Road test:

DAF’S 510hp CF85 cops test­ing work­out

Owner Driver - - Front Page - Steve Brooks re­ports

IT HAS surely taken a while, but DAF fi­nally ap­pears to have done ev­ery­thing right in devel­op­ment of a model specif­i­cally for the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

And that truck is the ver­sa­tile CF85 with the top 510hp ver­sion of Paccar’s MX-13 en­gine.

More than any of its past or present sib­lings, this truck has the dis­tinct and over­due po­ten­tial to lift DAF out of the depths of the heavy-duty class and, in the process, pro­vide the brand with the lev­els of mar­ket ac­cep­tance long sought but rarely re­alised.

Not for a mo­ment is that meant to sug­gest DAF will be steal­ing Volvo’s crown as the lead­ing con­ti­nen­tal cabover in this coun­try any­time soon. Ab­so­lutely not! As things stand at the mo­ment, the thought is far­ci­cal.

What it does dare to sug­gest, how­ever, is that DAF now has a spear­head model with the at­tributes to kick-start a new era for a brand that has strug­gled for con­sid­er­a­tion as a con­tender, let alone a se­ri­ous com­peti­tor.

True, there’s noth­ing revo­lu­tion­ary in tak­ing an ex­ist­ing model such as the CF85 and slip­ping a high­er­pow­ered ver­sion of a cur­rent en­gine un­der the cab. Nor is there any­thing earth shat­ter­ing about giv­ing it a trans­mis­sion with more speeds.

Like­wise, there’s noth­ing es­pe­cially no­table about test­ing a new com­bi­na­tion un­der Aus­tralian op­er­a­tions to make sure it can cope with the va­garies of this coun­try’s con­di­tions. Stan­dard prac­tice, you’d reckon! Well, maybe in some minds, but, un­til now, such stan­dards haven’t been par­tic­u­larly prom­i­nent in the his­tory of DAF trucks in this coun­try.

In fact, DAF’s early days un­der Dutch rule were rid­dled with ex­am­ples of ill-con­ceived and poorly ex­e­cuted at­tempts to crack the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

Still, things have at least im­proved on the cor­po­rate front. Since Ken­worth and Peter­bilt par­ent Paccar took con­trol of the trou­bled truck and en­gine maker in 1996, DAF has evolved to be­come one of Europe’s most suc­cess­ful brands.

Vi­tally, DAF has also been the de­sign and tech­nol­ogy plat­form for Paccar’s hugely suc­cess­ful push with the MX en­gine range into North Amer­ica. As we’ve pre­vi­ously re­ported, at the end of last year there were more than 135,000 MX en­gines pow­er­ing Ken­worth and Peter­bilt mod­els across the length and breadth of North Amer­ica.


Ob­vi­ously enough, it’s a dif­fer­ent story in our neck of the woods, where DAF has strug­gled to even par­tially em­u­late its Euro­pean ex­pe­ri­ence. De­spite re­peated as­sur­ances from Paccar’s lo­cal lead­ers that the con­ti­nen­tal cab-over is on the cusp of a brighter fu­ture, the brand has hung tena­ciously to the lower lev­els of the heavy-duty sales charts.

That said, though, mar­ket stats are now in­di­cat­ing the first hints of a turn­ing tide and, crit­i­cally, a smarter mind­set high­lighted by a 510hp CF85 model con­fig­ured to spe­cific mar­ket seg­ments rather than try­ing to be all things to all peo­ple. And those seg­ments are the metro and re­gional ap­pli­ca­tions where the cur­rent 460hp ver­sion of the MX-13 en­gine al­ready

“Much de­pends on the suc­cess of the 510hp CF85”

does a re­spectable job but lacks the fire­power to se­ri­ously chal­lenge for a reg­u­lar spot in the bur­geon­ing short­haul and re­gional B-dou­ble busi­ness. Or, for that mat­ter, those sin­gle-trailer and truck-and-dog du­ties where 500plus is in­creas­ingly pre­ferred.

As DAF Trucks Aus­tralia gen­eral man­ager Rob Grif­fin said re­cently: “The CF85 at its 460hp rat­ing is DAF’s best seller but the in­dus­try has a psy­che around 500hp and that’s where the 510 rat­ing un­der the CF cab opens up new mar­ket seg­ments to DAF.”

A re­al­ist in ev­ery sense, Rob Grif­fin is in­tently con­fi­dent the 510 rat­ing will carve new busi­ness for DAF, but he’s equally in­tent it won’t be at any cost. Grif­fin, like many oth­ers, has long be­lieved the ma­jor­ity of the Dutch truck’s dilem­mas – and its sub­se­quent rep­u­ta­tion – were spawned by a ‘one truck fits all’ men­tal­ity which saw var­i­ous ver­sions sold into ap­pli­ca­tions that were sim­ply too oner­ous for the avail­able spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

That’s why, he in­sists, the flag­ship XF105 will con­tinue to be DAF’s line-haul spe­cial­ist while the up­rated CF85, with its com­fort­able yet con­sid­er­ably lower cab, will es­sen­tially tar­get metro and re­gional work, even though both mod­els now share the 510hp rat­ing.

Still, an adamant Rob Grif­fin knows it won’t be easy. He takes noth­ing for granted and gives no sug­ges­tion of reach­ing for the un­reach­able. It is, af­ter all, a mar­ket seg­ment packed with high-qual­ity con­ti­nen­tal con­tenders from the likes of Volvo, Sca­nia and a re­newed Mercedes-Benz.

None­the­less, if DAF were to fin­ish this year with 5 per cent or more of the heavy-duty sec­tor, it would be a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment and Grif­fin ad­mits he’d be sat­is­fied. For now!

Much de­pends, he con­cedes, on the suc­cess of the 510hp CF85 but so, too, does plenty de­pend on get­ting peo­ple be­hind the wheel to re­place aged per­cep­tions with mod­ern re­al­ity. And it’s that re­al­ity we found re­cently in a test run of the 510hp CF85 over the hills and high­ways of re­gional Vic­to­ria.


Ad­mit­tedly, it would’ve been good to have more weight in the Freighter trailer. But, even with gross weight at just 32.5 tonnes, there was plenty to keep the truck hon­est and, like­wise, more than enough to sam­ple the man­ners of a model on which so much hinges for the DAF brand.

For starters, this par­tic­u­lar unit was on its maiden voy­age with lit­tle more than 100km on the clock as the truck headed out of Paccar HQ in Bayswa­ter, fol­lowed soon af­ter by a steep and sharply wind­ing route up and over the foothills of Vic­to­ria’s high coun­try. All up, the DAF would notch more than 600km of vastly vary­ing ter­rain, from coun­try back­roads to fast free­ways and stints in the ‘burbs to and from Bayswa­ter.

Yet other than a re­cent short run around Bris­bane’s Mt Cot­ton test track in the up­rated CF85, it’d been seven or eight years, maybe longer, since I’d last driven a DAF.

Still, it was quickly ap­par­ent that evo­lu­tion has had a hugely pos­i­tive in­flu­ence, and any pre­vi­ous con­cerns or even pre­sump­tions were quickly quashed as the CF85 strolled around the Mt Cot­ton cir­cuit with con­sum­mate ease and com­fort.

In short, there was plenty to like, and the op­por­tu­nity to run an iden­ti­cal model in real-world con­di­tions was sim­ply too good to miss.

The 510hp rat­ing is known in Paccar par­lance as the MX375 and, like all MX en­gines used in Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing in Ken­worth’s T409 model, Euro 5 com­pli­ance is achieved with an SCR emis­sions sys­tem.

On the per­for­mance front, peak power of 375kW (510hp) is on tap from 1500 to 1900rpm and top torque of 2500Nm (1850ft-lb) from 1000 to 1410rpm. What th­ese fig­ures de­fine is an en­gine de­liv­er­ing an im­pres­sively strong and smooth sup­ply of ef­fort across a wide rev range.

Mak­ing mat­ters even smoother is the 16-speed ver­sion of ZF’s AS-Tronic au­to­mated trans­mis­sion, in­stalled as stan­dard equip­ment (as it is in the top-shelf XF105) to en­hance the op­er­a­tional flex­i­bil­ity of the 510hp CF85. Opt­ing for the over­drive 16-speeder in­stead of its 12-speed sib­ling was a wise move by DAF, par­tic­u­larly when you con­sider the 510hp CF’s gross com­bi­na­tion mass rat­ing of 70 tonnes and the in­evitabil­ity of op­er­at­ing at B-dou­ble weights in the stop ‘n’ start snarl of met­ro­pol­i­tan con­di­tions.

Again, with op­er­a­tional flex­i­bil­ity in mind, the stan­dard diff ra­tio in the Mer­i­tor drive tan­dem is 3.73:1. By com­par­i­son, the XF105 em­ploys a faster 3.58:1 ra­tio for line-haul work.


What it all boils down to is an ex­tremely re­spon­sive and highly in­tu­itive com­bi­na­tion across a di­verse range of con­di­tions.

Com­pat­i­bil­ity be­tween the MX en­gine and ZF trans­mis­sion is ex­cep­tional, pro­vid­ing smooth and con­sis­tent per­for­mance through quick and en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate shifts, whether haul­ing through sub­ur­ban traf­fic or run­ning up and over the de­mand­ing high-coun­try hills.

“Make no mis­take – this is a nice truck to drive”

It’s also worth not­ing that, de­spite a mod­est gross weight of just 32.5 tonnes, the re­tar­da­tion per­for­mance of the op­tional MX en­gine brake (an ex­haust brake is the stan­dard re­tarder) on sev­eral steep de­scents was both strong and sur­pris­ingly quiet. Like­wise, an elec­tronic brak­ing sys­tem of discs on the front axle and drums on the drive – com­plete with anti-lock, anti-slip and hill-hold func­tions – pro­vided the smooth, pow­er­ful brak­ing ex­pected of any mod­ern com­bi­na­tion.

Mean­time, on the flat south­bound daw­dle back to Mel­bourne along the Hume Free­way, the DAF strode to 100km/h at a flick over 1550rpm, and while some minds may fig­ure this a tad high for ef­fi­cient coun­try cruis­ing, it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing DAF’s de­sire to pro­vide a driv­e­train with a high level of op­er­a­tional flex­i­bil­ity. All up, it’s a good com­pro­mise.

Be­sides, it’d be a hard marker who would con­sider the fuel re­turn of 2.21km/litre (6.24mpg) at the end of the ex­er­cise to be any­thing other than re­spectable con­sid­er­ing the wildly vary­ing de­mands of ter­rain and traf­fic on a truck with just a few hun­dred kilo­me­tres un­der its belt.

Still on fuel, the test truck was fit­ted with twin rec­tan­gu­lar tanks hold­ing a com­bined ca­pac­ity of 770 litres, along with a 45-litre AdBlue tank. Not the sort of ca­pac­i­ties you’d like for long-haul work but cer­tainly ad­e­quate for most city and coun­try runs. Crit­i­cal as they are, though, fuel and per­for­mance fac­tors are far from the only con­sid­er­a­tions in the mod­ern as­sess­ment of any truck and, as ex­pected, DAF’s CF85 typ­i­fies the high stan­dards of com­fort, con­ve­nience and road man­ners found in Euro­pean cab-overs of most per­sua­sions.

It doesn’t take long to re­alise why the CF is DAF’s top seller.

The rel­a­tively low-slung cab is avail­able in slim­line and sleeper form, the lat­ter with a stan­dard or raised roofline, and, in all cases, of­fers the easy en­try and exit qual­i­ties deemed a pre­req­ui­site by most fleets, par­tic­u­larly in the lo­cal and re­gional fleet work DAF in­tends to tar­get.

Mean­while, ride qual­ity is first rate thanks to the com­bined qual­i­ties of a cab mounted on four coil springs, a front axle rid­ing on long par­a­bolic leaf springs and a back-end on Paccar’s pop­u­lar Air­glide eight-bag air sus­pen­sion.

In fact, in any over­all as­sess­ment of ride, road man­ners and gen­eral han­dling, in­clud­ing a great turn­ing cir­cle for ma­noeu­vring in tight spots, the qual­i­ties of the CF85 on this ex­er­cise were ex­cep­tional and equal to any in the busi­ness. And I mean any!

Make no mis­take, this is a nice truck to drive.

On the inside, the driver sits on a high-qual­ity seat in a cock­pit-style lay­out where gauges and switchgear are gen­er­ally well placed.

Though, like all trucks, fa­mil­iar­ity takes a lit­tle time. At first glance, the trailer brake lever sticks out like a sore thumb, but its con­ve­nience for mo­men­tar­ily hold­ing the truck at traf­fic lights and the like soon out­weighs first im­pres­sions.

Of course, the rel­a­tively low stature of the cab also means there’s a sub­stan­tial en­gine cowl, so get­ting in and out of the bunk is some­thing of a man­aged move­ment. The bunk it­self, how­ever, is more

Class act: Ride qual­ity, road man­ners and gen­eral han­dling of the CF85 on a de­mand­ing and di­verse test route were first rate

Inside views: for lo­cal and re­gional work, the CF85 pro­vides a com­fort­able and prac­ti­cal lay­out. A re­ally nice truck to drive

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