The Volvo 'Hilton' as good as it gets
THERE'S only one way to evaluate a sleeper cab. Sleep in it.
So Big Rigs took the Volvo FH16 with the new XXL cab that was at the Brisbane Truck Show and headed south-west of Brisbane for a country run - and a snooze.
A day's drive in beautiful country, on roads that morphed from great to appalling, and between rows of roadkill meant that when I pulled up, I was pretty knackered. It was also a cloudless night, and freezing cold. So the biggest Volvo's cab was a welcome sight as I walked back to the rig from a pub dinner.
I'd driven in from Goondiwindi and pulled up for a meal. I'd parked up alongside a defunct railway siding in North Talwood, a not-so-thriving Queensland whistle stop about 5km north of the NSW border.
The objective was to experience how the cab's rest space would allow a driver to stretch out (it's 2.1-metres high), get changed, watch some TV, enjoy some refreshment and finally, get some decent sleep without compromising on space or comfort.
I got back to the truck at 9.30pm as the thermometer sunk to 4 degrees. A full moon meant some photography was okay, and with park and interior lights ablaze the truck looked spectacular. When I clicked the remote the truck lit up the cab steps to welcome me on board. Cab access is easy despite the steer wheels under the driver's seat.
Two solid grab handles reach down to eye height - for my 185cm - and the four steps up are wide and heavily serrated for safety.
The interior light control dial is illuminated with a gentle green LED glow, helpful when getting in after dark, and has four settings.
The first click is three small lights, then red night lights, then a brighter setting for the driving area that is good to wake up to, and finally a full-on make-your-eyes-squint setting.
Additionally, there are reading lights embedded in each side wall at the ends of the bunk, and a stalk reading light also at each end. You'll never have to chase a light around the cab.
Ventilation could be better - a side vent with mossie net would be good. The roof hatch has a mesh cover - perfect for hot weather but not for a freezing night. That stayed shut.
The test truck had an Icepack fitted, but the cab insulation was good enough to keep me and the doona toasty. The super-soft bunk is more a bed and wide enough for a roll-around fidget like me. It tilts on the nearside end, so you can work, read or adjust for any negative parking camber when it's time to nod off.
After a quick tidy-up I closed the curtains, got changed, clicked the doors locked, snuck under the doona and was off to sleep in a flash. Volvo charges more for this sleeper, and it adds 195kg to the tare weight. But if you live a day or two in your truck each trip, this kind of personal space will become a favourite place for a much-needed recharge.
Up early the next morning, I did my checks, warmed up the 61-tonne B-double rig and headed off for more awful roads and kamikaze wildlife.
The two-day run highlighted the technical package Volvo delivers to operators who are keen on optimising fuel, tyres and brakes, as well as keeping drivers alert and protected against the unexpected.
This truck was covered in XXL marketing decals, but under the skin was where the smarts were. It had the 16.1-litre 700hp D16G engine with Euro V emissions tech. Power hits its peak at 1450rpm and holds through to 1800, where it eases off, then drops off a cliff 100rpm later. Torque is a thumping 3150Nm between 1000-1550rpm, with the optimum economy band between 1150 and 1300rpm.
The transmission spec was the first clue that someone planned for maximum economy. Volvo's ATO3112F 12-speed had the single crawler gear added, a long and tall .78:1 overdrive 12th gear, and a 3.40 final drive. The combination allowed smooth and fuss-free maximum GCM take-off from rest on a slope, as well as the quietest 100km/h cruising I've yet done in a longhaul truck. On that limit with cruise control engaged, the engine was almost silent.
It tooled along just under 1400rpm, and even when a slope started to slow us down peak torque arrived at about 94km/h to keep the rig rolling. Volvo's Matt Wood was with me on the drive and told me that some customers are realising the advantages of buying a bit more power than you really need, matching it to a carefully planned driveline with a gear spread that keeps the engine in the economy band, then training the driver to exploit the FH16's impressive suite of economy aids.
Matt's mantra was simple - "fuel, fuel, fuel,” as we used eco-roll, cruise control, manual mode over-ride, off-throttle slow-down, and the exhaust and engine brake mix to manage momentum and deliver economy that was more like a 600-650hp engine.
The VEB+ auxiliary brake system has four settings. 'A' engages the truck's brain to automatically balance speed over-run with the auxiliary brakes. Then three more stages - exhaust brake only, engine brake only, and finally exhaust and engine. Clicking the button on the end of the stalk gooses the system by dropping a gear or two to get the engine revs up and boost the braking effort. Maximum retardation is at just over 2000rpm, but on the run down the Toowoomba hill, the engine gets close to 2100rpm and you need to be careful.
A touch of the service brakes will stop the gearbox changing up to protect the engine, otherwise your speed could run away.
A working day in this truck, with the armrests down, climate control on 22, side sunvisor keeping the glare out, some good music, and electronics keeping their beady eyes on things, then finished off with a knockout sleep is about as good as you can get in long-distance Aussie trucking.