Last year the Mercedes Econic notched-up 900 sales in the UK, so Diesel News’ European Correspondent, Will Shiers, recently had a stint behind the wheel of an Econic 1830L 4×2 18-tonne Hyva skip-loader to find out what is making it more popular than its Atego sibling. The truck is available in a variety of axle configurations, including 4×2, 6×2, 8×4 and 8×4 tridem. Late last year fruit and vegetable supplier Reynolds added the first Econic semis to its London fleet.
The Econic looks like a cross between a garbage truck and a coach. It’s fair to say that its low-slung appearance makes it stand out from the crowd. While this is good news for image-conscious operators, who want their customers to see how serious they take vulnerable road user safety, some drivers aren’t convinced by its external appearance.
“I would rather carry the load on my back than drive that,” said one social media pundit when I posted pictures of it on Twitter. But let’s not forget that it looks like this for a reason, to give the driver the ultimate in visibility.
Thanks to its low ride height, access to the Econic is superb. The driver’s door opens to 90-degrees, which means you can enter and exit the truck without first having to shift the steering wheel out of the way. That said, cross-cab access is a breeze, so a far more sensible option is to use the fully glazed concertina bus-type passenger door instead. There are buttons inside and outside the truck to open it, and when pressed the vehicle automatically kneels by 40mm.
The cab’s interior is cavernous, but I can’t help but think that Mercedes hasn’t made the best use of all that space, and storage is woefully inadequate. While one of the crew seats has been removed, there are still two left. What skip truck carries three people?
As for the dashboard, while the steering wheel, dials and switchgear are from the previous generation of Actros (current generation in Australia), and indeed look great, other elements do not live up to the plush standards I have become accustomed to on Mercedes’ commercial vehicles.
The dashboard has an abundance of lowest bidder plastics, and the driver’s door trim feels nasty. A particularly low point is the pen-holder blanking plate, which covers the absent controls for the Allison transmission. Mercedes will argue that this interior is built to take some serious punishment, and I don’t doubt this claim for a minute. However, the new roles it is finding itself in are not as arduous as kerbside waste collection.
Sitting so low down, and surrounded by all that glass, it’s no surprise that the Econic’s visibility is second to none. The folding passenger door is excellent, and provides a completely unrestricted view of the kerbside. And because the passenger seat is set so far back, unlike with glazed doors in regular cabs, the co-driver’s legs don’t obstruct the view.
The mirrors are good too, and the one on the nearside uses short arms, meaning there is far less chance of whacking a pedestrian on the back of the head.
The downside to all the glass is that the cab can get very hot. It is however fitted with air conditioning as standard. I am impressed with the massive electric windscreen blind, which is controlled by buttons on the driver’s door, however there are annoying gaps on the edges of the windscreen.
Driving the Econic is an incredibly relaxing experience. Visibility is amazing, which takes so much of the stress out of operating in the urban environment. Initially the truck was only offered with the Allison fully automated gearbox, which is ideal for the municipal sector, but not much else. However, Mercedes now offers it with its respected PowerShift3 automated manual, which has transformed the driving experience for the better. In fact, this is one of the easiest, most pleasant truck driving experiences I have had in a long time.
And it’s not only in town where the truck excels. A couple of junctions on the M1 motorway reveal that it’s just as much at home cruising at 90 km/h, as it is interacting with cyclists and pedestrians in town centres.
Although this truck got a slating on social media, it’s interesting to note that the bulk of the negative comments I received came from drivers working in flagship prime movers. And, of course they’re going to be negative when comparing an Econic with the likes of an Actros.
However, those drivers who actually have inner city multidrop experience, interact with cyclists and get in and out of their truck 20 or so times a day, have a whole different take on the truck. “It’s the ideal truck for around town. I drive one every day, and it’s fantastic,” commented one. And I am inclined to agree.