make him talk, freak out unsuspecting grandparents or even make your own movie. That's thanks to a page of exclusive dialogue recorded by Owen Wilson that lets you put McQueen into his own movie. And yes, you can also make him sleep. But that button hasn't yet been pushed in our house. The kids love him too much.

What's the best feature? On a rainy weekend afternoon, the kids found a spot for McQueen on the couch and watched the original Cars film with him. Every now and then, he'd comment on the action, make wry quips about scenes, or holler at his best friend, Mater. After the movie, one of the kids said "goodbye Lightning" when we left the house; the other kissed him goodnight at bedtime. Aww.

And the worst? So far, the only problem has been the app occasionally crashing on us. Oh, and the kids fighting over who gets to drive him. Actually, Dad's been involved in a few of those fights as well.

So how much is it? Ultimate Lightening McQueen isn't cheap, with a retail price tag of $529. But for something that already feels like he's part of the family, a living, breathing toy that feels alive and real, it's a worthy investment - and way better than some of the Cars-branded junk you see at Toyworld.