Ed Higginson takes the MAN D38 for a 10,000 km extended drive.
With on-highway truck testing, it takes time out on the road to fully appreciate the good points, but also to discover the not so good points. PowerTorque recently enjoyed the opportunity to run a long-term evaluation of the MAN TGX D38, providing 10,000 km of travel and several nights away.
The current model MAN TGX D38 was launched back in late 2016, featuring the brand new 15.2-litre, in-line six-cylinder engine with 560 hp of power and an impressive 2700 Nm of torque. It was one of the first Euro 6 compliant engines available in Australia, using MAN’s two-stage turbos with EGR and SCR plus CRT (Continuously Regenerating Trap), and it was the first truck in Australia to come with the 12-speed ZF TraXon AMT and Intarder offering 3500 Nm of braking force, which combined to give a smooth drive, both up and down hills.
Why choose the MAN TGX? Purchase price is obviously a key factor for a small operator, and there are few that could compare for the same price in terms of safety features, Euro 6, high roof double-bunk sleeper, B-double specification, and high torque rating.
In this category the alternatives include maybe an Iveco, the outgoing Scania model, Argosy or DAF, the saving up to a further $30,000 for an ex-demo Volvo FH, Mack or new-shape Mercedes, or saving up a bit more and going for many owner/driver’s dream, the shiny Kenworth. But after experiencing most of the above as a driver and fleet operator, we went for the MAN as the best value for money option for what we needed.
Jumping into the updated model TGX is a familiar space as its design has evolved simply over the years, so turning the key and heading south from Brisbane was easy with controls being easy to find and use. Even if it was your first time in a MAN, it would only take a few minutes to get going, which is one of the reasons many like the TGX as a fleet truck, particularly in Europe.
With the new Euro 6 plant under the cab the TGX D38 is noticeably quiet, plus it’s also a very comfortable ride on the ISRI seat fitted with dual armrests. The XLX cab appears to be set high from the outside, but, with the low-set windscreen, large door windows and slits of glass behind the doors, they all combine to give good vision from behind the wheel and a sense of space.
While the technology is new, the interior cab layout is starting to show its age, with gear selector, handbrake and fridge all taking up floor space between the seats. A new interior launched recently in Europe appears to address these points, so we will hopefully see those updates arrive here soon too.
Back in early 2017, PowerTorque’s first evaluation found that the demo trucks achieved 1.97 km/l and 1.90 km/l respectively, when hauling a B-double curtainsider loaded to a gross weight of 61.5 tonnes. While it’s obviously hard to compare figures without using the same trailers, weights and routes, the average fuel consumption returns have been impressive and certainly better than alternative figures obtained with the Euro 5 trucks from other brands. In typical B-double format and running at a gross weight of 63-tonne we achieved a respectable average fuel figure of 1.95 km/l.
In terms of pulling power, the 2700 Nm of torque works really well. The 12-speed ZF TraXon AMT changes quickly, especially in the top three gears, so it keeps up momentum on the hills without the need to interfere, but the knock-down option is there with a press of the accelerator if needed.
The MAN has some great safety features, such as lane departure assist, adaptive cruise control, hill start assist, emergency braking assist, emergency stopping signalling, sat/nav, and park brake alarms.
Some features, like the EBS, ESP and traction control you may not notice until the ice arrives in winter, but I wouldn’t buy a truck without them these days. Also, the Bluetooth works really well, which is another essential safety item. Some trucks advertise this, but they don’t always work, whereas they do in the case of the MAN.
Options like the lane departure warning and collision warning (emergency stopping signalling) are benefits when a driver begins to feel tired, but nothing beats pulling up for a quick rest. When travelling down narrow twisty lanes these systems can become confused, and in these circumstances I prefer to turn them off, reselecting them when back on the freeway.
Adaptive cruise control is becoming more common, but some of the ones that I’ve tried recently haven’t worked too well, especially as it slows the truck down when cars pull in front of you. The application may be quite subtle, meaning you need to keep a close eye on the speedo to register small changes of speed and to compensate for the action to maintain your preferred cruise speed. After living with the MAN for a few weeks I’ve learnt to appreciate it in areas such as roadworks, or through towns, and started to respect its benefits.
The MAN actually tells you the speed of the vehicle in front before it starts to slow, so you can intervene, then the system speeds up again as the vehicle in front moves away, unlike some of the others on the market. It’s a good example of where automatic systems still require driver intervention, proving that autonomous trucks are not yet infallible.
It’s hard on relatively short trips to review how they are to sleep in for a week. And, from comments drivers post on our Facebook page, it’s an area many of you discuss, especially in the good old American vs. European debate. Here the MAN wins in some areas and falls short in others.
First, the good. It’s a very quiet cab so you can easily get a peaceful sleep even in a busy truckstop like Yass, plus the XLX extra height is spacious, so getting changed is easy. It has plenty of storage with three large lockers over the windscreen, a 36-litre fridge and useful pockets on the rear wall to store items at night, like glasses and phones. The foam bed is reasonably comfy and compares well to other Europeans like the DAF and Volvo. It would benefit from a proper innerspring mattress and certainly can’t compare to the bonneted trucks like the new T610, which I slept in last year.
In terms of bad, this is where the age of the MAN cab starts to show, with a narrow bunk and no nifty party tricks like the new Scania for moving the seats forward and widening the bunk. It sounds trivial, but it also lacks a netting over the sunroof, so you have a choice of closing it at night to stop the mosquitoes, or keeping it open for some air.
And now to a major pet hate of mine. Despite millions spent on R&D to introduce major advancements in technology and safety, truck makers still struggle to make curtains that slide easily and block out the sunlight when sleeping during the day. The MAN definitely fails here, as its curtains struggle to slide, the tracks won’t meet in the middle, the stoppers fall out so they slide off the tracks, they don’t fit the contours of the dash and aren’t even long enough to cover the slits of glass behind the doors. This is an easy fix by the manufacturer, but remains annoying for the driver.
The MAN and Western Star dealer network is going through a transition at the moment with the Penske Corporation shaking things up. As a customer, you get to see a couple of cracks when not all of the workshops offer the same level of parts and trained technicians, especially for a new model D38. But I’ve experienced similar issues with numerous brands, and I’m confident that Penske Corporation is heading in the right direction. Its plans appear to be bearing fruit too, with recent increases in the sales numbers and successful army contracts that will inevitably help as higher sales volumes result in more accessible resources for all.
On the initial trip from Brisbane to Melbourne, the Newell Highway was certainly a good workout for any truck, new or old, and I got to notice a couple of niggling vibrations, such as a creaking from the cab mount and an AdBlue error. These faults were easily fixed under warranty by the Westar Dealership in Derrimut, Western Melbourne, and it’s been running great since. You could say at 100,000 km, it’s just run in.
Another area where the MAN D38 engine and driveline wins is with the service intervals. Being told that the next oil change is not due for another 70,000 km can be a great bonus for a small operator.
The MAN TGX D38 fitted with the Euro 6 engine with 560 hp and the auto ZF is a great truck, and possibly currently under-appreciated here in Australia. There are a few features that I would like to change, but many of these would be incorporated in the next cab design upgrade when released onto our market. I’ll continue to monitor the performance of the MAN D38 as only time will tell if it’s been a wise decision, especially long after the warranty ends, so I’ll keep you posted.
- Driveline for power and the impressive Intarder
- Comfortable drive, great ISRI seats and very quiet cab
- Good dash layout, which is simple to use
- Long list of safety features
- Value for money
- The curtains are one of the worst I’ve used recently, so new aftermarket ones have already been ordered.
- Only two air vents in the middle of the dash, positioned behind the coffee cup holder, so it’s slow to cool the cab in summer, but quick to cool your coffee.
- Only one USB point for your phone and one 12-volt charge point for your dashcam, but nothing else.