Mercedes-Benz Actros 2660 LS truck video review

By: Matt Wood


Mercedes-Benz has a long history in Australian long distance trucking. However, in recent years, that profile has all but disappeared. Matt Wood takes the Actros 2660 LS out for an overnight stint to get a feel for the V8 heavy hauler

 

Until recently, it’s seemed Mercedes-Benz have been content for the Actros to be regarded as a dependable urban hauler.

But now it’s become clear Daimler is once again going in search of highway glory and it may well be the last hurrah for the V series engines that the marque has become synonymous with.

A new Actros has hit the ground in Europe in time for Euro 6 emissions legislation. Underneath the swanky new cab resides a range of 6 cylinder engines based on the Detroit/Daimler HDEP engine platform, so in a few years’ time when Australia moves to Euro 6/ADR 80/04 the old V6 and V8 range will come to an end.

But what has really made the Actros more attractive, from a long-haul perspective, is the introduction of hypoid drive axles, rather than the traditional hub reduction drive, Benz have been using across the board.

The hypoid driveline isn’t a new concept, or even one unique to Mercedes-Benz. The hypoid axle uses a spiral bevel gear that maintains a large area of contact with crown gear in the differential.

But while the hub reduction axles, the company has been using to date, do have a reputation for being extremely tough and durable, they do tend to have less rolling resistance than the hypoid.

As a result this tends to cost in terms of fuel, however, after an extensive 24-month testing regime, Daimler are confident the hypoid axles provide very real gains in fuel economy by as much as 10 per cent and in some cases as high as 14 per cent.

Figures supplied by Benz show 6x4 prime movers make up 55 per cent of the heady duty market and long-haul B-double makes up 36 per cent of that slice of the pie. But long-haul also has an element of high profile hero about it with the big horsepower numbers on the door.

And just to make that fuel economy gain a little bit more attraction, Daimler have also backed the Actros with a five year, 1 million kilometre warranty for vehicles with a GCM of up to 90 tonnes.

Now, the Actros is available with the hypoid drive axle and 12-speed PowerShift 2 AMT all the way up to 90 tonnes GCM. For heavier duties or road train roles, the drive line will revert to hub reduction and the 16-speed PowerShift AMT.

The real core of the new push behind the Actros is a low total cost of ownership platform and a ‘peace of mind’ approach.

Clearly, Benz is taking an aggressive path towards getting the Actros name up in lights and onto an interstate highway near you.

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Engine

There’s a certain character that emanates from the big 15.9-litre V8 engine and the 600hp Benz donk has character in spades.

It speaks to you from a time when that V8 resonance was king of the road regardless of the badge on the front.

Though, in this day and age the engine note has been suitably toned down to the point where it is something you feel, rather than hear.

From a performance point of view, the 600hp badge appears to be speaking the truth.

Transmission

The 12-speed AMT behaved quite nicely and as with most AMT’s a pre-emptive strike on a down change before a climb showed the best results and the rest of the time I left the tranny in auto mode to do its own thing.

The tall final drive gearing combined with the chugging 15.9-litre engine gives the Actros the feel its taking very big strides out on the open road, as if every turn of the crankshaft is eating the maximum amount of real estate as efficiently as possible — like the steps of a long distance marathon runner.

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Cab and Controls

The current Actros cab is showing its age in some ways, most of the competition has become taller in the cab and offer a reasonably flat floor while the Benz still sports an engine hump.

While this may be seen as a criticism, I don’t think the Actros suffers for it.

The engine hump means you do have to hunch over a bit as you wander around the cab. It does feel a bit cramped compared with some of its continental competitors.

A legacy of the left-hand drive origins of the Actros is that the sleeper cab lights and switches are all on the left of the cab, which is a pain as most drivers will sleep with their head on the high side of the truck and these lights will be at their feet.

But with the bed made, I climbed into the cot and drifted into a diesel sound-tracked slumber. I do however wish I’d remembered I was in the top bunk when I awoke in the morning as the first thing I did was sit up and whack my noggin on the cab roof.

On the whole, the Actros cab has aged well and is well appointed enough for spending a week away on the road; though storage may be an issue for longer sojourns.

I’m usually sceptical of the bells and whistles touted on many of today’s vehicles. But I’m going to have to eat my hat over adaptive cruise control.

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While I’ve played with this feature on a test track, I’ve never had the chance to use it in the real world and it’s bloody great. I’ve spent many an hour going nuts on single carriageway roads as the car/caravan in front of my truck sits on 95km/h, periodically dropping to 85 but getting up to 100 when an overtaking opportunity presents itself.

I’ve had teeth marks in my steering wheel out of frustration but adaptive cruise calms the farm. The radar picks up the vehicle in front and slows you to their speed without you monstering innocent motorists. I found it very Zen and it did wonders for my blood pressure.

The lane departure warning however is a pain in the butt. This is the robot version of having a passenger that yells "Lookout!" every time you get near the edge of the road, I even found myself talking back to it and telling it to shut up before turning it off; not for use on B or C roads.

But big points go to the rain sensing windscreen wipers. Once you turn them on they automatically adjust their speed to the amount of rain falling on the screen.

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Performance

A quick spin around the Linfox-owned test track near Anglesea gave a hint of what the Actros was capable of but I was keen to get out onto the open road and spend some time with Benz’s big banger bent eight.

And that opportunity came in the form of an Actros 2660 LS MegaSpace cab prime mover and a B-double set that were mine to play with for a couple of days.

While it would be easy to take it for a quick spin up the Hume Highway in the daylight, I was interested in having a closer look at a vehicle I’ve had very little to do with over the years.

So, as a result, I decided on a trip on the Adelaide road out to the South Australian town of Keith. It was also an opportunity to test out the sleeping facilities offered by the Actros and get a glimpse of what living on the road would be like in the big Bennie.

The elements conspired to make sure it was as cold, wet, blowy and miserable as a Melbourne winter’s day could be when I arrived at Daimler’s Mulgrave headquarters to pick up my ride.

But out the back the royal blue beast waited and the counterweighted trailers brought the Mercedes-Benz’s gross weight up to a respectable 58 tonne gross, about bang on average weight for a line-haul B-double.

Getting out of town was my first priority and this task was made easy by the visibility and handling offered by the Actros.

As the sky grew greyer and even more water fell from the sky the Benz’s windscreen and mirrors stayed clear and threading the combination through the hissing traffic and onto the freeway didn’t pose any issue at all.

Getting out of town allowed the Actros to stretch its legs and with a 3.5 final drive ratio this is where the big rig felt completely at ease.

A proactive manual down-shift as  I approached the climb up the Pentland Hills on the Western Highway saw the Actros’ 2,800 Nm (2065lb-ft) of torque take to the grade with all of the tenacity of Edward Snowden applying for a Russian visa. At 1,400rpm, the big 8 iron was happiest as it got down to business and hauled.

Once over the top I was able to settle in for the next few hours as the wind and rain lashed the Actros while we rumbled west.

You may think it would be difficult to detect the difference in the driveline from behind the wheel but the hypoid driveline does let the vehicle roll a lot more than the old hub reduction set up, noticeably so.

Where the hub reduction axles feel like they’re always engaged and always driving the back wheels, the hypoid drive feels freer and lets it coast on the limiter in undulating country.

My logbook dictated I had to pull up in the western Victorian town of Nhill for a break and I headed though town to the new changeover pads for my break.

Driving the Actros at night was actually a pleasant experience; there was little in the way of unwanted reflections on the glass, as I drove.

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The Victorian side of the Western Highway is a rough and rugged disgrace. Crossing over the border into South Australia on the Dukes Highway is like going over a speed hump then the road miraculously recovers.

I decide to bunk down at the town of Keith for the night and found a cosy parking bay sandwiched between the railway line and the highway. I elected to use the flip-down top bunk for sleeping, it gives that little bit extra width and leaves the lower bunk for use as a parcel shelf.

The drive back to town the next morning gave me time to ponder the big blue Bennie.

As I flopped back into Victoria and started bouncing my way east I found myself torn in regards to the way the truck handles.

The eight-bag rear suspension did a great job of keeping the drive wheels on the ground and provided excellent stability.

However, the front end seemed very twitchy on the rough stuff and it wallowed in the troughs between bumps and pothole, the overall impression was that the steering wheel was too small.

Already I can hear the sound of coffee and strudel being sprayed across a Stuttgart engineering office at the preposterous idea a jumped up truckie with a business card on the other side of the world would have the audacity to make such an outrageous claim.

But what I mean to say is, the way the front end behaves in the rough makes it feel that way. I was constantly steering the prime mover when on rough surfaces; it was very twitchy indeed and this along with the cabs’ tendency to nod on its suspension keeps you moving the wheel constantly. No doubt a regular driver would settle in after a while but it does take some getting used to.

On the upside, the cab didn’t have a lot of lateral movement and being reasonably low to the ground means it’s a simple three-step climb to get in and out of.

Economy-wise, I managed a fairly modest 1.66km/l on this trip though my habitually heavy right foot and the fact it was bucketing rain and blowing a gale do need to be taken into consideration.

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Verdict

But what really makes this truck is the driveline, the engine and transmission communicate well and perform beautifully and the hypoid drive axles add up to a smooth performer that flows along the road.

I think the best way to sum it up would be to hark back to the seminal Australian road movie, Mad Max, and Steve Bisley’s immortal words: "She’s the last of the V8’s. You can shut the gate on this one Maxie, it’s the duck’s guts."

Specifications

Make/Model: Mercedes-Benz Actros 2660 LS 6x4

Engine: 15.9 litre V8 turbo diesel with selective catalytic reduction (SCR)

Power: 598hp (440 kW) @ 1,800rpm

Torque: 2,800Nm ( 2,065 Ib/ft) @ 1,080rpm

Transmission: 12-speed PowerShift 2 AMT (16-speed optional)

Final drive: 3.583 hypoid (Planetary hub reduction for road train optional)

Fuel capacity: 1,200 litres

GCM: up to 90 tonnes (heavier available depending on spec)

 

 

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