JUNIOR BURGER BENZ
Given the scale and scope of Mercedes-Benz’s bold new range of trucks, it’s perhaps easy to overlook more modest models like the 2643. Yet just a day behind the wheel leaves little doubt that this quiet, comfortable 11-litre livewire will play a major rol
IT PROBABLY surprises me more than anyone, but the more time I spend in and around this new breed of Mercedes-Benz truck, the more I’m convinced that Benz is on the brink of a Lazarus-like comeback in the heavy-duty truck market.
I’m not saying I didn’t expect the new Benz to be considerably better than its problematic predecessor. The simple fact is that it is vastly superior to the old model and to suggest otherwise, even vaguely, would be ridiculous in the extreme. It’s just that I didn’t expect to be quite so impressed quite so quickly. Apparently, I’m not the only one thinking this way.
I stood early one morning in the foyer of the Whitehorse Trucks dealership in Dandenong (Vic), watching the rain fall in vast volume, waiting for a truck and trailer to appear from somewhere out back. Standing close by was a big bloke who, as fate would have it, was an operations manager with a nearby fleet waiting for one of his crew to come pick him up after returning a demo truck which had been on trial for a week or so.
It was the same 2643 model I’d soon be driving and, as he told it, the truck had been working around the clock on local deliveries during the day and regional shuttles at night.
Punched by the relatively modest displacement of an OM470 10.7-litre in-line 6-cylinder engine, the ’43 offers 315kW (428hp) at 1600rpm and 2100Nm (1549ft-lb) of torque from 1100 to 1400rpm. Its bigger brother is the 2646, producing 335kW (455hp) and 2200Nm (1623ft-lb) at the same engine speeds from the same engine.
To quickly recap, the 10.7-litre displacement is one point of a fourpronged Daimler engine family (7.7, 10.7, 12.8 and 15.6 litres) powering the new Benz range.
As with almost all ratings in the new line-up, the OM470 uses a combination of SCR, EGR and a diesel particulate filter to achieve the Euro 6 emissions standard deemed so desirable by those major freight customers keen to be green in the eyes of consumers. Giant supermarket chains, for instance, which are an obvious and potentially lucrative target market for models such as the 2643 and 2646.
Yet other than engine outputs and gross weight ratings (the ’43 has a GCM of 45 tonnes, whereas the 2646 is rated up to B-double weights of 62.5 tonnes), the two 10.7-litre models
offer largely identical specs. Each drives through a 12-speed PowerShift automated transmission – for the record, there is no manual transmission option in any of Benz’s new models – into a hypoid drive tandem with diff locks, mounted on an eight-bag air suspension, running a tall 2.846:1 rear-axle ratio.
Built on a 3250mm wheelbase, each version also comes with a typically high level of standard features starting with electronic disc brakes, ABS antilock and ASR anti-skid functions, and the incredibly handy hill-hold feature that eases stress on sharp lift-offs for driver and driveline alike.
Gratefully, an effective engine brake is also part of the package.
In standard format, diesel capacity is 290 litres in a single tank mounted on the passenger side, with a second tank of the same size optionally available for the driver’s side. AdBlue capacity is 60 litres on the passenger side.
In both models, the 2.3m-wide cab has the floor raised 320mm above the engine tunnel and offers a day cab layout with ample space behind the seats for a host of odds and sods, or a sleeper cab with a 750mm-wide inner-spring mattress and a respectable sleeping area for overnight stops. Importantly, floor height over the engine tunnel creates surprisingly small impediment to sleeper access.
Meanwhile, the conversation was evolving quickly back in wet and windy Dandenong, with the ops manager admitting to a somewhat ingrained preference for American equipment – yet willingly acknowledging the positive performance and impressive fuel efficiency of the 2643 during its week-long trial.
A sleeper model with the twin fuel tank option, he said it was a truck that had surprised everyone, not least himself. Drivers, for instance, were extremely happy with the truck’s comfort and operational ease on both local and regional runs, while fuel consumption was “heaps better”
“It’s a model seemingly tailor-made for local and regional delivery work”
than existing equipment doing the same work.
It was not, however, the only model to cause a changed opinion of the Benz brand. Prior to the trial of the ’43, he continued, the performance and fuel efficiency of a top-shelf 16-litre model on B-double work had also left a positive impression, while the upcoming trial of a 12.8-litre version was being eagerly anticipated by drivers and managers alike.
Anyway, as the deluge softened to a drenching drizzle, his lift arrived just as the test truck and trailer came around the corner. His parting comment was simply, “I reckon it’ll surprise ya. It surprised us.”
Well, I’m not sure ‘surprise’ was the right word. Right or wrong, I was already expecting the truck to do good things following a short stint behind the wheel of a 2643 during the official launch of the new Benz models between Cairns and Townsville.
After previously notching around 3000km in the big bore 2658 model hauling B- double combinations, the launch event in far north Queensland was a welcome opportunity to at least sample other members of the range, namely 12.8-litre and 10.7-litre models.
Still, there was no surprise that a 12.8-litre 2651 model with 510hp made ridiculously easy work of a partially loaded flat-top trailer on the run south from Cairns.
In fact, a quick gaze at the specs suggest the two 12.8-litre models – 2651 and its 2653 brother – are perhaps the most versatile models in the new range, capable of coping with a vast variety of vocations including heavy-duty truck and dog work through to regional and even line-haul B-double duties.
However, the 2643 was a real surprise packet and an hour or so at the wheel, again with a partially loaded flat-top trailer attached, was intriguing enough to ask MercedesBenz executives for a longer run in either a 2643 or 2646 model, only this time in the more likely environs of country and suburban roads. After all, it’s a model seemingly tailor-made for local and regional delivery work with a single trailer in tow.
So, less than two months later, from the blazing tropics of FNQ to the gloomy grey of Dandenong, the same 2643 appeared – only this time with a curtain-sided trailer attached and slightly more than 12,000km on the clock.
Sure, loaded to a gross weight of just 30 tonnes, more mass was probably warranted for a more definitive test.
But, when it’s all boiled down, it’s not uncommon for trucks pulling single trailers around the ’burbs to spend much of the day at weights significantly less than max anyway.
Looking for a mix of roads and traffic conditions, the truck was pointed south-east along the Eastlink corridor towards Leongatha, cutting across on secondary roads to Gippsland’s Warragul and then back into the snarling suburbs along the ‘old highway’ through Berwick, before returning to Whitehorse Trucks at Dandenong. All up, 210km of vastly different conditions starting with sodden freeways and fierce winds, and ending with a still, hot afternoon in congested traffic. Ah Melbourne, you gotta love it!
Yet just as it had done in Cairns, there was much to like about this truck from the get-go. For starters, it’s a short, easy climb into a cab that is extremely practical and entirely comfortable. In fact, if there’s one thing that stands out in the new Benz cabs, it’s the ease of familiarity. Unlike some European models, switchgear and control functions are quickly understood and generally well placed, enhancing an internal cab design that is smart, neat, well appointed and decidedly driverfriendly. Small on glitz, big on class.
Meantime, in performance terms, the ’43 certainly has the ability to surprise. Big time. Even taking into consideration the modest gross weight of the test unit, the sharp throttle response typical of a relatively small displacement engine is matched by an unexpected willingness to dig deep into the rev range and hold onto a gear with appreciable determination.
Of course, just shy of 430hp and 1550ft-lb, it’s not a potent powerhouse in the hills. But, with the inherent perseverance to pull down to 1100rpm before swapping to a lower cog, there’s a tenacity about this model that can seem quite remarkable at times.
Add to this an intuitive and smooth automated transmission obviously programmed to maintain the most efficient operating range,
“The 10.7-litre displacement is one point of a four-pronged Daimler engine family powering the new Benz range”
On a day of vast contrasts in road and weather conditions, on-road manners of the 2643 model were excellent. Truly a nice truck to drive
Like all models in the new Benz line-up, cab comfort and practicality rate high