Kenworth: Conventional thinking

By: Steve Brooks


In the wake of the hugely successful T610, Kenworth is now putting the finishing touches to its latest wide-cab conventionals, the T360 and T410. As we reported exclusively late last year, there’s more to these newcomers than first meets the eye, and in the case of the 410, get set to be surprised and impressed by a slick Paccar powertrain

Kenworth: Conventional thinking
T410 comes with the choice of two trim packages – Fleet and Premium. The latter mirrors the interior of the T610 while Fleet is a more fundamental finish. Either way, practicality is top rate.

 

Given the unprecedented investment, planning and testing, plus the fact lunar eclipses tend to come around considerably more often than entirely new Kenworth cabs, was there ever any doubt the T610 would be a stunning success from the get-go?

Probably not!

Indeed, with expanded sleeper options and the constant evolution of engineering for diverse demands since its launch two years ago, Kenworth’s latest and arguably greatest conventional now vies with the seemingly unassailable K200 cab-over as the most popular model rolling out of the Bayswater (Vic) bunker.

But the 610, of course, was never destined to be the only model to sport the new 2.1-metre wide cab. Again, given the size of the investment – said to be a hefty $20 million, easily making it the biggest new model outlay ever spent by Paccar Australia – it was inevitable that a bunch of wide-bodied Kenworth conventionals would ultimately emerge to partner the T610.

It did not, for example, require the astrological aptitude or crystal balls of Nostradamus to predict that just as the T610 replaced the Cummins-powered T409, and more recently T609, there would eventually emerge replacements for the T359, the T403, the Paccar-powered T409 and somewhere down the track, even the revered T909.

Just a word of warning, though, on the likelihood of a wide cab replacement for the iconic 909: while the 610 was phase one in a three-phase program of complete renewal of Kenworth’s conventional class, with the T360 and T410 being phase two, don’t hold your breath waiting for phase three to appear in the form of a truck known as a T910. Sure, it’s certainly in future plans but rest assured, Kenworth won’t be rushing to upset the emotional equilibrium of operators and drivers who like and even love the T9 just as it is, thank you very much.

The other nagging question is whether the utilitarian T659 model will be given the wider cab or, like the T609, consumed as part of a comprehensive T610 line-up? And then there’s the rugged C5 to think about. Right now, Kenworth is being evasive about future plans for these models, which usually suggests something is in the wings. Stay tuned!

However, perhaps the biggest question of all right now is whether the T410 will follow the T610 in offering an SAR version. As usual, it seems customer demand will decide.

Meanwhile, the T360 and T410 were the obvious choices to follow the T610, even if it seems to have taken longer than expected to bring these latest models to life. Still, the wait is arguably an asset as modifications made during early days with the T610 are adapted where necessary to the newcomers well before they head into production.

On the face of it, the new trucks are easily distinguished from the T610 by significantly less glitter around the grille, but they’re also easily distinguished from each other. The T360, for instance, retains a relatively traditional grille design despite a new hood with redesigned lights, while the T410 has much the same hood design as the T610 but without the chrome trim on the snout.

Kenworth4.JPGImportantly, particularly given the 360 and probably a large number of 410s will likely spend most of the their lives in metro and regional roles, where drivers are regularly climbing in and out, both models have a cab floor three inches (76mm) lower than the T610.

Yet, as we’ve previously reported, while the 410 shares the same 112-inch (2,845mm) bumper to back-of-cab (BBC) dimension as the T610 – four inches (102mm) shorter than the superseded T409 – the cab on the T360

has been also pushed forward, creating a compact 106-inch (2,692mm) BBC compared to the 110 inches (2,794mm) of its T359 predecessor. It might not seem much but for operators looking to maximise tray length and weight distribution, a few inches can make all the difference.

Under the hood, the T360 still offers a Cummins 6.7-litre ISB or 8.9-litre ISL engine (the latter up to 400hp (298kW)) in front of manual, automated or automatic transmissions, and typically, configurations range from 4x2 and 6x4 in rigid and prime mover form, to rigid eight-wheelers and increasingly, 10-wheelers.

Yet while the T360 is obviously an important competitor for Kenworth, it’s the T410 which has the biggest story to tell. By far!

A PACCAR PACKAGE

It is not beyond the bounds of believability that among current and coming wide-cab models, the T410 holds both the greatest risk and the greatest opportunity for Kenworth.

The risk factor comes from the first-ever absence of a Cummins engine option in a Kenworth model and the subsequent effect this will have on customer attitudes and choices.

On the other hand, there is immense opportunity from what Kenworth will promote as the T410’s all-Paccar engine and transmission package, which sees the gutsy and somewhat under-utilised MX-13 coupled to the first Australian installation of Eaton’s ‘Endurant’ 12-speed automated gearbox, duly branded as a Paccar transmission.

There is, however, far more Paccar involvement in the transmission’s detail than simply a corporate label. According to Ross Cureton, Paccar Australia director of product planning, the transmission has been modified and precisely programmed to maximise the operational efficiency and performance of the MX-13.

Even so, introduction of the automated 12-speed transmission is just one part of the 410 story.

It’s fair to assume, for instance, a good deal of pressure was applied to Kenworth during development of the T410 – not least from some dealers and customers – to offer the livewire Cummins X12 engine in addition to Paccar’s 12.9-litre MX-13.

While there was never any doubt the MX-13 would be the frontline power source for the 410, there’s equally no doubt a good case was mounted to include the compact Cummins in the T410’s bag of goodies. After all, many Kenworth customers have a strong affinity with the Cummins brand and likewise, there was no shortage of positive reports flowing from numerous customer trials of the gritty 500hp (373kW) X12.

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Not only that, but as last year’s Mid-America Truck Show demonstrated, the X12 and Eaton ‘Endurant’ combination are already an operational item.

Even so, whatever the pleas and proposals from Australia for the X12, the answer from Paccar powerbrokers at corporate headquarters in Seattle was an absolute ‘No!’

Rightly so, perhaps! When it’s all boiled down, Paccar Inc. has spent big on developing its 11- and 13-litre MX engines to a high level of operational and environmental efficiency, and the prospect of a supplier’s engine (even a critical supplier such as Cummins) competing with a Paccar engine for inclusion in a Paccar truck simply didn’t wash well with corporate leaders. Not at all!

Besides, the MX-13 has to date barely scratched the surface of its true potential in the Australian market, due in large part to the fact that in the T409 it was competing head-to-head with the established performance credentials and service strength of Cummins and its popular X15 engine.

But now, reconfigured with a 12-volt electrical system in place of the former 24-volt layout, and stirring through a slick, smart automated 12-speed transmission, the potential rewards of being the only engine offered in the all-new T410 are almost sure to negate any risk of lost sales due to the absence of a Cummins option.

Of course, transmission options also include Eaton’s 18-speed in both manual and automated Ultrashift-Plus form but on first impressions from behind the wheel of one of the first T410s on the road, the all-Paccar package is a superbly matched and stunningly smooth engine and transmission combination. No risk!


Read how Steve Brooks broke cover on the T410 and T360, here


Indeed, it doesn’t take too much digging in the memory bank to suggest it is arguably the smoothest, most intuitive engine and automated transmission combination

I’ve ever experienced in any Kenworth model. Funny thing, though, the only other Kenworth combination I can recall with similarly sweet synergies between engine and automated transmission is a truck and dog outfit around Coffs Harbour in NSW running an X12 engine in front of Eaton’s Ultrashift-Plus 18-speed transmission. Go figure!

Still, there’s one aspect of the T410 which seems to defy logic and suggests Kenworth, and specifically Paccar’s local principals, should take a long, hard look at their marketing message if they hope to make the most of the significant opportunities available with the MX-powered T410.

I’ll try to explain it this way: to many people and for whatever reasons, Kenworth is an aspirational truck. Something a large part of the trucking fraternity in this country wants to own or drive. A truck proudly made and muscled in Australia, cast in the image of its American kin.

Yet, just like the MX-powered T409, what’s one of the first things to hit you square in the eye when you lift the hood of the T410? Answer: a big white fuel filter branded DAF.

Now, not for a moment am I implying there’s anything wrong with Kenworth’s European stablemate or its filters. Not at all. In fact, as far as European cab-overs go, the DAF CF85 model with a 510hp (380kW) MX-13 is likely one of the most appealing yet under-rated trucks in its class. Even better, it’s now assembled at Bayswater alongside Kenworth.

Whatever, from the outside looking in, I’d hazard a guess that few Kenworth buyers and drivers are particularly impressed with DAF’s inclusion in a Kenworth, in any shape or form.

So, given that the rocker cover on MX engines says ‘Paccar’ on both DAF and Kenworth models around the globe, and the control box atop the new 12-speed shifter is also labelled Paccar, why not simply brand the filters with the same all-encompassing corporate logo and in the process negate the connotation of a DAF engine in a Kenworth?

Have no doubt, it is a connotation which certainly did the MX-powered T409 few favours.

To drive the message home further, there’s a very good reason you don’t see a Volvo filter on a Mack, or vice versa. It’s called brand integrity, something you’d think Kenworth would be well aware of.

Anyway, with that off the chest, there’s no denying DAF engineering input was a vital factor in preparing the MX-13 for its new life in the T410.

For starters, Australia’s MX engines are sourced from The Netherlands rather than the US and according to T410 project manager Brenton Campbell, DAF expertise was not only critical in converting the engine’s electrical system from 24 volts to 12 volts, but also developing the harnesses and connections suitable to Australian conditions.

"There was a lot of collaboration between Australia and The Netherlands," Brenton explained, "and DAF commitment to the exercise was tremendous. We couldn’t be happier with what has been achieved."

Likewise, in his role as a cooling section engineer with Paccar Australia, an emphatic Brenton Campbell said, "Cooling won’t be an issue. The radiator is part of the latest iteration of the cooling package used in the MX-powered T409, only further improved to handle Australia’s high ambients."

FUNCTION AND FORM

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Sporting the same cab structure and layout as the T610, the first thing you notice climbing into the T410 is the space and the ease of operation. Familiarity comes fast.

Even in the day cab form of the T410 pre-production unit, the difference delivered by an extra 270mm in the move from the previous 1.83 metre-wide cab to the new 2.1 metre width is extraordinary.

What’s more, inherent issues with the previous cab, such as a narrow driver’s footwell, complex steering geometry, awkward access to the bunk and limited standing room, are all largely nullified by the wider cab.

As for sleepers, the 410 will offer all the same sleepers and rooflines as the 610 except for the recently released 1,400mm ‘Big Cab’ version.

Critically, as Paccar Australia director Brad May commented during our pre-release trial of the T610 more than two years ago, it is "the strongest cab we’ve ever built. No Kenworth cab has undergone greater durability assessment and the whole structure stood up to everything put to it."

Importantly, the cab was subjected to ECE R-29 crash standards and again came through with flying colours, according to May.

Meanwhile, structural integrity of the dash and its underlying components are founded on what Kenworth describes as a purposely designed cross-car steel beam stretching across the width of the dash.

You can’t see it behind the dash fascia, but having seen it in an earlier cab shell, there’s no question it will be a significant contributor to the long-term durability of the cab and its support fittings.

It’s also worth noting that practicality plays a big part in the cab design, no less than in the use of exposed fasteners holding the dash in place. While the modern trend in automotive design is to tuck screws and fasteners out of sight, Kenworth designers are obviously of the opinion that the simplicity of neatly exposed screws for access behind the dash fascia far outweighs cosmetic considerations.

Still on the inside, the T410 offers two trim packages – Fleet and Premium, with the latter being a considerably more upmarket woodgrain finish than the former, though from all appearances there’s certainly nothing second-rate about the Fleet version.

In either case the locally-designed interior has a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system created specifically for Australian conditions while function and form were obviously high on the agenda when it came to gauges and switchgear. In short, everything is where it should be, including switches for cruise control and audio functions mounted on the arms of the steering wheel.

The most prominent among a generous number of standard gauges are obviously the speedo and rev counter under a central LCD information screen controlled by a rolling knob in easy reach to the left of the steering wheel.

It’s worth mentioning, too, the truck in this exercise was fitted with the Bendix Fusion suite of advanced safety functions including lane guidance, collision mitigation, active cruise control and autonomous braking. Optional, of course!

Highest on the long list of likes, however, was the seemingly seamless compatibility of the 510hp MX-13 engine and the 12-speed overdrive automated transmission officially known as the PO-18F112C.

Surprised and impressed in equal measure, it took just a few hours behind the wheel of a truck with less than 200km on the clock, hauling a gross weight of 39 tonnes over a demanding course of suburban and country running, to form the opinion that Paccar engineers have turned an engine and transmission with decidedly different evolutionary backgrounds into a superbly compatible combination.

It starts in the cab with a wand on the right-hand side of the steering column controlling forward, reverse and neutral functions as well as engine brake activation through two stages and a ‘Max’ mode to facilitate downshifts for maximise retardation.

Yet above all else was the combination’s ability to deliver the right gear at the right moment in stuttering traffic flows or undulating country roads, all while making the most of the MX-13’s 510hp and 1,850 lb ft (2,508Nm) of torque, feeding into a Meritor RT46-160GP drive tandem with a 3.9:1 diff ratio, mounted on Kenworth’s Airglide rear suspension.

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In fact, with the stubborn tenacity of the MX-13 – also available at 460hp (343kW) and 1,700 lb ft (2,305Nm) – and the slick shifts of an ideally matched transmission, the Paccar powertrain sets a new standard for Kenworth, putting the T410 ahead of the pack in this class of truck.

What’s more, the ratio steps of the 12-speed shifter – starting from a 14.43:1 bottom slot to a 0.77:1 overdrive top, along with a deep 16.92:1 reverse ratio – are arguably more suited to single trailer work than Eaton’s 18-speed.

On the other hand, with the 410’s gross combination mass rating of 70 tonnes, an 18-speed in either manual or automated form would probably be a more comprehensive option for most B-double duties.

Built on a 4.5-metre wheelbase, on-road manners of the test truck were entirely positive with good steering and handling qualities, and nothing to complain about in the ride department.

Likewise, forward vision through the one-piece screen over the drooping snout is excellent while the unique mirror assembly is second to none.

All up, emerging in the wake of the T610, it was easy to expect the T410 to be another evolutionary step for Kenworth.

It is, however, all that and more.

 

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