Freightliner Argosy Evolution truck review

By: Gary Worrall


Freightliner's Argosy has been around for a long time and is due to be updated for 2011 with ADR 80/03 exhaust regulations arrive, so Gary Worrall went for one last hurrah in the current Evolution model

Freightliner Argosy Evolution truck review
Freightliner Argosy Evolution.

 

What does a truck manufacturer do with a model that is popular with drivers and owners alike but needs a redesign to keep pace with looming regulation updates, yet bears a popular name?

In the case of Freightliner and its Argosy range, you do what the car companies do and call it an ‘Evolution’.

With the introduction of ADR 80/03 emission regulations just months away and a revised Detroit Diesel engine ready for installation, the hot tip is Freightliner could well be releasing the Argosy Evolution 2 in December.

So, when the chance came to go for a run in a current Argosy Evolution, it was impossible not to say yes.

In culinary terms, the Argosy is probably best described as a ‘fusion’ of American and European design schools, offering operators the best of both worlds.

In the best tradition of European design, it is a cabover prime mover in a time when American trucks are bonneted, courtesy of sensible regulations that only measure the trailer, rather than the whole combination when it comes to setting length limits.

Despite that, there are definite touches of the American designer, such as the slope of the windscreen and the chrome radiator grille that stretches skyward like a metallic Empire State Building.

That is not to say the Evolution is not aerodynamic, it just means you have to look closer to see how it all comes together, like in the Euro-style ‘ears’ that guide airflow around the corners of the cab.

The mirrors also look like they have come from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin, big rectangular units that offer a great field of view, as well as being remotely controlled by the driver.

There is also a ‘wrap around’ front bumper covering the front underrun protection system (FUPS) that can be specified in body colour as well as traditional American chrome.

While the ride height and ground clearance are pure American, with plenty of clear air between the ground and that all-important first step, the sun stopper and roof-mounted airfoil offer a glimpse into the European design philosophy.

Unfortunately, one element of the truck remains steadfastly American, with the steps up to the cab behind the front wheels, requiring the incoming drivers to hang on to the vertical hand rails before swinging into the cab and hoping they do not miss.

All is not lost, however, as the Argosy Evolution has a party trick to end all party tricks — a superbly engineered set of swing out steps mounted on the driver’s side.

Rather like Led Zeppelin’s mythical ‘Stairway to Heaven’, the Evolution’s answer to occupational healthy and safety concerns are a godsend, offering wide, stable steps, complete with handrail, that allows the new driver to literally stroll upstairs to ‘the office’.

Powered by an electric motor, these little beauties are linked to the door handle so that as the driver opens the door, the stairs swing out and lock into place, like a truck-mounted red carpet.

Even better, there is an override switch in case the truck is parked in a finger dock or there is an obstacle, to prevent the stairs from being damaged or the motor from burning out.

Sadly, the same courtesy is not extended to the passenger, who has to perform a Clyde the Orang-Utang routine to swing in and out of the cab, not something to be looked forward to if it is wet, cold or, worse, both.

The good news is the access to the work platform at the back of the prime mover is similarly well-thought out, with steps and handrails making it safe and easy for the operator to climb up and connect trailers or to give everything the once-over before heading off for the day.

Once up on the platform, there is a veritable continent of checker plate — one wag suggested it is about the size of Tasmania, — to stand on without risking life or limb while adjusting the Viesa or tidying up the Suzi coils.

Engine

The Evolution scores a 15-litre Detroit Diesel Series 60 six-cylinder engine, which in current ADR 80/02 guise pushes out a more than useful 392kW (525hp) and 2,500Nm (1,850ft-lb) of torque.

Transmission

The engine’s torque goes to ground through an Eaton Fuller 18-speed Road Ranger gearbox.

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Cab and Controls

Having ascended to a higher plane, the Argosy’s cab allows easy access, with a quadrilateral top step strong enough to withstand the usual pirouettes as you slide into the air-suspended seat.

With multiple adjustments, including lumbar support and back rest angle as well as fore and aft movement for leg room, the seat can cope with just about any size or shape body.

From there it is a case of getting the steering wheel into the preferred position to ensure plenty of control while still having a clear view of the instrument panel.

It is at precisely this moment that you realise you are not in Kansas any more — literally as well as figuratively — when instead of facing a replica Apollo 13 console, some rotten so-and-so has made off with half of the instruments.

Rather than the traditional layout where there is a gauge for every single thing in every single space, the Evolution has indeed lived up to its name and evolved into a pseudo-European truck, with a minimal number of dials.

Sure there are still a few more than might normally be found in the Argosy’s Germanic cousin, the Actros, but there are also a heck of a lot less than inhabit the average American dash.

With the Argosy a B-double-rated prime mover the driver gets a reasonably spacious sleeper to relax in; while I did not actually stop for a snooze there is no doubt the bed is big enough to fit bodies of most sizes.

Also impressive is the flat floor and plenty of headroom. Even in the standard roof height version, there was more than enough clearance for me at 1.85 metres to stand up without making a dent in the roof lining.

With two people it is easy enough to change places with one person shifting onto the bunk and the other walking across the cabin to take up their new seat.

This is helped to no end by Freightliner’s clever decision to relocate the gearshift into the dash, leaving the floor clear of all obstacles, a nice touch indeed.

The dash itself is quite deep, putting some space between the driver and the windscreen, the actual instrument panel is a straight panel in front of the driver, which then angles back to create a cockpit feel with all switches and controls in reach but without being claustrophobic.

Other nice touches include wall-to-wall carpeting, with generous padding in the headlining, offering not just a soft touch surface but helping to insulate the interior from the outside world.

Despite the good things Freightliner has done on the driver’s side, the passenger is still something of a neglected figure, squeezed between the dash and the door and doing their best not to interfere with the driver’s view of the mirrors by keeping their hands firmly planted in their lap.

The good news is that unlike previous versions the Evolution has an air-suspended seat with a three-point seatbelt to help the driver soak up the worst of Australia’s roads.

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Performance

Starting the engine reveals straight away how much work went into meeting the amended noise regulations, with the exhaust note a muted murmur somewhere underneath the cab.

With a relatively straightforward dash and good all-round vision, coupled with the ‘ol’ faithful’ Road Ranger, getting moving is a case of clutch in, engage first and release the brakes — away it goes.

Despite hauling a load of close to 70 tonnes, the Detroit Series 60 is more than up to the task, aided by some excellent gear and final drive ratios, so that keeping up with traffic is not a problem.

The gear shift is crisp and accurate, with no slop or play, making it a simple task to choose the next gear, while the range change and splitter work exactly as the maker intended.

With a clear road ahead of it, the Freightliner cruises comfortably at 100km/h, easily holding top gear over gently rolling terrain, with a series of slight grades up and down allowing the 15-litre Detroit to settle into a satisfied rumble under the floor.

This again highlights the quality of the cab soundproofing. No doubt the engine is making more noise than is heard in the cab but the insulation handles the task superbly.

The most noise comes from the thermo fan cutting in and out as the cooling system copes with the demands of the ADR 80/02 engine and the heat it generates in providing a clean fuel burn.

With the fan switching on and off at random intervals in-cab conversation will suddenly be drowned out by the roar of the fan as the temperature climbs above the cutin point, only to shut down just as suddenly when the temperature drops to manageable levels.

This is probably the Argosy’s only real weakness, the lack of radiator space to deal with the heat generated by the engine.

So great is the need for cooling that the left-hand front wheel well houses a supplementary radiator, in addition to the main radiator at the front of the engine.

This is the reason the passenger has to ‘do the monkey’ when it comes to accessing the cab; there is no room for the stairs because of where the radiator is mounted.

With the impending introduction of ADR 80/03 and a revised Detroit Diesel DD15 engine, the question for the designers is how they will mount the cooling package within the existing cabin architecture, or if it will require a redesign of the cabin.

Back on the road, as the terrain became steeper, both up and down, it became necessary to use the splitter to drop back to 17th initially, before going back a full gear to 15th for the harder climbs.

On the downhills, the Jacobs brake got a workout, keeping the speed in check.

However, just like the engine noise, this was never intrusive or overpowering and it was possible to maintain conversations at normal voice levels.

The strength of the engine brake meant it was possible to ignore the service brakes most of the time, instead running the engine against the gears or the Jake to wash off speed.

Fitted with full air-suspension, the Argosy floats over the majority of bad road with minimal fuss, although there were a few big bumps and holes that still had the seat bouncing and rebounding against its stops.

The reality of this situation is that until serious money is spent on the road network there will always be uncomfortable stretches, and no matter how good the suspension, there will be the odd one that sends a shock up into the cabin.

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Verdict

Although it initially looks as though it can’t decide whether to be an American or European truck, the Argosy Evolution is a more-than-competent performer that shows a different approach to a common problem.

While it is not perfect, there is no such thing as the perfect truck, but the Argosy is a solid all-rounder that has rightly earned its place on the ‘favourites’ list of those who have spent any length of time driving one.

The big question remains how it will deal with ADR 80/03, but the same is true for the competition, so the Argosy should remain on fleet shopping lists for some time to come.

 

Likes:

  • Swing out steps for driver
  • Cabin sound proofing
  • Smooth ride
  • Pulling power

Dislikes:

  • Noisy engine fan
  • No swing out steps for passenger

 

Specifications

Make/Model: Freightliner Argosy Evolution

Configuration: Prime Mover 6x4 Cab-Over-Engine

Engine: Detroit Diesel Series 60 15-litre 6-cylinder

Power/Torque: 392kW (525hp)/2,508Nm (1,850ft-lb)

Emission Standard/Control: ADR 80/02 / Exhaust Gas Recirculation

Transmission: 18-speed EatonFuller RoadRanger

GVM/GCM: 24,000kg/80,000kg

Wheelbase: Between 3,950mm – 7,200mm

 

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