Volvo’s FH600 Globetrotter provides plenty of on-road appeal, as Brenton O’Connor discovers. Photography by Geoff Parrington
If you were in the market for a truck 30 years ago, and your purchasing decisions revolved around performance, fuel economy and engine brake performance, you would have purchased a North American truck every time. By contrast, the European offerings were typically heavy, underpowered, ordinary on fuel and had exhaust brakes, which were about as useful as holding your hat out of the window.
How different that scenario has become with the European trucks of today, and in particular with Volvo, Scania, Mercedes-Benz and MAN. All these brands are offering well over 600 hp, with exceptional fuel economy, and engine brake performance that easily outperforms their rivals from North America and Japan.
The all-new Globetrotter released some years back has always been an appealing truck to me, particularly in relation to its Globetrotter cabin. In this application its styling is very unique and differs from the other European trucks, which typically all have a flat roof with an aero kit attached. In addition, the sales numbers of Volvo in Australia, which exceed its next two closest competitors, clearly demonstrate the level of commitment Australian transport operators have to the Volvo brand and its dealership group in Australia.
The opportunity arose to test a FH600 Globetrotter, complete with hydraulic system, coupled to a set of tri-tri Hercules, and was something not to be missed.
CMV Gippsland salesman, Josh Bailey, is a stalwart of the Volvo brand, having worked for the brand for 18 years, starting his career in the parts business and then moving into truck sales for Volvo and sister brand Mack. Josh would have to be one of the most enthusiastic salesmen I’ve met, and his passion for the brand is verified through the large numbers of Volvo trucks being sold to both owner operators and larger fleets in the Gippsland area.
The FH600 is powered by Volvo’s own 16-litre engine known as the D16, which produces 600 hp and 2800 Nm of torque, with emissions levels that are currently at Euro 5 specified limits, using purely SCR technology.
Coupled to the D16 is Volvo’s I-Shift 12-speed AMT transmission; however, without the optional recently released crawler gears. Interestingly, Volvo only uses a single-plate clutch, but I am assured by Volvo the driveline has the longevity to survive even in high weight, B-double and road train applications. The rear axles are again Volvo’s own single hypoid reduction with a capacity of 21 tonnes, with cross locks for the rear drive axles.
Cabin access in and out of the FH is quite reasonable, and better than some of its competitors, with three steps up into the cabin. The wheel arch protrudes somewhat into the step length, as the axle is set relatively forward for a European cabover.
Once inside the cab, the driver is met with a near flat-floor cabin, with just a subtle rise over the engine tunnel. The interior height of the Globetrotter cab design is massive, with my own height of 6’4” not even getting close to the roofline. Interior storage is huge, with two large lockers above the windscreen and three more lockers along the back wall of the cabin, while under the dash there are smaller drawers for odds and ends such as the driver’s logbook and personal items such as a wallet.
Underneath the bunk there is one drawer for even more in-cabin storage, while a second drawer compartment plays host to a fridge. The fridge is located on the left side, which makes it difficult to open while driving to access a cool drink, and indicates the original design as a left-hand-drive vehicle for the European market.
Standard spec on the Volvo FH misses a few things I thought would have been made standard; however, they are available at a cost option. Satellite navigation is not included as standard with the in-cabin touchscreen, and rain-sensing wipers, automatic head lights and also Xenon headlights are all additional cost options. The standard headlights, while quite yellow in terms of the light they produce, were otherwise quite adequate in use.
Spending a night in the FH cabin was interesting, to try out the bed and living accommodation. I am pleased to report the mattress provided is very comfortable, albeit a few extra inches of width wouldn’t go astray, particularly in the parts of the mattress behind the driver and passenger seats where the mattress is recessed. The curtains work well in terms of blocking out light, and, with the full height walk-around cabin, thanks to the Globetrotter roof, it’s easy to prepare your bed for sleeping and to get changed.
The new-generation FH has seen Volvo fit an electric park brake. This has several advantages, including the ability to release the park brakes automatically when a gear is selected and the driver presses the throttle to move away. Furthermore, if the driver turns off the truck without the brake on, the truck will automatically engage the park brake.
There are disadvantages, as we found when replacing a failed brake booster on the trailer, which proved difficult, as the brakes needed to be released to change the failed booster, and upon switching off the engine the maxi brake would apply automatically. However, Volvo personnel tell me there is a protocol whereby workshop technicians can override this function for technical work such as described above.
Driving the FH600 wasn’t a surprise, as I already expected it to be good, and, pleasingly, it certainly was. The power of the engine is unreal, and, even at 68.5 tonnes, it had the grunt to overtake other loaded B-doubles with ease when climbing big hills – something that you don’t often get to do with such a heavy gross weight.
Probably more impressive though was the engine brake, known as VEB+, which offers 470 kW (639 hp) of engine braking. Volvo offers a water-cooled transmission retarder as an option, but, unless you are in extremely arduous terrain, I feel it’s not required as the standard engine brake does such a good job, and saves the extra tare weight and cost of the retarder.
Fuel economy was also very impressive. Throughout the week of driving the truck, the run was primarily based upon a journey from Sale to Geelong at an empty tare weight of 24.5 tonnes, loading bulk fertiliser to a gross weight of 68.5 tonnes and then returning to Sale. Over the week the truck averaged 2.1 kilometres per litre, which in anyone’s language is nothing short of impressive.
As expected, the ride of the Volvo is excellent, thanks to two-leaf parabolic springs on the steer and Volvo’s eight-bag rear suspension. However, the cabin suspension, which was the standard four-point spring setup, was very soft, with the cabin rocking back when lifting off with the torque of the engine, particularly when loaded – an aspect that I found quite annoying when in stop/start city traffic conditions. I am told however, that the springs can be wound tighter to firm them up, or optionally a four-point air cab suspension is available. When compared to a previous trip in another FH from Melbourne to Sydney last month, I found the air-suspended cabin less ponderous and more comfortable.
It’s not hard to see why Volvo is the market-leading European truck in Australia, and how it is fast approaching on Kenworth, the overall market leader. With impressive levels of engine performance, exceptional engine braking and frugal fuel economy, it certainly is worth a look from anyone in the market for a new truck. With rumours of the XXL cabin on the horizon for 2019, with a wider bunk, it will put Volvo in a position that will be difficult for anyone to beat – either European or North American.