The Freightliner Cascadia has been the highest selling Class 8 (minimum GVM 15,000kgs) truck in North America for some time and its sales of almost 8,500 units during 2022 achieved a US market share of 36.6 per cent.
That roughly translates to one in four Heavy Duty trucks sold in the USA last year being a Freightliner.
This level of success was not guaranteed to be able to be readily transferred into the Australian market.
To optimise the Cascadia for Australia and New Zealand operations has taken a lot more than simply relocating the steering equipment. Daimler Trucks have put the figure of $100 million to develop and refine the already ultra-successful Cascadia for the Australian and New Zealand markets and it appears from every perspective to have been money well spent.
Australian regulations present a challenge to be able to fit a bonneted prime mover into the overall vehicle length envelope allowed for a 34 pallet capacity B-double and still be able to provide a reasonable sized sleeper bunk.
In order to achieve that vital 34-pallet capacity, this Cascadia 126 is equipped with the most compact of the available sleepers in the local Cascadia range thus facilitating the required 126-inch bumper-to-back-of-cab metric.
In addition to this 36-incher, a 48-inch and two versions of the 60-inch sleeper are optional for applications where overall vehicle length isn’t as much an issue. Freightliner is understandably keen to ensure that this particular specification package suits the 34-pallet B-double market and have included a practical total fuel storage of 960 litres across the three tanks.
Freightliner worked with the interior designers of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to create a cabin which maximises comfort, practicality and efficient use of space.
The locally-sourced Sealy Posturepedic innerspring mattress is 30 inches wide in this 36-inch sleeper model, while the larger Cascadia sleeper cabs are fitted with 35-inch wide versions.
Surprisingly, this is our first time to take the wheel of a Cascadia in B-double configuration, as previous local road tests of Cascadias have been single trailer DD13-powered versions.
The opportunity to drive this top spec DD16 model, with its Krueger trailer set loaded to provide a GVM of around 60 tonnes, for 550 kilometres through the Victorian countryside, occasions great anticipation. And we are not disappointed at all during the trip from Mildura to Melbourne.
Bonneted trucks are popular here, in part, due to the improved ride they can offer and the Freightliner AirLiner rear suspension rides smoothly over the various highway surfaces and the taper leaf front suspension contributes to the Cascadia’s positive road feel through the optional leather steering wheel which incorporates a driver’s SRS air bag.
Under the streamlined bonnet is a 16-litre Detroit Diesel DD16 rated at 600hp and 2050 lb/ft of torque which is the higher of the two ratings available for this engine in a Cascadia.
Turbo compounding is incorporated to convert otherwise wasted exhaust gas energy into usable power and most of the engine’s torque comes in from a remarkably low 975 rpm, with all of it available from just 1120 rpm.
This allows for the use of relatively low 3.42:1 ratio final drives to result in down speeding of the engine with the benefit of improved fuel efficiency and lower exhaust emissions without inhibiting its hill climbing abilities. The DD16 exceeds the strict US GHG 17 emission standards and comfortably meets Euro VI standards.
In addition to being very effective, the three stage Jacobs engine brake is much quieter than expected and operates harmoniously with the Descent Control function to keep vehicle speed in check on downhill sections.
The transmission is the automated DT12 driving through Meritor drive shafts and diffs. The Detroit Intelligent Powertrain Management (IPM) is a feature of the DT12 package and uses topographical map information to enable improved fuel efficiency by maximising coasting opportunities with the driveline disengaged, and maintaining vehicle momentum by avoiding unnecessary downshifts such as when the truck is cresting a rise.
IPM has three modes of operation: Predictive Acceleration, Dip Coasting and Crest Coasting and seamlessly prevents the truck from exceeding the speed limit set by the driver.
The Cascadia comes standard with an impressive range of advanced safety features including the fully-integrated Detroit Assurance 5.0 which uses radar and high definition camera technology for Active Emergency Braking and to facilitate the Active Cruise Control.
The system has the capability to detect a slower or stationary vehicle or even pedestrians in front of the truck, and in an emergency the Autonomous Emergency Braking can quickly bring the truck to a complete stop with no input from the driver.
Tailgate warning, lane departure warning, intelligent (self-dipping) high beam and automatic wipers and headlamps are all also standard equipment, as are anti-skid brakes, traction control and Electronic Stability Control.
The Sideguard Assist system keeps a lookout on the kerbside blind spots and provides audio warnings as well as a yellow warning light located on the kerbside A-pillar to alert the driver of a potential collision with objects such as power poles or street signs when turning left.
The system also provides a warning if the truck is about to merge left into a lane already occupied by another vehicle.
The Cascadia has been designed with tapered frame rails which provide the dual benefits of a lower centre of gravity plus a lower and flatter cab floor.
The main construction material of the cab is aluminium with steel doors closing onto triple door seals to keep out the dust and noise.
Forward vision through the one-piece windscreen is expansive due especially to the steep sloping angle of the bonnet. Freightliner offers a number of seating options including the Rolltek driver’s seat with integrated side air bag.
This particular Cascadia is equipped with Isri seats with integrated seat belts for both driver and passenger.
The interior ergonomics are impressive with a 12.3-inch display taking the place of the traditional instrument cluster in front of the driver, with a digital tacho and speedo as well as gauges, trip data and adaptive cruise control system information.
The high-definition Digital Dashboard also incorporates a centrally mounted 10-inch tablet style touch screen which can be used to easily access a wide range of controls and information displays.
The centre screen also has a row of soft touch buttons for features a driver may want to access control of quickly, such as audio controls. The driver can operate the climate controls with easy-to-use dials to the left of the central screen.
Information on both screens can be accessed through controls on the steering wheel, which incorporate intuitive “thumb swipe” control pads.
The built-in and customisable Detroit Connect telematics system provides operators with direct access to critical information such as vehicle location, fault codes and diagnostics, fuel performance, safety data and driver behaviour.
The design phase of the Cascadia included extensive work in a full-sized wind tunnel to develop the truck’s aerodynamically efficient overall shape as well as detailed assessments of items such as mirrors and even panel gaps to contribute to reductions in fuel consumption as well as wind noise.
Good design and manufacturing standards have resulted in a cab free from squeaks or rattles which is just as well due to the quiet ambience of the cab where such annoying noises, if present, would be amplified.
Australia presents an array of testing conditions for truck operations and to be successful here a truck needs to be able to cope with longer distances, heavier loads and faster travelling situations than found in most other countries.
Freightliner’s successful integration of European-like sophistication and safety into the underlying toughness and driver-friendly attributes provided by American-style conventional trucks have contributed to the local acceptance of the Cascadia.