The German Railway in H0


Review: PIKO Lufthansa Airport Express class 103

I am a huge fan of the Lufthansa Airport Express trains so I was pleased when PIKO annouced their version of the class 103 in Lufthansa Aiport Express livery.

I have the set from Trix that came out a year or two ago and I am very happy with the set. Although I am not happy with the technology in the Trix loco. It has a very noisy motor - I call it a coffee grinder motor. It sounds like a coffee grinder when running.

When PIKO announced their version of the loco I immediately went and ordered it.


The Packaging

It is easy to see where PIKO got the inspiration for their packaging. Inspiration is a good thing, as long as it is a good source of inspiration. ;-) PIKO took the ideas and improved them. Very good!

The model comes in an amazing packaging. I love buying a product and feel that I get something of value for my money.

A big box with a good presentation of the product inside. The model is kept safe by the plastic wrapping and placed in the middle of the box.

The user's guide is placed in a drawer underneath the model compartment. Unlike the source of inspiration the drawer on the PIKO packaging can be pushed out by poking a finger in a hole on the opposite side of the box. Very cleverly made. The drawer even has a label that says "Intruction sheet" so you do not miss out on the valuable information inside the drawer.

The ends of the box have labels that makes it easy to see what is inside the box. A nice touch is that the label on one end is rotated 90 degrees compared to the label on the opposite end. This makes it up to you if you want your model to be stored up right...

...or laying down.

It is details like these that makes me feel great when buying a product. Somebody at PIKO really thought about how we store our models and gives us some options. The over all feeling of quality comes from details like this.

To my knowledge future Expert models from PIKO will be delivered in boxes like this one. I am really looking forward to that.



First of all I am the guy who use my trains. I don't want them to sit on the shelf or in their boxes. They get to run and I enjoy being able to take a model out of its  box, as is, without having to mount 17.000 small parts.

With that in mind let me be clear: The PIKO model is awesome in almost every possible way. You do not need to mount a thing. All the small parts are seperately applied at the factory.

The pantos are very fine in detail (unlike the pantos on earlier PIKO models). They are now of a much greater detail and more to scale. This is not the only model where PIKO has done away with the old rougher panto. For your Siemens Vectron models you can now buy a set of pantos that is way greater in detail than the one on the model. A nice little upgrade.

A detailed panto really works well for the models. The pantos can be manually operated.

The panto in a down right position. A peculiar little detail is the painted handle on the door.

The roof equipment seems to be just right.

Almost all hand rails are seperately applied. The hand rails at the engine driver doors are molded. Not that you will ever notice. 

The wipers are molded into the front window. This is a classic way of solving the issue of not having to seperately apply the wipers. I am totally for this solution.

I have seen many separately applied wipers that are not touching the glass or are some how not correctly placed. Or even worse: Have fallen off. I do not see the point of separately applying something when it looks stupid.

PIKO did the only right thing and that was to mold them. You cannot see it from a distance of 60 cm anyway (standard viewing distance).

The boggies look great with many fine details and the steps on the puffer beam are silver coloured (see picture above).

One colourful disadvantage

Aren't there any criticism you might think? Of course. I have a BIG one: The white colour is wrong as in completely wrong. The yellow part has the correct colour.

The model is white and if you look at pictures of the prototype it does indeed look white, no question about that. In reality though the prototype was not white, it was light gray. Light gray and melon yellow was the design livery of the Lufthansa.

I bought this locomotive to replace my noisy and outdated Trix version. Unfortunately. the PIKO locomotive does not go with any of the Trix coaches because of the colour being completely off. In fact the locomotive does not go with any Lufthansa coaches from any manufacturer (Roco, Trix etc.) because the colour is wrong. I must say that I did not expect PIKO to make a mistake like this. Even minimum of research into the colours of the prototype would have shown that the locomotive was not white (that, and the fact that every other manufacturer makes it light gray). It is not like PIKO cannot mix the light gray colour. The colour of the roof on the PIKO measurement wagon is a dead match on the Lufthansa light gray.

I am disappointed and I hope PIKO will correct this on future versions should they ever do another one. I would buy a correct one in a heart beat. 

Here is the locomotive with a coach from Trix. The colour difference is very noticable. 

Now that I have bought the locomotive I will of course use it, but if I had known about the colour difference in advance, I might not have bought it. Correct colour matters to me. More than roof detailing and such.

I am normally very impressed with PIKO's research and quality. This time I lost a little respect. I am sorry that I have to write this in my review, but I feel that I have to mention it. Not getting the colour right is simply not good enough.


The Technical Stuff

The locomotive is heavy (456 gram) and has a heavy metal frame. The motor sits in the middle with cardan shafts controlling the gear boxes. This is the only design that truly works. A very good and well tested design.

You take the upper body off the same way you would a Roco model by simply expanding the body a bit until the inner frame pops out. Easy to do and it works.

PIKO has fitted the model with warmwhite- and red LEDs. The front light can be controlled digitally. The rings around the front lights are painted on the front, but transparent on the sides. This means that the light shines through the ring and throws a bit of light back at the locomotive.

Light does not shine through the locomotive body itself even though it could look that way. It does not, it is the rings around the front lights that are transparent. To me it does not matter, because I never rund my engines at night anyway. It is not noticable during daylight operation.

The model has short coupler kinematics and is delivered with PIKO A couplings. I have replaced the PIKO A couplings with my coupling of choice: The Roco Universal Coupling. This works without problems. The model will take any coupling you throw at it, just as you would expect.

The model couples close with its coaches which is nice - and prototypical. Here is a picture of the short coupling in action. Note the colour difference again.

Normally I do not care about the details under the locomotive. I cannot see them anyway, but here is a picture of the locomotive upside down. The model has open gearboxes which makes it easy for you to perform maintenance on the gears if you should ever need that.


I run 2-rail so my model came without a decoder. The 3-rail model comes with a PIKO SmartDecoder (which seems to be of Uhlenbrock origin).

I have equipeed my model with the LokPilot M4 from ESU. I use M4 because I enjoy the benefits of mfx with my Märklin Digital System. The M4 is the same decoder as any other DCC LokPilot, the only difference being that it supports Märklin's mfx protocol.

With an ESU LokPilot the functions are as follows:

F0: Front light that change over with the direction of travel. No red taillights.
F1: Turn on the red taillights, driver's cap 1. Will not change with the direction of travel.
F2: Turn on the red taillights, driver's cap 2. Will not change with the direction of travel.
F3: Shunting speed.
F4: Direct control.
F5: Light in cap 1.
F6: Light in cap 2.

I have changed the function mapping of my LokPilot so that the lights mimic the way Märklin/Trix do their lights.

My configuration is a follows:

F0: Front light and red taillights that change over with the direction of travel.
F1: Turn off front- or taillights at cap 1.
F2: Turn off front- or taillights at cap 2.
...the rest of the function mapping is the same.

When both F1 and F2 are active the shunting lights turn on. This means a front light at both caps.

I prefer this way. I like when all my locomotives work the same way.

A big thank you to PIKO for letting me decide how I want my light to be. It is great that I am totally in control of my function mapping. Other manufacturers use the SUSI crap to take control of the light functions away from me. I truly hate that, and I find it completely unnecessary when the decoder can handle the lights by itself. If possible I avoid models from manufacturers where SUSI is a thing.

PIKO seems to know what the customers want. Very nice!

Running Conditions

One word: AMAZING!

The locomotive runs smooth and almost silent. A slight humming sound is coming from the motor but it is next to nothing. Perfect!

I have not changed one bit on the motor parameters of my ESU LokPilot, the model simply runs perfectly out of the box. Perhaps you could do some tweaking but I have not felt the need for it.


I find it very hard to spend more money on a model of the class 103 when I can get the PIKO model for 170 EUR. The model is packed with cool functions (cap lighting etc.), very nice details and very good running conditions. The model seems to have the expected details (as far as I can tell) and it does not seem cheap. It is a big plus that it comes with short coupler kinematics. Models from other manufacturers in this price range often lack this.

I have full control of the functions because PIKO's designers let the decoder have full control. This is a big plus!

My only criticism is the colour. It is very dissappointing that PIKO did not get the colour right. I really feel that this has taken some of my joy away from owning the model.

That being said, would I buy another PIKO class 103? Yes, definitely! Overall it is an amazing model.

The model has the product number:

  • 511682 (DC version, 2-rail)
  • 51683 (AC version, 3-rail)

The model is currently sold out at the factory, but PIKO might do another production run. Another good thing about PIKO is that models stay in production for quite a while. No need to stress about getting your "limited edition". I like this as well.

Happy Modelling!