SMOOTH OPERATOR: For a big beastie, the R650 seems to wrap itself around you, feeling smaller than it is.
SMOOTH OPERATOR: For a big beastie, the R650 seems to wrap itself around you, feeling smaller than it is.

A nice rig with all the bells and whistles: Scania

SPEED, strength, courage, alertness. These are the words describing the Griffin, the insignia of the state of Sodertalje in Sweden, and also, when combined with the crank of a pushbike which reflects the company's origins, that of the Scania Truck Company.

From pushbikes Scania launched its first diesel engine in 1936 and 33 years later, in 1969 came its first V8 a 14 litre turbocharged affair putting out 350hp - the most powerful engine of its time in Europe.

Scania still holds that mantle with today's 16 litre V8 R730. The updated R650 is Scania's latest offering, powered by the company's ubiquitous V8.

Putting out 3300Nm from 950-1350rpm, this version is only 200Nm shy of the all-conquering R730, and offers full torque lower in the rev range (the R730s coming in at 1000rpm). The 650, representing the number of horses residing in the engine, nicely fills the gap between the 730 and the lower rated R580 and R520 V8s.

Maximum power - as with the other engines in the range - comes in at 1900rpm, but the need to go to those revs is rare, such is the pulling power.

There has been a lot of work done on the flat torque curve resulting in a really low revving, lugging sort of engine. Low revving with high torque equals good fuel consumption.

I pull in at the BP servo in the tiny hamlet of Carlsruhe, near Kyneton, Vic, to hook up with Scania's driver-trainer Dave Whyte and the R650 in B-double set-up with a gross of 61 tons.

The plan is to go for a drive through Lancefield, Tooborac, Puckapunyal, Seymour and back down the Hume to Laverton. This route will give us a range of road types, hills, curves and freeway over which to get a feel for the truck.

First up is the key tag. One press will unlock the driver's door only and two presses unlock both doors. Another button turns on lights around the cab and the daytime LEDS - handy for checking for possible hijackers and more usually pools of water and mud. Yet another button gives a light (all LEDs) test sequence of cab and trailer/s.

Headlight (auto) beams, roof and mid mounted driving lights, indicators, brake lights, parkers, work lights and reverse lights (together with audible warning) are all checked with a simple walk-around before shoving the key in the ignition.

Most important is being able to check the brake lights without having to call on help.

Open a door and a light shines down on the steps which are splayed slightly outwards from top to bottom so you can see each step.

Inside, Scania has moved all central locking, windows, mirror adjustment and light controls onto the driver's door.

It's a lot more accessible than having this stuff on the dash and everything falls to hand at your fingertips.

 

Some nice office space in the new Scania.
Some nice office space in the new Scania.

Airbag controls can be operated from within the truck or with secondary controls by the seat so the driver can stand outside and have a look at what's going on. This truck had the optional leather seats and steering wheel. I'd have them both.

This is very much European luxury - more BMW than Ford. This particular truck had a roof mounted air-conditioning unit replacing the standard electric sunroof.

Ergonomically the interior is at the top of the tree with a clear, easy to read display and logical placement of controls. Oil, water, brake pads etc can all be checked via the dash.

The media unit which doubles as a satnav, allows the input of truck length, height and weight so theoretically it shouldn't send us anywhere where we can't go.

Indicators are on the left ala Europe but that's no problem. The Gear control wand is on the right. A twist into Drive then up or down if you insist on controlling gear changes (and wasting fuel). Pulling the lever back gives five stages of engine retardation.

The wing mirrors are worth a mention as well. A space between the upper convex and lower standard affairs gives a line-of-sight between them.

Another gives good downward vision at the front of the truck.

The A-pillars are narrower and the windscreen curves more around the corners to aid vision.

The outside sun visor has gone to aid fuel consumption but the interior visors meet in the middle and have multiple stages of drop. They work well.

Under the bunk are two pull-out drawers.

One holds the good sized fridge/freezer and the other for any oddments. Scania tells me many owners order a second fridge for this space so they can have a separate freezer.

A microwave can also be optioned for the highline models to fit above the windscreen.

 

Crusin' with Kermie.
Crusin' with Kermie.

Space is often at a premium for decent sized bodies in the European cab-overs. Scania has cleverly incorporated an extendible bunk. Move the seats forward with foot pedals (super easy), and the bunk pulls out to a full metre in width.

The inner-spring mattress can be left made up and simply pushed back after forty winks.

After this familiarisation it's up the road we go a few hundred yards and hang a right to Lancefield. We have a narrow ribbon of ragged blacktop with very soft edges thanks to recent rains.

We also have a pilot car coming across the bridge ahead of us who informs us that the oncoming truck (still out of sight) is hauling a building.

My thought is that Scania are not going to be happy when the road verge gives way under that 61 tons and the thing ends up on its side.

Thankfully the other truck managed to find an area to pull off the road, giving us just enough room to idle by.

That out of the way and it's time to wind the beast up, as far as the road will allow. My first impression is how well she rides. The airbags soak up the numerous potholes and ripples.

Then there is the steering. From lightness at slow speed, it weights up beautifully as the pedal goes to the metal. The wheel conveys the road surface to you clearly but mutedly - if that makes sense.

You know exactly what the drive tyres are doing at all times. This steering is, in a word, delightful, conveying confidence in the truck and its load. Indeed it's easy to forget that you've got 26 metres under your control.

 

One fridge or two. The choice is yours.
One fridge or two. The choice is yours.

This truck is well insulated from the outside world and we're talking at normal volumes.

The mill is working between 11 and 1400rpm which is right where the max pulling power of this motor is. There is no point in overriding things because it's a waste of fuel.

Do that and you're making noise and smoke and costing yourself a lot of money.

In older European trucks cabs would rock 'n' roll a lot around bends but not here. The all-point airbag suspension does a brilliant job, getting rid of any wallowing.

This truck ride is considerably better than my car.

Transmission is by way of Scania's 12 speed Opti Cruise (with power, standard and eco modes) with two crawler gears. These transmissions have the lay-shaft brake in them so the shifts are much quicker.

They are very precise and always in the right gear at the right time.

From Lancefield to Tooborac we head up a massive hill that puts Pretty Sally in the shade, for those that know it. It ably demonstrates how slick the gearshift is and how good the pulling power of this motor.

Down changes are imperceptible apart from the increase in revs.

 

As the gradient lessens, she pops straight up three gears seamlessly. Why would you bother doing it yourself?

The Adaptive Cruise control on the R650 has Scania's Active Prediction with a topographic map, so the truck actually knows where the hills are.

On the flat and coming up to a hill it will power up before we hit the hill.

When we come to the crest it will cut the power and let itself coast down the other side - limited by the downhill speed control. Some of the back roads haven't been done yet but they will come in time.

From Tooborac we head to Seymour and then onto the Hume for some highway running. Here is where the Adaptive Cruise comes to the fore.

A car - as cars will - cuts in front of us and then decides to brake hard. The R650 beats me to the brake, using all its technology to save the car driver's head from entering our cockpit.

Together with the ABS, disk braked trailers, she wiped off the speed in a beautifully linear manner. No going off-line. No complaints at all.

It's worthy of mention here that when you do need the brakes, they have excellent feel with just the right amount of pressure required - a bit like that BMW I mentioned.

From the Hume we get onto the Western Ring Road with all its attendant traffic. For a big beastie, the R650 seems to wrap itself around you, feeling smaller than it is.

If I had to play in heavy traffic all day I could do it easily in this truck.

Touch the brakes and the electronics firstly use whatever stage of the retarder that it needs.

It will drop gears to bring the exhaust brake in as well and even the fan to rob the truck of some more power. Called Brake Blending, customers are getting up to a million clicks out of a set of (all round) disk brake pads.

Add in Lane Departure Warning, Hill Assist, ABS, EBS, AEB and Traction Control and there's nothing a BMW has that this truck doesn't.

'Short Stop' ventilation is a good idea in that with the ignition off, it will blow for eight hours at low speed or two hours at high speed.

On a cold day the driver can hop out to grab a bite to eat and the cab will stay cosy until the motor cools. Similarly, on a hot day she'll stay cool for 10-15 minutes.

If the battery voltage for whatever reason drops below a certain point the system will shut itself down.

The R650 incorporates a star system on the dash. This can compare drivers to other drivers. A driver may have his own tag which attaches magnetically to a spot on the overhead bulkhead and is transferable from truck to truck within the fleet. It creates competition between drivers or just with yourself to drive better and more safely.

The company can track the truck and individual drivers, and can print reports on each of those.

A weekly or monthly report emailed directly to the fleet operator from Scania as part of a package for the first 12 months, will show fuel consumption, distance travelled, harsh acceleration or braking, in fact all the data from the truck.

Scania rounds the package out with five years/500,000km free servicing.

This is one very nice rig that has all the bells and whistles in a good looking package.

CORRECTION: The print version and first online publication of this story incorrectly stated that buyers received five years/1,000,000km of free servicing. It should in fact read 5 years/500,000km. 

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