Kermie takes the Cascadia for a test drive
HERE in Victoria we've not seen any rain to speak of since, well, I can't remember when.
But when Daimler Trucks sent us an invite for a first test drive of their forthcoming Freightliner Cascadia, due for release in early 2020 and I looked at the weather for that day, Huey had scheduled a downpour to rival those which Sydney has been subjected to for weeks.
Not that driving in the rain was a deterrent, but it was the promise of nine holes of golf after the drive - down at Anglesea's AARC test facility - and the helicopter ride to take us back to Melbourne at the end of the day thatI could see going out the proverbial window.
In the end Huey took pity upon us and, apart from a couple of brief showers we had great weather conditions for all three components of the "drive" - truck drive: great; golf drive: mostly into the water and bunkers, and chopper drive: well it was only a ride but it's not every day you get to sit up front in $4 million worth of whirlybird.
But you lot aren't interested in how we were feted but whether these Cascadia's are/will be any good. At the outset let me say that even if Freightliner hadn't added any "perks" to the day, I'd still be saying that I reckon they've got a product that will be more, much more than a worthy addition to the Australian truck market.
It's no secret that Argosy was getting long in the tooth and that, having finished its life overseas some time ago, R&D on that vehicle also slowed to a trickle.
Since Cascadia was launched in North America back in 2007, it has become that market's No.1 selling truck and we presume American truckies are as discerning as we Aussies when it comes to parting with their "hard-earned". There are currently 85,000 of them lining up to buy the vehicle.
Here in Oz we will get a choice of two engines - both Detroit - in 13 litre (505hp) and 16 litre (600hp) guise, which are mated to a 12 speed auto. While 505hp out of a 13 litre donk is not the most powerful in the market, Detroit Diesel has concentrated on getting maximum torque where it counts - down low. Result? Twelve gears are plenty and low revs equals better fuel consumption.
So let's begin our spin: Firstly, ingress and egress to the cab is dead-set easy. My duck's-arse legs had no problem at all climbing in and out. Once inside, ergonomics is the name of the game with everything falling to hand easily.
The auto-shift on the right hand side of the steering column is simple to use, allowing for manual override if desired, although I don't know why you'd bother.
The steering wheel is multi-functional with cruise control, telephone and other items on the spokes. The dashboard is clear and very legible with a large multi-function display nestled between the usual tacho, speedometer and other minor dials. It's much like sitting in one of the company's Mercedes cars.
The view out the window is terrific and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a cab-over rather than a bonneted truck.
Small things such as lowering the engine in the bay by 7.62cm (three inches) has enabled the designers to give an unobstructed view of the road ahead. Then there are the little things like the side mirrors which give great rearward vision but also allow you to see over the top of them - the better your view the safer you are.
Both test vehicles were hooked up to B-double trailers with 65 tons on board. Firstly the 13 litre. Into drive, brakes off and pedal to the metal (because it's not my fuel bill). "Smooth" is the word I'd use. No juddering here. The steering is light but you always know where the wheels are pointing.
The gearbox quickly slides through the gears, skipping intermediate ones when it knows it can. Coming down an incline towards a corner, flick the auto stick back to engage the engine brake and let the motor do its job.
I'd put them on a bit early but no need to disengage, just pop the foot back on the accelerator which overrides the function until you lift off. On steep inclines the computer will turn on the fan, robbing the motor of another 40 hp.
We come to a gradient and again the auto box knows just where it should be, in my case 7th gear. At the top of the gradient we hit a patch of very rough tarmac but she sails over it with only the tiniest, and very brief amount of judder.
These trucks are day cabs so we were sitting with the exhaust right behind us. Conversation was possible at normal talking levels so the company has put some effort into sound deadening.
It will be even better with a 60 inch sleeper between driver and stacks. Lack of rattles and squeaks was also noticeable. Although these boys have relatively few clicks on them, they are not being treated with kid gloves. We look forward to another spin with a few hundred thou on the clock.
After the 13 litre we hop into its big brother, the 16. I honestly didn't notice much difference in take-off. Where it was noticeable was at the incline where the gearbox moved through 7th, 8th and settled on 9th to get us to the top. These trucks had ABS and lane departure warning, which would be handy for a tired driver. By the time of their Australian release you'll be able to have lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise and much more.
Design improvements are constantly evolving as well. One issue discussed was that the bumper took two blokes 25 minutes to remove, prompting "time is money" complaints.
Now one person can remove it in five minutes flat. Freightliner is determined that the Cascadia will be the best truck it has ever built and is equally confident that it will be Australia's best truck - in driving, in maintenance, in technology, in every way. We wait with baited breath.
In the next few weeks we get to spend a day out in the real world with John McCarroll, one of the full-time test drivers of Cascadia. Stay tuned.....