It hasn’t even been officially released yet but already the new Mercedes-Benz Actros is showing all the signs of being the best Benz to ever grace the Australian market. As Steve Brooks reports, bold performance, thrifty fuel consumption and the best Euro
The new Mercedes-Benz Actros is showing all the signs of being the best Benz ever
Whatever your opinion of Mercedes-Benz trucks – good, bad or indifferent – prepare yourself for change. A big change.
If you think Benz trucks of the past were good, then this truck has the makings to be the best Benz ever.
If you think Benz trucks of the past were bad, then this truck has the potential to bury the past in its dust.
And if you’re indifferent and don’t really care about Benz trucks one way or the other, then this truck could be just the thing to stoke the fires of interest.
Sure, they’re big statements and there’s no doubt I’m sitting out on a limb with the distinct risk of gathering a few sharp splinters, particularly given that full specifications and the exact model range are still under wraps as this story goes to print. In fact, it’ll be another month after this story appears before the new Mercedes-Benz Actros is even officially released.
Still, after putting a 2658 linehaul version through its paces on a B-double run up the Pacific Highway to Brisbane, the limb feels at least strong enough to support a few hefty claims.
Meanwhile, as we’ve reported in previous issues, the vibe among Benz boffins inside the Mulgrave (Victoria) bunker is nothing short of electric.
True, they’re not saying much at the moment other than extolling the effort that has gone into four years of testing, refining and validating every piece of the product puzzle. More to the point perhaps, is the quietly stated confidence that this three-pointed star will shine brighter than any of its predecessors.
Right now though, they are at least prepared to let the truck do the talking and it didn’t take long for the big Benz to show that it is indeed ready to rumble. And rumble it does! This truck not only looks different to any Benz before it, it sounds different. There’s a deep-throated burble that … well, it’s more burger than bratwurst, if you get my drift.
Anyway, I’ll get back to that.
This run started at the northbound Caltex on the M1 Motorway, an hour or so north of Sydney and parked among a broad cross-section of competitors there’s no doubt the new Benz stands out in a crowd.
The external appearance is unquestionably strong and aggressive. Too aggressive in this
‘softly, softly’ world? Maybe, but appearances are
an individual thing and people will make their own judgements. The couple of drivers who wandered over to have a closer look didn’t mind the styling at all, so again, appearances are in the eye of the beholder.
Yet just shy of four metres in height and 2.5 metres wide, the new Benz certainly stands tall and proud, and while it may well be the loftiest of all climbs into a cab-over, there are at least ample steps and grab handles for trips in and out of the cab. Importantly, the big cab also provides large locker bins on both sides.
On the inside there’s a lot to like and while first impressions can be deceptive, in this case they were right on the money because over the day and night that followed, the interior of the big Benz did not disappoint. To put it simply, it’s a classy cab and with high-quality air-suspended seats for both driver and passenger. It is also supremely comfortable. After almost 900 km, there was not the slightest hint of a bent back or numb bum.
Tagged ‘StyleLine’, the cab interior is fresh and clean, and when it comes to the switchgear controlling the various functions of a modern premium linehauler, the truck is surprisingly and gratefully simple compared to some continental competitors. Yes, like every other brand, it does take time to become familiar with all the functions and features but it’s a simpler, shorter process than most.
Among the main control items, a foot-operated pedal under the left side of the dash allows a wide range of steering wheel adjustments while a wand on the right-hand side of the steering column provides fingertip control of multistage engine retardation and transmission shift modes. Likewise, a wand on the left side controls indicators and wipers. Admittedly, both wands are hidden from view under the arms of the steering wheel but again, familiarity comes quickly.
Internal storage space is more than adequate with overhead lockers and shelving under the centre of the dash. Under the bunk there are also two large slide-out bins, the one nearest the driver being a good-sized fridge easily reached from the driver’s seat.
Without doubt though, the stand-out attractions of the cab are the flat floor, the standing room and the bunk. Combined with a quality inner-spring mattress affording plenty of stretch and wriggle room, they deliver the best sleeper compartment of all European cab-overs on the market today; a
There’s a deepthroated burble that … well, it’s more burger than bratwurst.
fact verified by six hours of superb slumber at the Yelgun parking area just south of the Queensland border where the only hassles were the crowds of caravans and campervans, and the long climb in and out of the cab in the ‘wee’ hours of the morning.
This particular truck also had a fold-up second bunk but it’s hard to see why anything other than a two-up operation would want it. Its removal would obviously provide even greater internal room and ultimately, Mercedes-Benz would be wise to design hanging space for clothes and the like. Take the top bunk out and there’s no shortage of space for such inclusions.
As for road work, again the 2658 did not disappoint.
Typically perhaps, given that Mercedes-Benz has been devout in its determination to keep exact details to a minimum prior to the actual launch of its new range, the spec sheet supplied for the 2658 was well short of comprehensive. Still, there was enough to glean the basic details.
For starters, the evaluation unit used for this run is described as ‘The new Actros 2658LS semitrailer tractor with air suspension.’ Built on a 3.25-metre wheelbase (measured in the European standard from the centre of the steer axle to the centre of the lead drive axle), the model carries a gross combination mass rating of 90 tonnes and is powered by the 15.6-litre OM473 in-line six cylinder engine configured for Euro VI emissions compliance.
In other words, selective catalytic reduction
(SCR) with its requirement for AdBlue is the main contributor to emissions compliance, though Euro VI also necessitates some degree of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR).
Peak outputs of the 2658 are listed as 425kW (578hp) at 1600rpm and a potent 2800Nm (2065ftlb) of torque on tap from 1080 to 1400rpm.
Performance feeds through Daimler’s PowerShift 12-speed direct-drive automated transmission into the group’s own hypoid drive tandem running a fast 2.533:1 final drive ratio. Rear suspension is Daimler’s own airbag assembly while up front are long two-leaf spring packs.
Stopping power is what we’ve come to expect from a modern European linehauler – disc brakes on all axles supported by ABS anti-lock and ASR anti-skid systems. In fact, braking performance is brilliantly smooth and strong, aided by an impressively effective three-stage engine brake.
Fuel capacity on this particular unit was 1050 litres in single tanks on each side with a 1100-litre AdBlue tank on the passenger side. While these capacities are probably fine for most linehaul work on the Sydney-Brisbane-Melbourne triangle, eastwest runners are almost certain to want more.
Furthermore, the spec sheet offered no indication of tare weight which will, of course, be a significant factor for the new Benz to overcome given its V8 predecessor’s reputation for being heavy at both the weighbridge and the bowser.
But as several Mercedes-Benz sources have confidently commented, the in-line six cylinder configuration allows far better weight distribution
over the front axle than the V8 engine of its predecessors.
Now, back to that rumble.
It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that Mercedes-Benz’s OM473 engine is derived from Daimler’s heavy-duty engine platform (HDEP) which also supplies the Detroit Diesel and Fuso labels. The OM473 is, in fact, the biggest of all four HDEP displacements to make an appearance in this country, though it’s no secret that a few years back Detroit Diesel conducted extensive Australian trials of its DD16 equivalent in Freightliner and Western Star models.
To date, nothing has come of those trials and for the immediate future it appears the DD16 has fallen completely off the Australian radar.
But not so in this new Mercedes-Benz range where Daimler’s global ambitions and what certainly sounds like the influence of Detroit
Diesel appear to have had a major impact on all characteristics of the Benz big six. Like I said, there’s a deep-throated burble about this engine that is entirely unique for a Mercedes
Benz product and best of all, it’s a burble that blends impressive standards of performance and efficiency.
With the truck’s tall diff ratio delivering 100km/h at around 1350rpm and the engine’s gritty willingness to pull deep into the rev range, it wasn’t far into the drive that the truck’s on-board computer system started to reveal average fuel consumption figures which were quite extraordinary. And apart from a gross weight of 58.6 tonnes and a thumping westerly wind capable of blowing the feathers off a fowl, what made them even more impressive was the fact the Benz had less than 2000km on the clock at the start of the run. In fact, reaching Coffs Harbour’s peak hour traffic in late afternoon the average fuel figure was down to 49.5 litres/100km (2.02km/litre) or 5.7mpg in the old measure. Exceptional!
Of course, as the Pacific Highway’s relentless roadworks and the long climbs between Ballina and the border started to take their toll, fuel consumption took an expected hit. Even so, in Brisbane at the end of almost 900 km the average fuel figure for the trip was still a remarkably thrifty 50.3 litres/100km (1.99 km/litre) or 5.6 mpg.
Sure, a cynic might argue that in this day and age of electronic wizardry an on-board computer system could perhaps be ‘programmed’ to err on the side of economy, and a more reliable indication of real world fuel economy would come from measurements taken at the bowser. Somewhere in the not-too-distant future we intend to do exactly that over a longer run but in the meantime, and even with some consideration for favourable programming, the Benz’s fuel efficiency is to my mind entirely plausible and indicative of a comprehensive testing and validation program over the past four years.
Besides, the big bore engine just did its job with consummate ease, digging deep into rich reserves of torque and subsequently marching comfortably over everything the Pacific put in its path. So comfortably that at the end of the trip the on-board
The big bore engine just did its job with consummate ease.
computer also revealed an excellent average trip speed of 76km/h in a total driving time of 11 hours 30 minutes. If that’s not doing a job well, I don’t know what is.
TAKING THE FIGHT
After such a performance it is, of course, easy to suggest a fine future where Mercedes-Benz has the armament to take the fight to the likes of Volvo and dare I say it, maybe even Kenworth’s supersuccessful K200. Again, it’s a big statement and Daimler and its commercial colleagues will need to be fully prepared to back the new Benz with the highest levels of service and support. Nothing less will suffice if the truck is to realise its significant potential to once again put the Mercedes-Benz marque forefront in the minds of truck operators far and wide.
Yet as good as the test truck was, it wasn’t without a couple of quirks. Three in particular. The first to come to notice were steering and handling qualities best described as twitchy, at least in the first half of the run. But as mentioned earlier, a fierce westerly wind hammered the truck from the get-go, slamming into the side of the tall cab and turning the trailer curtains into spinnakers. Then, late in the day the wind disappeared and so, too, did any concerns that steering and handling weren’t what they should be. Sure, the big Benz has its own traits but overall road manners are generally predictable and positive.
Not so easily dismissed were the mirrors. Yes, they’re big, they’re electronically controlled and provide excellent rearward vision … when the truck’s standing still. Put simply, mirror vibration at highway speeds was annoying and certainly not up to the standard of a premium linehauler. Sure, this may well have been a problem peculiar to this demo unit but Mercedes-Benz would be wise to ensure it is not an issue across the range.
The other thing about the big mirror assemblies, especially on modern cab-overs, is their ability to produce a significant blind spot at the front quarters. Good mirrors are, of course, essential but there’s no question that as their size has increased so, too, has the space they consume in a driver’s line of sight, particularly on roundabouts.
Finally, shifts through the PowerShift 12-speed transmission were undeniably smooth and in most cases, highly intuitive. However, downshifts from top gear were perplexing to say the least. This truck teems with torque and would happily grunt its way down to around 1200 or 1300rpm in top gear before swapping down. The trouble was, all too often the transmission would drop two gears on modest grades when one shift would have comfortably sufficed.
At first it just seemed unusual but it soon became frustrating, to the point where it was better to manually select a single gear downshift out of top rather than leaving the transmission to its own devices.
It was truly odd because other than the swap out of top, most other times the transmission would downshift just one gear at a time, leaving the big bore engine to fully utilise its ample power and torque. Conversely, the engine’s prodigious torque output coped easily with upshifts generally taken two gears at a time in the low end of the box.
Again, this somewhat odd anomaly may have been a programming trait unique to this particular truck but even so, Mercedes-Benz would be well advised to check it’s not a condition common to this model, or any others for that matter.
That’s it for now. All else will be revealed within the next month or so but from this initial insight of the new Mercedes-Benz family, the firm conclusion is that the three-pointed star is poised to once again be a formidable and widely respected competitor in our fierce and unforgiving heavy-duty truck market.
Personally, I genuinely hope the new range is not marketed as Actros. From what I’ve now seen and driven, it is a far, far better truck than what that name implies.
1. Road work: familiarity comes quickly in the new Benz. All-round driver comfort is extremely good 2. Over the 900 km run the Benz averaged a remarkably thrifty fuel consumption figure of 50.3 litres/100km (1.99 km/litre) or 5.6 mpg. 3. Interior design is clean and fresh. Interior space in the 2658 hi-roof model is exceptional.
4. Pardon the unmade bed but the big Benz has the best bunk of all continental contenders on the market. The top bunk is fine for two-up roles but otherwise the space could be put to better use.
The new Mercedes-Benz stands out in any crowd. Peak hour in Coffs Harbour where average fuel consumption was down to a frugal 2.02km/litre, or 5.7mpg.