MAN’s flagship model ready to rumble
No question, MAN’s flagship TGX model with the recently released 560hp D38 engine is a fine truck with plenty of positives. The thing is, though, it’s competing in a market jam-packed with fine trucks, including some big names with big resources. Breaking
PRIOR TO A couple of laps around Brisbane’s Mt Cotton driver training centre a few months back at the launch of the 560hp (418kW) D38 engine, it had been a long time since I’d driven an MAN truck of any sort for any length of time.
It was, I think, back in the days when MAN’s Australian operation was still under the direct control of head office in Munich, and that certainly wasn’t yesterday.
Anyway, it’s not that I’ve declined any offers to steer a MAN in the interim. Quite simply, the opportunities just haven’t eventuated and, given the German maker’s historically modest and sometimes indifferent approach to the Australian trucking scene, there never seemed much point in troubling the brand’s minders.
Besides, there was never any shortage of other makers with a story to tell or a truck to test. However, the tide of change now appears to be at least creeping in a more positive direction for MAN.
The biggest change, of course, is the MAN business in our part of the world is today under the control of Penske Commercial Vehicles and its legendary leader, Roger Penske.
Even so, initial indications following the Penske acquisition of Transpacific’s Commercial Vehicle Group in early 2013 were that MAN would likely continue its somewhat secondary role behind Western Star. But, again, change is in the air with Western Star sales sliding further into mediocrity as MAN’s figures, by no means significant, at least remain reasonably consistent and actually improved marginally during 2015 and 2016.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of a revitalised MAN effort came at Mt Cotton in the latter part of last year. Not only was it an event marking the belated arrival of the 560hp D38 engine in MAN’s TGX 26.560 flagship model – it is, after all, an engine previewed at the Brisbane Truck Show in 2015 and first launched in Europe almost three years ago – but it could be fairly argued that the feature attraction of the day was the attendance of Roger Penske himself.
It was, in fact, Penske’s first appearance at an Australian truck media event since the formation of Penske Commercial Vehicles. The significance of the occasion was forged deep when he not only sang the praises of the German product, but also took a D38-powered B-double for a run around the Mt Cotton circuit.
As we subsequently reported, “… there’s certainly something noteworthy in the fact that Roger Penske chose the introduction of the D38 to make his first appearance at a commercial vehicle presentation.”
Likewise, Penske was quick to shrug off MAN’s inconsistent history in this country, saying simply: “I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward.
“There is a trend to this type of truck,” he said emphatically of the latest MAN, citing a fully integrated engine, automated transmission and driveline package as the increasingly preferred choice of truck operators at all levels but, most prominently, among major fleets. “The buying trends are changing ... they [integrated packages] just have so many advantages.”
The emphasis, however, went up a few notches when talk turned to service and support functions,
“We’re going to ask a lot more of our dealers, and if they don’t stand up, then we’ll do it with our own dealers”
and dealers specifically. Stating the obvious, Penske professed: “This is a very competitive market … and things like fuel economy and service are the big ongoing issues today.
“We have to get better in our own business. We’re going to ask a lot more of our dealers, and if they don’t stand up, then we’ll do it with our own dealers.”
Therein, of course, resides a ‘make or break’ factor in MAN’s future prospects under the Penske banner. Good or otherwise, trucks are just one part of the picture and, in this “very competitive market”, service and support are often the deciding factors in whether a customer comes back for more or goes shopping elsewhere.
And, in this market, there’s certainly no shortage of ‘elsewhere’, particularly in the heavy-duty cabover class. Sure, competition is intense in every market segment, but it’s in the big end of the cab-over business where the big boys come to play, and play hard.
It’s a muscular mix of American and European brands constantly banging heads for business, typified by Kenworth’s remarkable K200 and Freightliner’s refreshed Argosy, Swedish super-powers Volvo and Scania, and, more recently, a profoundly rejuvenated and refurbished Mercedes-Benz making no secret of a fierce intention to claim a higher place on the pedestal.
Then throw a newly motivated MAN into the fray alongside Iveco, Paccar’s DAF and snippets of Japanese ambition, and the extent of the contest becomes blatantly and brutally obvious. It makes competition among the conventional classes look positively pedestrian by comparison.
Nor is it accidental that those brands perched at the top of the tree are there largely on the strength of a sound product backed by an established and dedicated service network.
Volvo Group Australia (VGA) chief Peter Voorhoeve, for example, repeatedly espouses the ongoing pursuit of service in all its forms as a critical contributor to the group’s, and specifically Volvo’s, stunning growth in recent years.
Likewise, there’d be little argument that Kenworth’s entrenched dealer network and the service reputation of engine supplier Cummins are similarly potent partners in the brand’s market leadership over many years.
Adding even more clout to the commentary, Mercedes-Benz principals have no hesitation in citing service and dealer performance as the vital links in achieving the full potential of their new and thoroughly impressive truck range.
As one high-ranking Benz boffin commented at the launch of the new line-up: “If we fail, it won’t be the truck’s fault.”
Judging by comments made at Mt Cotton and in our exclusive interview several months earlier, Roger Penske is of the same firm opinion and totally cognizant of the need for dealer and service standards which, at the very least, match market expectations. Nonetheless, it’s into this cauldron of competition teeming with highly advanced and essentially efficient trucks, backed for the most part by strong dealer and service networks with established customer bases, that Penske Commercial Vehicles is aiming to make sizeable gains with MAN generally and the flagship TGX D38 specifically.
Given the level of competition, it won’t be an easy road, but a new 560hp flagship with a healthy regard for fuel efficiency will certainly go a long way towards softening the bumps.
It may not be everyone’s idea of a desirable colour scheme. But if the aim was to stand out in the crowd, then the bold black, grey and slashing red graphics of the TGX 26.560 sure had the desired effect. Whatever the view, though, MAN product and operator training manager Steve Gibbins had the truck and Penske B-double outfit superbly prepared for what he quickly explained would be its maiden line-haul voyage.
In fact, other than a couple of days pulling the same B-double set
“On its maiden line-haul run, the fuel return of the MAN can only be considered extremely good”
around Mt Cotton during Roger Penske’s visit, most of the 1150km already on the odometer had been gathered running around Brisbane bobtail, getting things ready to take the big MAN to the masses in a busy schedule of promotional duties and customer trials.
Yet maiden voyages, of course, aren’t particularly conducive to good fuel figures, especially on busy linehaul runs like Brisbane to Newcastle down the Pacific Highway.
Sure, this infamous highway has improved dramatically over the last five years or so as political powers progressively make good on promises to cut the carnage, but it’s still a stretch with plenty of long pulls, creeping drags through towns like Coffs Harbour and Macksville, and relentless roadworks.
Even so, with a weighbridge receipt confirming gross weight just a tad under 62.5 tonnes, it was an entirely confident Steve Gibbins who espoused the firm belief that fuel consumption would be one of several notable features of the TGX with its new 15.2-litre engine.
Likeable, laconic and intensely loyal, he is a MAN man right to the bone and, perched in the shotgun seat in the early morning as the MAN strode quietly out of Penske’s Wacol premises, a resolute Gibbins predicted the fuel return from Brisbane to the NorthStar Motors dealership near Newcastle would be better than two kilometres per litre. Maybe as much as 2.2km/litre or better.
Behind the wheel, though, past experience suggested something considerably less for this weight, on this road, with so little mileage on the clock. Two kilometres per litre would be an excellent return, I suggested, but the likelihood would probably be something slightly less.
Obviously, time and toil would soon tell.
Meanwhile, inside the cab it was time to take stock and just let the MAN do its thing through the suburbs before hitting the crowded freeway south to the Tweed and into the hills beyond the border.
After an easy climb into the broad expanse of what MAN terms its XLX high-roof sleeper cab, a few things were quickly apparent.
For starters, the steering wheel is probably bigger than anything else on the market – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, a small wheel in a big Euro cab with supple suspension can create twitchy steering response whereas a bigger wheel isn’t quite so reactive.
Admittedly, the MAN tiller may be a tad on the excessive side but, as the day would divulge, it’s certainly an asset when reversing a fully laden B-double in tight confines, while the truck’s steering quality and road handling on the Pacific’s various pavements were entirely acceptable.
On the arms of the wheel are control buttons for a wide range of on-board functions and information systems, but operational logic isn’t as straightforward as some. Familiarity takes time and patience. Likewise, while the interior layout is, for the most part, practical and comfortable, there are definitely areas where the TGX cab is lagging behind more recent designs.
For instance, while the modest rise in floor height above the engine is not particularly intrusive, and there’s at least standing room for six-footers, the design and location of a fridge and storage bin protrude considerably into standing space between the seats and subsequently infringe on access to the bunk. As for the bunk, it wasn’t ‘tested’ on the daylight run south, but even a cursory look suggests it’s equal to most of its continental competition. Still, you’re left to wonder about the wisdom of the upper-level second bunk in a cab not particularly conducive to two-up work.
Meantime, the transmission control knob on a pedestal beside the driver’s seat isn’t necessarily intrusive but it certainly lacks the ergonomic ease of more modern contemporaries. Put simply, the TGX cab is, in some areas, showing its age.
That said, though, the standard feature list is appealing with a highquality Isri driver’s seat, touchscreen stereo with integrated Bluetooth and USB, electric windows and, likewise, electrically operated heated mirrors.
Yet like many mirror designs these days, particularly in the cabover class and most notably at roundabouts, forward vision at the front quarters is impeded by the depth and width of mirror frames. Back on the plus side, there’s the undeniable benefit of a ‘hill-hold’ function that makes hill starts easy on driver and driveline alike, especially with a full load on board.
For all the odds and sods there are ample storage recesses above the windscreen, while spacious under-bunk storage is also accessible through outside lockers. Definitely a notable asset is a ‘light test’ function which, as MAN puts it, “cycles through all lights on the truck and trailers, allowing the driver to safely check operation”.
Typical of the continental class, safety rates high on the list of standard inclusions with items like electronically controlled disc brakes all-round, ABS anti-lock, electronic stability control, ASR anti-skid, front cornering lights, and deformable cab mounts which “allow the cab to move rearward while absorbing the energy of a collision”.
For the really safety conscious, there’s an optional safety pack active+ kit with systems called emergency brake assist, lane guard, active cruise control and emergency stopping signal.
All fine features, of course, and all fitted to the test truck but, from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, it’s the powertrain and driveline where MAN has most to crow about.
For starters, the TGX 26.560 comes with a gross combination mass (GCM) rating up to 120 tonnes (and more with engineering approval) and, importantly, MAN insiders eagerly extol the success of cooling trials at even higher weights during early testing of the D38 engine.
In simple terms, the D38 is a 15.2-litre, twin turbocharged and intercooled in-line six with commonrail fuel injection and Euro 6 emissions levels achieved with the combined inputs of SCR and EGR, and a modified diesel particulate filter known as CRT. It is, MAN says, “a continuous regenerative system” which negates the need for servicing of a typical diesel particulate filter.
For its first foray on the Australian market, the D38 delivers 418kW (560hp) at 1800rpm and pugnacious torque of 2700Nm (1991ft-lb) on tap all the way from 930 to 1350rpm. Importantly, it also offers up to 600kW (805hp) of retardation power through a graduated and highly effective retarder.
Coupled to the engine is the latest evolution of the ZF-developed MAN TipMatic 12-speed overdrive automated shifter, otherwise known as TipMatic2 or Traxion, which includes three new fuel-saving modes referred to as idle speed driving, speed-shifting and efficient-roll. From behind the wheel, though, the great attraction of the upgraded shifter is unquestionably the exceptional speed and smoothness of each shift, and a grade-sensing intuition which is nothing less than remarkable.
Putting the grunt on the ground is a
hypoid drive tandem with diff locks and power divider mounted on an eight-bag electronically controlled airsuspension. Diff ratios are 3.08:1 to 3.76:1, aimed mainly at single trailer and road train roles respectively, and 3.36:1 for line-haul B-double combinations such as the test unit.
As the run down the Pacific quickly revealed, the 3.36 diff ratio delivers 100km/h at a touch under 1350rpm and, combined with an overdrive transmission obviously programmed to provide the best possible blend of fuel efficiency and pulling power, allows the D38 to do the vast majority of its work below 1500rpm.
Sure, there were those occasional instances when the approach to a long climb provoked a swap to manual mode for an early downshift.
But, for the most part, it was easy to feel entirely content with the automated MAN’s ability to run low into the rev range yet make the right shift at exactly the right time. And, again, the speed and smoothness of the automated shift are second to none. Very impressive!
FRUGAL ON FUEL
Consequently, early indications were that fuel consumption would be extraordinarily good and Steve Gibbins’ prediction would be close to fact.
The on-board computer, for example, revealed an exceptionally frugal fuel return of 2.16km/litre (6.1mpg) for the 310km run between Brisbane and North Grafton.
However, 300km further on at Coolongolook, consumption had peeled back to 2.07km/litre (5.8mpg) as the undulating terrain, road works and the slow, sharp grinds through Coffs Harbour took their collective toll.
Things didn’t change much over the next 150km to or so to the NorthStar dealership at Heatherbrae, where overall fuel consumption for the 760km trip was recorded at 2.06km/litre.
Given earlier thoughts that anything around two kilometres per litre would be a respectable result for a fully laden truck on its maiden line-haul run, the fuel return of the MAN can only be considered extremely good.
What’s more, as Gibbins rightly pointed out, fuel consumption will only improve as more mileage is notched. More to the point, his early prediction that fuel efficiency would be one of several notable features of the TGX with its new 15.2-litre engine proved to be right on the money.
When it’s all boiled down, the 560hp D38 engine gives MAN two vital attributes: a truck with more muscle than ever before, and top-shelf fuel efficiency.
Sure, a design upgrade of the TGX cab both inside and out wouldn’t go astray, and some might argue that a 15-litre engine in this day and age should be dispensing more than 560hp.
Fair enough, but it’s still a comfortable, well-appointed truck with good road manners, while on the performance front there are already indications that Penske’s MAN team has plans to bring higher powered versions of the D38 to the Australian market within the next year or so.
In the interim, there’s no denying the 560 rating has the potential to enhance the brand’s standing in the market, particularly in B-double roles.
Again, though, a good truck is only part of the picture, especially in an ultra-competitive market such as Australia. Any doubts, just ask Roger Penske!
Inside views. There’s no shortage of fine features in the TGX cab and the bunk is certainly equal to most of its continental competitors. In some areas though, it’s a design starting to show its age
On track. MAN TGX with the 560hp D38 was launched at the Mt Cotton Driver Training complex in the latter part of 2016. Early impressions were positive and soon after confirmed by the model’s maiden line-haul run