Meet the Muscle MAN

By: Steve Brooks


It might be six months or so before it’s actually available on the Australian market but a new 640hp MAN flagship with a lofty stand-up cab will almost certainly add momentum – literally and physically – to the German maker’s competitive credentials

 

It’d be a stretch to describe MAN as a bullet performer in Australia’s heavy-duty cab-over class, but it would be definitely fair enough to suggest the German brand’s prominence in the big end of the business has grown to be greater than ever before.

In fact, in the product portfolio of Penske Commercial Vehicles, MAN is now poised to outstrip Western Star as the dominant contributor to the Penske purse. Who would’ve thought that a few short years ago? Certainly not me! Even so, a cynic might argue its greater standing in the Penske fold is more a consequence of Western Star’s slide than MAN’s ascendancy. Yet whatever the case, there’s no question the big Bavarian is today attracting more operator interest than any time in its considerable, though somewhat erratic, Australian history.

Standing tall. On the inside, the XXL shed offers more than two metres of standing room

 

Sure, there’s no question that regular deliveries to a long and lucrative Army contract are significant contributors to MAN’s current perch around the middle of the heavy-duty pecking order. Nonetheless, the rise of the premium TGX range since the Australian introduction almost two years ago of the tenacious 15.2-litre D38 engine alongside its D20 and D26 (10.5 and 12.5 litres respectively) siblings, paints a picture of slow, steady growth in a hugely competitive environment cluttered with classy contenders.

The numbers tell the story. Heavy-duty figures for the first half of this year now put MAN ahead of Fuso, Freightliner, UD, DAF, and Western Star (in that order), all the while creeping closer to the likes of Iveco and even Scania. Again, much of MAN’s momentum over the past year and more is largely attributable to the introduction and increasing acceptance of the D38. Simply explained, it’s a twin turbocharged and intercooled in-line six-cylinder engine with common-rail fuel injection, advanced Euro 6 emissions levels achieved with the combined inputs of EGR and SCR, and a modified diesel particulate filter known as CRT, said by MAN to provide "a continuous regenerative system" that negates the need for servicing of a typical diesel particulate filter. For its initial stab at the market, the D38 was fuelled for peak outputs of 560hp (412kW) at 1,800rpm and 2,700Nm (1,991lb-ft) of torque on tap from 930 to 1350rpm.

Soon after the engine’s launch came the opportunity to drive a near-new TGX 26.560 model on a 760km run from Penske headquarters in Brisbane to Newcastle, in a B-double combination grossing a twitch over 61.5 tonnes. Predictably perhaps, Penske insiders – including the man himself, Roger Penske – were claiming high standards of fuel efficiency for the 560hp D38, then housed under the reasonably roomy XLX cab. Their claims were convincingly substantiated with a frugal fuel return of 2.06km/litre, made even more impressive by the fact the truck had barely notched 1,000km at the start of the run.

Meantime, it wasn’t long before Penske people were also citing strong operator interest in the D38, not least from Mildura-based (Vic) G1 Logistics managing director Damien Matthews. After a year-long trial of a 26.560 running alongside several competitors equally keen to win more of G1’s business, a batch of 10 TGX D38 models was added to the company’s diverse inventory. From all accounts, fuel was and is the standout feature.

Heart of the matter. At 640hp and 3,000 Nm of torque, the 15.2-litre D38 engine takes MAN to new heights in performance

 

With various high-profile brands making up the 150-strong G1 fleet, an adamant Damien Matthews contends the D38 is hard to beat at the bowser. "Their fuel economy is best in the business," he said recently. "We constantly monitor our trucks and they’re on top of the charts every month."  

However, even at the launch of the 560hp D38, Penske’s team was suggesting that higher powered versions of the D38 were on their way to the Australian market. And so it was that little more than a year after the D38’s arrival, performance was pushed to 580hp (427kW) and 2,900Nm (2,139lb-ft) of torque, with the new outputs delivered at the same engine speeds as the 560 setting. 

Yet over the last few months, Penske Commercial Vehicles has added even more strings to the MAN bow, with the taller XXL cab joining the range, providing a lofty 2,030 mm – a hair’s breadth under 80 inches – of standing room between the seats. Obviously impressed, and said to be a strong influence on the decision to bring the bigger cab to Australia after seeing it in Germany, Damien Matthews has surprised and perhaps troubled a number of bigger brands by more recently placing an order for 30 TGX 26.580 models sporting the XXL shed. The big cab is, however, not the only news on the MAN front. Underneath two XXLs at the moment is a 640hp version of the D38 with a tar-tearing 3,000Nm (2,212lb-ft) of torque up its sleeve. Again, peak outputs are delivered at the same engine speeds as the 580 rating.

Inside the upgraded cab. The big improvement is in floor space between the seats thanks to a fridge that slides further back under the bunk. When it comes to European sleepers, the MAN is among the best

 

According to Penske Commercial Vehicles managing director Kevin Dennis, the decision to bring both the bigger cab and the bigger grunt to the Australian market was based on strong customer interest and the desire to give MAN a flagship model in terms of both performance and image.  

In an exclusive discussion with ATN magazine’s Cobey Bartels, Dennis said recently: "I’ve always believed every brand should have a flagship truck … the XXL cab is the flagship we need for the MAN brand and 640hp makes us very competitive in the power stakes.

"Plus, there is a very good business case for having a big-size cab in Australia." A business case no doubt verified by the recent G1 order for 30 26.580 units with the XXL cab; an order almost certain to spark the attention of other trucking companies, large and small, particularly if word filters through that the MANs are delivering acceptable levels of durability and support as well as impressive fuel economy.

Commercially astute, Dennis is well aware of the difficulties of building a greater presence in such a fierce cab-over market, particularly in the premium high-horsepower category where competition among the likes of Kenworth, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Scania has never been tougher. It won’t be an easy road but, from all appearances, MAN has never had a better range of trucks than what it has today. 

 

Test Drive

As things stand at the moment, there are only two 640hp D38 engines in Australia, both under the XXL cab. For at least the next six months or so, each will join selected fleets for ‘real-world’ evaluation to verify the 640’s fuel, performance, cooling and service credentials under Australian conditions. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of those fleets is G1 Logistics. In fact, the truck in this report was headed to G1’s Mildura base just days after our test drive from Penske headquarters in Brisbane to the North Star Motors dealership serving the Newcastle and Hunter regions.

As for the other 640hp unit, it was still being detailed in the Wacol facility before joining HPS Transport in Adelaide. This truck was also first in Australia with MAN’s revised cab layout and it took only a few moments on the inside to appreciate a number of worthwhile enhancements over the current design. For starters, there’s greater floor space thanks to a roll-out fridge which slides further under the bunk, a gear selector switch moved from a floor-mounted console to the dash, and the relocation of several switches and control functions in the sleeper area to better suit our right-hand drive configuration.

While the revised cab will become the new norm, it wouldn’t surprise if it’s also MAN’s last update for the TGX shed. After all, the TGX has now been around for several decades and is probably approaching the end of its product lifecycle. The hope, however, is that when MAN gets around to launching a new cab, no doubt equipped with all the technical treats that typify a modern continental cab-over, it will also retain the high levels of driver ease and practicality which are such an asset in the current cab.

The TGX cab is perhaps coming to the end of its lifecycle but it remains an entirely practical and comfortable driver environment

 

Anyway, parked outside and superbly prepared by MAN product and operator training manager Steve Gibbins, our test unit was heading out on its maiden line-haul voyage. In what was effectively a carbon copy of the test drive of a 560hp D38 almost 18 months earlier, the 640 was hooked to the same vividly presented Penske B-double set and even carried much the same load to scale in at 61.5 tonnes. What’s more, there were less than 2,000km on the clock at the start of the run.

Yet other than substantially stronger performance, the greater height of the cab – the XXL sports an extra 210mm of standing room between the seats than its XLX counterpart – and a predictable increase in fuel consumption, there wasn’t a great deal of difference to the previous run in the 560hp version. Then and now, the overriding conclusion was one of a well-finished, comfortable truck with good road manners and a high degree of operational practicality in switchgear and control layouts. However, age is certainly sneaking up on the overall design.   

That said, though, it’s certainly not yet out of date and, as an overnight stop highlighted, the extra height of the cab enhances a sleeper section that is unquestionably more conducive to a good night’s sleep than two of its major rivals: namely Volvo and Scania. For whatever reason, European designers seem to concentrate more on providing space above and forward of the driver but strangely, appear to have some aversion to increasing sleeper space behind the seats. However, the TGX cab is certainly not the worst of them.

Good mirrors but, like most continental cab-overs, the mirror housing impedes vision at roundabouts and the like

 

In fact, I’m convinced the two German brands have notably better sleepers than either of the two Swedes which, despite their modern designs, continue to offer uncomfortably limited head and leg space behind the seats. That opinion is almost certain to change when Volvo Group Australia next year launches its much anticipated FH ‘big cab’ model (also called the XXL) but, in the meantime, I’d definitely rather be horizontal with a German than a Swede. As things stand at the moment, I’d rate the Mercedes-Benz bunk as best among the current crop of continental cab-overs, with MAN a close second.

Still, you’re left to wonder if the upper second bunk is a wise inclusion for Australian line-haul work where two-up driving is easily the exception rather than the rule. Surely the space could be better used to add a few finer features for drivers, like hanging space for clothes or even something as simple as a towel rack. 

Yet while the TGX may be starting to show its age in some respects, the standard feature list remains appealing with: a high-quality Isri driver’s seat, touchscreen stereo with integrated Bluetooth and USB, electric windows and, likewise, electrically operated heated mirrors. However, like many mirror designs these days, particularly in the cab-over class and most notably at roundabouts, forward vision at the front quarters is impeded by the depth and width of the mirror housings.

Back on the plus side, there’s the undeniable benefit of a ‘hill hold’ function, while also worth a mention, given the vast expanse of the windscreen, is a full-width, retractable blind in place of standard sun visors. For all the odds and sods there are ample storage recesses above the windscreen while spacious under-bunk storage is also accessible through outside lockers. Definitely a notable asset is a ‘light test’ function which, as MAN puts it, "cycles through all lights on the truck and trailers, allowing the driver to safely check operation".

Flashback! The initial 560hp version of the D38 returned more than 2km/litre in an identical road test 18 months earlier. Given the significantly greater muscle of the 640 version, fuel consumption remains impressive

 

Typical of the continental class, safety rates high on the list of standard inclusions with items like electronically controlled disc brakes all-round, ABS anti-lock, electronic stability control, ASR anti-skid, front cornering lights and deformable cab mounts which, as MAN states, "allow the cab to move rearward while absorbing the energy of a collision". As for on-road performance, even a glance of a 26.640 spec sheet where gross combination mass is listed up to 120 tonnes, is enough to suggest it makes exceptionally easy work of B-double weights.

After long delays on that car park known as the Gold Coast Highway, the big MAN was finally free to settle into stride south of the border. Driving through ZF’s 12-speed overdrive Traxion transmission into a 3.36:1 drive tandem mounted on an eight-bag electronically controlled air suspension, the truck cruised contentedly at 100km/h with engine speed running a touch over a leisurely 1,300rpm.

It’s worth noting at this point that ZF’s Traxion shifter works in complete harmony with the strong traits of the D38 engine, not only combining exceptionally quick and smooth shifts with a number of integrated fuel-saving modes, but also displaying a remarkable level of grade-sensing intuition. So intuitive that there was never any consideration of opting for manual mode, particularly with the engine’s consistent propensity for holding onto top gear right down to 1,100 rpm or, in a few instances, even 1,000rpm.

Star burst. In the Penske product portfolio, MAN is poised to outstrip Western Star as the group’s top-selling brand.

 

The first climb of any note, or at least the first to cause the 640 to dig some way into its deep reserves, and the first to show the big MAN’s willingness to use the entirety of a wide torque band, was the run up to the St Helena tunnel where the big German was forced back to ninth gear at 1,400rpm, yet easily holding 50km/h. The only other southbound climb to ask more of the 640 was the run into Coolongolook, south of Taree, where the truck dropped back to seventh gear after being unavoidably baulked by slower traffic.

Meantime, the on-board trip computer was forecasting a high regard for fuel efficiency from the start. From Brisbane to Coffs Harbour, for instance, the fuel average was a surprisingly thrifty 1.89km/litre (5.34mpg) but, as undulations grew greater on the run south, the fuel average for the 760km trip finished at 1.83km/litre (5.17mpg). Sure, it’s some way off the extraordinarily efficient 2.06km/litre (5.82mpg) returned by the 560hp model 18 months earlier, pulling much the same weight with the same trailer set over the same route, but it’s still an incredibly good result for a truck dispensing such formidable performance with so few kilometres under its belt.

When it’s all boiled down, the 26.640 is not only the most powerful MAN to ever tackle Australia’s heavy-duty sector, it also provides the brand with an imposing flagship model embedded with the quality, manners, performance and efficiency to be competitive in a highly competitive market of premium cab-overs. Have no doubt, this is a MAN with some serious attitude.

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