Bravo Benz:

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

Deals on Wheels - - Contents -

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.

HIGH­WAY HAULIN’

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.

GLOBAL AM­BI­TIONS

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.

TORQUE TALK

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.

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