An Extra Dimension: Scania R620

By: Steve Brooks


We add an extra trailer to the Scania R620 on a run through the drought-ravaged backblocks of Queensland and NSW

 

The big Swede had no problems operating as a B-Triple 

 

In the pre-dawn winter chill of Charleville in south-west Queensland, no one was in a rush to make a mile. At least, not just yet.

In a drought quickly scratching its place in history’s parchment, kangaroos are in vast numbers; the poor, starving creatures crowding the road edge in a forlorn struggle to find anything edible shooting up from the table drain.

For some, drought will bring a slow death. For many, many others, it’ll come in a blinding, brutal instant, smashed and torn in bedazzled ignorance of the lethal light spearing through the dark.

And so we wait at the roadhouse for the first smudge of daylight before heading down the road to Cunnamulla.

Parked alongside is a bloke from southern NSW who pulled his road train double into Charleville during the night and colourfully confirms that ‘roos are in horde proportions. Luckily, he came through unscathed but, rather than push his luck, he wasn’t going anywhere either, until sunrise cracked the sky.

Just as keen to avoid any wildlife encounters were Scania driver trainers Alan McDonald and Jim Coote.

They were taking the R620 V8 and its six-cylinder G500 sibling – critical models in the Swedish maker’s ‘New Truck Generation’ – on a national tour that, over the next month and more, would criss-cross the country from Cairns in the north-east to Esperance in the south-west.

Obviously, the last thing they wanted for a couple of new models on a ‘go ‘n’ show’ exercise were fractured fairings, mangled mudguards, bent panels or buckled tanks.

Yet for some reason, Scania hadn’t fitted the G-series truck with a bar of any sort despite the inevitable flaunts with fauna. Go figure!

And the further we went, the greater the ‘grasshopper’ numbers grew.

In fact, it was good fortune rather than good management that, over the next day and a half, ‘roo strikes were kept to just one unfortunate creature who managed to leap into the mudguard of the G500’s trailer.

We’ll get back to that. Anyway, sunlight spreads quickly across the flat expanse and soon enough the two Scanias were stretching out on the first part of a long leg from Charleville to Broken Hill. The trucks had already run up Queensland’s east coast, and from Cairns headed back down the coast before turning inland to Clermont and, eventually, Charleville.

Up to this point, they’d both been run as B-doubles, hauling the same fully loaded trailer sets used for test drives between Sydney and Melbourne in the lead-up to the introduction of the new models earlier in the year.

They were, in fact, the same trucks used during the pre-release drive program and, typifying the mix of emissions standards across the new range, the R620 ran on a Euro 5 system whereas the G500 employed the Euro 6 standard.

As we’ve pointed out before, Scania has made good inroads with its Euro 6 push over the past few years and, consequently, it was somewhat surprising that Euro 5 engines featured so strongly in the new truck range. Wisely, though, Scania says it is simply continuing to give the market a choice, at least until emissions regulations make Euro 6 the only choice.

Meanwhile, the invitation to drive either of the trucks on a 1,000-kilometre stint from Charleville to Broken Hill was accepted only after Scania’s willing agreement to configure the R620 as a B-triple. After all, this is big banger country and, with more than 120,000km now under its belt, I couldn’t see the sense in again running the 620hp V8 as a B-double, particularly in this part of the world where road trains rule and hills are rare.

So, in little more than half an hour of trailer swapping thanks to the co-operation of McDonald and Coote, the R620 left Charleville as a B-triple while the 500hp G-series was relegated to single trailer status.

Almost 1000 kilometres later, on the outskirts of Broken Hill, they were both reassembled as B-doubles as Scania’s national tour continued westward.

While the opportunity to run the R620 as a three-trailer outfit was too good to miss, it was predictably apparent from the start that the big Swede would cope comfortably in the largely flat conditions at a gross weight around 82 tonnes.

Indeed, it was only in the undulating country approaching Broken Hill that the truck showed any hint of raising a momentary sweat, dropping back to ninth gear on one long drag. Other than that, it was a cool, calm, comfortable dawdle across a wickedly parched and desperate landscape of dust, decaying carcasses and blood-spattered bitumen.

Yet it wasn’t just an exercise to see how the 16.4-litre V8, with its peak outputs of 620hp (456kW) at 1,900 rpm and prodigious 3,000Nm (2,213ft-lb) of torque on tap from 950 to 1,400rpm, coped in a B-triple configuration. To be blunt, there was never any doubt it would do the job with bold, almost belligerent, ease.

More to the point, perhaps, it was also an ideal opportunity to revisit one of the premium players in Scania’s new range and confirm if the findings of a quick jaunt from Sydney to Melbourne earlier in the year were similarly appropriate.

 

Driver environment in the Highline cab. Comfort and Convenience, but there's a lot to learn

 

Second Look

No question, there’s a lot to like in Scania’s new line-up. Sure, from a distance, the new breed looks a lot like its predecessor, but that can hardly be deemed a negative given Scania’s growing sales performance over the previous few years.

Still, a closer look reveals some significant changes and, in the R620’s case, external features of the Highline sleeper cab include air deflectors on the sides and roof, and a double catwalk at the back of the cab. As previously reported, "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".

What wasn’t mentioned in that first report were driving lights built into the raised roofline that, at dusk and dawn, certainly helped spot kamikaze candidates among wandering wildlife and livestock.

Yet while the R620’s standard fuel capacity of 1,000 litres in a square tank on each side, with a 105-litre AdBlue tank on the driver’s side, was adequate for B-double work between Sydney and Melbourne, the long run through the backblocks at the greater weight of a B-triple certainly stretched the fuel range.

Refuelled at Charleville, the Scania was in genuine need of a drink by the time we rolled into Broken Hill the following morning. Even so, for the great majority of the trip, the truck’s on-board computer showed a respectable average of 1.6km/litre (4.52mpg) before dropping to 1.5km/litre (4.24mpg) over the last 50km or so on the undulating run into Broken Hill.

Tagging behind with Scania’s Coote at the wheel, the 500hp (368kW) G-series towing a single trailer and grossing around 36 tonnes, averaged a remarkable 2.9km/litre (8.2mpg) according to Scania’s trip computer. That figure, however, has to be viewed alongside the fact that, with no bullbar and therefore tailing the bigger unit as a shield against ‘roo strikes, Coote was able to put ‘adaptive cruise control’ to particularly good use, allowing the G-series to follow close in the wake of the R-series at much the same road speed.

In effect, as the B-triple slowed or sped up, so did the G500 automatically adjust its speed. And it all worked so well. Or so well until, in dawn’s soft light just 100km or so from Broken Hill, one rampaging ‘roo took a lethal leap into the leading trailer wheels, splitting the mudguard and pushing its steel mounting plate into the outside tyre, proving yet again that even top-shelf technology is little defence against fur-wrapped fate.

 

Tag Team. With no bullbar on the G500, adaptive cruise control was put to good use, tailing its big brother through roo country

 

Winds of Change

Anyway, back on the new models generally, the big changes are on the inside and high on the heap, according to Scania, is the standard inclusion of a side curtain airbag in driver and passenger doors, along with a swathe of standard safety features equal to any in the business.

Across the board, however, the internal changes are considerable. In the Highline cab of the R620 demo truck, for instance, deletion of the upper bunk has allowed Scania to fit ample storage boxes on the back wall to complement generous storage areas above the windscreen.

No question, it’s a roomier cab than before but, unfortunately, in my estimation, the bunk area still falls short for Australian conditions.

Like its Swedish competitor, Scania’s new bunk comes with restricted head and foot space behind the seats, and while I didn’t get to sleep in it on this trip, I’ve seen and slept in enough cab-overs to know that Scania’s premium Highline bunk is not the best of what’s available among its continental competition.

That aside, comfort and convenience rate high from behind the wheel. Switchgear and controls are well placed and forward vision is excellent, while side mirrors are more than adequate and, fortunately, don’t impede vision to the front quarters – especially at roundabouts – to nearly the same extent as some competitors.

As for original comments from the first drive earlier in the year that the overall features and layout of the new Scania interior are "both appealing and complex", this exercise at least confirmed the belief that more time behind the wheel would considerably lessen the complexity.

As stated in the initial report, "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". And so it does.

Likewise, first impressions that experienced driver trainers such as McDonald and his kind will be "a critical front-line contributor to the acceptance and understanding of the new Scania range with its vast array of sophisticated features" seemed equally appropriate as the first kilometres rolled past.

So, with ‘Macca’ again riding shotgun, the combined inputs of time behind the wheel and an occasional explanation from the other side of the cab gradually lifted the shroud of complexity, particularly in the feast of advanced functions set through switches and control buttons on what has already been described "a very busy steering wheel". Basically, it all boils down to a truck with a vast array of advanced features designed to increase the operational efficiency of the whole package. It just takes time, perhaps more time than most, to understand and utilise the full extent of those features.

Anyway, with cruise control engaged for the great majority of the trip and increasing confidence in the V8 Scania’s ability to simply do the job without fuss or furore, or little input from the driver other than steer it in the right direction, the distance slid past with absolute ease.

Yet just like the earlier run down the Hume, steering response of the R620 at first felt a tad twitchy. A touch too reactive. Again, though, you learn to adjust.

As for the R620’s overall performance in B-triple configuration, there’s nothing not to like.

In fact, it’s probably worth repeating notes made late in the afternoon in the cab of the truck during a short break in a dismally dry and dusty Cobar.

"Performance of the 620 is extremely strong but also incredibly smooth, to the point where you think the V8 is lazy … until you look at road speed and realise it’s hanging onto engine revs like its life depends on it," followed later in the day by: "The synergy between engine and Opticruise [12-speed] automated box is outstanding. Shifts are intuitive and sensationally smooth. Opticruise has come a long way and is now among the best in the business for highway work."

Adaptation

That’s about it. Again, there’s a lot to like in Scania’s new range and driving the R620 as a B-triple simply reinforced the long-held opinion that this particular version of the venerable V8 runs second to none of similar output.

Certainly, a better bunk would be a welcome addition for what is unquestionably a premium line-haul model but it’s hard to see that happening anytime soon. More immediate, however, for the acceptance of the new range is driver training. Truck designers today, especially among European cab-over brands, appear to be locked in a constant battle to ‘out-tech’ each other and, while that can deliver some genuine operational and efficiency benefits, it can also come with the cost of added complexity and a lack of understanding by drivers.

In my case, for instance, a number of the new Scania’s attributes would be difficult to appreciate or even activate without the initial guidance of someone with detailed knowledge of the truck’s features. Fortunately, and arguably one of the most understated assets of its New Truck Generation, Scania has a highly experienced and entirely professional driver training team and, for that reason, a comment by McDonald during my first run in the new Scanias earlier in the year still rings true.

"We’re not here to teach people to drive," he said candidly. "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." Absolutely!

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