Cat CT630 S prototype truck video Review

By: Matt Wood


Matt Wood takes the prototype 2014 Cat CT630 S on an extensive test run from Melbourne to Brisbane and back.

 

 

A new Cat truck model is on the horizon and will land in Australia in 2014; the CT630 S will be the company’s B-double contender.

Though the S model debuted more than 18 months ago at the International Truck, Trailer and Equipment Show (ITTES) in Melbourne, it hasn’t surfaced on the market yet.

However, the S is expected to emerge in the first half of 2014. But, there are two design certification trucks currently plying our highways and I managed to snaffle one for a few days.

These trucks are at the first stage of a four stage engineering certification process that sees the vehicles data logged and their performance analysed during the lead up to full production.

The CT630 S is NC2’s much anticipated bonneted 26m/34-pallet B-double prime mover. The S fills a gap in the current Cat heavy-duty line-up and finally gives the company a worthy contender for B-double local and line-haul duties.

The 90,000kg gross combination mass (GCM) CT630 S is really the most Australian of the Cat line-up. It does, like the rest of the Cat range, use the Navistar ProStar as a basis however the S is something a little different — about 80 per cent of the design and engineering work has been done locally here in Australia.

The ProStar cab has been moved forward 225mm and raised 50mm in an effort to reduce the Navistar conventional prime mover’s bumper to back of cab (BBC) measurements. The day cab version will have a BBC of 2,855mm, while the extended cab version will come in with a BBC of 3,515mm.

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Engine

Under the swoopy Cat family bonnet resides the ADR80/03 (Euro 5) compliant C15 ACERT engine. The result is a uniquely Australian truck.

The 550hp (410kW), 1,850ftlb (2,508Nm) C15 is the source of motorvation for the rest of the 630 range up to the long wheelbase LS.

The lower GCM CT610 uses the recently released 475hp (354kW) CT13 exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) engine for power.

Transmission

Shifting the gears in the Cat CT630 S is an 18-speed Eaton Fuller manual transmission. An Eaton UltraShift Plus AMT with hill start assist is also optional.

Suspension

The S model will only be available with the one choice of rear suspension, Hendrickson’s Primaax Ex four-bag set up.

This Cat has the shortest wheelbase of the model range, so I was expecting a bit of choppiness in the ride. But I did find the roll stiffness of the Primaax suspension gave it quite a bit of lateral kick in the rear end on rough surfaces.

I should point out though, the same suspension stood up admirably in the corners and the S stayed sure footed at all times.

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Cab and Controls

On throwing my gear into the S before departing, it was pretty clear in extended cab form the S is a bit cosy for full-time line-haul duties. An under bunk fridge came in handy, freeing up some space and under bunk storage helped get some of my baggage out of the way.

This extended cab S has a pretty low roof line, which also makes for a bit of in-cabin stooping.

However, the drooping bonnet, large expanses of glass and big mirrors all contribute to keeping all corners of the combination in sight.

The only drawback of the big mirrors is of course the amount of window space they take up, and you do find yourself looking around them, also a common issue on many other brands as well. The wide cab dimensions and seating position also make it easier to locate yourself in your lane on the road.

After a pick up on the way out of Melbourne I turned onto Highway 39 and headed for the border. As darkness fell I fired up the LED headlights. These do a magnificent job of picking detail out of the darkness without any tiring glare.

The only downside I could see on this truck was the rather unnerving split second of darkness between low beam and high beam.

The trick was to flick the switch as quickly as possible, though I’ve since been told this fault has been rectified. The steering wheel-mounted cruise control buttons are handy.

However, they aren’t backlit so in the dark I periodically tooted the rather wussy sounding horn at no one in particular instead of turning the cruise on.

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The 26-inch (66cm) sleeper didn’t make going to bed as simple as it sounds as I had to rearrange the inside of the cab to make room before climbing in.

The good news on this front is that a stand-up and walk-in sleeper version of the 630 S is on the way and is expected to be available mid-2014 when the production model hits our shores.

In extended cab form the S is just right for shuttle and changeover work where the bed may be used every now and then.

A lack of locker boxes was also an issue on this engineering truck. Dirty items such as gloves and load binder bars end up on the cabin floor beside the seat for storage.

Also, there’s nowhere for spare coolant, oil or tools that can be accessed from outside the truck.

To date, some dealers have had their own local aftermarket solutions for other models in the range, however, word is from NC2 the production S will also be available with locker boxes on the sleeper versions.

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Performance

This evaluation unit is currently in service with Claire Transport, based in Seaford, Victoria, and by the time I clambered aboard it had already notched up 82,000km.

There’s an ease to driving the Cat that the whole range shares, the C15 has a way of chugging down and pulling from low rpm easily which makes for quite a lazy approach to driving even with the tall 3.9 final drive ratio.

Even close to maximum legal weight, it’s easy to skip shift the 18-speed Eaton manual through bottom ‘box, before winding it out some more through the higher gear ratios.

There’s rarely any reason to take it over 1,600 to 1,700rpm unless pulling hard on a big climb or descent. But it’s the growl of the 15 litre, which almost speaks from a different time as it rumbles away, that gets you.

For a new Euro 5 engine, there’s still nothing else on the market I know of these days that quite sounds like the C15 barking in anger through its twin chimneys.

I called it a night just north of Brocklehurst and hit the hay.

With my break finished I hit the road, eager for some caffeine in Gilgandra, as if reading my thoughts, a yellow fault light illuminated on the dashboard and the engine went into limp mode. I pulled over, switched the engine off and did what most sane intelligent people do in these situations.

I swore under my breath, thumped the dash and switched the ignition on and off a couple of times before firing up the engine again.

The fault remained. I tilted the bonnet, and conducted a shamanistic cleansing ritual over the engine using special words that start with ‘F’ while waving a dead tree branch.

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Realising that this was actually really silly, I called Westrac.

My dealings with Westrac over the years have been a little bit hit and miss. In the past I’d always got the feeling they were disappointed I wasn’t ringing about a ‘dozer on the odd occasion I needed some help with a Cat engine.

However, this time, the Dubbo branch was on the case and a mechanic was with me in 20 minutes, and clearing the exhaust temperature fault code.

One of the selling points of the Cat product has been the extensive dealer and workshop network around the country; and it was good to see Westrac are taking their truck business seriously.

All caffeined up after a splash in Gilgandra, I again headed north, before the transport gods decided I needed some more entertainment; a boost clamp blew off.

The fun was starting to leak out of my day like a slowly deflating balloon. Rob from Westrac was again on the case. In no time he turned up with a new clamp and with that fitted I hit the road again only to have the boost clamp on the other end of the hose blow off and the engine go into limp mode again within a couple of kilometres.

The long and the short of it is that, the charge air cooler was clogged with bugs. This caused elevated temperatures in the exhaust system which then caused the engine to de-rate.

With the charge-air cooler cleaned and blown out, I once again hit out for distant Brisvegas. The boost clamps turned out to be a completely unrelated issue that the transport gods threw in for good measure. At least I can honestly say I’ve had this happen on nearly every brand of engine at some stage over the years.

Descending Cunninghams Gap at dawn had the jake brake cackling into the morning air. The Cat followed its stumpy nose down the hill with the tacho needle on 1,800rpm.

It’s times like this the whole package feels very intuitive. Screw up on a descent like this and you’ll be in a sand trap or much worse very quickly, yet everything about the Cat feels intuitive to use.

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The light, air assisted clutch makes for easy gear changes and a few stabs of the brake pedal on the way down kept thingsnice, before heading into town to play with the early morning traffic.

And in the traffic, the CT really shines.

Visibility for a bonneted truck is excellent and those curvy edges help keep the furthest extremities of the prime mover in sight.

But it was on my second drop the manoeuvrability of the S really came to the fore, the delivery address was a reasonably poky street in Eagle Farm.

The set-back steer axle and short wheelbase of the S makes for a very agile combination indeed for a bonneted prime mover.

There was no hanging out of the driver’s door or standing on fuel tanks to keep the back trailer in sight as I manoeuvred the B-double combination backwards down the driveway. In fact, the S made me look good as I backed in without needing to pull forward for another bite at the driveway.

For my part, after loading a nice heavy mixed bag load of glues, plasters and adhesives it was time to get some rest before heading for home.

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Verdict

The CT630 S will be marching into the market and standing toe to toe against the likes of the Freightliner Coronado 114, the Western Star 4800, Mack Trident and Kenworth T409SAR, among others.

While some competitors may have set forward steer axles for some specialised applications, the Cat will be bringing a light tare weight, an engine without EGR or selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emissions controls and aerodynamics to the fight.

The news that a walk-in integrated sleeper and locker boxes will be available on the production truck will also raise the S models’ competitive standing considerably.

I may have decided I’m too pretty to work but I reckon it’s safe to say the CT630 S isn’t, and it won’t be too long before it get its hands dirty, once it arrives in 2014.

The climb back up Cunninghams put the C15 to the test as the combination was right up on its weights, peak torque is at 1,200rpm which helps with the lug factor and peak horsepower is at 1,800rpm.

It was a warm night so the Horton fan kicked in intermittently as the yellow hearted prime mover chugged up the grade. Keeping the tacho needle between 1,500 and 1,800rpm on the climb worked best, this also helped evacuate some of the under bonnet hot air on the climb.

And considering the tall 3.9:1 final drive that is standard fitment on most Cat trucks, the S did a mighty job of cresting the grade, however its charge was slowed down somewhat by a truck from a certain Swedish brand near the final pinch.

A consequence of the cab becoming more intimate with the engine is the firewall now intrudes quite a way into the cab — this truck had very little left foot room near the clutch pedal.

According to Cat, this will be addressed in production models as a different shaped bulkhead around the engine is on the way.

It was also heartening to hear that knick knack storage and bottle storage issues are also going to be addressed— drivers need somewhere to keep pens, phones, wallets and hitchhiking backpackers as well as coffee cups. This is, after all, a truck that will be lived in not just driven.

On this drive, I had to either lean down and catch my rolling water bottle on the floor of the cab, or jam one into the overhead storage compartment, and when I did that my log book bounced out and hit me on the head which scares the absolute crap out of you when you’re driving in the middle of the night.

The Gramag leather seat fitted to this vehicle was reasonably comfortable, though the padding in the base felt a bit firm for my delicate posterior.

The downside of leather trim is that you may lose a couple of layers of skin off the back of your legs when you jump into the driver’s seat wearing shorts on a hot sunny day — yet again there was another Benny Hill theme moment.

The drive home went without a hitch and I rolled into Melbourne on the Friday morning to kick off the load and head for home.

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Specifications

Make/Model: Cat CT630 S (Subject to change, vehicle not yet in production)

BBC: Extended cab 3,515mm, Day cab 2,855mm

Engine: 15.2 litre Cat C15 ACERT ADR80/03 emissions compliant with dual passive diesel particulate filters (DPF)

Power: 410kW (550hp) @ 1,800rpm, 2,508Nm (1,850 ft-lb) of torque @ 1,200rpm

Transmission: 18-speed Eaton Fuller manual. Optional Eaton UltraShift Plus AMT with hill start assist

Final Drive: Arvin Meritor RT-46-160. Ratio, 3.9:1 standard, optional 4.10:1 or 4.30:1

Rear Suspension: Hendrickson Primaax Ex

GCM: 90,000kg

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