Clash of the Continentals: Scania Test Drive

By: Steve Brooks


It’s said to be the safest, most efficient, most expensive ‘New Truck Generation’ ever developed by Scania in its 127-year history, and it’s now here, hot on the heels of the brand’s most successful year in its Australian history. No question, Scania is kicking goals like never before and if things go to plan, goals won’t be the only thing it’ll be kicking.

 

The all-new Scania range takes the brand to new heights

The last thing anyone at Scania Australia wants is for 2017 to be remembered as a one hit wonder. A year when the brand rose to bold new heights but then failed to maintain the momentum.

Logically enough, what they want and what they’re aiming for in no uncertain terms is a future where the thousand-plus trucks delivered in 2017 becomes the new norm; a redrawn line in the sand where, rather than reverting to its customary ranking somewhere around the middle of the field, Scania cements its place at the pointy end of the heavy-duty pack.

In effect, to become a persistent and powerful player where all competitors, not least market heavyweights Kenworth and Volvo, are constantly challenged and regularly routed in commercial contest by a dynamic and resolute Scania armed with an entirely new range of hi-tech trucks.

Of all competitors, though, Volvo is sharpest in Scania’s sights. For good reason!

Whether either company likes to admit it or not, there’s an entrenched aversion between the two Swedish brands dating back to their earliest histories and at high corporate level, appears to have only intensified since Scania’s subjugation by German giant Volkswagen.

Closer to home, however, Volvo is the top-selling European cab-over on the Australian market by a country mile and from any angle provides the biggest and most attractive target for any continental competitor, particularly a buoyant Scania looking to not just repeat its 2017 performance but significantly surpass it.

Whether it hits the target hard enough to make a sizeable impact and keep overall numbers in four figures, remains to be seen. Certainly, with the steady growth achieved by current models over recent years and its ‘New Truck Generation’ (NTG) hitting the market after a concise local evaluation program, confidence is running at an all-time high.

Even so, as national truck sales manager Dean Dal Santo willingly concedes, the onus of achievement sits squarely at Scania’s feet.

"When it’s all boiled down, it’s up to us to maintain the evolution," Dean said during a brief discussion before a road test of two of Scania’s latest models on a B-double run from Sydney to Melbourne.

"Last year was a good result, for sure, but it’s just the start and the goal is to go beyond 1000 trucks a year and consistently hold 10 percent of the heavy-duty market.

"That’s what we’re after and given the growth we’ve achieved over the past few years, and the results of the testing we’ve done on the new models, we see no reason why those goals aren’t totally achievable."

Test results on the new trucks have been totally encouraging, he states. Based on 10 evaluation units running since October last year, Dean insists response to the overall design and aesthetics of the new range has been entirely positive.

Furthermore, feedback from several sources within Scania say that while local testing uncovered some minor issues, none required extensive modifications and each was quickly corrected.

Fuel returns

The greatest gains, however, have come from fuel figures said to be a staggering five to 20 percent better than existing models.

Despite the immensity of the fuel gains, it’s a candid Dean Dal Santo who says he’s not surprised at the figures. "The fuel returns of the test trucks simply mirror European experience," he contends.

Yet Dean quickly cities optimised fuel consumption as one of several initiatives aimed at reducing operating costs. Maximum uptime, driver training, greater connectivity and flexible service plans are all parts of a carefully constructed package to keep costs of operation to a minimum, he explains.

But then, isn’t that what everyone says at the launch of a new truck these days?

"You’re right, but the difference is we own the majority of our service network and that not only gives us great control in putting our programs into practice, but maintaining them across the life of the truck. It’s a major advantage," he declares.

On the critical topic of price, a cautious Dal Santo says NTG models will be more expensive but generally, most models will carry only a slight premium.

Keen to change tack, he firmly refutes any suggestion the new models were fast-tracked into the Australian market, ostensibly to put the brakes on Volvo’s momentum and counter the rising impetus of Mercedes-Benz’s new models.

"No way," Dean says abruptly. "We showed the new truck at the Brisbane Truck Show last year for the first time and the response was very good but the plan was always to launch in the first half of 2018 after we’d run the trucks through a local test program.

"Besides, the timing makes perfect sense," he continues. "Production of the existing range ends in March and we will start delivering the first of the NTG models around July.

"Everything is falling into place right on schedule."

Good timing also extends to a 2018 truck market which is already promising another boom year for heavy-duty truck sales. The first few months of any year are usually the slowest for new truck deliveries, yet up to the end of February more than 1700 trucks had been delivered to the Australian heavy-duty market, representing a 50 percent increase over the first two months of last year.

On current figures, however, Scania will have its work cut out replicating its record-breaking 2017 performance. Up to the end of February, the brand had delivered just 65 units, or a modest 3.8 percent of all heavy-duty deliveries.

Between now and the end of the year, much will obviously depend on demand for the last of the existing model range and strong early uptake of the new trucks. Whatever, it’ll be a very long hop to reach 1000 trucks by the end of 2018.

Side-by-side, the R620 Highline and G500: fuel economy and overall performance of both models were good but for whatever reason, the G-series had notably better steering than its big brother

In Detail

Still, confidence is king and Scania isn’t shy about detailing the features of a new truck family which was 10 years in the making, cost the equivalent of three billion Australian dollars and consumed 12 million test kilometres in development.

Launched in Europe in the last quarter of 2016, Scania’s New Truck Generation has won rave reviews from customers and commentators right across the Continent, and without too much surprise, was Europe’s 2017 Truck of the Year.

We also hear sales across Europe have been extremely strong.

Typically though, European opinions are likely to have little influence on Australian minds but that said, Scania Australia has plenty to promote and much to admire. Heaps, in fact!

The first thing that strikes about the new models is how similar in general appearance they are to the range they replace, particularly from a distance. Whereas Volvo and Mercedes-Benz each went with much bolder, more aggressive designs for their latest creations, Scania’s obvious intention was to make sure everyone knew exactly what brand of truck it was at first glance. And unequivocally, they succeeded.

Up close though, it’s an entirely different matter and the new trucks are riddled with rejuvenation and refinement which set them far apart from any forebears.

For our part of the world, it all starts with the S, R and G-series models targeting long distance and medium-haul markets, accompanied by the low-profile P-series trucks for urban distribution, the new XT construction and materials handling range, and the fireman’s friend, the six-seater crew cab model.

Surprisingly though, there was no S-series truck in Australia at the time of our test run or a few weeks later, at the upmarket official launch of the new range in Sydney. Flagship of the family and entirely new to the Scania stable, the tall S-series is the only model with an entirely flat floor and when it finally gets to call Australia home, will be almost certainly aimed at the biggest, heaviest ends of the market.

Moving on, Scania’s extensive press kit states that the brand’s modular drivetrain components have been ‘thoroughly renewed’ while the Opticruise 12-speed (plus two crawler cogs) automated shifter now comes with a lay-shaft brake for significantly faster, smoother gearshifts and enhanced fuel efficiency. Coupled with what the company says are ‘significant advances in aerodynamic design’, Scania claims the mechanical upgrades ‘deliver at least five percent better fuel efficiency across the range.’

Meanwhile, and despite the fact that much of Scania’s growth over the past four or five years was achieved by its strong emphasis on Euro 6 engine technology, the new range still contains a wide variety of models in both Euro 5 and Euro 6 compliance.

Asked about the extensive inclusion of Euro 5 in the Australian range, Dean Dal Santo said it’s simply a matter of continuing to give the market a choice, at least until emissions regulations make Euro 6 the only choice.

The engine line-up starts with an entirely new six cylinder 7.0 litre Euro 6 plant for the P-series while updated versions of the five cylinder 9.0 litre, 13 litre six cylinder and 16 litre V8 engines are all available in Euro 5 and Euro 6 guise in a wide range of power ratings. However, at the top of the tree, the flagship 730hp V8 is only available in Euro 6 form.

As for performance, the new 7.0 litre Euro 6 engine is available in 220, 250 and 280hp outputs while the five cylinder 9.0 litre offers 280, 320 and 360hp in both Euro 5 and Euro 6 form.

Up the scale, Scania’s 13 litre six cylinder engine is now rated with up to 500hp and 2550Nm (1881ft-lb) of torque at both Euro 5 and 6 levels. Likewise, 410 and 450hp versions of the 13 litre also come in both emissions forms while the 380 and 370hp ratings are Euro 5 and Euro 6 respectively.

Seriously though, why is Scania’s 13 litre engine limited to 500hp when the similarly sized engines of its main rivals, namely Volvo’s D13 and Mercedes-Benz’s OM471, are rated at 540 and 530hp respectively?

Some Scania insiders admit to being similarly perplexed by the 500hp limit, but quickly make the point that their 13 litre is entirely capable of ratings at least the equal of its competitors. ‘Watch this space’ seems to be the message.

The big bangers of the range are, of course, the V8s, punching out 520 and 620hp in Euro 5 form, and 520, 580, 650 and 730hp as Euro 6 engines. Importantly, fuel capacities have been increased to 1100 litres in Euro 6 versions and up to 1210 litres in Euro 5 models.

On the critical issue of weight over the front axle, Dean Dal Santo says a good deal of development work was done to ensure axle loads were ‘spot on’ for Australian requirements while in its press statement, Scania refers to ‘a new front suspension with the front axle moved 50mm forward.’

There are, in fact, two front suspension options, namely the relatively standard parabolic leaf spring assembly and a revamped front air suspension. According to Scania, the front air suspension dispenses with the previous Panhard rod arrangement while ‘the repositioning of the front axle gives excellent control.’

Unfortunately, neither the G500 nor R620 test trucks provided for the Sydney to Melbourne run were fitted with front air suspension. Understandable perhaps, given that it’s hard to beat the reliability, ride and road handling qualities of a modern parabolic leaf spring layout, plus the fact it’s sure to be the more popular choice in the new range anyway.

Inside views: it’s a neat and extremely comfortable layout, with finger-tip control of many of the new Scania’s technological treats. But there’s a lot to learn and familiarity doesn’t come quick.

Safety conscious

On the safety front, advanced safety features have for decades been part and parcel of European truck development but Scania insists one additional feature of its NTG range creates ‘the safest new truck in Australia’. That feature is the standard inclusion of a side curtain airbag fitted into driver and passenger doors, including the four doors of its crew cab model.

Scania has plenty to say about the importance of side airbags, not least its estimation that the number of drivers killed in rollover accidents globally could be reduced by 25 percent with the widespread adoption of side curtain airbags.

On the home front: ‘Because truck rollovers are relatively common and often deadly in Australia, Scania anticipates a good deal of interest from fleet customers concerned about OH&S, as well as from owner-drivers,’ the company states.

Of course, the safety story doesn’t end there. Among a suite of hi-tech standard features are an advanced emergency braking system which, according to Scania, ‘provides semi-autonomous protection’. There’s also adaptive cruise control with what the company calls ‘Active Prediction’ which monitors topography for improved fuel-saving strategies, and the increasingly common use of an electronic stability program and lane departure warning system.

Less advanced but nonetheless noteworthy are the options of a ‘city safe window’ built into the lower section of the passenger door for trucks working in urban environments, a fully integrated and battery operated auxiliary cab cooler for when the driver’s resting, and the standard use on all V8 prime movers of LED lighting front and rear, and daytime running lights. LED headlights are optionally available on all other models.

What’s more, it’s a safety package built in and around an all-steel cab said to be even more robust and impact resistant than its immediate predecessor.

So, let’s go for a steer!

‘The safest new truck in Australia’ is Scania’s claim for its New Truck Generation, courtesy of a side curtain airbag fitted as standard into driver and passenger doors of all models. Photograph shows a left hand-drive version

On a Mission

A couple of men vital to turning Scania features into real-world fact are driver trainers Alan McDonald and Lindsay Pollock. Scania devotees, for sure, they also have an innate understanding of trucks and the trucking industry built on decades of first-hand experience which in simple and sometimes blunt terms, gives them an innate ability to translate complex technical features into practical use.

"We’re not here to teach people to drive," said a typically candid Alan McDonald. "Most of them are already good at that. Instead, our role is to guide drivers on how to take full advantage of all the things a Scania can do, and these new trucks can do plenty."

It’s a distinct and occasionally demanding skill, but in an ever-changing world of increasing complexity, the role of professional driver trainers like Alan McDonald, Lindsay Pollock and their kind is a critical front-line contributor to the acceptance and understanding of any modern truck brand. None less than the new Scania range with its vast array of sophisticated features.

Anyway, without pumping their tyres up any further, Alan and Lindsay had two superbly prepared test trucks ready to go from Scania’s Prestons dealership in Sydney’s west early on a mid-week morning.

The trucks, a 13 litre G500 and V8 R620, were both Euro 5 models and each had notched around 30,000 km as part of Scania’s evaluation program and most recently, running between Melbourne and Sydney on media test drives. Each towed a new Freighter B-double set bought specifically to showcase Scania’s new models across the length and breadth of the country.

My mount at the start of the day was the R620, with Lindsay Pollock riding shotgun in an outfit grossing 61.5 tonnes. In the lower profile G500 with Alan McDonald, industry icon and good mate Bruce Honeywill was at the wheel of a combination grossing 55.6 tonnes.

We agreed to swap trucks at Gundagai.

On the outside, the R620’s Highline sleeper cab comes with air deflectors on the sides and roof, and a double catwalk at the back of the cab. It’s a neat arrangement made even more convenient by side deflectors that can be easily moved for better access to the back of the cab.

Fuel capacity was a tad over 1000 litres in a square tank on each side, with a 105 litre AdBlue tank on the driver’s side.

Meantime, stepping into Scania’s new truck for the first time, the changes are immediately obvious and immense. In fact, other than a couple of control wands that look remotely similar – like the park brake lever – the interior is nothing like before, with an initial impact that is both appealing and complex.

Don’t get me wrong; switchgear, wands and control buttons are all conveniently sited but from the outset it was apparent that familiarity with all the various features and functions would take plenty of time. Consequently, it was decided to leave the finer details of operation until they could be put into practice on the highway.

For the record though, both the G500 and R620 had all the technological bells and whistles, from highly effective hill-hold and eco-roll functions to electronic stability and traction control, and the latest evolution of Scania’s electronic disc brake system with what it calls ‘advanced emergency braking’. However, the system that would astound and impress more than any other was adaptive cruise control with its ‘Active Prediction topographical interface’. In other words, it reads the road.

Still in the cab, Scania has dropped the upper bunk from the Highline (it was rarely specified in Australian operations anyway) and used the space to mount copious storage boxes on the rear cab wall, in addition to equally generous storage areas above the windscreen.

Using what Scania calls an extendible pocket spring mattress, the bunk in the Highline is now up to a full metre wide. Unfortunately, it’s a metre wide only in the middle section because like that other brand of Swedish truck, the ends of the mattress narrow considerably behind the driver and passenger seats.

At least there’s a good-sized, slide-out fridge under the bunk. Even so, as far as sleepers go for Australian conditions, and despite the otherwise roomy interior, it’s an ordinary bunk for linehaul work when compared to its American counterparts. And for that matter, the bunk in the premium Mercedes-Benz cab.

Scania’s Dean Dal Santo: "When it’s all boiled down, it’s up to us to maintain the evolution … the goal is to go beyond 1000 trucks a year and consistently hold 10 percent of the heavy-duty market."

It is at least a straightforward climb into the tall cab and likewise, finding a good seating position, adjusting the height and angle of the steering wheel, and moving the electrically operated mirrors through control switches mounted on the door, are all done quickly and simply. Cleverly, headlights are also operated through a convenient knob on the door.

What’s more, the introduction of narrower A-pillars, totally redesigned and repositioned mirrors, and a dash that sits marginally lower than before provides a significant improvement in all-round vision which was certainly appreciated on the ridiculous roundabouts and congested arteries of Prestons industrial backblocks.

Gratefully, we were soon out on the highway where the truck’s ride and road manners, and the burbling V8’s peak outputs of 620hp (456kW) at 1900 rpm and a tenacious 2213ft-lb (3000Nm) of torque on tap from 950 to 1400rpm, were all at their best.

Running through an overdrive version of Scania’s Opticruise shifter into a 3.07:1 rear axle ratio, the big bore Swede loped along at 100 km/h with the rev counter showing just 1350 rpm. At this point it’s worth noting that Opticruise has two shift modes, standard and economy, and for the most part, both test trucks were run in the standard setting.

It was, however, on the long drag up Catherine Hill on the approach to Mittagong where this latest version of Scania’s venerable V8 first displayed something other than just sheer grunt. Settling into 8th gear, the outfit not only held that gear all the way down to 950 rpm at 30 km/h but as the grade started to ease, climbed to almost 1700 rpm before making an upshift. It was a performance largely at odds and far more practical than some competitor automated boxes programmed to ‘hunt’ for an earlier shift in the never-ending chase for lower revs.

In effect, this particular grade revealed not only a potent performance which utilised the V8’s most effective rev range but perhaps more impressively, signalled an ability to ‘read’ road conditions. It was an ability which became even more astonishing as the trip continued and awareness of the truck’s attributes became increasingly evident.

At this point I need to admit I’m not normally a fan of cruise control in undulating conditions. Even so, by the time we’d left Marulan I’d been nagged enough to at least engage the adaptive cruise control function, set the desired speed parameters, and sit back and let the system do its thing.

All these functions are set through switches and control buttons on a very ‘busy’ steering wheel, and monitored through a digital display on the dash. I was, of course, fortunate to have Lindsay and later Alan in the cab to guide me through the system’s features and operation, and to make the point yet again, instruction will be critical to introduce drivers to the new Scania’s many features and in the process, quell the complexity.

That said, initial scepticism was quickly overtaken by the adaptive cruise control system’s amazing ‘smarts’. For example, setting cruise speed at 100 km/h, then setting downhill speed control a few clicks lower – all by the flick of a few small switches on the steering wheel – the system effectively and smoothly took full control of the truck’s progress uphill and down, including application of the multi-stage retarder and exhaust brake, downshifts to increase retardation, and engaging the transmission’s eco-roll ‘neutral’ function where appropriate.

All very clever, for sure, but the biggest surprise came when the truck had crested a long climb and just when an upshift seemed in order for the run down the other side, the system’s topographical component responded to the steady down grade on the other side and engaged eco-roll to let momentum take it most of the way down the hill. It was a performance which would be repeated several times during the day, in both trucks. Incredible!

Not for a moment am I suggesting technology of this type is the sole domain of Scania. All leading brands have similar systems these days. Nor do I believe it’s suitable for all roads, but for highways like the Hume, Scania’s new range is equipped with advanced levels of technology which have the undeniable ability to significantly enhance efficiency on many scales.

Even more certain, at least in my estimation, is that this level of technology is not simply competitive gimmickry. It represents, I believe, an early evolutionary phase of a future where advances such as autonomous driving will be a fact of life.

Take note. It’s coming!

Anyway, by the time we hit Gundagai and swapped out of the R-series into the G500, the adaptive cruise system had me hooked.

Last Leg

Like its big brother, the G-series is an incredibly quiet cab and came equipped with the full suite of safety and technological features.

Underneath, it also ran on the same suspension layout with parabolic springs up front and Scania’s two-spring airbag assembly at the rear.

Yet the differences, obviously enough, were far greater than the similarities.

For starters, the 13 litre engine drove through a direct-drive version of the super-slick Opticruise shifter into a fast 2.92:1 rear axle ratio which had the B-double notching 100 km/h at a twitch over 1400 rpm. And while maximum power in both six cylinder and V8 models comes on stream at 1900 rpm, the 13 litre engine’s peak torque output of 2550 Nm (1881 lb ft) arrives in a narrower band from 1000 to 1300 rpm.

Predictably, the G500 also carried less fuel with a 320 litre tank on the driver’s side and 500 litres on the other, but the same AdBlue capacity of 105 litres.

The lower-profile cab was equipped with the same size side and roof air deflectors as the R620’s Highline but on the inside the bunk is narrower at 800 mm wide, with a foam mattress rather than inner-spring. Again, a generous fridge slides out from under the bunk but from a personal perspective, a foam mattress seems a cheap inclusion in what is otherwise a comfortable and well-appointed cab.

As for road work, there’s nothing to be achieved by again detailing the exceptional skills of Scania’s many tech features on the run down the Hume. What can be emphasised, however, is that the 500hp 13-litre engine certainly isn’t lacking in determination, showing a gritty willingness to fight for every rev, and regularly surprise and impress with its ability to hold onto a gear right down to 1000rpm.

What’s more, one area where the G500 was distinctly better than the R620 was in steering quality at highway speeds. Where the bigger truck was a touch twitchy and arguably too reactive to small movements at the steering wheel, the G-series was perfectly mannered and totally predictable at all times.

Inside the G500: it’s a neat, practical cab with plenty to like, except for a narrow bunk with a foam mattress

At the end of the day though, the greatest surprise was how little difference there was in time, remembering that both trucks were run in cruise control for the great majority of the 815km trip. Sure, the G500 was six tonnes lighter than the R620 but it also had substantially less muscle than its big brother, yet according to Scania’s on-board figures, driving time for each unit was nine and a half hours at an average speed of 85km/h.

As for fuel economy, Scania’s claims for much improved fuel efficiency appear verified by the figures revealed by each truck’s on-board computer, measured over the best part of a week with the trucks covering 3700km of return runs on the Hume with different drivers every day.

The gutsy R620, for instance, returned 1.83km/litre (5.16mpg) while the slick G500 came in at a remarkably frugal 2.11km/litre (5.96mpg).

In summary, these new trucks represent a bold and inspiring step for Scania in this country, giving the brand every right to be excited and optimistic by the possibilities and the potential.

No question, the high level of technological wizardry offers significant opportunities for big gains in operational efficiency but it also comes with its challenges, not least the need for detailed driver training to soften the concerns of drivers daunted by the extent and complexity of its many features.

Then again, modern linehaul trucks of this calibre are also forgiving creatures because if complexity and confusion are too great, there’s always the option of simply flicking the switch into ‘D’ and just steer, knowing the entrenched systems will do the job anyway.

Sure, the job may not be done with quite the same level of finesse, refinement and efficiency as the driver fluent with the full suite of technological treats, but the freight will still get there in a timely, cost-effective manner.

And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model: Scania G500

Engine: Scania DC13

Power: 368kW/500hp

Torque: 2550Nm

Transmission: Opticruise 12-speed + two crawler gears

Drive: 6x4

GVM: 26,100kg

GCM: 75,000kg

Emission Standard: Euro 5

Emission Type: SCR

 

Make/model: Scania R620

Engine: Scania DC16 V8

Power: 456kW/620hp

Torque: 3000Nm

Transmission: Opticruise 12-speed + two crawler gears

Drive: 6x4

GVM: 26,500kg

GCM: 75,000kg (92,000kg on application)

Emission Standard: Euro 5

Emission Type: SCR

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