STAR PERFORMANCE | TRUCK REVIEW -Mercedes-Benz rigids are well worthy of a closer look

Brenton O’Connor finds the latest Mercedes-Benz rigids are well worthy of a closer look

After a successful introduction of the on-highway prime mover range in October last year, Mercedes-Benz launched its new rigid range of vehicles at the Brisbane Truck Show in May this year.

The test and development programme conducted by Mercedes-Benz Australia prior to the introduction of the prime mover range also included the rigid truck models. This highly-focused introduction to the Australian market was certainly extensive, covering 1.8 million kilometres, with 20 trucks and included over 35 customers in a range of applications.

The purpose of this programme was twofold – both to engage customer feedback on the range and help determine the best standard spec that would cover the widest range of applications that are prevalent in the Australian market. Secondly, Mercedes-Benz wanted to test the robustness of its new range on Australian roads, given the unique conditions Australian trucks endure.  

Truck manufacturers view the Australian market as one of the most difficult environments to negotiate in the world, for reasons such as long distances, high weights, rough roads, dust and high temperatures. There are few (if any) places that include such a myriad of obstacles that have the potential to make the life of any truck difficult.

Through the results of the test programme, and with the support and feedback of customers involved in the pre-launch evaluation, Mercedes-Benz was able to establish the final specifications of the vehicles, safe in the knowledge that it had the potential to be a winning range with rapid operator acceptance. The German offerings are huge, in terms of driveline, suspension, horsepower, transmission, cab and wheelbase options, so Mercedes Australia wanted to ensure the right line-up was created for our market.

The medium-duty range is available in two models: a 12 t and a 16 t variant, both of which feature the 299 hp, 7.7-litre OM936 in-line six-cylinder engine. All models in the new Mercedes range are standard with Euro 6 emissions reduction standards, using a combination of SCR, EGR and a DPF.

The advantage for operators to adopt Euro 6 technology ahead of legal mandating by government enables the purchaser to future-proof their acquisitions prior to the introduction of the next round of emissions standards. This means that eventual resale is likely to bring a higher return on the initial investment and subsequent total cost of operation. Further benefits to the operator’s bottom line come from the reduction in AdBlue usage and also potentially the lowering of engine operating temperatures.

Another big change for the Atego range is the standard fit eight-speed PowerShift transmission (AMT). On previous Atego ranges an AMT was only available with the 240 hp variant, the higher horsepower variant was available with a nine-speed manual or a five-speed Allison automatic.

The 12-tonne Atego variant has always been a popular choice for long distance transportation of caravans, boats and fibreglass water tanks, and with its 11,990 kg plated GVM it doesn’t require the use of a logbook and attracts cheaper registration costs. The optionally available sleeper cabins give operators a decent bed for a nights rest – something the Japanese manufactures aren’t able to provide. Stepping up to the 16-tonnet variant allows for increased payloads and is ideally suited to 12-pallet trays or curtainsiders.

Another big advantage of the Atego range, past and present, is the use of 19.5” wheels. They allow for a lower entry and exit height to the cabin, while also reducing the chassis height to facilitate easier loading and unloading. Furthermore, it allows for increased cubic capacity bodies, particularly relevant for bulky cargo such as toilet paper and breakfast cereals. Mercedes has now added alloy wheels to the Atego range providing for a tare weight advantage and a visual lift in appearance for the vehicle. The new Atego range does not include a 6×2 variant – in order to fulfil this segment, buyers will need to look to the heavy-duty distribution range of Actros vehicles available in both 6×2 and 6×4 configuration.

Driving the new Atego is a breeze, with cabin entry and exit being a simple task due to the low overall height. Once seated on the ISRI air-suspended seat, the driver is met with a smart-looking workplace. Even the standard-fit day cab (know internally as S-cab classic extended) has ample seat travel adjustment for tall drivers. As simple as that seems, most of the medium-duty vehicles tested by PowerTorque recently do not feature adequate seat travel for drivers taller than six-feet.

Once mobile, the two standouts of the new Atego range are the engine brake and the new PowerShift transmission. Drivers of Mercedes’s past models will be used to the mediocre performance of the combined exhaust brake and AEB (active engine brake), which required high rpm to produce a decent level of retardation. That is all a thing of the past with the new standard-fit engine brake producing some 340 kW of retardation, which is simply outstanding in a truck of this size – the benefits including reduced service brake wear and also increased ease of operation for the operator.

During the test route of the new Benz rigid truck range, PowerTorque drove an Atego loaded to 14 tonnes down the infamous Toowoomba range, the engine brake held the vehicle under the stipulated 35 km/hr with ease – in fact, we were required to regulate the intensity of the engine brake with the right-hand stalk, as on Stage 3 the retardation provided was too intense.

The new eight-speed Powershift transmission was a gem to operate. Previous-generation Mercedes trucks, fitted with either semi or fully automated gearshifts, made use of the ‘Telligent’ gearshift selector mounted on the left-hand armrest. This gear selector was somewhat clumsy to operate, and took some time to grasp for operators new to the brand. A big change for the new range of Benz trucks is the right-hand column stalk operated gearshift selector. To upshift, simply raise the stalk, and, to downshift, simply push down on the stalk. To select from Reverse to Neutral to Drive, simply twist the selector integrated into the right stalk, following a very similar setup to that offered by Scania.

Moving into the heavy range, Mercedes offers a range of 6×2, 6×4, and 8×4 rigid vehicles. The 6×2 range, available in 299 and 354 hp variants, is targeted towards vocations such as 14-pallet curtainsider and tray work, for both city distribution tasks as well as intrastate duties. The 32,000 kg GCM allows operators to tow a trailer behind to carry additional freight.

These two 6×2 rigid vehicles feature the same OM936 engine and eight-speed Powershift AMT as the Atego medium-duty rigid vehicle mentioned earlier.

As the Atego is no longer available in 6×2 guise, many operators will move to the larger-capacity Actros 6×2, with the additional benefits of higher horsepower, bigger cab options and also increased towing abilities. Compared with the Atego, the Actros 6×2 runs on 22.5” wheels all-round. Despite the Actros range sitting taller than the smaller Atego, cabin access is still outstanding thanks to the 2.3-metre cab width that has allowed Mercedes engineers to design the cab steps in such as way that allows for exceptional cab access.

Driving the Actros 2530 6×2, PowerTorque was amazed at the ride quality, along some fairly ordinary roads around Toowoomba. Admittedly, a long wheelbase always helps with ride, but this truck truly was sensational to ride in, and those doing long trips interstate will arrive at their destination feeling fresh and relaxed.

In addition to the 6×2 range, Benz has also released its new 6×4 range of vehicles, available with two different engine size options. The same OM936 7.7-litre engine used in the 6×2 variant is offered alongside its bigger brother, the OM470. This 10.7-litre inline six-cylinder is available in ratings of 394 hp, 428 hp and 455 hp for those applications needing added oomph.

Unlike the 6×2 variant, Mercedes is fitting a 12-speed AMT to the 6×4 range of vehicles. The 12-speed box will provide a finer spread of gears available to the operator, as this type of vehicle is quite often used in unique operations that can include off-road work, such as tandem-drive tippers and rubbish trucks.

The same cab with its excellent access is offered, as well as a sleeper cabin option for those who can be required to spend a night or more away from home. The vehicle evaluated by PowerTorque featured Benz’s famous hub reduction diffs; however, Mercedes-Benz product manager Paul Fagg confirmed that the standard-fit axles would include hypoid differentials, with hub reduction available as an option. Paul explained that hypoid diffs, suited primarily to on-highway operations, provide both a tare weight and fuel efficiency advantage, whereas the hub reduction diffs are ideal for off-road tasks due to increased ground clearance, improved tractive ability and the standard-fit power divider and differential locks.

Probably the biggest change to the Benz rigid line-up is the new 8×4, which is identified by its different grille design and also the increased ground clearance commonly required for the type of vocations this truck is likely to be employed. 

In previous iterations of this model, Mercedes did not offer an 8×4 variant with air suspension from the main production line at its factory in Wurth, Germany. As such, vehicles were manufactured on the main production line as a 6×4 with air suspension and the second steer axle was added at another specialised Mercedes factory catering towards customised trucks. This added to both the build time and cost of the vehicle.

During the launch, Andrew Assimo, senior manager of Mercedes-Benz Trucks, explained that the new 8×4 range is now fully built on the main production line at Wurth. Unlike most 8×4 vehicles, the new Benz’s second steer axle is controlled electro-hydraulically for smoother and lighter operations at low speeds. Driving the 8×4, you can feel the difference this makes, as this truck would have to have the lightest steering on any truck on the Aussie market, with the driver able to steer the vehicle with literally one finger, even at low speeds.

Andrew Assimo further explained Benz is targeting palletised freight, equipment haulage and the waste industry with its 8×4 range.

Driving the 8×4 is an enjoyable experience, not limited to just the light steering, but also the Powershift 3 is a huge improvement in operation compared to the previous generation of Benz’s Powershift AMT. 

The speed of gearshifts, especially under load, is chalk and cheese compared to the old model. Given the Powershift AMT was always a point of criticism on the old Benz range, this new Powershift has taken it right up to Volvo’s industry benchmark I-Shift. Another advantage of PowerShift 3 is the clever crawl function that allows the vehicle to creep forward when drive or reverse is selected and the accelerator pedal is not being depressed. Unlike the previous generation, the driver doesn’t have to remember to engage the ‘manoeuvring mode’ switch on the dash to make this happen.

A slight disappointment was the location of the coolant expansion (header) tank, which is located behind the cab, on some of the variants displayed. Whilst on prime movers it’s no issue, for rigid bodies it will require the operator to tilt the cab in order to top up the coolant, as the body will restrict access behind the cab to add coolant.

Overall, the new Mercedes-Benz rigid range of trucks is an impressive package. Given the level of groundwork done by Mercedes in testing the range in real life Australian operations, which has proved such a success for the prime mover range, it seems that the same will apply for the rigid. Mercedes seems to have overcome some of the common criticisms of its previous generations of trucks when it comes to engine brake retardation, and both the improved operation via quicker gear shifting and selection of gears using the gearshift controller when compared with the old Telligent selector.

The new Mercedes-Benz rigid truck range specifications are as follows:

Medium-Duty Distribution

4×2 Rigid

1230 L and 1630 L

ENGINE: 7.7-litre OM936 with 299 hp and 1200 Nm

TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed PowerShift AMT

CABS: S-Cab Classic and S-Cab Classis Extended, L-Cab Classic Space and L-Cab Big Space

WEIGHTS: 11,990 kg GVM and up to 28,000 kg GCM on 1230, 16,000 kg GVM and up to 28,000 kg GCM on 1630

 

Heavy-Duty Distribution

6×2 Rigid

2530 and 2535

ENGINE: 7.7-litre OM936 with 299 hp and 1200 Nm (2530) and 354 hp and 1400 Nm (2535)

TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed PowerShift AMT

CABS: M-Cab Classic Space

WEIGHTS: 26,000 kg GVM and up to 32,000 kg GCM

 

Heavy-Duty Distribution and Vocational

6×4 Rigid

2635, 2640, 2643 and 2646

ENGINE: 7.7-litre OM936 with 354 hp and 1400 Nm (2635), 11-litre OM470 with 394 hp and 1900 Nm (2640), 11-litre OM470 with 428 hp and 2100 Nm (2643) and 11-litre OM470 with 455 hp and 2200 Nm

TRANSMISSION: 12-speed PowerShift AMT

CABS: M-Cab Classic Space and L-Cab Classic Space

WEIGHTS: 26,000 kg GVM and up to 32,000 kg GCM (2635) and 26,000 kg up to 44,000 kg GCM (others)

 

Heavy-Duty Distribution and Vocational

8×4 Rigid

3240 L, 3243 L, 3246 L

ENGINE: 11-litre OM470 with 394 hp and 1900 Nm (3240), 11-litre OM470 with 428 hp and 2100 Nm (3243) and 11-litre OM470 with 455 hp and 2200 Nm (3246)

TRANSMISSION: 12-speed PowerShift AMT

CABS: M-Cab Classic Space

WEIGHTS: 32,000 kg GVM and up to 44,000 kg GCM

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