Fam­ily Val­ues

Fol­low­ing in the footsteps of its ac­claimed prime mover range, Mercedes-Benz has show­cased a new rigid truck line-up dur­ing re­cent drive events in and around Brisbane. Sport­ing many of the at­tributes of their big­ger broth­ers, there’s a lot to like as Benz

Australian Transport News - - Contents - WORDS STEVE BROOKS

Fol­low­ing in the footsteps of its ac­claimed prime mover range, Mercedes-Benz has show­cased a new rigid truck line-up dur­ing re­cent drive events in and around Brisbane

As the star at­trac­tions of an en­tirely new gen­er­a­tion of trucks, it was in­evitable that Mercedes-Benz would kick- off its three-phase launch pro­gram with an ex­pan­sive range of highly ap­peal­ing prime mover mod­els. And that’s ex­actly what hap­pened late last year.

Sim­i­larly, though, a fully re­con­fig­ured rigid range was the sec­ond phase and, as ex­pected, the new rigids took cen­tre stage on the Mercedes-Benz stand at the Brisbane Truck Show ear­lier this year.

The tri­fecta will be com­plete later this year when ded­i­cated con­struc­tion and all-wheel drive rigid mod­els are re­leased.

All up, this new gen­er­a­tion of trucks marks an en­tirely new bridge­head for the Benz brand in this coun­try, al­most cer­tainly pro­vid­ing the brand with more op­por­tu­nity and more suc­cess than ever be­fore, and in the process de­liv­er­ing at least some sem­blance of the mar­ket strength be­fit­ting a world power in truck pro­duc­tion.

Then again, it shouldn’t be too diffi cult for Mercedes-Benz to sur­pass the medi­ocre per­for­mance and even more medi­ocre rep­u­ta­tion of ear­lier Ac­tros mod­els. In fact, early re­ports on the new prime mover mod­els launched late last year sug­gest ini­tial sales ex­pec­ta­tions have al­ready been ex­ceeded, with fuel econ­omy and op­er­a­tional ease cited as the main mo­ti­va­tors for a high level of re­sponse from truck buy­ers.

Mar­ket sta­tis­tics since the start of the year show Mercedes-Benz steadily inch­ing its way to higher rungs on the heavy- duty sales ladder and, at the end of July, hold­ing 6.4 per cent of the sec­tor for the year to date.

What’s more, you don’t have to look too close at the fig­ures to see that Benz’s num­bers are now al­most dou­ble those of cor­po­rate cousin Freight­liner.

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes. Around this time last year, Freight­liner was at much the same level as Mercedes-Benz now, lend­ing weight to the as­ser­tion in some quar­ters that Benz folk have, in many cases, tar­geted Freight­liner Ar­gosy cus­tomers rather than a boots ‘n’ all as­sault on the likes of Volvo, Sca­nia and Ken­worth. ‘Not the case’ say Mercedes-Benz rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

In any case, there’s no deny­ing an odd co­in­ci­dence in Benz bounc­ing up the chart at the same time as Freight­liner falls fur­ther into the dol­drums.

Mean­time, the ar­rival of a new breed of 3- and 4-axle rigid mod­els is sure to add even more vigour to Mercedes-Benz’s march to higher lev­els on the heavy-duty ladder.

Like­wise, 2-axle de­riv­a­tives are hoped to at least boost Benz’s mod­est pres­ence in a medium- duty mar­ket dom­i­nated by Ja­panese brands which ob­vi­ously in­clude that other cor­po­rate co­hort, Fuso.

How­ever you look at it, there’s a con­fi­dence in the Benz camp these days which hasn’t been ev­i­dent for years, even decades, and Benz in­sid­ers al­ready buoyed by the early suc­cess of their prime mover port­fo­lio now see metro dis­tri­bu­tion roles, from lo­cal de­liv­ery to the high de­mands of waste work, as ideal tar­gets for this new crop of con­tenders.

Given that Mercedes-Benz has largely been an ‘also ran’ in metro ap­pli­ca­tions over the past few decades, the po­ten­tial for growth is un­de­ni­ably strong. For starters, the rigids share high de­grees of com­mon­al­ity with the prime mover fam­ily, not least in power and driv­e­train com­bi­na­tions.

Like­wise, and par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant in fl eet ap­pli­ca­tions, the sim­i­lar­i­ties in switchgear and con­trol lay­outs be­tween prime movers and rigids are im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent from be­hind the wheel.

AT­TRAC­TIVE AT­TRIBUTES

Un­der­neath are the same 7.7- and 11-litre 6- cylin­der en­gines used in the lighter end of the prime mover range, though Benz points out that 13- and 16-litre en­gines are avail­able for spe­cific mod­els in heav­ier ap­pli­ca­tions, no­tably un­der the new eight-wheeler.

The 7.7-litre en­gine is rated at 299 or 354hp (223 or 264kW) while the 11-litre is avail­able at rat­ings from 398 to 428 and 455hp (297, 319 and 339kW). Typ­i­cally, both en­gines em­ploy asym­met­ric tur­bocharg­ing and

“All up, this new gen­er­a­tion of trucks marks an en­tirely new bridge­head for the Benz brand in this coun­try”

what Mercedes-Benz refers to as its X-Pulse high-pres­sure di­rect in­jec­tion sys­tem. For the record, asym­met­ric tur­bocharg­ing is ex­plained as a fi xed tur­bine sys­tem which varies air flow to the com­bus­tion cham­ber through the use of a sim­ple valve rather than the more com­plex and po­ten­tially trou­ble­some mov­ing parts of a vari­able geom­e­try tur­bocharger.

Of course, all en­gines in the new Benz range com­ply with Euro 6 emis­sions stan­dards through the com­bined tech­nolo­gies of SCR, EGR and a diesel par­tic­u­late fi lter.

All the new rigids also use the slick shift s of Mercedes-Benz’s lat­est Pow­erShift au­to­mated trans­mis­sion in 8- or 12-speed form, now equipped with a creeper gear for low-speed re­vers­ing into load­ing bays and the like.

While there are three dif­fer­ent cab con­fig­u­ra­tions across the rigid range, they’re all 2.3 me­tres wide, all meet the tough Swedish cab crash test stan­dard, and all come with roof-mounted air horns, re­mote lock­ing, elec­tric mir­rors, and a lo­cally de­vel­oped touch­screen sat-nav and au­dio unit with DVD player. On the op­tions list are sev­eral in­te­rior style trims as well as a sleeper cab and rear seat lay­outs on some mod­els.

Safety is a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in any Mercedes-Benz prod­uct and the rigid range comes stan­dard with an elec­tronic brak­ing sys­tem and, de­pend­ing on the model, there are also sta­bil­ity con­trol, hill-hold and trac­tion con­trol func­tions. Crit­i­cally, and in an ob­vi­ous move to not re­peat the mis­takes of the past, rigid mod­els were sub­jected to the same ex­ten­sive lo­cal test pro­gram as their big­ger broth­ers from the out­set.

As Mercedes-Benz states in a press re­lease: “The new rigid range was part of a com­pre­hen­sive lo­cal test­ing pro­gram that has now in­cluded more than 35 cus­tomers, 20 trucks and more than 1.8 mil­lion kilo­me­tres.”

In­deed, one of the four units used in a re­cent day-long test drive of the new rigids was the same 2635 6x4 cur­tain-sider of­fered

for a pre-re­lease peek of the new Benz fam­ily mid-way through last year. In the in­terim, the truck had ac­crued al­most 70,000km in real-world test­ing.

Judg­ing from the hour spent be­hind the wheel, it had en­dured ex­cep­tion­ally well. In fact, with the en­gine and driv­e­train at least run-in, it was ar­guably the best per­former of all four demo units.

DRIVE TIME

One model from each group was made avail­able for short driv­ing stints over a di­verse test route which started at the Daim­ler Trucks Queens­land fa­cil­ity at Rock­lea and headed west to Esk over Wiven­hoe Dam be­fore turn­ing onto the sharp and twist­ing sec­tion of road through to Hamp­ton. From there it was on to Toowoomba and a run down the range for the re­turn to Rock­lea.

An hour or so in each truck was hardly a defi ni­tive re­view but it at least pro­vided an in­sight into each model’s man­ners and mus­cle, par­tic­u­larly with the trucks car­ry­ing re­spectable loads.

In my case, fi rst cab off the rank was the 4x2 1630L model. Based largely on the Atego medium- duty chas­sis, a lively 7.7-litre en­gine punch­ing through the quick and ul­tra-smooth shift s of the much im­proved Pow­erShift trans­mis­sion cer­tainly pro­vided ex­tremely re­spon­sive per­for­mance.

Yet like all four trucks in this ex­er­cise, the stand­out fea­ture was the ex­cep­tional ‘un­der­stand­ing’ be­tween en­gine, trans­mis­sion and re­tarder over rolling ter­rain. In all mod­els, the co­he­sive re­la­tion­ship be­tween the var­i­ous func­tions is noth­ing less than out­stand­ing, and per­haps best high­lighted by the fast and al­most undis­cernible en­gage­ment of the ‘Eco’ roll func­tion on down­hill sec­tions.

Yet as good as the 1630 model was in many re­spects, a steer­ing wheel sit­ting off- cen­tre and what seemed a con­sid­er­able need for wheel align­ment were sur­pris­ing and dis­ap­point­ing fea­tures. For­tu­nately it was the only one of the four demo units with these traits but, as Mercedes-Benz knows only too well from past ex­pe­ri­ence, ser­vice is ev­ery­thing in this day and age – and that cer­tainly in­cludes a high level of at­ten­tion to pre- de­liv­ery stan­dards, whether it’s a press test or not.

Step­ping from the small­est to the big­gest, the 3243 eight-wheeler sets it­self apart in

sev­eral ways, not least through a sig­nif­i­cantly more ag­gres­sive grille de­sign de­rived from the heavy- duty Mercedes-Benz Arocs range.

De­spite its dis­tinct ‘ bite your face off ’ looks, this truck dis­played ex­tremely good road man­ners with a level of steer­ing re­sponse largely at odds with the ten­dency of most twin-steers to ‘ bite’ into bends. Sur­pris­ingly, though, the twin-steer lay­out was a non-load-shar­ing de­sign.

Ac­cord­ing to Mercedes-Benz sources, this par­tic­u­lar truck was pri­mar­ily im­ported as a test unit for a dis­tinct ap­pli­ca­tion and we’re as­sured a load-shar­ing front sus­pen­sion will be the norm by the end of the year.

Next was the 2635 6x4 which, as al­ready ex­plained, had the ben­e­fit of 70,000km of real-world test­ing un­der its belt and was ar­guably the smoothest and most re­spon­sive of all four trial units.

In ev­ery re­spect, this was a highly im­pres­sive truck which made easy work of the di­verse road con­di­tions and points to an even more pos­i­tive opinion of the new Benz breed as time and toil gather.

Fi­nally, the 6x2 2530. This was per­haps the most unin­spir­ing of all four, not be­cause it did any­thing wrong but be­cause it ran the same en­gine and trans­mis­sion com­bi­na­tion as its 4x2 coun­ter­part yet car­ried con­sid­er­ably more weight.

Plus, I climbed in im­me­di­ately af­ter driv­ing the lively 2635 model. Con­se­quently, per­for­mance felt no­tably more sub­dued.

That said though, it’s still a model which shares all the im­pres­sive traits of its rigid sib­lings – such as an ex­cep­tion­ally smooth and in­tu­itive en­gine and trans­mis­sion com­bi­na­tion, great ride and han­dling, easy ac­cess into and out of a func­tional and en­tirely com­fort­able cab, and lev­els of op­er­a­tional refi ne­ment that are both ex­ten­sive and quickly fa­mil­iar. As we’ve now said on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, Benz is back. Big time!

“The stand­out fea­ture was the ex­cep­tional ‘un­der­stand­ing’ be­tween en­gine, trans­mis­sion and re­tarder”

Above: Eight-leg­ger. Based on the heavy-duty Arocs plat­form, the 8x4 is a key model in the new Mercedes-Benz rigid range

Op­po­site: Func­tional workspace. This is the in­te­rior of the 6x2 2530 model and, like all the new Benz rigids, there’s much in com­mon with its highly ac­claimed prime mover sib­lings; Nice truck. Mercedes-Benz 2635 demo unit was an im­por­tant part of the ‘new gen­er­a­tion’ test pro­gram and drove par­tic­u­larly well on the test run

Above: Baby of the bunch. 1630L model is one of two 4x2 units in the new rigid range and both are based on the Atego plat­form

Op­po­site: In­side the 1630L model. It’s the most ba­sic of the new range but even so, it’s an en­tirely func­tional and com­fort­able work­place

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