Scania R480 truck review

By: Gary Worrall


Arriving in a shower hyperbole, the Scania R-Series, 2010 European International Truck of the Year, had a lot to live up to when Gary Worrall drove one from Melbourne to Sydney

Scania R480 truck review
Scania R480.

 

Scania seems to have been in the Australian transport industry forever.

Always just hovering at the edges, never quite cracking the mainstream — despite winning many friends along the way with a succession of tough, powerful trucks that seemed capable of anything.

Then, suddenly, Scania started to push ‘up-market’, adding little things like synchromesh transmissions, leather trim and CD players. Customers thought the brand had gone soft and stopped buying them, despite offerings, like V8 engines, that the ‘tough truck’ crowd thought were important.

The company was left confused: it had a shrinking market share because the trucks were thought to be too tough for the highway, but not tough enough to work off it.

After time in the doldrums, during which the bus and coach division kept Scania in the public eye, and a rapid succession of managing directors in charge of Australian operations, Scania finally seems to have found a footing for its trucks.

Early adoption of Euro 5, all new cabs for the R-Series and the introduction of the mid-range G-Series, as well as far-sighted Englishman Roger McCarthy taking the reins, are all good signs for 2010 and beyond, but the big question remains: are the trucks up to the task?

After an encounter with an over-achieving P-Series 8x4 late in 2009, the stage was set for a real test when Scania offered the chance to drive an R480 from Melbourne to Sydney, configured as a 58-tonne B-double.

The offer was just too good to refuse.

Engine

The Scania R-Series prime mover features a 13-litre six-cylinder engine.

Among its many technical features, the engine uses the XPI high-pressure electronic fuel-injection system developed in conjunction with Cummins, a variable geometry turbocharger and a two-stage EGR system for ensuring the emissions comply with Euro 5.

Despite the engine being virtually new (1,900km old), there was plenty of flexibility in the power delivery, with enough torque to hold a high gear and just lug up hills, and then make the most of the gravity down the other side.

According to the spec sheets, the engine punches out 353kW (pretty much exactly 480hp) at 1,900rpm, which is probably a touch high for highway running, although the healthy 2,500Nm arrives between 1,000 and 1,300rpm. That’s right where you need it, especially for hills and getting started with big loads.

Transmission

This particular truck uses the Scania retarder, integrated into the 14-speed Opticruise automated-manual transmission, that offers a selectable range of intervention, in conjunction with the exhaust brake and disc brakes all round. It offers stopping power undreamt of 10 years ago.

 

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Cab and Controls

The R-Series cab casts a big shadow, even on a cold and wet Melbourne morning. It exudes a purposefulness that, perhaps, was missing from Scania’s products for a few years.

Although the first impression is of sheer size, it is surprising just how rounded and organic the edges are. The R can hardly be called ‘soft’ — it’s like a gentle giant and you won’t mistake its abilities — but at the same time the aggression is under the surface.

The other surprise is just how low to the ground the R is compared with other prime movers, especially North American units.

Trucks can hardly be described as ‘low slung’, but the R certainly sits close to the bitumen.

While the rounded edges convey the impression of restrained power, they are there for a more important reason: to smooth the airflow around the cab. Rather than bludgeoning the atmosphere into submission, this design allows the slipstream to flow around the cab — important for improving fuel economy and reducing wind noise.

As well as providing a visual highlight, the grey grille actually performs a pretty neat trick: the lower section drops down to become a reinforced step for drivers to stand on so they can scrape the insect collection off the windscreen, or, with the top section elevated, carry out those all-important daily checks.

This is another area where the engineers have listened to the operators, with all of the vitals easily accessible in one go so the inspections are quick and efficient. There’s no need to run three laps of the truck to check everything.

And for checking the lights, there is nothing easier than just pushing a button on the remote control for the central locking, is there?

On the remote Scania has included a ‘test’ function, which cycles through parking lights, headlights, brakes, indicators hazard and reversing lights, on not just the prime mover but the trailers too. The light check time is reduced to one person and about three minutes, and it can be done at any time, which is perfect for restarting after a rest break.

By funnelling the oncoming air around the corner of the cab the two snorkel-like ‘ears’ hanging off the sides help to reduce drag, as does the scalloping of the doors and the upper chassis between the bumper and wheel arches and the bottom of the doors.

Scania ,-R480,-truck ,-review ,-ATN5Throw in a sun-stopper running across the top of the windscreen, complete with directional slots to control the airflow, and you have a cab that punches a relatively small hole in the atmosphere, and then smoothes the air to reduce not only wind noise but also improve the fuel economy — clever.

As good as a long-distance truck needs to be on the outside and under the floor, the litmus tests is the cab and this is where the R shows its true colours.

The first thing you notice is how easy it is too climb aboard. There are three steps up, evenly spaced, while the grab handles are mounted so that the driver has a hold all the way into the cab.

Most recognisable is the air-suspension seat, but in this case it comes with a longer base, which means more support for the driver’s legs. Depending on the driver’s trouser length it can come almost to the knee.

Not many people realise that under-thigh support is a big factor in driver fatigue. Too little and a driver will unconsciously tense their leg muscles to support their thighs.

Simply, the more support the less fatigued the driver.

The three-point inertia-reel seatbelt is integrated into the seat, which eliminates the old complaint of the driver getting ‘hung up’ by the seatbelt as the seat moves up and down on its suspension to cope with the bad roads.

Like the seat the steering wheel is also fully adjustable. It has air-assisted tilt and reach controls that allows the driver to choose almost any angle, including replicating a car.

Behind the driver is a double bunk.

Although this was a one-day trip there was plenty of room for stretching out. The blackout curtains do a great job regardless of the time of day, or night.

Scania has done a lot of work on the cab interior. There is plenty of room to move on the flat floors, and when the truck is stopped the lower bunk can be widened to offer even more resting space.

There is also plenty of headroom. I’m 186cm (a touch over 6-foot-1) and had no problem. Had I needed I could have easily changed shirts without any in-cab gymnastics or contortions.

The fold-out ‘airline’ table in front of the passenger seat is a neat touch; combine that with the optional refrigerator and one could dine well while travelling.

The test truck was the Highline specification, which gains leather trim and a woodgrain dash, as well as a leather and wood steering wheel, over the standard version.

The steering wheel is a multi-function unit, fitted with controls for the twin cruise controls and the multi-function display (bottom spoke), while the audio controls are split between the left and right spokes.

Facing the driver is a simple dash layout with speedo and tacho, flanking a central display, as well as smaller gauges for fuel and engine temperature. Scania is a firm believer in not over-complicating the driving experience.

The centre display screen is used for all of the ‘other’ information that is needed, including air brake pressures, on-board scales, trip computer readouts. It also houses the Scania Driver Support system that rates your driving in real time depending on how heavy you are on the brakes and throttle, how well hill climbs are handled, and plenty of other data, with the object being to score as many ‘gold stars’ as possible during the drive.

Having faced a huge bank of switches, dials and gauges in other trucks, my personal preference is for the multi-function type display. It can bring up any screen when needed yet the driver doesn’t suffer information overload.

To the left of the driver are the minor controls for air-conditioning, driving lights and the AM/FM/CD stereo, which includes an auxiliary input for iPods and MP3 players.

With the exception of the radio, all these buttons and switches are large and easy to find and operate by touch (in fairness, the audio controls are duplicated on the steering wheel as simple thumb switches).

There are numerous storage slots and trays in the centre console, with plenty of space for maps, B-double permits and work diaries.

Overall, the cab is sensibly laid out and the positions of the switchgear become second nature after just an hour in the truck.

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Performance

Barnesy’s truck driving anthem actually feels slightly out of place in the R, given how quiet and smooth it is.

Firing up the 13-litre engine creates a minor vibration under the floor, while the engine note is a muted rumble. This might disappoint some, but for me the quietness makes for a better driving experience.

There is no doubting Scania has gone for the simple and straightforward in upgrading the R. Engaging first gear is a case of push clutch pedal in, rotate the dial on the right stalk off the steering column to ‘D’, switch the hill-hold function on, release the park brake, release the clutch, and you’re off.

After that, the computer-controlled clutch takes care of making sure the constant mesh transmission engages smoothly, and the driver has the hard job of watching where they are going.

Although the wheel could be turned with just a finger, the power-assisted steering transmits plenty of feel so you can form a good mental picture of what is happening at road level and adjust the truck accordingly.

The steering rack also feels like it has a sharper ratio, resulting in less arm-swirling to get the truck turning. Even roundabouts don’t need multiple turns of lock. Normal road driving is handled within the first quarter turn of lock in either direction.

The air suspension does wonders to smooth out the road surface and what the suspension is unable to quash the driver’s seat eliminates.

Forward vision is superb. The wide screen offers a good view of what is coming down the road at you, although the European habit of installing a cluster of mirrors on the passenger side can make it interesting when you are tracking a vehicle approaching from right angles.

Also strange, and a little frustrating, is the lack of a driver’s side spotter mirror. While the main door mirror is quite large, it does not give the full vision that comes from having a spotter, especially when it comes to working in narrow spaces or watching out for small cars in traffic.

Heading out of Melbourne on the ring road, in the direction of the Hume Highway at 8am saw the big Scania face its first big hurdle: bumper-to-bumper peak hour traffic on a cold and wet Thursday.

With traffic never quite stopping, but lurching between 10km/h and 50km/h, the automated Opticruise got to demonstrate its flexibility, jumping between second and sixth gears, and then back again, while the brakes proved to be more than adequate for the task.

Scania ,-R480,-truck ,-review ,-ATN4Also performing more than satisfactorily was the engine, delivering enough power to keep the 58-tonne GVM B-double rolling along. Of course it will never accelerate as well as a car, but the Scania kept up with everything except the 10km/h take-offs, when the tonnage exceeded the torque curve’s ability to get the combination moving with the surrounding cars.

The good news is as the traffic opened up and the average speed increased, the Scania felt more and more comfortable, and the highway cruise could actually come into play.

After the speed reached 100km/h, I was able to dial up a steady 97km/h, which was verified by one of VicRoads’ laser speed check points. I remained at that speed for the bulk of the trip to Prestons in south-west Sydney.

Working in conjunction with the Opticruise AMT, the cruise control took the stress out of the trip. There is no need to fear speed or point-to-point cameras, because the number is set on the dash. The driver is then able to sit back and concentrate on steering the truck and keeping a watchful eye on traffic.

I find this is a lot less tiring than having to keep scanning the dials, hauling on gearsticks to climb up and down hills as well as watching the road around me to make sure everything is safe.

This meant that when it was time to take a break, I was actually able to enjoy myself. I didn’t feeling tired or stressed, I just put my feet up and had a little rest.

Even dragging 58 tonnes, the Opticruise had no problems coping with the job at hand. Its shifts are executed with speed and accuracy beyond most humans.

The transmission has a couple of handy features for hill-climbing. Because the truck cannot ‘see’ that it is driving up a hill, the driver has the choice of flicking the gear selector one more stop around from ‘D’ to ‘H’, telling the gearbox the truck is about to climb a hill.

This means rather than holding onto a higher gear in a bid for fuel economy, it will drop to a lower gear and then hold it, to allow the engine to pull the truck up the hill.

There is also a kickdown feature on the accelerator pedal: if the driver pushes the pedal to the floor the transmission goes down a gear to allow for overtaking moves or a double down-shift on a steep hill.

Unlike a conventional manual, where the driver can ‘skip’ gears, an AMT is a sequential gearbox. Similar to those used in Formula 1 racers, it must go through each gear, whether it is going up or down through the gears.

With no really tough downhill sections on the Hume Highway, there was no opportunity to test out the hill-descent control, which is a function of the ‘second’ cruise control on the steering wheel.

For steep descents, this allows the driver to program a set speed, such as 30km/h, and with the retarder set at automatic, the truck will use a combination of exhaust brakes, retarder, service brakes and transmission to hold that speed until the driver overrides the cruise.

Another function, which came into use on this test, is to set a top speed, three kilometres faster than the ‘flat’ cruise. For our trip the truck was set at 97km/h on the flats and up hills, while on the down hills the truck limited itself to 100km/h.

The thing you notice when using the exhaust brake and retarder is how much you don’t notice you are using them, other than feeling the truck wash off more speed than you might think possible.

The combination of cab insulation and plenty of work by the engineers in Sweden means that the driver is never overwhelmed by the engine or its braking systems, another area that helps reduce fatigue.

Verdict

Scania Managing Director Roger McCarthy is quick to point out the R-Series is pitched as a ‘premium’ truck, offering plenty of upmarket options for driver comfort.

While this may be the case, there is also an argument that it is not ‘comfort’ but it is about providing a driver with a comfortable workplace, with the best possible levels of safety.

All I can say is that 12 hours after departing Laverton, I pulled up in the Scania yard at Prestons, having covered 830km, feeling quite relaxed, before catching a cab to my hotel where I spent a comfortable couple of hours relaxing in the lounge before heading off to bed.

 

Likes:

  • Very comfortable
  • Excellent soundproofing
  • Opticruise makes light of gear shifts

Dislikes:

  • Many will be needlessly deterred by European-ness of truck
  • No driver’s side spotter mirror
  • Excessive mirror cluster on passenger side

 

Specifications

Make/Model: Scania R480 prime mover

Configuration Tested: B-double

GVM: 58 tonnes

Trip: 830km, 12 hours

Fuel Consumption: 59.9l/100km

Tank Capacity: 1,000 litres (2x500 litres)

Engine: Scania 13-litre six-cylinder, with XPI electronic high pressure fuel injection, variable geometry turbo

Power/Torque: 353kW@1,900rpm/2,500Nm@1,000-1,300rpm

Transmission: Scania Opticruise 14-speed with Scania Retarder

Emission Control: Euro 5 via 2-stage EGR

Features: Leather trim, Bluetooth, AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input, air-conditioning, upper and lower bunks, lower bunk extendable to 900mm, cruise control, hill-descent control, hill holder

 

 

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