Mack Metro-Liner, Granite, Trident, Super-Liner truck review

By: Gary Worrall


Once top dog in a tough market, Mack lost its way. But in 2010 the bulldog is baring its teeth once more with a tough line-up of construction vehicles. Gary Worrall writes

Mack Metro-Liner, Granite, Trident, Super-Liner truck review
Mack's top dog.

 

They say everything is cyclical in this world. Everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame and then the spotlight moves on, looking for the next ‘big thing’ before it too is overtaken by the next fad.

Occasionally there are the comeback kings, someone or something that works hard to re-invent itself, repackage itself as new for the new era.

For Mack Trucks, its time in the sun lasted well over 50 years. It was the undisputed ‘top dog’ of the transport world — whether tippers, cement mixers or line-haul, if there was a tough job Mack had the solution.

Sadly for the bulldog brand, the rise of the Japanese manufacturers meant its vocational products were left in the yard as operators found Isuzu, Hino, Fuso and UD products were more than capable of doing the same jobs without the premium price tag.

Then in line-haul, long seen as the last bastion of American dominance, European truck brands expanded their tenuous toeholds in fleets, as companies looked for driver safety and comfort coupled with cleaner exhaust emissions.

At the end of 2007, Mack embarked on its ambitious ‘New Breed’ national launch tour. A convoy of updated prime movers and heavy-duty rigids paraded around Australia, highlighting their many improvements over the outgoing models as the tough new ADR80/02 emission rules came into place.

But sales didn’t take off. The factory struggled with component delays that preventing deliveries from being completed.

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Yet now, at the end of 2009, there are many more smiling faces in the kennel. And no one is beaming more brightly than the boss, Dean Bestwick, General Manager of Mack Trucks in Australia.

After riding out the worst of 2008, and then surviving the financial implosion of early 2009, Bestwick says the Mack brand is strongly placed to tackle the market’s needs head on. And the Brisbane factory is capable of building as many trucks as customers demand.

With bold predictions of a serious economic recovery in the mining and construction sectors during 2010, Bestwick says construction "was, is, and always will be our sector" in Australia.

"Mack’s New Breed models have had great success in the construction industry, and while they are true to their American heritage, they are designed and engineered in Australia for Australian conditions," he says.

"This enables us to produce trucks that are a perfect fit for the construction industry with an unmatched reliability, durability and application excellence."

As the economy continues to crawl out of the near-recession slump from late 2008, Mack seized the opportunity to show itself off as a supplier to the construction transport industry.

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Mack launch

Billed as the ‘Weapons of Mass Construction’ event, Mack assembled a range of demonstrators and customer trucks and then invited the transport media and mining and construction customers to Sydney to see the trucks in action.

With plenty of construction underway around Homebush Bay’s Sydney Olympic Park as workers finalised the racetrack for the V8 Supercar race to be held just days later, the fleet of Macks fitted in perfectly as the circuit was set up, with machinery and 600 tonnes of river sand ferried in for the two-day event.

The ‘Mass Construction’ event was devised to highlight the performance of Mack product in the rugged environments of the mining and construction industries.

A selection of Trident, Granite, Metro-Liner and Super-Liner models were available for examination and testing.

Time constraints of putting three groups through each of the three activities in a single day meant actual driving time was limited.

But the idea was to offer a taste of what is available in the modern age, with specific test drives organised for the future.

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Cab and Controls

Mack was certainly keen to show off the multiple upgrades the ‘New Breed’ Macks enjoy over their predecessors: improved in-cab sound-proofing; thicker, noise-absorbing floor mats; and a cab that meets the international crash standard ECE-29.

Mack’s efforts to improve cab are evident.

There’s a 10cm improvement in driver ‘belly room’, found by moving the seat further back in the extended cab space as well as the relocation of the air-conditioning unit to the passenger side. This also gives the driver a less-cluttered work station.

Once you settle into the Isri air-suspended driver’s seat, the steering wheel is adjustable for height and reach. The locking switch is mounted on the floor to allow both hands to be used for finding a comfortable seating position.

Above crash safety standards Mack has also addressed the OH&S aspect of the cab design, with full length self-cleaning treads (not a bad idea for a truck that will spend much of its life in a mud puddle).

There are three contact points for entry, including the exterior grab handle, while the driver’s door pocket is now reinforced to allow it to be used as a grip in addition to the handle beside the steering wheel.

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Engines

Powering the ‘New Breed’ Granite and Trident range is the Mack MP8 engine, an 800 cubic-inch (13 litre) monster producing up to 500hp (373Kw).

Weight Reductions

To make the most of the power Mack has sent numerous components to Jenny Craig, the goal was to reduce tare weight without compromising structural integrity.

So now the Mack has aluminium drive hubs, an aluminium FUPS-standard bumper, and extensive use of lightweight materials in the bonnet and guards.

Where mass could not be removed Mack engineers looked at relocating it to make the most of axle loadings. For example, the battery location is adjustable front or rear thanks to 50mm bolt spacings along the single chassis rail, which now measures 300x105x11.1mm.

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Performance – Day One

With Mark Brennan, a driver trainer from Sydney-based Camson’s Transport, at the wheel there was a chance to see how the Australia-only Trident tipper and dog coped in a space-restricted area as he parallel parked the dog trailer alongside the tipper, using the steerable front axle to pivot the trailer.

Also in action in the sandpit area was Brisbane-operator Gravel City’s Adrian Swindell, who offered his perspective on the suitability of the Granite tipper for ‘fetch and carry’ work, particularly with the highly effective Eaton auto-transmission.

Swindell noted the benefits of the raised cab design, which includes a swing-out panel for the operator to access the air cleaners, as well as the choice of either axle back or forward designs. The initiative helps meet gross weight limits on bridges by shifting the weight further apart on the wheelbase.

An obstacle course gave a first-hand experience of the manoeuvrability of the Metro-Liner, available as either a 10x4 agitator or dressed up as a 6x4 water cart. The main difference between the Metro-Liner and the rest is the choice of Cummins ISC or ISL engines, rather than the MP8 used in the Granite and Trident.

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Continuing its Australian tour, after debuting at the Brisbane Truck Show in May, was the Boral ‘Hippy Truck’ agitator, its an Australia-only model using a Granite chassis configured as a 10x4 with twin-steer and a lazy axle for extra load-bearing capability.

This model also retains the MP8 cooling package for the compressed natural gas-powered Cummins ISL-G.

Completely redesigned and engineered at Mack’s Brisbane factory, the Granite chassis was used rather than the smaller Metro-Liner as the unique turbo fitted to the ISL-G motor would not fit into the smaller truck.

Despite the extra size, back-to-back testing showed the Granite was able to run with the diesel-powered Metro-Liners used by Boral.

The company has ordered 10 more, and it’s likely other operators will follow once the Granite begins full operations when Boral’s Brisbane gas plant is completed.

The main differences (other than the power plants) between the Metro-Liners and the other trucks is the capability to operate as single or twin-steer units, depending on operator needs. There is also the choice of Allison automatic transmissions and retarders, as well as the regulation Mack and Eaton gearboxes in the bigger trucks.

In common with the other trucks, the Metro-Liner uses the same polycarbonate lens design for greater strength and improved lighting — eliminating dark spots compared to previous models — while the single-layer chassis reduces corrosion with acids and chemicals not able to be trapped between layers of chassis rails.

While ABS and traction control are also offered as options, as in the other trucks, the reality is few construction customers take up the option on the basis of longevity concerns in off-highway operations.

The Metro-Liner has won plenty of friends in the construction and mining industries, with 30 percent of West Australian Mack sales going to versions of the Metro-Liner.

In a bid to highlight the handling properties, a pair of obstacle courses were built in Sydney, enclosed by deformable plastic barriers they had two reverse parking tests and a 360-degree loop.

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The test also included a drive past ‘Kenny’s Castle’ (the porta-loo), with instructions to go close without actually hitting the mobile relief station.

Suffice to say that while Kenny survived both obstacle courses, he will not be taking the All-Bran 48 Hour Challenge to clean out his insides — there were enough near misses to take care of that particular function.

What I will say is I’m disappointed with the turning circle offered by the twin-steer, which has its pivot point further back along the chassis than the traditional 6x4 rigids I am used to driving (the good news is I did the get the Bob the Builder award for rebuilding the course to suit myself).

The Metro-Liners were quiet and comfortable, with easy-to-use controls, good sight lines for tight spaces, and (once you adjusted to the need to take a line slightly wider than the Queen Mary 2 exiting Sydney Harbour) fairly predictable. And the 6x4 version had more predictable steering.

The Cummins engines provided a good spread of power, with most of the test carried out at less than 20km/h allowing the engine’s torque curve to do the work rather than the driver.

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Performance – Day Two

The final round of the day was possibly the toughest, especially if it had been a long time between Road Ranger drives — the transmissions most popular with the Trident and Super-Liner on-highway trucks.

Mack driver trainer Paul Munro was on hand to gently remind journalists the clutch is used to change gears, and that non-synchro gearboxes prefer double clutching.

He also went to great lengths to show how the engine management system can handle take-offs. The first four gears require no throttle input with the computer taking care of getting the truck moving.

Testing revealed the willingness of the MP8 to haul heavy loads in and out of tight spots, as well as climb hills and cope with traffic, all while heavily laden. And it offers the driver a good standard of in-cab comforts.

Time constraints meant the road drive was only a few kilometres long, however it gave a few important pointers to the general performance of the trucks.

As well as the quieter cab and good driving position (there’s decent vision over the lower profile bonnet line) the engine and service brakes proved to be capable of handling the heavy loads.

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Verdict

With plenty of questions on build capacity and future sales plans, Bestwick insists Mack Australia can build as many trucks as customers order. Engineer Mal Brown told journalists the New Breed project had met its goals of completing the biggest product renewal for Mack in Australia.

Those goals included improving engines supplied by the United States — which now meet Euro 4 standards and have lower soot levels than any other American engine — while matching it to a locally designed cab.

The manufacturer also promised better visibility and manoeuvrability, improved ergonomics and a more productive payload than previous models.

And on this, at least, these trucks stack up.

We await our turn for a more rigorous test of the different models, but there is no doubting Mack’s commitment to the construction and mining sectors.

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Specifications

Make/Model: Mack Metro-Liner

Engine: Cummins ISC and ISL

Transmission: Mack, Eaton or Allison

GVM/GCM: Up to 35 tonnes / Up to 45 tonnes

Power: ISC – up to 300hp (224kW); ISL – up to 350hp (261kW)

 

Make/Model: Mack Granite

Engine: Mack MP8

Transmission: Mack or Eaton

GVM/GCM: Up to 33 tonnes / Up to 90 tonnes

Power: Up to 500hp (373kW)

 

Make/Model: Mack Trident

Engine: Mack MP8

Transmission: Mack or Eaton

GVM/GCM: Up to 33 tonnes / Up to 90 tonnes

Power: Up to 500hp (373kW)

 

Make/Model: Mack Super-Liner

Engine: Cummins ISX

Transmission: Mack or Eaton

GVM/GCM: Up to 32 tonnes / Up to 130 tonnes

Power: Up to 600hp (447kW)

 

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