First off, given the acquisition of Model Power by MRC, N Scale modelers have had the highest hopes for a huge uptick in the quality of the Model Power product line to match what MRC has done with their own products in the recent decades. However, if there are improvements being made, you won't see any in this model. It is the same old mechanism that was developed by Model Power in 2006 with all its flaws.
This model has an interesting shell. It is die-cast rather than injection molded plastic. This likely makes it more durable and it has a lot of heft. Personally I find the benefits of a metal shell to be partially offset by the difficulty of adding fine detail into the molding. The extra weight allows them to track well and the heft just feels good in your hand. It is also far more durable and less prone to small parts breaking off, scratches and dents. I view the shell as the best feature of this model.
The couplers suck. They are E-Z Mate horrors. These couplers are much larger than the competing MTL, Accumate and MTL-knockoffs we see elsewhere. They look awful. They also have an external spring which comes flying off (to be forever lost) when the model is handled. Mine came off when I removed the shell to inspect the internals. Furthermore, they are installed in pockets in such a way that they cannot be easily swapped for MTL couplers. Kato and Atlas at least have the decency to make coupler swap-outs easy. MRC apparently doesn't care if you don't like E-Z Hates.
I spoke with the MRC rep at the Springfield ARS show this past January and he assured me that this was an all-new model that was value priced, but with all the bells and whistles expected by modelers. This was simply not true. Once I figured out how to remove the shell (fortunately not that hard), I saw that the mechanism was unchanged from the 2006 version. The only modification seemed to be the couplers - where the Rapidos were swapped for the E-Z Nightmares. Fortunately, the mechanism is DCC Friendly. The box claims 'DCC-Compatible'. Why do marketing folks insist on inventying a new term for something when there already exists a perfectly good one? In any case, there are four leads coming from the trucks for power and two leads going to the motor and two more for the lights. This makes it an easy DCC-Friendly upgrade, but this model is NOT DCC-Ready. No drop-in decoder will work. End of story. In the modern world of NEM-651 plugs, there is simply no excuse for this. Not in a post 2010 release. Shame on you MRC.
This engine might run perfectly well on a DC layout. That's very nice, but who cares? A Rapido rep told me that their release of GMD Diesels in DCC only configurations was a mistake because N Scale modelers want DC. Maybe. Maybe not. Of course if the item didn't sell, they know they made a mistake. But the world of N Scale is rapidly changing. The old cadre of rivet-counting DC-only loud-mouths are dropping out of the hobby. I know lots of older modelers who simply stopped buying. They don't mind going on forum boards and ranting until they are blue in the face (fingers?) about how DC and rivets are important, but are they buying anything? Maybe they still were ten years ago when Rapido had trouble selling DCC-only engines, but are they still the buyers now?
The new wave of N Scale modelers is different. They typically have recently become empty-nesters and now that college costs are a thing of the past, they are returning to their childhood hobbies. They are the ones spending and what they are looking for is NOT this engine. They want DCC-Ready engines. They want couplers that play nicely with the rest of their fleet. They like detail (but not necessarily accuracy) and they surf the net for information on what to buy. Manufacturers take note: get your products up to snuff. The new generation of N Scale buyers is shopping and they don't care about the same things the old farts did.