I just received a nice big package from Hobby World, and among all the items, this one stood out: the N scale Microace EF65 (the garden blue/cream version). I added this item to my cart for the heck of it because it was on sale (30% off list), and appeared to look like a nice model. And I am very glad I bought it. I already own (too) many EF65's (most notably Kato's, but also the original Tomix one with bogie mounted coupler). But this one trumps them all.
Let me start off by saying that the detail on this model is absolutely mind blowing.
First, grab handles. They are EVERYWHERE. Front, side, roof, etc. And not only that, but they are all metal, and extremely thin (and surprisingly strong). This absolutely blows away the (very thick) plastic details on Kato/Tomix models. Not only that, but everything is installed at the factory. Second, the painted/molded on windscreen wiper is also surprisingly well done. So well done that it might fool some to believe that it's a photo-etched add-on. Third, the roof wiring/cable work is very amazing. The cables are presented as separate molded plastic pieces and are extremely tiny, thin and very fragile looking - looks absolutely perfect.
Lastly, there are many great touches, in fact, too numerous to list. One example is the contact patch on top of the pantograph - this is painted gold/copper. A very small detail, but it goes to show the effort that Microace has put in. I wouldn't be surprised if people mistake this for a brass model.
The only downside I see is that the base of the pantograph is still an ugly plastic looking gray. This could be remedied with a coat of paint if you so wished.
Regarding the running quality, all I have to say is "WOW". Right out of the box, this loco runs even smoother than comparable Kato locos, if that's even possible. The train starts up with surprisingly low voltage (on many trains, I have to pump up my controller to get it rolling, then throttle back). And when it does start up, it can start up right at a crawl. And crawl it does. It is also surprisingly quiet (basically silent at low speed) but starts to make some noise as it picks up speed, just like every loco out there, including Kato.
Lighting works perfectly with my Tomix CL controller, meaning it lights up while standing still. The color temp of the LED is good, but I think by far the best color temp is from Kato's Amtrak F40PH. This model is by no means bad (such as having a blue tinge like the "HID" LEDs) but it is not the best I've seen. However, having said that, it is still perfectly acceptable.
But, there is one major downside to this model (one which I haven't fully investigated yet). Microace has chosen to use a different coupler system than their past locos. Where as past models used a coupler that hooked into a pin on the pilot/body and flat spring (just like Kato), this new model gives you the choice of either a dummy knuckle coupler (and it's quite ugly actually), or an Arnold coupler. Worse, this attaches via small prongs to slots on the front pilot. This is very similar to their EMUs with interchangeable couplers, like the Super Soya or Super Hakucho model. So where as in the old models, I could easily drop in a Kato loco knuckle coupler, this one looks like it'll need to be modified, and you'll probably have to use Microtrains couplers.
I cannot comment on the paint accuracy or accuracy of the model dimensions. For me, these don't matter as much as no one except the most crazy/die hard of enthusiasts will notice.
All in all, I am very impressed with the model, and am very excited at how far Microace has come in such a short period of time. This model is worlds apart from the first Microace loco I got a few years back (an EF61). I think this can only lead to better models in the future from all manufacturers. I only felt compelled to write this review because I was so blown away by this model. The only thing that keeps it from being close to perfect is the coupler snafu. Now I really hope that Microace will start incorporating all the details from this model into their EMU/DMU and train sets.