The packaging has remained the same in general design, however it's gone down a notch. The gold paper surround is loser, making it much easier to get the model out (a plus!), however the clam shell lip refuses to close. you get a 50/50 guess at which way the model will sit and risk crushing the roof details if you get it wrong. To complicate matters further, there is an internal plastic piece that slides between the equipment cases between the wheel sets. have fun with all of that!
The details are very nice on the SS3's, equally as good as the 2013 release of the SS7C. The individualism of each locomotive is exceptional and makes for a compelling argument to own one of each (if only this was possible!). Detail differences between models include specific builders plates, external traction bars, broadcasting equipment, air conditioners and extra lettering. The componentry is very nicely done, windscreen wipers, bogie details, footsteps etc - incredibly well done. I'm also VERY happy that the width of the special plates (attached to CE00807) have halved in width. A couple of small points - 1. The roof walkways are molded to the body shell, which look OK, but could of perhaps earned some more points if they were separately applied parts - we know Bachmann is capable of such engineering. 2. While the pilots are also nicely constructed (some may call them cow-catchers), there is an annoying airgap at the sides where it should disappear under the body work (see pic below).
The paint work is good for the most part, however there are a few issues with it. On one of my models, I've noticed an overspray on both sides (dark brown on some of the pale green). I am not impressed with the application of the builders plate, where it is possible to see the car body paint color underneath. the lining is slightly fuzzy in certain areas, again this appears to be model specific.
The white lining on the blue version appears to be slightly bowed on a number of the samples I have seen and I would highly recommend you inspect the model first hand if possible. On a prototypical basis, the blue version is slightly incorrect with the shade of blue being too bright and the white lining on the front different to the prototype. Asides from this, she is still a very handsome locomotive.
Another disappointment is the application of some of the components. Two of my samples with the broadcasting equipment installed on the roof have bent insulators, most likely at the factory, flaking off the paint and exposing the raw plastic underneath. These are quite difficult to manipulate back to shape, and given the situation with the paint, I'm not sure I even want to try.
On my test track, my sample ran very nicely indeed - very smooth and responsive. As I was able to test my samples in Hong Kong before purchase, I was able to swap one of them out for a very buzzy motor while still in the store. These models have no traction tires, unlike the SS7C's - most likely due to the six powered axles as opposed to four. The models are very heavy, pulling power is excellent (only bench tested on level trackage), easily able to haul a 12 car passenger train.
And yes, flogging a dead horse here, high wheel flanges. (Bachmann if you're listening, if you're banging the 'premium-quality' drum, these should be dropped for RP25 profile wheel flanges).
The lighting is very nice, employing the same peach color LED's as the SS7C.
Electricity is moved around the engine via a PC board and wires. They can be operated from wheels or pantographs/wheels via a selector switch on the PC board. The lighting is directional.
Shell removal is easy - 4 screws on the bottom of the chassis and coupler removal. There is an 8 pin plug for decoder installation and a speaker hole in the floor.
Converting couplers on this one is a bit of a bugger. The hole in Kadee couplers aren't large enough for the housing provided with Bachmann (thanks for that) as the coupler mount is too large. I have increased the hole in the coupler shank by rotating a sharp tool inside, a very tedius process. The coupler mount could be modified, although it gets a bit delicate around the pilot and I'd much rather risk damaging a $2 coupler than a frame. After this modification, #156's (long shank, whisker type with scale heads) work fine and 158's (medium shank, whisker type with scale heads) look nicer although the coupler contacts the airhoses on sharper corners. For those using über large radius curves, this shouldn't be a problem.
Unfortunately these models are really a bit of a gamble in terms of quality control in not only details, but performance as well. Buyers will have to determine if the cost (about $US200 at the time of publication) is worth it for a model already produced by CMR Line, that is available for half the cost, not to mention the (potential) caveats mentioned above. To compare against the CMR version, Bachmann's perform better than CMR's, have more variety, details are less fragile and they have pantographs that won't tear down your overhead system.
So while a very nice model, Bachmann need to take more care of their products and put in a little more thought into their designs.