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

Owner Driver - - Front Page - Steve Brooks

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.

HIGH­WAY VIRGIN

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.

BIG WHEEL

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.

NICE SPEC

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

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