Yes! Depending on the situation the Warhawk are can be really dangerous, even more than a Timber or a Direwolf. It almost always packs a better punch than a Timber and will definitely outcool one, while it will beat the Dire in every part of the mobility department.
Why does it get bad rap then? It's not as survivable. It's almost as big as a Dire Wolf while being 15 tons lighter. No high mounted hardpoints to save the day either. The hitboxes are very tricky to handle, shots from the side are always absorbed by the arms or the STs while shots from the front are caught by CT.
What happens is that the Warhawk loses its sides way too quickly, which is not a good thing if you're in a Clan 'Mech. So in a Warhawk you have to use the mobility and firepower to make up for the survivability, which is harder than using a TBR because it can do all three and the Dire the latter two in a much better way. It's a glass cannon and people don't like glass cannons, unless it's as ridiculous as a DRG-1N.
It also can't boat as many energy weapons as the TBR (6 max with the reinforcement CT) or ballistics as the Dire (2 max). So you're forced to either bring a few number of big guns (which fits its original design philosophy IMO) or go with mixed builds, and in MWO mixed builds don't fare well against min-maxed builds. If you opt to bring big energy weapons then you risk ghost heating yourself and you still run hot despite the high number of heatsinks.
The Warhawk is a hell of a glass cannon. It's capable of pumping a lot of damage in a very short time and unlike the Dire you have the possibility of simply disengaging from a bad fight and reposition. A Brawlhawk will outdamage even an AS-7S or even a Dire. It can be made into a brawler(E+M, E+B+M, B+M you name it), sniper, lurm boat, mid-range laser damage pumper . . . pretty much anything you can think of. It's a great tinkerer's 'Mech.
The trick is to avoid engaging multiple 'Mechs at once. Once you can't control where you take damage from, things quickly spiral out of control and you inevitably blow off a side torso. Depending on the torso and you build you either lose your hard-hitting weapons or all of your ammo. When running brawly builds, try to be sneaky and don't reveal yourself to the enemy until you're ready to dump an alpha uninterrupted. For support builds try to be a second-line 'Mech and avoid attracting attention. You'll see that the enemies start dying fast once you can alpha in impunity.
The new quirks also add the much needed extra protection (in form of structure), even more mobility (acceleration, torso twist rate, turn rate) and decent weapon quirks. I've especially been enjoying the jam chance reduction quirks with the UAC20 (oh god it just doesn't stop). The 'Mech also handles really smooth now, the torso twist even feels like a medium to me.
As for the builds I can suggest a few:
- 4xERPPC: The initiation build for the WHK. It's hot, it sucks when you're under pressure but oh man when you actually get to use those ERPPCs properly they're excellent killers. The "SIT DOWN BRO" effect is real. If it's too hot you can do 3xERPPC+TC MARK VII (for the extra speed).
- 4xLPL: Another standard build for the WHK. It's possible to break 1000+ very easily when you get ignored, but I personally find the build boring.
- 2xLPL+3xMPL+3xASRM6: 86 alpha of doom. Effective at all ranges, will seriously cripple an Assault in two alphas.
- 5xMPL+3xLRM15: Yes yes, lurms are bad. But oh god does the WHK do the lurms wonderfully. 5xMPL is 40 alpha supported by 21 DHS. Plus you get to dump 45 damage alphas across the map too. This is not a helpless lurm boat that is easily defeated in sub-180m. This is a laser-boat with LRMs. Anything foolish enough to close range with you will pay for it.
- 2xERLL+2xASRM6+UAC20 (A arm): I've been checking this out since the patch and IT'S AWESOME! Who knew UAC20's would be worth something? With the WHKs mobility and the reduced jam chance, you get to get into UAC20 ranges (sub 200m for moving targets), spray your targets with an unending bullet hose, poke targets at 800+ meters with dual ERLLs, and augment your UAC20s with SRMs at close range. I can't get enough of it.