UD Trucks has a strong reputation over decades of availability in Australia. Dave Whyte tries out the MK11 250 at the lighter end of the market.
The UD brand has come a long way since it became a member of the Volvo Group. While UD Trucks has always had a loyal following in Australia, in recent years it would seem the brand has had a boost in terms of technology, performance and, just as importantly, image.
The competition in the medium-duty market has always been hard fought between the three main contenders, all of which are Japanese brands. With this in mind, Volvo Group has done a great job of integrating the UD Trucks brand into the family and bringing it up to date without losing any of the attributes that had made UD so popular in the past.
While the UD range is still fairly limited in Australia, the trucks it does have available will meet the needs of the vast majority of local operators very nicely. What’s more, they are not the basic trucks they used to be, and offer all the driver comfort and technology that you might not expect for the realistic price tag.
The UD MK11 Condor is one of the feature-packed models that would seem to offer great value to those in the 11-tonne GVM market. Powered by a 7.0-litre, in line six that comes in 250 hp (180 kW) and 280 hp (206 kW) options, delivering 716 Nm (528 lb-ft) and 883 Nm (651 lb-ft) of torque respectively, plenty of power for that specific GVM. Transmission options on the MK 11 250 include six-speed manual or five-speed Allison automatic transmissions, however the MK 11 280 only comes in manual. The MK is also available with a choice of leaf spring or air bag suspension on the rear, making it one of the few trucks in its segment available to offer both an automatic transmission and air suspension as factory fitment.
Inside the cab, the work environment is modern and comfortable. The driver gets an air-suspended seat with adjustable shock absorber, and a tilt and telescopic adjustable steering column. The standard audio system is a 6.1-inch touchscreen unit with CD, USB and SD inputs, digital radio and in-built NAVTEQ truck specific GPS. There is also capability to add up to four external cameras, including an IR night vision option. Electric windows and heated power-operated mirrors are also fitted to make life easier on the driver. More importantly, the safety features include a driver’s airbag, seat belt pre-tensioner and ABS braking as standard.
To see what the MK really offered in terms of practicality, I jumped aboard one for a short drive around Melbourne. The MK11 250 I drove was fitted with the Allison five-speed automatic transmission and had four full IBC tanks inside the 10-pallet tautliner body. Following a short walk-around and product familiarisation from UD’s product expert, Paul Munro, it was out onto the streets.
Given that the MK is designed with local deliveries in mind, it was decided to take a route that took in freeway, main road and residential street conditions. The eventual route also included a small carpark – a true test of any trucks manoeuvrability.
With 4000 litres of liquid on board, the smoothness of the Allison automatic was immediately obvious. The steps between gears were seamless and provided smooth, constant acceleration while keeping the engine in its most efficient rev range. Engine noise levels were very low inside the cab, and vision was excellent, with the low-set dash and large windscreen providing a clear view ahead, while the large mirrors gave a good display of things behind. The seat did a good job of ironing out the bumps, without any excessive rebound or bottoming out. The trick is to be honest when you adjust the weight scale on the seat, and don’t shave off those extra kilos you forgot to mention on your Facebook profile.
With the auto box doing its thing, it was easy to concentrate on the road ahead. The MK proved itself to very nimble in the residential streets, and managed the small carpark without any issues. On the freeway, the handling was very good, even with all that liquid sloshing around in the back. The low chassis and floor height no doubt contributed to the great handling, and would surely be welcome for those deliveries that were done by hand or required a driver to climb into the load area.
One thing that did surprise me about the MK was the engine braking. Older UDs would seem to speed up when the exhaust brake was activated, and an old hanky out the window would probably have been more effective. Not with this truck though. While the MK still uses a simple exhaust brake, the transmission works to keep the engine rpm in the most effective zone, and, even at the max GVM, it works remarkably well.
Following on from my drive in the MK, I visited an operator who has recently made the switch from another Japanese brand and purchased two MK11 250s with factory-fitted tipper bodies. They also have four more on order to be fitted with mini-mix agitators.
As Jeff Moloney, operations manager at Midway Mini-Mix Concrete, Garden and Building Supplies of Sunshine in Melbourne, explained, “We were having a bit of drama with our other supplier, and CMV Laverton, the local UD dealer, fronted up with good service, a decent truck, and obviously it comes down to price too”.
Having taken the gamble on the first two units, Midway is now looking at replacing all the trucks in their agitator and tipper fleet with UD trucks.
There are greater benefits than just driver acceptance for Midway though, and Jeff was happy to say that fuel economy is much better with the UD MKs than the previous trucks they were using.
“They are both getting about 4.2 km/l including idle time. We look at them all across the board, and our others are getting around 3.0-3.5 km/l”. He says that the UD telematics programme, Fleet Max Plus, has been a real eye-opener, and allowed them to use the information in a productive way.
“We show the telematics reports to the drivers, so they’ve got an incentive to look at what they’re doing. We were surprised at the difference in idling times, and how much fuel you go through. We will talk about swapping our whole system to the UD telematics, because it does the whole lot, including GPS,” he added.
So it seems that the Condor MK offers more than just a cost effective and well-equipped platform for the local market. The driver-friendly work environment, standard telematics system and reduced operating costs work hand-in-hand to provide a great package for operators, whether they operate one truck or forty.