The Long and the Short of It | TRUCK REVIEW – PowerTorque drives Volvo’s XXL Globetrotter

PowerTorque drives Volvo’s XXL Globetrotter- Words by Ed Higginson

Bigger is definitely better when it comes to bunk space as demonstrated by Volvo Trucks as it officially launched its long-awaited FH Globetrotter XXL Cab at the recent Brisbane Truck Show. For those with patience, deliveries will start in June for Europe and August for our market.

The previous FH Globetrotter XXL cab had great success in Australia before it was retired when the new shape FH, series four, was launched in 2012. At the time, Volvo couldn’t justify developing a special cab just for the Australian market, but now it’s launched the cab for which Volvo fans have been waiting.

To achieve the extra 600 litres of living space, Volvo has re-engineered the Globetrotter XL cab moving the rear wall back 250 mm. It’s not just a simple cut and shut, but a fully-integrated cab with extra C-pillars to ensure its strong enough to meet the latest European Cab Strength ECE R29-03 which now includes roll-over simulations, plus Volvo’s own high safety standards.

The new larger design has enabled Volvo to fit a 130 mm longer and 250 mm wider innerspring mattress with an option to tilt a section of the bed upwards so you can sit up to read or watch a movie in comfort. A great idea that makes you wonder why no one else offers this.

With a long association with the Volvo brand as a driver and fleet manager, I was keen to trial the XXL and find out just how good this will be for the Aussie driver.

We were to take the XXL for an overnight trip from Volvo’s new head office in Wacol to North Talwood, a small country town about an hour west of Goondiwindi, covering 1440 km over two days.

On arriving at Volvo’s offices, I was greeted by Matt Wood, whom you may recognise from his years as a fellow trucking journalist before joining Volvo’s team of driver trainers. Matt was to spend the next two days riding alongside me in the only XXL currently on the road, with it being the same unit displayed at the truck show.

From the outside, the cab doesn’t appear to be substantially larger than the standard Globetrotter, with the rear cab extension hidden by the larger side air deflectors.

The interior of the Globetrotter retains the standard FH16 colour scheme with lime-green touches, of which personally I’m not a fan. The fit and finish is the usual high standard you expect from Volvo, showing the XXL is a true factory build, with the cab imported from Scandinavia fully assembled.

The lockers above the windscreen, the under-bunk fridge drawers and cabinets fitted to the back wall are no larger in the XXL, but they are still more than most drivers would need, whilst the external side lockers increase in size by 50 litres.

The most important part of the new cab, and why you’d spend the extra $25,000, is the king-single innerspring mattress, now 2130 mm by 1065 mm. On top of the mattress, Volvo has also added a thin cushion layer that is extra comfortable, plus also makes it easier to use fitted sheets.

After a quick look around the FH16 XXL, which was coupled to a set of Freighter B-double Tautliner trailers, we hit the road. Firstly, joining the Ipswich Motorway, then onto the Warrego Hwy heading West towards the long climb up the Great Dividing Range into Toowoomba.

Although this test was to review the benefits of the XXL cab when sleeping in it overnight, there is so much more to love about the Volvo. The highlight here is the D16-litre 700 hp Euro5 engine fitted with the I-Shift Automated 13-speed over-drive with crawler gear, plus the Volvo Engine Brake (VEB+).

The demo truck also featured forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping support with corrective steering, lane-change support and driver alert. The only issue was that the trailers didn’t have EBS, so effectively that omission made half of the truck’s safety features useless. A shame with such a modern combination.

With 3150 Nm of torque between 1000 rpm and 1550 rpm, the Globetrotter picked up speed effortlessly, smoothly shifting through the gears until hitting the speed limiter. In the wrong hands, 700 hp can be expensive, but with a few tips from Matt you soon learn to relax and use the cruise and EcoRoll function to control your speed.

By leaving the excellent I-Shift transmission to work with the engine’s torque curve, the truck just labours down into the lower rpm band as you hit the hills, then digs deep to pull you over the crest at a decent speed. As you head down the other side, you can then simply drop the cruise by a couple of kilometres with a flick of the thumb to let the truck control your downhill speed using the VEB+.

At Euro5, the engine revs slightly higher than the new crop of Europeans that usually drop as low as 900 rpm, but it’s still quiet with Volvo’s excellent sound proofing. The cab also sits on airbags with gas struts set at 45 degrees to take out the bumps and the usual cab roll of old. The XXL cab is only an extra 145 kg in weight, so with the new cab suspension it rides really well, especially over the worsening inland highways.

After a quick stop at the BP in Toowoomba to check our GCM, which was 60,680 kg, we then drove to Goondiwindi and on to North Talwood. Arriving as the sun began to fade, we put the Nitro LED light bar to good use to help spot the high number of kangaroos but luckily, we managed to avoid a messy encounter.

After parking up for the night in an old railway siding, we walked a few hundred metres to the Talwood Hotel so we could have a decent feed and get Matt a room, before I returned to my luxury accommodation in the XXL.

Climbing inside the cab, it’s easy to set up the interior for the night. Both seats have a quick release handle on the backrest so they can be tilted forward for extra room. The curtains pull around easily, and with 2110 mm of head room between the seats, its easy to get changed before jumping into bed.

Once in the bed, there is an electric switch close by that lets you tilt the mattress, so you are comfortably sitting up to read or use the remote and watch the flatscreen tv/dvd. With most functions organised from the control panel on the rear wall – such as the door’s central locking, electric sunroof, electric windows, radio channels, speaker volume, cab lights and morning alarm –  there is no need to get up again till the morning.

A few improvements I’d want to add would be somewhere to hang a wet towel and a few shirts whilst driving, plus a few more USB sockets, especially on the rear wall, so you can charge your phone during the night. It would also be worth adding the microwave and coffee maker with power points in the overhead cabinets, but these are all current options with Volvo. If the I-shift control is relocated from beside the seat to the dash, a driver could also opt for a second pull-out freezer next to the fridge, so you’d never need to buy fast food again!

I can honestly say it’s one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a truck. Not just because of the bed, but also the space, the layout of controls, the sound proofing and the Icepack heater/cooler. If your business is serious about fatigue management, then maximising your driver’s sleeping comfort must be your key consideration the next time you buy a truck.

Waking at about 5.45 am, it was just as easy to get dressed and reset the cab for driving, so I was ready to roll when Matt arrived at 6. Given the choice between sleeping in the truck or the hotel I’d be happy to take the truck.

After about an hour’s drive back to Goondiwindi we stopped at the Caltex for breakfast and a coffee, before heading back through Warwick and down Cunningham’s Gap towards Wacol.

On the way down the Gap, we put the I-shift into manual selecting fifth gear at which point the  VEB+ was able to hold the set speed all the way down with an impressive 570 hp of retardation at 2000 rpm. Moving between Position 1 (exhaust brake), Position 2 (engine brake) and Position 3 (exhaust and engine brakes) you can control the downhill speed easily without the need to touch the brake pedal.

Over the two days, the Dynafleet driver’s report would give me a score of 89, which Matt told me was pretty good, and with an average speed of 78 km/h we achieved a 53.99 L/100 km (1.85 kms/l), which isn’t bad considering the climb into Toowoomba.

When the new Volvo FH was launched in 2012, it was the most modern truck on the market by some margin and helped pushed Volvo to second spot in the Australian heavy vehicle market, just behind Kenworth.

However, the competition is always pushing hard with the new Euro6 trucks from Scania and Mercedes gaining market sales, and the recent Euro6 announcement from Kenworth adding to the pressure placed on Volvo. The XXL cab has come at an important moment, now we just need the updated Euro6 version.

Positives: Driveline with 16-litre engine and I-shift, king-single mattress with tilting function, safety packages and smooth cab ride.

Negatives: Interior cab colours, no Euro6 option and the additional cost of $25,000.

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