Mercedes-Benz Actros 600 truck review

By: Tim Giles


Changes to the design and specification of the new Actros has got the truck much closer to a genuinely useful B-double prime mover for Australia. Tim Giles reports

Mercedes-Benz Actros 600 truck review
Mercedes-Benz Actros 600.

 

Mercedes-Benz is edging gradually towards getting its trucks just right for Aussie tastes, and the new 600hp 2660 Actros prime mover is a realistic contender to compete as a European B-double prime mover.

The battle is on between Volvo and Iveco, both of which have sold well for some time, and the also-runs of the past Scania, Mercedes-Benz and MAN.

The B-double prime mover is the transport industry’s keystone, hauling the big loads between the capital cities on the country’s major highways, travelling some of the highest annual distances for any trucks in the world.

The requirements are set by the sector’s big players, the Kenworth K108 and Freightliner Argosy, offering high horsepower in an optimised wheelbase and with maximum possible fuel capacity.

These trucks set the standard the industry expects the prime movers to meet.

Engine

The Actros is finally in the same ballpark in a fast-growing market segment.

The 598hp V8 engine brings the right kind of power rating to the party; with 2,065 ft lb of torque on tap it is a match for the best engines from the United States and it is possible to get over 1,000 litres on board at the start of the journey.

The 15.9-litre V8 engine uses selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to reduce exhaust emissions to meet ADR 80/02.

The SCR unit and down-swept exhaust take up valuable chassis space as does the 95-litre plastic Adblue tank leaving room for one 550-litre and a 500-litre fuel tank.

However, Mercedes-Benz is expecting to be able to increase fuel capacity with improved tanks, taking it up to 1,200 litres overall.

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Transmission

With the fitting of the Powershift 12-speed transmission Mercedes-Benz has caught up with the other European truck manufacturers with a constant mesh automated computer-controlled gearbox.

Cab and Controls

Hopping in the truck was an opportunity to play with all of the toys included in the specifications of this truck including proximity control, lane assistant and roll-back prevention.

The cab layout and comfort is also worth looking at as this is a well set-up European prime mover.

The proximity control on the Actros 600 is easy to set once it has been turned on with the dashboard switch.

There is a collar on the indicator stalk and a symbol on the LCD screen telling the driver at what distance the radar has been set.

Push it in to activate the system and push again to deactivate, but the collar has to be twisted to adjust the set distance.

When the driver decides to overtake a vehicle in front they simply use the collar to turn the control off, get up to speed, make the overtaking manoeuvre and then turn it back on again.

It does take some getting used to and if the driver is not paying attention the truck may slow slightly as it approaches a vehicle going just a little slower.

The reduction in speed can be imperceptible and with the cruise in charge the driver may not notice slowing to 95km/h or below until glancing at the speedo.

This control system is most useful when the speed difference is significant and ensures the truck backs off very early in the piece thus avoiding any chance of a close call with the truck closing in too fast on the rear of a car in front.

The Lane Assistant is probably less useful on our roads than it is in Europe, but could be a useful aid late at night on long, straight stretches of road as an extra safety device, giving the driver a wake-up call if the truck begins to drift out of its lane.

The cabin space itself proves to be roomy and comfortable, starting with the Grammer driver’s seat and its integrated pre-tensioning seatbelt. The sweep of the wraparound dash keeps all of the controls close at hand.

The dash includes a neat Adblue indicator showing the level of urea solution in the tank as a glowing blue illuminated line, getting shorter as the tank empties, behind the fuel gauge.

On the dash LCD screen, centrally through the steering wheel, the driver can change what is shown as a default screen when driving; this driver used it to keep an eye on the trip details.

It is possible to choose to show radio channel, time, date and speed in a large digital readout or something as basic as the oil level.

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Performance

This test saw the Actros hauling a fully loaded B-double set down the New England Highway from Brisbane to Tamworth and then cutting across to the Newell Highway to head on south down to Melbourne.

The route contains a good mixture of climbing and descending on the New England plus a lot of flat high-speed running across the southern half of New South Wales across into Northern Victoria.

This is the B-double’s country, the type of route used to get goods from capital to capital around Australia.

Having this much power and torque available on a fully loaded B-double makes life relatively simple for a driver heading out of Brisbane towards the foot of Cunningham Gap.

The ride from the three-leaf parabolics on the front axle and eight-bag Mercedes-Benz suspension give the truck a good smooth ride, and the improved cab suspension avoids the tendency of previous Actros models to sway too much on a suspension with too soft a setting.

Climbing Cunningham Gap saw the first stretch of the climb forcing the gearbox down to eighth gear at 1,350 rpm and keeping the speed up to 36km/h with the truck left in cruise control. Unusually, the cruise control still works under 40km/h.

As the combination hauled itself onto the steeper grades speed dropped down to 30km/h in sixth gear but the engine dug deep and worked its way back up to 35km/h in seventh gear.

By keeping the foot to the floor the transmission gets the message to allow revs to run up over 1,700-1,800 rpm before attempting an up-change.

The fan kicked in at various points of the climb but it felt like effortless climbing from this truck. Even at the last steepening click of the climb the truck only took two gear changes down to 20km/h and 1,800 rpm to crest the grade and good gear shifting speed was illustrated when the gearbox changed up with the two trailers still hanging down the hill and got away with it.

On short sharp climbs the truck couldn’t react quick enough and lost momentum quickly at the foot of the climb before regaining speed slowly during the climb.

This is probably due to the ratio settings in the gearbox — they are unlikely to have been chosen here in Australia and are probably optimised for the 40- to 44-tonne operation common in Europe.

To get the best out of this truck it needs to grab a couple of gears early on in a climb.

Trucks with 18-speed gearboxes can take a split or even a full gear early but maintain better momentum as there seem to be better ratio choices with more available.

The New England, southbound in northern NSW, is a stiff test of a truck’s ability to descend grades safely and efficiently.

Coming down Black Mountain with the truck fully loaded with the Voith retarder turned up to the fifth stage the system kept speed under control with only a couple of touches to the brakes required.

The transmission was even left in auto and handled the grade with ease.

The descent of the Mooonbies in seventh gear in manual mode with full noise on the retarder saw the engine held down below 2,000 rpm running all the way down at 40km/h with no help from the service brake and in perfect safety. The truck was in control all the way down.

Going down a shorter steep grade the B-double went down in top gear and cruise control was allowed to handle any overrun.

The Mercedes managed to keep speed below 103km/h all of the way down by automatically introducing engine braking early and when required.

The overrun limit can be set manually by the driver if needed and the retarder has enough capacity to actually hold back the 60-tonne load when needed.

Out on the Newell Highway in the rolling country south of Narrandra, where there is no need to change down on gentle grades, this engine pulls as well as anything on the road.

Reinforcing the impression it is the gear changing where momentum is lost, with 12 gears it is a larger ratio difference than a split down on an 18-speed box.

For power to get the truck over the top of the hill and keep the momentum up this engine has got plenty of grunt.

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Verdict

At the end of the trip to Melbourne the comfort level in the cab left this driver feeling relaxed and relatively rested.

The truck had covered the trip of 1,809km in two easy shifts without struggling and with enough power to keep the average speed up over 80km/h for the trip even though it included the undulating section of the New England Highway from the border south to Tamworth.

The trip computer read-out reckoned the truck averaged 65 litres per 100km for the journey.

This was confirmed when the tanks were brimmed at the destination in Melbourne and the calculation came up with a figure of 65.48-litre/100km.

This equates to a fuel consumption 1.53km/litre, not bad for a heavy-footed driver leaving the truck on cruise most of the time and not employing any fuel saving techniques while pulling a fully loaded B-double.

 

Likes:

  • High horsepower enables sustained performance on steep climbs
  • Three-leaf parabolics and improved suspension makes for a smoother ride
  • Comfortable interior, and advanced safety features such as proximity control and lane assistant
  • Good fuel economy, Adblue inclusion
  • Meets ADR 80/02 with SCR to reduce exhaust emissions

 

Specifications

Truck: Mercedes-Benz Actros

Engine: 15.9-litre Mercedes-Benz Turbocharged V8

Transmission: Powershift 12-speed

Horsepower: 598hp

Torque: 2,800NM (2,065 Ft/lb)

 

 

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