Volvo Trucks FE 6x2 Rigid Video Review

By: Gary Worrall


Volvo wants to reclaim its place as the leading European truck marque in Australia. It has a strong chance with the FE model, reckons Gary Worrall

 

Volvo Trucks has always had a good reputation in Australia, earned over the years by providing comfort levels unheard of in American and Japanese trucks along with long service life and good performance.

Despite this, the number of trucks leaving dealerships went into decline. It left Volvo as a bit player rather than market leader, culminating last year when Isuzu relegated the Europeans to fourth place in the heavy-duty segment behind Kenworth and Western Star.

While Volvo Commercial Vehicles Australia’s bosses say there were a number of issues behind the poor performance of 2008, including parts supply, they are adamant it will not happen again this year.

Although Volvo is often thought of as a ‘big truck’ manufacturer, in reality the product range includes a variety of medium and heavy-rigid trucks, as well as the high-powered highway hauler prime movers.

A leading light in the rigid category is the FE, available in 4x2, 6x2 and 6x4 configurations (depending on application), as well as a 4x2 local prime mover, with a choice of day, comfort or sleeper cab variants.

Owner//Driver took to the roads in a 6x2 comfort cab fitted with a tautliner body to replicate a day in the life of a delivery truck by covering a mix of urban, suburban and highway driving.

Cab-over trucks are always a challenge to the designer: how do you make something with more front than a tropical low not only look good, but also offer a degree of aerodynamic efficiency?

Within these limitations the Volvo designers have done a reasonable job on the FE.

Effectively it is a two-piece design, with the cab sitting over the lower superstructure. This allows for a slight rake on the pillars and windscreen and also helps the cab suspension to isolate the occupants from road noise and vibrations.

The whole front end is a gentle curve, trying to displace the air as smoothly as possible — no mean feat when you have well over 8 square metres of frontage.

Giving the front end some character are wide-spaced, low-set headlights, with high beam and indicators, their housing also incorporates a pair of outboard fog lights.

Completing the ‘happy face’ is a front underrun protection system (FUPS) approved lightweight composite grille flanking the radiator opening, which also includes air-conditioner and intercooler heat exchangers.

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Protecting the corners from Braille parking manoeuvres are steel outrider bumpers, painted black for ease of retouching rather than being body-coloured like the rest of the front end. The bumpers also protect the recessed cab steps, which provide plenty of support and grip for all boot sizes.

The famous Volvo diagonal bar emblem is mounted on a flip-up engine cover, designed for easy access to the daily check points including brake fluid, engine oil and coolant.

Streamlined external mirrors complete the package, with door-mounted main mirrors set underneath large spotter mirrors.

The downwards-looking mirror on the top of the windscreen is a nice touch allowing the driver to judge the approach to low obstacles.

Volvo offers a low-line roof spoiler, although taller units can be sourced if needed for taller body applications.

Further back, the FE follows conventional design theory, with the fuel and AdBlue tanks on the right-hand side, with the caps all within easy reach, even on body trucks.

Engine

Driving the FE is an all-new D7E six-cylinder engine, turbocharged and intercooled, with common-rail direct injection and using selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology to achieve a Euro 5 emission standard.

It comes with two power ratings: either 205kW/1,050Nm or 235kW/1,200Nm.

Transmission

The test truck had the higher rating driving through a six-speed Allison AL306 automatic transmission. The exhaust brake gave up to 130kW effective braking, backed by a 188kW compression brake.

The unit was rigged for local work, including taller final drive gearing that gives economical operation at a maximum of 80km/h and makes for impressive acceleration.

A lower final drive can be specified for highway work, although there is an understandable trade-off in acceleration.

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Cab and Controls

Although Japanese and American trucks have made big improvements in cab ergonomics (Isuzu particularly) there is nothing quite like settling in behind the wheel of a European truck. In the case of the FE, it starts with 90-degree door openings that have twin, long-line grab handles for three-point contact throughout entry and exit.

The driver scores an Isri air-suspension seat including an integral pre-tensioner seatbelt, an important piece in Volvo’s safety puzzle (and with multiple adjustment for tilt, height and reach) as well as a ‘quick down’ for fast exits.

The steering wheel is also air-adjustable for both height and reach; to make the most of what is on offer, spend a couple of minutes experimenting with the different adjustments to achieve the most comfortable position.

The seats also fold down to make a base for the sleeper, while the side curtains are a nice touch and give privacy while resting.

Apparently, European truck manufacturers all use the same supplier for the vinyl flooring, as the FE looks remarkably similar to other trucks tested by Owner//Driver. That said, it is a quality, hard wearing, non-slip material, while the pattern helps to disguise grease and other stains that can be trekked into a truck cabin.

The seat also sports a hard-wearing but comfortable material — this one is a grey that complements the grey vinyl flooring, and also does well to cover marks and stains.

In fact, much of the cabin is trimmed in grey, however it manages to not convey the feeling of a prison cell or navy battleship. It’s all easy on the eye and strangely calming, even under difficult driving conditions.

The layout is well-planned, with all of the important switches and buttons within reach and clearly visible. The longer you spend in the driver’s seat, the more natural it feels.

The steering wheel features three main stalks for lights and indicators, wipers and a separate control for the exhaust brake.

Also on the wheel are the buttons to operate the cruise control, with the on/off and resume switches on the left, while the right side runs the set and speed up and down buttons.

Spread to the driver’s left are the control switches for diff locks, PTO engine speeds, traction control, hill start assist, raising and lowering the lazy axle, as well as the Blaupunkt AM/FM/CD stereo (complete with its own remote control), while furthest away is the air-conditioner.

Above the driver and passenger are storage lockers for various items such as notebooks, logbooks, manifests and street directories, while the comfort cab not only has an ADR-compliant sleeper, but features plenty of storage room behind the seats for an esky, lunchbox, overnight bag and much more.

If it is somehow possible to need extra space the FE delivers, with cupholders by the driver’s left knee and a pen tray on top of the dash.

Despite all the good work, there was a complaint about the position of the park brake release: the stubby lever is near the driver’s backrest, it can be a twist to reach it.

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Performance

Starting the engine gives an immediate idea of how much work went into the redesign of the cab to meet Australia’s tough new noise limits. Apart from a low hum, it is almost impossible to hear the engine.

This same redesign also made the cab significantly safer, so that it not only passes European crash standards but also the even tougher Swedish tests that require the same cab to undergo two separate collisions and still retain its structural integrity.

Gear selection is via keypad on the transmission tunnel — the driver simply pushes the required gear ‘D’ or ‘R’, brings the revs up and releases the park brake.

Again, a slight rumble from under the seat is the only audible indication the engine is working, with cab vibration virtually banished.

First-time drivers of the FE will notice the light steering. The feedback from the truck is so good that within five minutes of leaving the depot they will be completely in tune with where the wheels are going and how little effort is required.

There is no vagueness or sloppiness to the steering. It requires just fingertip control rather than arms like Mr Universe to encourage the truck to change lines.

It would be unfair to describe it as a ‘soft’ truck. Fleets are no longer an exclusively male domain and there is also high number of aging drivers, so the FE makes good sense for operators wanting a less-demanding vehicle.

Ride comfort is outstanding, as expected, with the airbag suspension. Even a selection of rutted roads could not unsettle the FE — it simply rolled across the uneven section with barely a thump.

The easy ride did not mean the handling is comprised. The truck still felt taut and connected, with the back happy to follow the nose without wallowing through directional changes.

Taking the FE through a factory yard showed how easy it can be controlled; a too-tight exit required a three-point turn between narrow kerbs without flattening the signs.

The push-button auto came into its own. Shifting between first and reverse was literally at the push of a button, with no clunking from the transmission, while the light steering took care of the directional changes.

Another positive to come out of the exercise was the vision. Working in a space only just wider than the truck meant the spotter mirrors and ‘peek-a-boo’ windows in the bottom of the doors got a workout, and performed as advertised. The truck turned around without contacting anything solid.

If evasive manoeuvres need to be performed at higher speeds the FE runs disc brakes all round, with exhaust and compression brakes to wash off speed as required.

To work at full capacity the exhaust brake needs around 2,000rpm on the clock. Unfortunately there was no chance for steep descents, but even at lower rpm there was plenty of retardation and any increase could be achieved by selecting a lower gear.

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Verdict

The FE is a great truck. There, I’ve said it, I like a Volvo.

It’s an outstanding performer, with a high level of driver comfort (admittedly not as high as the F Series Isuzu but still well equipped).

More than that, it is the complete ease with which it handles the tasks set for it that really impresses. The FE is just as comfortable doing dock-to-dock deliveries as it is running down the highway or negotiating dense urban traffic, with the driver feeling completely rested at the end of the day’s work.

Couple that with Volvo’s renowned safety technology, and if the unthinkable happens this is the truck you want to be in.

 

Specifications

Make/Model: Volvo FE 6x2 Rigid

Engine: Volvo D7E, six-cylinder turbocharged and intercooled, common-rail direct injection, selective catalytic reduction, Euro 5 certified

Transmission: Allison AL306 six-speed automatic

Power/Torque: 235kW/1,200Nm

GVM: 26,000kg

GCM: up to 44,000kg

Wheelbase: 3,200-6,800mm

Suspension: Parabolic leaf (fr), airbag (r)

Features: FUPS standard, ergonomic cab layout, comfort and sleeper cabs ADR compliant, hill start assist

 

 

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