Robust rigids: Mercedes-Benz showcases new line-up
Following in the footsteps of its acclaimed prime mover range, Mercedes-Benz has showcased a new rigid truck line-up during recent drive events in and around Brisbane. Sporting many of the attributes of their bigger brothers, there’s a lot to like as Benz
AS THE star attractions of an entirely new generation of trucks, it was inevitable that Mercedes-Benz would kick-off its three-phase launch program with an expansive range of highly appealing prime mover models. And that’s exactly what happened late last year.
Similarly, though, a fully reconfigured rigid range was the second phase and, as expected, the new rigids took centre stage on the Mercedes-Benz stand at the Brisbane Truck Show earlier this year. The trifecta will be complete later this year when dedicated construction and allwheel drive rigid models are released.
All up, this new generation of trucks marks an entirely new bridgehead for the Benz brand in this country, almost certainly providing the brand with more opportunity and more success than ever before, and in the process delivering at least some semblance of the market strength befitting a world power in truck production.
Then again, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Mercedes-Benz to surpass the mediocre performance and even more mediocre reputation of earlier Actros models. In fact, early reports on the new prime mover models launched late last year suggest initial sales expectations have already been exceeded, with fuel economy and operational ease cited as the main motivators for a high level of response from truck buyers.
Market statistics since the start of the year show Mercedes-Benz steadily inching its way to higher rungs on the heavy-duty sales ladder and, at the end of July, holding 6.4 per cent of the sector for the year to date. What’s more, you don’t have to look too close at the figures to see that Benz’s numbers are now almost double those of corporate cousin Freightliner.
What a difference a year makes. Around this time last year, Freightliner was at much the same level as Mercedes-Benz now, lending weight to the assertion in some quarters that Benz folk have, in many cases, targeted Freightliner Argosy customers rather than a boots ‘n’ all assault on the likes of Volvo, Scania and Kenworth. ‘Not the case’ say Mercedes-Benz representatives.
In any case, there’s no denying an odd coincidence in Benz bouncing up the chart at the same time as Freightliner falls further into the doldrums.
Meantime, the arrival of a new breed of 3- and 4-axle rigid models is sure to add even more vigour to MercedesBenz’s march to higher levels on the heavy-duty ladder. Likewise, 2-axle derivatives are hoped to at least boost Benz’s modest presence in a mediumduty market dominated by Japanese brands which obviously include that other corporate cohort, Fuso.
However you look at it, there’s a confidence in the Benz camp these days which hasn’t been evident for years, even decades, and Benz insiders already buoyed by the early success of their prime mover portfolio now see metro distribution roles, from local delivery to the high demands of waste work, as ideal targets for this new crop of contenders.
Given that Mercedes-Benz has largely been an ‘also ran’ in metro applications over the past few decades, the potential for growth is undeniably strong. For starters, the rigids share high degrees of commonality with the prime mover family, not least in power and drivetrain combinations. Likewise, and particularly relevant in fleet applications, the similarities in switchgear and control layouts between prime movers and rigids are immediately apparent from behind the wheel.
Underneath are the same 7.7- and 11-litre 6-cylinder engines used in the lighter end of the prime mover range, though Benz points out that 13- and 16-litre engines are available for specific models in heavier applications, notably under the new eight-wheeler.
The 7.7-litre engine is rated at 299 or 354hp (223 or 264kW) while the 11-litre is available at ratings from 398 to 428 and 455hp (297, 319 and 339kW). Typically, both engines employ asymmetric turbocharging and what Mercedes-Benz refers to as its X-Pulse high-pressure direct injection system. For the record, asymmetric turbocharging is explained as a fixed turbine system which varies air flow to the combustion chamber through the use of a simple valve rather than the more complex and potentially troublesome moving parts of a variable geometry turbocharger.
Of course, all engines in the new Benz range comply with Euro 6 emissions standards through the combined technologies of SCR, EGR and a diesel particulate filter. All the new rigids also use the slick shifts of Mercedes-Benz’s latest PowerShift automated transmission in 8- or 12-speed form, now equipped with a creeper gear for low-speed reversing into loading bays and the like.
While there are three different
“This new generation of trucks marks an entirely new bridgehead for the Benz brand”
“The new rigid range was part of a comprehensive local testing program”
cab configurations across the rigid range, they’re all 2.3 metres wide, all meet the tough Swedish cab crash test standard, and all come with roof-mounted air horns, remote locking, electric mirrors, and a locally developed touchscreen sat-nav and audio unit with DVD player. On the options list are several interior style trims as well as a sleeper cab and rear seat layouts on some models.
Safety is a significant factor in any Mercedes-Benz product and the rigid range comes standard with an electronic braking system and, depending on the model, there are also stability control, hill-hold and traction control functions. Critically, and in an obvious move to not repeat the mistakes of the past, rigid models were subjected to the same extensive local test program as their bigger brothers from the outset.
As Mercedes-Benz states in a press release: “The new rigid range was part of a comprehensive local testing program that has now included more than 35 customers, 20 trucks and more than 1.8 million kilometres.”
Indeed, one of the four units used in a recent day-long test drive of the new rigids was the same 2635 6x4 curtain-sider offered for a pre-release peek of the new Benz family mid-way through last year. In the interim, the truck had accrued almost 70,000km in real-world testing.
Judging from the hour spent behind the wheel, it had endured exceptionally well. In fact, with the engine and drivetrain at least run-in, it was arguably the best performer of all four demo units.
All up, there are 11 models in a rigid line-up which Mercedes-Benz slots into four categories.
4x2 Medium-Duty Distribution: Known as the 1230L and the 1630L, these two lively toilers come with gross vehicle mass (GVM) ratings of 11.99 and 16 tonnes respectively. Power comes from the 7.7-litre engine with 299hp and 1200Nm of torque driving into the 8-speed PowerShift automated transmission. Cabs are available in slimline, extended and sleeper configurations. 6x2 Heavy-Duty Distribution: The 2530 and 2535 single-drive six-wheelers have a GVM rating of 26 tonnes and gross combination mass (GCM) of 32 tonnes. Both are powered by the 7.7-litre engine, with the 2530 using the 299hp rating whereas the 2535 has the 354hp setting with 1400Nm of torque, and driving through the eightspeed PowerShift transmission. The cab is what Benz calls its M-Cab Classic Space. 6x4 Heavy-Duty Distribution and Vocational: These are the 2635, 2640, 2643 and 2646, and in any assessment they are the spearhead of the rigid range, all with a GVM rating of 26 tonnes. As for GCM, all are rated at 44 tonnes, except the 2635, which is rated to 32 tonnes and the only one of this group to be powered by the 7.7-litre engine, in this case at 354hp. All others are punched by the 11-litre engine with outputs of 394hp and 1900Nm in the 2640, 428hp and 2100Nm in the 2643, and 455hp and 2200Nm in the 2646. All four models stir through the 12-speed PowerShift box and cab sizes range from the M-Cab to the bigger L-cab. 8x4 Heavy-Duty Distribution and Vocational: The eight-wheelers are the 3240L, 3243L and 3246L, all with GVM and GCM ratings of 32 tonnes and 44 tonnes respectively, all powered by the 11-litre engine with the same outputs as their 6x4 equivalents, all stirring through the 12-speed PowerShift automated transmission, and all fitted with the M-cab.
ON THE ROAD
One model from each group was made available for short driving stints over a diverse test route which started at the Daimler Trucks Queensland facility at Rocklea and headed west to Esk over Wivenhoe Dam before turning onto the sharp and twisting
section of road through to Hampton. From there it was on to Toowoomba and a run down the range for the return to Rocklea.
An hour or so in each truck was hardly a definitive review but it at least provided an insight into each model’s manners and muscle, particularly with the trucks carrying respectable loads.
In my case, first cab off the rank was the 4x2 1630L model. Based largely on the Atego medium-duty chassis, a lively 7.7-litre engine punching through the quick and ultrasmooth shifts of the much improved PowerShift transmission certainly provided extremely responsive performance.
Yet like all four trucks in this exercise, the standout feature was the exceptional ‘understanding’ between engine, transmission and retarder over rolling terrain. In all models, the cohesive relationship between the various functions is nothing less than outstanding, and perhaps best highlighted by the fast and almost undiscernible engagement of the ‘Eco’ roll function on downhill sections.
Yet as good as the 1630 model was in many respects, a steering wheel sitting off-centre and what seemed a considerable need for wheel alignment were surprising and disappointing features. Fortunately it was the only one of the four demo units with these traits but, as Mercedes-Benz knows only too well from past experience, service is everything in this day and age – and that certainly includes a high level of attention to pre-delivery standards, whether it’s a press test or not.
Stepping from the smallest to the biggest, the 3243 eight-wheeler sets itself apart in several ways, not least through a significantly more aggressive grille design derived from the heavy-duty Mercedes-Benz Arocs range.
Despite its distinct ‘bite your face off’ looks, this truck displayed extremely good road manners with a level of steering response largely at odds with the tendency of most twin-steers to ‘bite’ into bends. Surprisingly, though, the twin-steer layout was a non-load-sharing design. According to Mercedes-Benz sources, this particular truck was primarily imported as a test unit for a distinct application and we’re assured a loadsharing front suspension will be the norm by the end of the year.
Next was the 2635 6x4 which, as already explained, had the benefit of 70,000km of real-world testing under its belt and was arguably the smoothest and most responsive of all four trial units.
In every respect, this was a highly impressive truck which made easy work of the diverse road conditions and points to an even more positive opinion of the new Benz breed as time and toil gather.
Finally, the 6x2 2530. This was perhaps the most uninspiring of all four, not because it did anything wrong but because it ran the same engine and transmission combination as its 4x2 counterpart yet carried considerably more weight. Plus, I climbed in immediately after driving the lively 2635 model.
Consequently, performance felt notably more subdued.
That said though, it’s still a model which shares all the impressive traits of its rigid siblings – such as an exceptionally smooth and intuitive engine and transmission combination, great ride and handling, easy access into and out of a functional and entirely comfortable cab, and levels of operational refinement that are both extensive and quickly familiar.
As we’ve now said on a number of occasions, Benz is back. Big time!
Baby of the bunch: 1630L model is one of two 4x2 units in the new rigid range and both are based on the Atego platform
Functional workspace: This is the interior of the 6x2 2530 model and, like all the new Benz rigids, there’s much in common with its highly acclaimed prime mover siblings
Eight-legger: Based on the heavyduty Arocs platform, the 8x4 is a key model in the new Mercedes-Benz rigid range
Nice truck: Mercedes-Benz 2635 demo unit was an important part of the ‘new generation’ test program and drove particularly well on the test run
Inside the 1630L model: It’s the most basic of the new range but even so, it’s an entirely functional and comfortable workplace