Kenworth T388 truck review

By: David Whyte

Kenworth has brought all the grunt of its wildly popular big bangers to a lower horsepower urban unit. The faithful will love it, writes David Whyte

Kenworth T388 truck review
Kenworth T388P.


With a stranglehold on the heavy duty, 500hp-plus highway market, Kenworth is now making moves to increase its share in the lower horsepower, local and intrastate market.

With power ratings up to 350hp, the T358 is aimed at construction and short haul markets, while the T408 range, with power ratings up to 550hp, is aimed at the 48’ single trailer and B-double highway market. The T388 aims to fill the gap between the two.

Owner//Driver took to the road in the prototype T388P, the 36" low-roof integrated sleeper model.

Towing a 45’ tautliner, and loaded to 40 tonne gross, this was a perfect example of the task the design team had in mind for this latest model.

Available with up to 470hp, and a rating of 60 tonnes GCM, this ‘little truck’ is aimed squarely at local/intrastate single and 19m B-double customers.

The real question is whether this model retains all of the values that Kenworth customers are used to, and newcomers would expect.


Power comes from the Cat C-13 rated at 470 hp with 1650lb/ft of torque.

It is amazing to see the 13-litre Cat fitted under the bonnet of the T388, with the plumbing for the twin turbos, and intercooler pipes arranged for a neat fit.

With the bonnet tilted, access to the engine for daily checks and servicing is easy, though with the engine so far back under the cab some services may be difficult for those with big hands.

It is worth noting here that, at the time of writing, a Cummins engine was undergoing cooling trials and may soon be offered as an option.

This is probably a good thing, given the withdrawal of Caterpillar from the on-highway truck market and the removal of Detroit from the Kenworth options list.

There have been quite a few changes made from the T358 to allow the fitment of high horsepower engines.

The slightly larger bonnet is just one; the new fan shroud minimises space around the fan to directing maximum airflow where it is most needed, while changes have also been made in the way the fan shroud and radiator are braced to the engine to allow the shroud to move with the torqueing of the engine.

The engine has also been moved back slightly from the radiator to allow better airflow around the engine and under the cab.

This has been done with surprisingly little intrusion into the cab, but more on that later.

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The Kenworth T388’s power is driven through an 18-speed Eaton Autoshift transmission.

In the past this writer’s experience with the Eaton Autoshift was not always positive.

As this was the first fitment in this model of the C-13 and 18-speed Autoshift, we were advised there was still work being done to ensure the two operated smoothly together.

The combination performed brilliantly just as it was. It seems the Americans have been listening to the feedback from Aussie operators and adjusted their software appropriately.

The set-up did a great job of finding the right gear, in the right rev range for the engine, and at the right time for the conditions.

The Cobra gearlever also made the manual changes easier, with small buttons operated by the thumb for up and down shifts, a huge improvement on the older keypad type gear selector.

Through continuous customer feedback and software improvements by Eaton, the performance gap between the Euro autoshifts and the Eaton has greatly reduced.

Still, driver training still plays an important role — as with any piece of equipment, someone who knows how to use it properly will always get the best results. 

Cab and Controls

The cab will be familiar to those who have driven Kenworths in the past; the T388 has the flat, straight dash interior as used on the T358.

Placing the gear shift on the console not only makes for an easier reach, but also leaves the floor flat and clear, meaning easy access across the cab and into the bunk.

Vision over the short sloping bonnet to the road and traffic ahead is excellent, with only a small blind spot right in front of the truck.

Daylite doors with drop down windows and a peeper window in the bottom of the passenger side door, teamed up with electrically adjusted, heated mirrors, give the driver a good view of what is happening around them.

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As a local prime mover, minimising blind spots makes life easier in the traffic and good vision in tight manoeuvring means less damage to the truck and outside property.

Driver comfort is crucial in local work, with frequent cab entries and exits, stressful driving in traffic, and tight schedules being daily issues. As usual, access to the Kenworth cab is excellent, with tank mounted steps and wide opening doors.

The seating position is perfectly comfortable, with the driver’s seat adjustable in height and reach to suit any sized driver. An adjustable steering column allows for comfortable reach and clear vision of the gauges and controls through the steering wheel.

The engine tunnel intrusion at the drivers’ feet is minimal, giving plenty of foot room around the pedals. The T388, in my experience, has more leg room than a T404SAR!

The flat dash does make it slightly harder to identify and operate the dash mounted switches, though regular drivers would soon become familiar with the layout of these.

It does, however, allow easier fitment of auxiliary equipment, such as PTO levers and satellite navigation units.

I also noticed the cruise control and engine brake switches were on the dash, and not on the steering column-mounted stalks as in the heavier duty models.

A small point, but one that makes a big difference to the driver day-to-day is when reaching across to operate the respective controls repeatedly.

Exhaust noise in the cab has been lowered by moving the muffler and exhaust to a gantry mounted on the chassis, behind the cab, on the passenger side. This reduces the drumming caused by cab mounted mufflers and moves the outlet away from the driver’s ears.

But the noise levels in the cab are still high compared to the European trucks. One might think given the family relationship with DAF its Kenworth cousin could adopt some of the noise dampening technology used in their production.

It seems strange that while drive-by noise has been reduced, engine noise in the cab is still very audible. This is an area for improvement across the board for Kenworth, though I’m sure some people like it this way.

Another important feature of this truck is the low roof height, making it ideal for fuel tanker and tipper work where gantry loading is used. It also opens the door to more distribution work where low clearances are involved.

There is a specific model, the T388CC, with different axle and suspension options for use on car carrier work, and a tipper version to complete the line-up.

The low height is mainly thanks to the cab being mounted lower, closer to the chassis, and removal of the larger roof mounted lights and air horns. None of the changes impede on the interior headroom which was evident while watching a 6’ 4" tall driver in the seat with no clearance issues at all.

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For our short run we left the home of Kenworth, in the Melbourne suburb of Bayswater, and headed for the hills.

The early stages of the trip were spent in busy metropolitan traffic with numerous sets of traffic lights. The C-13 was not short of power for this sort of work, taking the stop-start conditions in its stride.

The Autoshift seemed to know when the driver wants a gear change to happen, and did so quickly and accurately, selecting the right gear for the conditions.

I did find a slight issue with the gearbox at roundabouts, but after some hints from a trained operator, things were good.

 It was then explained that in America, roundabouts are reasonably uncommon, and their laden weight is much less than here. Hence, the programmers at Eaton do not know how to program for these conditions.

A slight change in driving style seemed to fix the problem, reinforcing the importance of correct driver training.

The Eaton Autoshift has a strange habit of going into neutral when the truck is slowing down. A driver accustomed to using the engine to roll to a stop may be surprised.

If the gearbox gets below 9th gear, and the vehicle is still slowing, the gearbox goes into neutral. It’s quite off-putting the first couple of times it occurs, but with time you get used to it.

The amazing thing is the way the engine/gearbox combination work together to get the right gear when you put the power back on. With almost no delay, the correct gear is selected to pull away smoothly without labouring or over revving the engine.

The ride and handling of this truck are all Kenworth.

With Kenworth’s own Airglide suspension under the rear, rated to 18 tonne, and front taper leaf springs rated to 6.5 tonne, the ride is firm but not uncomfortable.

With the rear cab mounted on air suspension, it does get that back and forth rocking over the worst of the road conditions, but generally rides well. As with all Kenworth trucks, you can really feel the road beneath you.

Some would say they are rough, others that this is what a truck should feel like. I tend to go with the former.

With great road holding and feel through the steering wheel, though, comes the confidence that this truck will go where you point it.

Through some hilly sections with winding roads, I found the engine braking and directional control of this truck to be excellent. The Kenworth confidence is still there, in bucket loads.

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Having spent the afternoon touring the countryside in the T388, I was left feeling that Kenworth has achieved what they set out to do: to create a worthy challenge in the lower horsepower and shorter distance market.

And they’ve done it without losing any of the qualities that have made them the leader in the heavy duty market. This is a unit that would be ideal for the short haul task, with the feel of a big truck.

I’m not sure if it is a big truck in a small shell, or a small truck with a big heart?

Either way, if you are a fan of the Kenworth product, you will love this truck.



  • Great vision
  • Kenworth build quality
  • Updated Autoshift works a treat


  • Engine noise in cab
  • Ride is a bit rough



Model: Kenworth T388

Engine: Caterpillar C-13

Power: 470hp

Torque: 1650Ft/lb

Transmission: Eaton Autoshift


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