Deals on Wheels - - ROAD TEST -

It might be six months or so be­fore it’s ac­tu­ally avail­able on the Aus­tralian mar­ket, but a new 640hp MAN flag­ship with a lofty stand-up cab will al­most cer­tainly add mo­men­tum – lit­er­ally and phys­i­cally – to the Ger­man maker’s com­pet­i­tive cre­den­tials. Steve Brooks filed this first re­port af­ter a B-dou­ble run down the Pa­cific High­way

It’d be a stretch to de­scribe MAN as a bul­let per­former in Aus­tralia’s heavy-duty cab-over class, but it would be def­i­nitely fair enough to sug­gest the Ger­man brand’s promi­nence in the big end of the busi­ness has grown to be greater than ever be­fore. In fact, in the prod­uct port­fo­lio of Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles, MAN is now poised to out­strip Western Star as the dom­i­nant con­trib­u­tor to the Penske purse.

Who would’ve thought that a few short years ago? Cer­tainly not me! Even so, a cynic might ar­gue its greater stand­ing in the Penske fold

is more a con­se­quence of Western Star’s slide than MAN’s as­cen­dancy. Yet what­ever the case, there’s no ques­tion the big Bavar­ian is to­day at­tract­ing more op­er­a­tor in­ter­est than any time in its con­sid­er­able, though some­what er­ratic, Aus­tralian his­tory.

Sure, there’s no ques­tion that reg­u­lar de­liv­er­ies to a long and lu­cra­tive Army con­tract are sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tors to MAN’s cur­rent perch around the mid­dle of the heavy-duty peck­ing or­der. Nonethe­less, the rise of the pre­mium TGX range since the Aus­tralian in­tro­duc­tion al­most two years ago of the tena­cious 15.2-litre D38 engine, along­side its D20 and D26 (10.5 and

12.5 litres re­spec­tively) sib­lings, paints a pic­ture of slow, steady growth in a hugely com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment clut­tered with classy con­tenders. The num­bers tell the story. Heavy-duty fig­ures

for the first half of this year now put MAN ahead of Fuso, Freight­liner, UD, DAF, and Western Star

(in that or­der), all the while creep­ing closer to the likes of Iveco and even Sca­nia. Again, much of MAN’s mo­men­tum over the past year and more

is largely at­trib­ut­able to the in­tro­duc­tion and in­creas­ing ac­cep­tance of the D38.

Sim­ply ex­plained, it’s a twin tur­bocharged and in­ter­cooled in-line six-cylin­der engine with com­mon-rail fuel in­jec­tion, ad­vanced Euro 6 emis­sions lev­els achieved with the com­bined in­puts of EGR and SCR, and a mod­i­fied diesel par­tic­u­late fil­ter known as CRT, said by MAN to pro­vide “a con­tin­u­ous re­gen­er­a­tive sys­tem” that negates the need for ser­vic­ing of a typ­i­cal diesel par­tic­u­late fil­ter. For its ini­tial stab at the mar­ket, the D38 was fu­elled for peak out­puts of 560hp (412kW) at 1,800rpm and 2,700Nm (1,991ft-lb) of torque on tap from 930 to 1,350rpm.

Soon af­ter the engine’s launch came the op­por­tu­nity to drive a near-new TGX 26.560 model on a 760km run from Penske head­quar­ters in Bris­bane to New­cas­tle, in a B-dou­ble com­bi­na­tion gross­ing a twitch over 61.5 tonnes. Pre­dictably per­haps, Penske in­sid­ers – in­clud­ing the man him­self, Roger Penske – were claim­ing high stan­dards of fuel ef­fi­ciency for the 560hp D38,

then housed un­der the rea­son­ably roomy XLX cab. Their claims were con­vinc­ingly sub­stan­ti­ated with a fru­gal fuel re­turn of 2.06km/litre, made even more im­pres­sive by the fact the truck had barely notched 1,000km at the start of the run.


Mean­time, it wasn’t long be­fore Penske peo­ple were also cit­ing strong op­er­a­tor in­ter­est in

the D38, not least from Mil­dura-based (Vic) G1 Lo­gis­tics manag­ing direc­tor Damien Matthews. Af­ter a year-long trial of a 26.560 run­ning along­side sev­eral com­peti­tors equally keen to win more of G1’s busi­ness, a batch of 10 TGX

D38 mod­els was added to the com­pany’s di­verse in­ven­tory. From all ac­counts, fuel was and is the stand­out fea­ture.

With var­i­ous high-pro­file brands mak­ing up the 150-strong G1 fleet, Damien Matthews con­tends the D38 is hard to beat at the bowser. “Their

fuel econ­omy is best in the busi­ness,” he said re­cently. “We con­stantly mon­i­tor our trucks and they’re on top of the charts ev­ery month.” How­ever, even at the launch of the 560hp D38, Penske’s team was sug­gest­ing that high­er­pow­ered ver­sions of the D38 were on their way to the Aus­tralian mar­ket. And so it was that,

lit­tle more than a year af­ter the D38’s ar­rival, per­for­mance was pushed to 580hp (427kW) and

2,900Nm (2,139ft-lb) of torque, with the new out­puts de­liv­ered at the same engine speeds as the 560 set­ting. Yet over the last few months, Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles has added even more strings to the MAN bow, with the taller XXL cab join­ing the range, pro­vid­ing a lofty 2,030 mm

– a hair’s breadth un­der 80 inches – of stand­ing room be­tween the seats.

Ob­vi­ously im­pressed, and said to be a strong in­flu­ence on the de­ci­sion to bring the big­ger cab to Aus­tralia af­ter see­ing it in Ger­many, Matthews has sur­prised and per­haps trou­bled a num­ber of big­ger brands by more re­cently plac­ing an or­der for 30 TGX 26.580 mod­els sport­ing the XXL shed. The big cab is, how­ever, not the only news on the MAN front. Un­der­neath two XXLs at the mo­ment is a 640hp ver­sion of the D38 with a tar-tear­ing

3,000Nm (2,212ft-lb) of torque up its sleeve. Again, peak out­puts are de­liv­ered at the same engine speeds as the 580 rat­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles manag­ing direc­tor Kevin Den­nis, the de­ci­sion to bring both the big­ger cab and the big­ger grunt to the Aus­tralian mar­ket was based on strong cus­tomer in­ter­est and the de­sire to give MAN a

flag­ship model in terms of both per­for­mance and im­age.

In an ex­clu­sive dis­cus­sion with Deals on Wheels’

Cobey Bar­tels, Den­nis said re­cently: “I’ve al­ways be­lieved ev­ery brand should have a flag­ship

truck … the XXL cab is the flag­ship we need for the MAN brand and 640hp makes us very com­pet­i­tive in the power stakes.

“Plus, there is a very good busi­ness case for hav­ing a big-size cab in Aus­tralia.” A busi­ness case no doubt ver­i­fied by the re­cent G1 or­der for

30 26.580 units with the XXL cab; an or­der al­most cer­tain to spark the at­ten­tion of other truck­ing com­pa­nies, large and small, par­tic­u­larly if word fil­ters through that the MANs are de­liv­er­ing ac­cept­able lev­els of dura­bil­ity and sup­port as

well as im­pres­sive fuel econ­omy. Com­mer­cially as­tute, Den­nis is well aware of the dif­fi­cul­ties of build­ing a greater pres­ence

in such a fierce cab-over mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly in the pre­mium high-horse­power cat­e­gory where com­pe­ti­tion among the likes of Ken­worth, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Sca­nia has never been tougher. It won’t be an easy road but, from all ap­pear­ances, MAN has never had a bet­ter range of trucks than what it has to­day.


As things stand at the mo­ment, there are only two 640hp D38 en­gines in Aus­tralia, both un­der the XXL cab. For at least the next six months or so, each will join se­lected fleets for ‘real-world’ eval­u­a­tion to ver­ify the 640’s fuel, per­for­mance, cool­ing and ser­vice cre­den­tials un­der Aus­tralian con­di­tions. It shouldn’t sur­prise any­one that one of those fleets is G1 Lo­gis­tics.

In fact, the truck in this re­port was headed to G1’s Mil­dura base just days af­ter our test drive from Penske head­quar­ters in Bris­bane to the North Star Mo­tors deal­er­ship serv­ing the New­cas­tle and Hunter re­gions.

As for the other 640hp unit, it was still be­ing de­tailed in the Wa­col fa­cil­ity be­fore join­ing HPS Trans­port in Ade­laide. This truck was

also first in Aus­tralia with MAN’s re­vised cab lay­out and it took only a few mo­ments on the in­side to ap­pre­ci­ate a num­ber of worth­while en­hance­ments over the cur­rent de­sign. For starters, there’s greater floor space thanks to a roll-out fridge that slides fur­ther un­der the bunk, a gear se­lec­tor switch moved from a floor­mounted con­sole to the dash, and the re­lo­ca­tion of sev­eral switches and con­trol func­tions in the sleeper area to bet­ter suit our right-hand drive con­fig­u­ra­tion.

While the re­vised cab will be­come the new norm, it wouldn’t sur­prise if it’s also MAN’s last up­date for the TGX shed. Af­ter all, the TGX has

now been around for sev­eral decades and is prob­a­bly ap­proach­ing the end of its prod­uct life­cy­cle. The hope, how­ever, is that when MAN gets around to launch­ing a new cab, no doubt equipped with all the tech­ni­cal treats that typ­ify a mod­ern con­ti­nen­tal cab-over, it will also re­tain the high lev­els of driver ease and prac­ti­cal­ity which are such an as­set in the cur­rent cab. Any­way, parked out­side and su­perbly pre­pared by MAN prod­uct and op­er­a­tor train­ing man­ager Steve Gib­bins, our test unit was head­ing out

on its maiden line-haul voy­age. In what was ef­fec­tively a car­bon copy of the test drive of a

560hp D38 al­most 18 months ear­lier, the 640 was hooked to the same vividly pre­sented Penske

B-dou­ble set and even car­ried much the same load to scale in at 61.5 tonnes. What’s more, there were less than 2,000km on the clock at the start of the run.

Yet other than sub­stan­tially stronger per­for­mance, the greater height of the cab – the XXL sports an ex­tra 210mm of stand­ing room be­tween the seats than its XLX coun­ter­part – and a pre­dictable in­crease in fuel con­sump­tion, there wasn’t a great deal of dif­fer­ence to the pre­vi­ous run in the 560hp ver­sion. Then and now, the over­rid­ing con­clu­sion was one of a well-fin­ished, com­fort­able truck with good road man­ners

and a high de­gree of op­er­a­tional prac­ti­cal­ity in switchgear and con­trol lay­outs. How­ever, age is cer­tainly sneak­ing up on the over­all de­sign.

That said, though, it’s cer­tainly not yet out of date and, as an overnight stop high­lighted, the ex­tra height of the cab en­hances a sleeper sec­tion that is un­ques­tion­ably more con­ducive to a good night’s sleep than two of its ma­jor ri­vals: namely Volvo and Sca­nia.

For what­ever rea­son, Euro­pean de­sign­ers seem to con­cen­trate more on pro­vid­ing space above and for­ward of the driver but, strangely, ap­pear

to have some aver­sion to in­creas­ing sleeper space be­hind the seats. How­ever, the TGX cab is cer­tainly not the worst of them.

In fact, I’m con­vinced the two Ger­man brands have no­tably bet­ter sleep­ers than ei­ther of

the two Swedes, which, de­spite their mod­ern de­signs, con­tinue to of­fer un­com­fort­ably limited head and leg space be­hind the seats.

That opin­ion is al­most cer­tain to change when Volvo Group Aus­tralia next year launches its much-an­tic­i­pated FH ‘big cab’ model (also called

the XXL) but, in the mean­time, I’d def­i­nitely rather be hor­i­zon­tal with a Ger­man than a Swede.

As things stand at the mo­ment, I’d rate the Mercedes-Benz bunk as best among the cur­rent crop of con­ti­nen­tal cab-overs, with MAN a close se­cond.

Still, you’re left to won­der if the up­per se­cond bunk is a wise in­clu­sion for Aus­tralian line-haul work where two-up driv­ing is eas­ily the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule. Surely the space could be bet­ter used to add a few finer fea­tures for

driv­ers, like hang­ing space for clothes or even some­thing as sim­ple as a towel rack.

Yet while the TGX may be start­ing to show its age in some re­spects, the stan­dard fea­ture list re­mains ap­peal­ing with: a high-qual­ity Isri driver’s seat, touch­screen stereo with in­te­grated Blue­tooth and USB, elec­tric win­dows and, like­wise, elec­tri­cally op­er­ated heated mir­rors. How­ever, like many mir­ror de­signs these days, par­tic­u­larly in the cab-over class and most no­tably at round­abouts, for­ward vi­sion at the front quar­ters is im­peded by the depth and width of the mir­ror hous­ings.

Back on the plus side, there’s the un­de­ni­able ben­e­fit of a ‘hill hold’ func­tion, while also worth a men­tion, given the vast ex­panse of the wind­screen, is a full-width, re­tractable blind in

place of stan­dard sun vi­sors. 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, as MAN states, “al­low the cab to move

rear­ward while ab­sorb­ing the en­ergy of a col­li­sion”.

As for on-road per­for­mance, even a glance of a 26.640 spec sheet where gross com­bi­na­tion mass is listed up to 120 tonnes, is enough to sug­gest it makes ex­cep­tion­ally easy work of

B-dou­ble weights. Af­ter long de­lays on that car park known as the Gold Coast High­way, the big MAN was fi­nally free to set­tle into stride south of the bor­der.

Driv­ing through ZF’s 12-speed over­drive Trax­ion trans­mis­sion into a 3.36:1 drive tan­dem mounted on an eight-bag elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled air sus­pen­sion, the truck cruised con­tent­edly at

100km/h with engine speed run­ning a touch over a leisurely 1,300rpm.

It’s worth not­ing at this point that ZF’s Trax­ion shifter works in com­plete har­mony with

the strong traits of the D38 engine, not only com­bin­ing ex­cep­tion­ally quick and smooth shifts with a num­ber of in­te­grated fuel-sav­ing modes but dis­play­ing a re­mark­able level of grade­sens­ing in­tu­ition. So in­tu­itive that there was never any con­sid­er­a­tion of opt­ing for man­ual mode, par­tic­u­larly with the engine’s con­sis­tent propen­sity for hold­ing on to top gear right

down to 1,100 rpm or, in a few in­stances, even 1,000rpm.

The first climb of any note, or at least the first to cause the 640 to dig some way into its deep re­serves, and the first to show the big MAN’s will­ing­ness to use the en­tirety of a wide torque band, was the run up to the St He­lena tun­nel where the big Ger­man was forced back to ninth gear at 1,400rpm, yet eas­ily hold­ing 50km/h. The only other south­bound climb to ask more of the 640 was the run into Coo­lon­golook, south of Ta­ree, where the truck dropped back to sev­enth gear af­ter be­ing un­avoid­ably baulked by slower traf­fic. Mean­time, the on-board trip com­puter was fore­cast­ing a high re­gard for fuel ef­fi­ciency from the start. From Bris­bane to Coffs Har­bour, for in­stance, the fuel av­er­age was a sur­pris­ingly thrifty 1.89km/litre (5.34mpg) but, as un­du­la­tions grew greater on the run south, the fuel av­er­age for the 760km trip fin­ished at 1.83km/litre (5.17mpg).

It’s some way off the ex­traor­di­nar­ily ef­fi­cient 2.06km/litre (5.82mpg) re­turned by the 560hp model 18 months ear­lier, pulling much the same weight with the same trailer set over the same route, but it’s still an in­cred­i­bly good re­sult for a truck dis­pens­ing such for­mi­da­ble per­for­mance with so few kilo­me­tres un­der its belt.

When it’s all boiled down, the 26.640 is not only the most pow­er­ful MAN to ever tackle Aus­tralia’s heavy-duty sec­tor, it pro­vides the brand with

an im­pos­ing flag­ship model em­bed­ded with the qual­ity, man­ners, per­for­mance and ef­fi­ciency to be com­pet­i­tive in a highly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket of pre­mium cab-overs. Have no doubt, this is a MAN with some se­ri­ous at­ti­tude.

Above: Heart of the mat­ter. At 640hp and 3,000Nm of torque, the 15.2-litre D38 engine takes MAN to new heights in per­for­mance

Above: Stand­ing tall. On the in­side, the XXL shed of­fers more than two me­tres of stand­ing room

Above right: Good mir­rors but like most con­ti­nen­tal cab-overs, the mir­ror hous­ing im­pedes vi­sion at round­abouts and the like

Above left: In­side the up­graded cab. The big improvement is in floor space be­tween the seats thanks to a fridge that slides fur­ther back un­der the bunk. When it comes to Euro­pean sleep­ers, the MAN is among the best

Above: The TGX cab is per­haps com­ing to the end of its life cy­cle but it re­mains an en­tirely prac­ti­cal and com­fort­able driver en­vi­ron­ment

Star burst. In the Penske prod­uct port­fo­lio, MAN is poised to out­strip Western Star as the group’s top-sell­ing brand Flash­back! The ini­tial 560hp ver­sion of the D38 re­turned more than 2km/litre in an iden­ti­cal road test months ear­lier. Given the sig­nif­i­cantly greater mus­cle of the 640 ver­sion, fuel con­sump­tion re­mains im­pres­sive

Above: On trial. Our test truck is one of only two 26.640 mod­els in Aus­tralia at the mo­ment. Im­me­di­ately af­ter our drive, the truck went into ‘real world’ eval­u­a­tion with G1 Lo­gis­tics

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