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

Owner Driver - - Truck Deals -

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.”

EASY WORK

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.

SUR­PRISE PACKET

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

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