T610 on track:
Test run for Kenworth’s ‘best truck’ range
KENWORTH BEING Kenworth, senior insiders at the Mt Cotton drive event were hesitant to give too much away when asked if early orders for the new T610 and its SAR sibling were meeting or exceeding expectations.
But people being people, you didn’t have to wait too long or listen too hard to see satisfied smiles and hear whispers of exceptional numbers now that the covers are off the truck boldly proclaimed by Kenworth as its latest and greatest ever!
From all accounts – unofficial, of course – there were close to 400 firm orders in place by the time production kicked off in early February at Kenworth’s Bayswater (Vic) factory and, significantly, early momentum was showing no signs of levelling out, let alone fading.
Even so, history proves that Kenworth is not an outfit to storm the beaches without knowing the depth of the water, which means that recent indications of ramped up production at Bayswater are a precursor to a big, bold and bountiful year for the market-leading brand.
Then again, should anyone be surprised? After all, the big-budget 610s are the first entirely new conventional models from Kenworth since the introduction 30 years ago of the trendsetting T600 Anteater, so their arrival was always going to be a big deal. Besides, as much as some competitors may hate to acknowledge it, Kenworth only has to cough and people take notice.
Like it or loath it, that’s just the way it is, and from the moment the first rumour of an entirely new Kenworth conventional surfaced, people started to watch, wait and wonder. And I was certainly one of them.
Several test units were eventually spotted, and it wasn’t long before images started to appear on phones, along with concocted and hugely naive notions that the new truck was simply a right-hand drive version of an imported US model, namely the T680 or T880.
Typically, Kenworth kept its cool and said nothing other than the usual line that it never talks about new products before they’re released.
Yet patience, persistence and an understanding of Kenworth’s entrenched commitment to local engineering and manufacturing managed to achieve something very special.
Thus, a few weeks before the upmarket unveiling of the new trucks in front of hundreds of invited guests at the Bayswater plant, I was fortunate to be the first truck journo not only granted a few hours behind the wheel, but given the first detailed insight of the 610s development by some of the people most responsible for its creation.
Best of all, it was blatantly apparent
“Manual shifters may still represent up to 80 per cent of Kenworth’s production”
from the outset that the 610 was something truly impressive, created specifically for our part of the world.
To recap the broad details, the T610 and its SAR counterpart are the result of a long-term and expensive development program drawing from the platforms of Kenworth and Peterbilt in the US, then fashioned by Bayswater’s extensive engineering and manufacturing capabilities to produce models tailored to the exact requirements of Australia and surrounding regions. Around $20 million was invested in bringing the new trucks to life, making the ’610 program Kenworth’s biggest single investment in new product in its 40-year Australian history.
Development centred on replacing the 1.83m-wide cab, dating back to the original T600 in the mid-’80s, with an entirely new 2.1m-wide structure which sets a dynamic new design path for Kenworth in this country. In fact, it seems the only thing in or on the cab that isn’t new is Kenworth’s iconic ‘bug’.
Individuals will, of course, make their own judgements, but greater internal space, an entirely new dash layout, superb vision over the sloping snout and through excellent side mirrors, full standing room in sleeper versions, and exceptional steering quality are just some of the things that, in my mind, combine to not only make the T610 cab bigger and vastly better than its predecessor, but notably ahead of any other conventional on the market.
Again, individual opinions may vary but as far as this commentator’s concerned, the gains in space, function and form are extraordinary.
Sure, it’s a big call so early in the evolution of new models but there’s more to it than just a new cab design. It is, for example, a cab that also sits higher and further forward, giving the 610 day cab a remarkably compact bumper to back-of-cab (BBC) dimension of 2845mm (112 inches), with its SAR brother just 15mm (a fraction more than half an inch) longer.
These dimensions are a massive asset from an operational viewpoint, making both forms of the 610 highly attractive for a multitude of lengthcritical combinations and, vitally, still available with outputs up to 600hp (441kW) and 2050ft-lb of torque.
What’s more, and no doubt adding even greater insight into why the new models have gained such early traction with operators, the 610s are direct replacements for the hugely popular T409 and T409 SAR. Or, more specifically, 409s powered by the 15-litre Cummins formerly known as the ISXe5.
In sync with the launch of the new Kenworth, the Cummins SCR engine has been rebranded X15 and comes with the same hardware and performance ratings as the e5.
Yet along with a new badge, the X15 also comes with a suite of new software programs – collectively labelled ADEPT, or Advanced Dynamic Efficient Powertrain Technology – designed to enhance performance and efficiency when the engine’s coupled to Eaton’s UltrashiftPlus automated transmission.
Maybe that’s why six of the seven 610s lined up for demo duties at Mt Cotton had the 18-speed UltrashiftPlus automated box.
Manual shifters may still represent up to 80 per cent of Kenworth’s production but there’s no question times are changing. Fast!
In fact, with the arrival of X15 and a software package designed around Eaton’s automated transmission, the likelihood is that Kenworth and Cummins will be gently urging uptake of the automated option to build the competitive case for greater fuel efficiency.
Still, old habits die hard. Having driven an automated version a few weeks before the official launch, it seemed only fair to grab the lone manual model for the first drive of the day. Besides, few others initially seemed interested in stirring a stick which was, perhaps, another sign of the times as driver standards drop deeper into the dungeon.
The seven trucks lined up at Mt Cotton were four T610s with the set-back front axle and three in set-forward SAR form. Likewise, three were fitted with the cleverly configured 860mm (34-inch) sleeper which provides full standing room, and the remainder in day cab layout. Some were loaded, some were not.
The manual truck was a T610 SAR sleeper model coupled to an unladen B-double set belonging to line-haul specialist SRV. And just as they did during the pre-launch sneak peek a few months back, first impressions were impressive.
For starters, floor height of the T610 is 75mm higher than its 409 predecessor, creating an extra step for cab entry. Still, it’s certainly not a difficult climb in or out, and the higher stance allows hot air under the cab to more easily escape out the back.
While we’re on hot air, Kenworth has repeatedly emphasised the engineering effort that went into designing a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning package suited to Australia’s vast extremes.
Fortunately, a Mt Cotton day that saw temperatures climb into the high 30s at least verified Kenworth’s claims, bringing cabs that had been standing in the heat for long periods down to a comfortable temperature within minutes.
What’s more, the positive impressions made during the first drive of a sleeper cab model several months earlier were no less applicable after driving most of the trucks at Mt Cotton.
Consequently, it’s probably worth reiterating at least some of those original comments: “There’s a substantial increase in space around the driver’s footwell, the gap between the seats has significantly opened and, with a rise in the height of the bunk, there’s now room for an optional slide-out fridge.
“In fact, it’s quite amazing what Kenworth has achieved with an extra 270mm between the B-pillars. The taller cab also improves visibility, though some drivers may rue the fact that the top of the KW ‘bug’ is no longer visible and therefore unavailable as a line of sight to the edge of the road.”
However, that comment referred to the T610, and it can now be confirmed that the top of the ‘bug’ is visible from the driver’s seat of the SAR version.
Similarly, vision through the single-piece windscreen over a drooping snout is exceptionally good, while the mirrors are possibly the best in the business.
They’re mounted low enough to provide almost no impediment to a clear line of sight at roundabouts, and, as we pointed out earlier: “They’re also incredibly strong as one exuberant Kenworth executive demonstrated by swinging his full weight from the mounting arm.”
Referring again to the original story: “Visually the dash is decidedly different but, in typical Kenworth fashion, is strong on function and form.”
The photos with this report describe the dash best, but suffice to say practicality was a critical design criterion: “The initial design sees a woodgrain fascia surrounding traditional gauges, with an optional multi-function touchscreen in the pipeline.
“Lower down, and within relatively easy reach, is a line of switches for a wide range of functions such as engine brake, diff lock and the like.
“Meanwhile, switches for cruise control, audio and menu functions for an LCD info display directly in front of the driver are mounted on the arms of a comfortably padded steering wheel.”
It could, however, be suggested that with only one or two gauges in the central panels on the driver’s left, the dash fascia can look decidedly bland. Even unfinished.
Sure, in the absence of more gauges (up to 18 gauges can be specified in the T610), the blank area is ideal for mounting a phone, telematics system or the like, but in those ‘bare bones’ applications, where the result is just a slab of blank grey, maybe Kenworth could add a ‘bug’ just to add a touch of class. To my mind, the cab deserves something better than a blank slab.
On the other side of the equation, the dash layout directly in front of the driver is modern, clean, and complete. As already stated: “Practicality was clearly high on the agenda. Most prominent gauges are the speedo and rev counter under a central LCD screen, while on each side are well-positioned gauges for fuel and AdBlue, front- and rear-brake air pressure, coolant temperature, and engine oil pressure.
“Yet arguably the greatest concessions to practicality, and certainly bucking the trend in modern automotive design, are exposed fasteners holding the dash in place.”
As Kenworth director of sales and marketing Brad May explained: “The trend in automotive styling these days is to hide screws and fasteners, but if something needs attention behind the dash, access is made a lot easier and there’s much less chance of damage by simply undoing a few easily reached screws to get behind the dash.” Smart!
Again, as we previously pointed out, cup holder trays on the lower edge of the dash centre differ between automated and manual models: “With a manual transmission, the cup holder is neat and unobtrusive, but automated versions have the ‘Cobra’ shift controller mounted on a much larger assembly which extends notably into cab space.
“Put simply, the mounting of the ‘Cobra’ shifter is intrusive and outdated in an entirely new cab layout where the design emphasis revolves around space, function and form.”
And that, I suppose, brings us back to the Eaton 18-speed manual shifter in the T610 SAR B-double at Mt Cotton.
"Our Best Truck Yet", says Kenworth. And they’re not kidding
The new Kenworth T610 line-up: ready to rumble at Mt Cotton
On the inside. It’s totally new and unlike anything Kenworth has ever produced before. Overall, function and form rate high in the new layout
Stick shift. A sign of the times, the only manual model offered for drives at Mt Cotton was this SAR version hooked an unladen B-double set