On the road again

In the scramble to have journalists experience the latest and greatest that the OEMs have to offer often the test venue is the Hume Highway. There is a certain degree of logic given that the Hume is one of Australia’s busiest freight corridors and billions of dollars of infrastructure investment has turned what was once known as ‘Sesame Street’ into a much safer, yet boring inter-capital carriageway. So when this opportunity comes along to steer a couple of the New Truck Generation (NGT) Scanias along almost 400 kilometres of the more notorious and interesting Bruce Highway, between Brisbane and Bundaberg, of course we agree, even though the length of the drive is shorter than we normally engage in. We’ve driven examples of the Scania NGT previously, including in Sweden at the launch of the range and, as to be expected, along the length of the  Hume.

Whereas the Hume Highway has had its hills and sharp bends smoothed over and its numerous towns bypassed to the benefit of some – and damnation of others – the Bruce Highway retains extensive sections that consist of just a single lane in each direction. Dual carriageway sections are infinitesimally creeping north from Brisbane but for many parts of the Bruce it is still sticking to the 1950s definition of a ‘highway’. On this route there are also a few hills and a number of towns to negotiate and Gympie has a veritable feast with hills, bends, traffic lights and we arrive just as the school zones are activated. And because road tests occur in all weather conditions we even encounter some light rain.

We are alternating driving chores between two examples of Scania’s NGT prime movers with both hauling B-double trailer sets loaded to realistic weights. Our first stint is in a Scania G500, powered by the 13-litre six-cylinder Euro 6 engine developing 500hp at 1,900rpm with a peak torque output of 2,550 Nm at 1,000-1,300rpm. This is Scania’s most powerful six cylinder rating yet  and is available in the G Series in 370hp, 410hp and 450hp in Euro 6 emission rating with similar outputs available in Euro 5 with the exception of the 370hp version which produces 380hp in Euro 5  compliance.

On this trip the G500 keeps up unsurprisingly well with the larger and more powerful R620 Scania and it’s only on the steeper inclines that the V8’s additional grunt lets it get away.

The R620 model is powered by Scania’s 16.4 litre V8 in Euro 5 configuration. Scania has stuck with the V8 for good reasons. Decades of development have produced the refined powerhouse that delivers almost effortless grunt while still achieving the sort of fuel economy that is now demanded by operators. The V8 is available in Euro 5 guise in 520hp and 620hp. Euro 6 compliant engines are available in 520hp, 580hp, 650hp and the top of the pops 730hp rating.

As with virtually every other component in the NTG range, the V8 engine itself has been subjected to numerous engineering advances mostly intended to improve fuel consumption. Just as with the finessed aerodynamic improvements of the cabin it is the sum of many seemingly minor changes that adds to an overall significant improvement in fuel economy, serviceability and driveability.

Examples of the engine’s innovations include having the air compressor driven via a clutch rather than having it constantly engaged which produces a quieter operation and the reduction in parasitic drag makes another small contribution to fuel efficiency. The redesigned cooling and lubrication systems use thermostats to assist the engine to more quickly reach its optimal temperature and therefore reduce engine drag. Scania has gone as far as fitting the coolant pump with a viscous drive connection so that component only draws on engine power when absolutely required.

The V8 now uses a rotated twin scroll fixed geometry turbocharger, which is a bit of a mouthful for the technology that is borrowed from the motor racing sector. If anything, to our ear the V8 rumble has been improved and the exhaust note is simply a bonus for those of us who still appreciate such things.

The 620hp in the test truck produces its maximum torque of 3,000Nm between 950 and 1,400rpm. The delivery is smooth and constant even when we deliberately run it down to the 900rpm mark just to experience the stump pulling ability of this  combination.

The Scania Opticruise transmission never ceases to impress and the incorporation of an air operated lay shaft brake in the NTG series makes a noticeable difference to its operation with upshifts taking an almost imperceptible 0.4 of a second to complete. The twelve forward speeds, plus two crawler ratios, permit the engine to be comfortably within its ‘sweet spot’ at all times to maintain the balance between maximum power delivery and effective point-to-point times while minimising fuel  consumption.

Instead of using synchro rings to synchronise the different speeds of the counter and main shafts within the gearbox, the air operated brake slows the lay shaft to suit the speed of the main to deliver the shorter shift times and helps maintain turbo pressure almost like a Powershift. There is better delivery of power to the wheels and a much smoother experience for the driver, the freight and other driveline components. Additional benefits include a faster forward to reverse transition and significantly reduced transmission component wear because of the better synchronisation of shaft speeds.

When downshifting, the engine throttle is automatically blipped to exactly match the speed differential between the two gear shafts, again delivering almost instant ratio changes. As a function of Scania’s focus on truck safety standard equipment in its prime movers now includes Advanced Emergency Braking, Electronic Stability Control, Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control.

Scania scored a global first by being the first truck manufacturer to make available side curtain airbags which, in conjunction with the airbag located on the steering wheel, will provide additional protection for occupants especially in the event of a roll over. A roof mounted escape hatch is provided for emergency exits if the truck finishes on its side in an accident.

Both Scania’s on this trip eat up the road whether on multi-lane sections or winding up and down the hills on single lane bitumen. The interiors of both the R and G cabs have not escaped attention during the decade long $3 billion development of the NTG range. The driver’s seat has been relocated 65mm forward and also 20mm closer to the door which provides an improvement in safety, vision and in-cab ergonomics. The dash is low and is customisable to suit individual drivers and applications. Movement across and around both of the cabs’ interiors is unimpeded. The rather relaxed schedule of this Brisbane to Bundaberg leg affords plenty of time to explore the various driver support screens, most of which are accessed by the buttons located on the right hand side of the steering wheel.

Other steering wheel controls include the Adaptive Cruise Control that we are able use to good effect in an occasional quasi-platoon with the other Scania. With the availability of topographical mapping for Australia Scania is able to provide an Active Prediction system that is integrated into the Adaptive Cruise Control, which makes life easier for the driver and contributes yet another factor in the reduction of fuel use.

We break up our trip with an overnight stop and while we would have been quite comfortable occupying the 800mm pocket spring bunk in the G cab or the 1,000mm extendable pocket spring mattress in the R model, the Scania people have arranged alternative accommodation. The test trucks are secured overnight in the yard of a local transport operator who seems to be on a mission to collect the entire set of North American derived prime movers. During our stay he takes the opportunity to familiarise himself with the Scanias and it comes as no surprise when the Scania executives confirm at breakfast the next day that he has indeed placed orders for one each of a G and an R model.

That, of itself, is an indication of just how well these New Truck Generation Scania’s fit into the Australian market. Excellence in engineering, safety and economy can be expected to reap the rewards for the Scania dealers in terms of sales but it is the operators and drivers who will be the true beneficiaries of this genuinely new generation of trucks.


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