At this point in time I would say that all those locos are very close
in quality. I'm speaking here about diesel (or non-steam) locos.
Kato used to be superior to all ther others but in the last few years
Kato's quality has gone down a bit while others almost caught up to
Basically Kato, Life-Like, Atlas and I think Model-Power and even
others are all using the same low-friction mechanism design. It was
originated by Kato but all the others copied it. Not sure about
Bahmann new diesels (haven't seen one yet).
While design is similar, the overall quality and tolerances of Kato is
still a bit better than the rest. But for all practical purposes, they
are all very good.
I'm especially impressed with Life-Like and Model Power quality. They
have become viable manufacturers of quality N scale locos (not just
cheap and poor running toy trains).
I haven't tried any Atlas locos yet, but based on my experience:
Bachmann Spectrum: Close to Kato in terms of appearance and running quality.
Try before you buy, though. I had a drive bogie housing fall off in my hand
Kato: Very nice. Very smooth, and finely-detailed.
Life-Like Proto-N: Looks good, but doesn't run too well - my Proto-N loco
requires half-throttle to start, then takes off like a rocket. And it's a
The detail on my (first release) LL GP20s is very nice, and was probably
ahead of most of the pack when they were released. They perform better than
most of my locos. In fact, I even (briefly) considered junking the mechs
under my Atlas GP7s and replacing them with GP20 mechs. From what I've read
however, the latest release GP20s don't pull as well as the earlier ones.
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I do not think they have enough weight..
I had 2 and I replaced them with Atlas MP15 units.
Both LL units did not pull well. Ran smooth but just did not pull cars.
I have LL SD-7 units and like them.
rest of my units are split Kato or Atlas. and I have 2 Minitrix U28C that
run great. units have to be 30 years old.