Time Out for the T | TRUCK REVIEW – Brenton O’Connor heads down the highway in the latest Kenworth T610

Brenton O’Connor heads down the highway in the latest Kenworth T610

The biggest change for Kenworth in Australia, since the big changes to Kenworth’s K-series cabover (the K200), has to be the all-new T610 and T610 SAR. This is a game changer for Kenworth in Australia, with the addition of an all-new cab with far greater space for drivers thanks to the increased cab width, and, also importantly, the new integrated sleeper that allows drivers to stand up between the seats to easily move about the cabin – something that was not possible in the old cab.

The benchmark for conventional trucks with sleeper cabs, capable of pulling 34-pallet B-doubles, has been Western Star’s FXB model. The FXB gave drivers excellent levels of cab accommodation, including stand-up walk-around cab access and a decent-sized bunk, whilst still fitting in the required length envelope. With the introduction of the T610, Kenworth has a new weapon to go to war with in a highly competitive segment, particularly for B-double vehicles running the East Coast.

Brad May, sales and marketing director of Kenworth Trucks Australia, provided PowerTorque with an explanation of the new cabin.

“The main cab structure of the T610 is assembled on a state-of-the-art robotic production facility at our Chillicothe, Ohio, plant, which allows us to assemble the structure with a consistently high level of quality control and production efficiency”.

“Made of aluminium, the main cab structure uses the latest-generation Henrob fasteners to couple components together. Steel is used in strategic locations to meet the strength demands required for durability. Sleepers for the T610s are manufactured in Australia and affixed to the main cab structure in our Bayswater facility.”

“The cabin also complies with UN ECE Regulation No. 29 – allowing the truck to be loaded to 6.5 tonnes on the steer axle,” he added.

At this juncture, the T610 has been released in day-cab and 36-inch sleeper-cab options, with larger sleeper-cab options being considered for introduction at a later date. This is the first locally built Kenworth to make use of CAN bus wiring, rather than standard copper wires.

Another big change to the Kenworth has been the introduction of many safety features such as active cruise control and lane-departure warning. These safety features put Kenworth well and truly back on the shopping list of large fleets that mandate these safety features when making purchasing decisions. What may prove as an Achilles heel for Kenworth making inroads into large fleets purchasing is the lack of a driver’s airbag option.

The evaluation unit was a new T610 with a 36-inch bunk that had been seconded from the PacLease rental fleet. Under the floor was Cummins’ latest engine, the X15, and this was set at the standard rating most operators will select, being 405 kW (550 hp) with 2508 Nm of torque. Bolted to the back of the big red engine was Eaton’s UltraShift Plus automated-manual 18-speed transmission.

Kenworth regional sales manager, Anthony Spence-Fletcher, joined me for the drive, which commenced with backing under a set of tri-tri Hercules B-double tippers.

With the air and electrical lines connected, Anthony initiated the ‘Self-check’ lighting function, which cycles through the indicators, park lights, and brake lights to make the routine daily safety checks easy.

A walk around the combination highlighted that we had no lights on the trailers, and upon a closer inspection of the seven-pin trailer electrical lead we found exposed copper wires that had shorted out the fuses in the prime mover. Fortunately, Kenworth Laverton was able to provide an auto-electrician and the blown fuses were quickly replaced, restoring the connection. It’s at times like these you get to experience whether maintenance is simple, and the cabin provided easy access to the fuse box via a panel in the passenger side of the main dashboard.

Climbing into the new Kenworth cabin was outstanding. Even with the optional square fuel tanks fitted, the steps on the fuel tanks were full width and mounted externally to the tank. Some American manufacturers have fitted square tanks that are at full legal width of 2.5 m, with ‘cut-outs’ in the tank for steps, which are hard to negotiate, especially when climbing out of the truck at night. The optional grab handles, painted yellow for easy recognition, provided three points of contact at all times of the entry and exit procedure.

The way the new doors open and close on the new cab is first class, and, unlike older Kenworth cabs, you don’t need to drop the window an inch to reduce the cabin pressure to shut the door properly! The doors and door apertures are fitted with Kenworth’s new triple seals to better insulate the cabin from noise and dust ingress.

Once mobile, and with all trailer lights working, we ventured to Geelong to load bulk fertiliser up to a weight of 62.09 tonnes gross. From Geelong, and with our freight onboard, I pointed the new Kenworth towards Sale.

The new automatic climate-control system fitted as standard to the new T610 cabin is superb. No longer is the driver constantly adjusting the temperature dial from warm to cold because of the difficulty of some systems to set a constant, comfortable cabin ambient temperature. With 22 deg. C set, in automatic mode, we were able to enjoy a constant cabin temperature that was pleasant all day. Once you’ve experienced automatic climate control personally, it becomes a strong candidate for being a standard fit in all vehicles.

With taper leaf (parabolic) springs on the steer axle, and the standard-fit Kenworth Airglide 400 eight-bag suspension at the rear, the ride quality provided is excellent. The truck continues to handle well, particularly through corners, without excessive body roll.

Another big plus of the new cabin, particularly with the optional sleeper cabin, is the legroom available for tall drivers. The seat travel is especially impressive, and will enable any driver of any size to be comfortable. Unlike some other American bonneted trucks, cabin space is not limited by side-mounted exhaust stacks that can protrude into the cabin and limit seat travel.

The increased width of the cabin is brilliant, and makes access into the sleeper cabin a lot easier, particularly when a manual transmission is selected. Furthermore, the driver doesn’t feel as if he is rubbing shoulders with the passenger. I also found the increased foot-well room to be a winner, especially on long distances as there was plenty of room to stretch out my legs.

The new ‘pendulum’ brake pedal (meaning the brake pedal hinges from up under the dashboard, rather than hinging from the floor like older Kenworth’s, allowed extra room to position my right foot in under the brake pedal on the extended drives when cruise control was enabled. On the subject of brakes, the optionally-fitted disc brakes were outstanding, particularly as the trailer set was also running full disc brakes.

The visibility of the new cab is streets ahead of its predecessor, with the standard one-piece windscreen offering excellent vision. The new wiper setup is also dramatically improved, as the blades cover more of the screen for a larger view for the driver in wet conditions. The new mirror setup also helps to reduce blind spots around the A-pillar compared with the old style west-coast mirrors. Although, for taller drivers like myself, I would have liked to see the door window higher, so that I don’t need to drop my head slightly to see out the side windows.

To say the UltraShift PLUS has improved since the old Eaton AutoShift three-pedal days is an understatement. While in the bottom of the box, the driver needs to ‘encourage’ the truck to upshift by lifting off the throttle, otherwise the truck revs out to 2000 rpm by simply holding the throttle to the floor. Once in the upper ranges of the gearbox, the truck upshifts like the best of the European offerings, without the driver needing to initiate the upshift by lifting off the throttle pedal.

The biggest hill to climb on the relatively flat route from Geelong to Sale, in Victoria’s east, is the Tynong hill. For this hill I left the UltraShift PLUS in auto mode, although I knocked the truck down one full gear to bring the revs up to 1700 rpm. Then for the rest of the pull I let the UltraShift PLUS make the rest of the decisions. The Cummins sailed up the Tynong hill at 57 km/h, although engine noise in the cabin, especially under full power, was slightly higher than I expected.

Another big change for Kenworth’s new T610 models is the location of the steering box.

Unlike previous Kenworth models, the steering box is located in front of the steer axle, instead of behind it. The new wider cabin enables this change to happen as the steering shaft can now run straight from the steering wheel in the cab, through the firewall and down to the steering box.

This was not possible with the old cabin due to the narrow cab width and associated steering-wheel position, as there was no straight line through to the steering box. This new design has reduced the number of universal joints in the steering shaft, and as a result has increased road feel. It’s also reduced the notchy feeling that was common on older models that was due to higher number of universal joints in the system between the steering wheel and the steering box. In addition to the better road feel, the steering weight is much lighter in its operation.

The new steering wheel fitted to the Kenworth includes fingertip controls for the audio system and the cruise control. However, the engine brake switch was mounted on the main dashboard, which meant activation of the engine brake required leaning forward out of the seat to switch it on and off. For this reason, my preference is Kenworth’s previous “Smart-wheel” that included engine brake and cruise control operation direct from the steering wheel.

For the loaded component of the trip, from Geelong through to Sale, at a gross weight of 62.09 tonnes, the fuel consumption recorded on the Kenworth in dash display was 1.63 km/litre (61.3 l/100 km). For the return trip, empty, at an overall tare weight of 24 tonnes, the combined average fuel consumption for the entire trip was 1.92 km/litre (52.1 l/100 km).

The Kenworth T610 is a hugely impressive package, and is a dramatic improvement over previous-generation Kenworths.

The obvious standout is the new cabin, with its increased cab width, headroom, foot-well room and the ability for the driver to stand up in the sleeper area, as well as between the two front seats. Kenworth’s safety offerings are now up with the levels offered by the Europeans, and will firmly re-establish its roots as a fleet competitor. Coupled with the newly revised Cummins X15 and UltraShift PLUS technology, Kenworth is destined to maintain its position as heavy-truck market leader.

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