Mercedes-Benz Econic truck review

By: Steve Skinner


The Mercedes-Benz Econic has an interesting entrance into the Australian truck market, in more ways than one. We take a look at a local garbage truck model

Mercedes-Benz Econic truck review
Mercedes-Benz Econic.

 

Let’s face it, the new Mercedes-Benz Econic looks a bit weird. The medium-duty urban unit is more or less a cross between a bus and a truck.

But who cares what it looks like as long  as it gets the job done, and well over 10,000 Econics have been working in Europe over the past decade in vocations including garbage, fire, airport service, street-sweeping and distribution.

It might be a bit of an ugly duckling but the main selling point of the low-floor Econic is ease of getting in and out of it in urban applications, and that’s important in these days of increasing awareness of occupational health and safety liabilities.

There is no dual control option in the Econic in Australia — Mercedes-Benz doesn’t believe it’s necessary or even wise. However, there are discussions taking place about a side-loading option.

Engine

The 6x4 Mercedes-Benz Econic 2629LL is powered by a 7.2-litre SCR engine seen in the tried-and-true Mercedes-Benz Axor. It boasts 286hp (210kW) of power and 1,120Nm of torque.

Transmission

The smooth transmission in the Econia comes from an Allison 3000 series 6-speed automatic.

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Cab and Controls

There’s enough room to stand up and walk across to the other side of the high cab, which means the driver doesn’t have to open his door and set foot into passing traffic.

In garbage-truck application, the ‘runners’ who load the bins at the back haven’t got far to climb in and out of the cab when they need to.

The Econic has front air bags, allowing you to lower the front end so that it ‘kneels’ like a bus. But the more common use of the bags would be to raise them, to get over some obstacle — bearing in the mind that the low cab is projected forward.

Once over an obstacle, the truck won’t let you go past about 15km/h unless you restore the bags to their normal height.

Meanwhile, the rear air bags allow the driver to raise the rear end when reversing into a driveway.

A big advantage of all-round air bags is weight readings inside the cab. In the case of the Econic matched with the MacDonald Johnston body, the compactor won’t work anyway if the vehicle reaches the point of overloading.

There is plenty of rear cupboard space; reassurance from windscreen and reversing cameras; and the steel bumper protects the lights from pesky cars and bins.

One legacy of being built by the Germans who drive on the other side of the road however, is that the radio is way too far over on the left-hand side.

That would be very annoying and potentially dangerous if a politician was being interviewed at length and the driver desperately wanted to change the channel.

Another negative is that the passenger seats are as hard as a park bench, a bit like the dicky seat in an older-style truck. In fact, there is the capability of putting in a dicky seat to allow four passengers in the front, which would be handy in fire truck mode without a crew cab.

While the bus-style passenger-side door allows easy push-button entry and exit for garbage ‘runners’, they may not appreciate it so much in summer, because they can’t open a window for some fresh air.

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Performance

The Econic is certainly easy to get in and out of but, surprisingly, the first step is not as low as you might imagine — probably no lower than most other trucks. But there’s no second or third step and that’s where the big difference is when compared with more conventional units.

I took an Econic 6x4 rear-loading garbage truck demonstrator for a spin in the western suburbs of Sydney.

Vision is great because the dash is low and there is glass everywhere, including over the right hand shoulder if you don’t trust the ‘spotter’ mirror.

The air-suspended seat is comfortable, the 6-speed Allison auto transmission is smooth, the controls are all handy — it’s pretty much like driving a car.

The brakes felt a bit doughy at first but they pulled the truck up with no problems at all when deliberately hit hard.

These electronic, traction-control disc brakes are load-sensing, i.e. the brake pedal pressure feels the same regardless of the weight behind. There is an engine brake but no retarder, except on the gas version (see breakout) because of its lower compression.

The turning circle, steering and cornering are all good.

You wouldn’t want to be driving at top speed on the freeway for too long — at 100km/h, the rev counter was sitting on about 2,100. But it was relatively quiet, and this truck is supposed to be a low-geared stop-start unit anyway.

Something I wondered about when driving the empty demonstrator was whether it would have enough grunt when fully loaded.

After all, a 7.2-litre engine rated at less than 290hp (213kW) doesn’t seem very big for a truck with a GVM of potentially 26 tonnes.

That question was answered on a later trip to a waste transfer station with a payload of more than 10 tonnes on board.

The Econic operated by Waverley Council in Sydney’s eastern suburbs had no problems at all getting off the mark and keeping up with city traffic, although the driver did have to work the engine pretty hard through the Allison gear changes.

Waverley Council has bought seven Econics as rear-loading garbage trucks, and was happy for me to go for a ride. However, the Council also runs Iveco Acco and Hino garbage trucks, and doesn’t want to comment about the performance of individual brands.

Neighbouring Randwick Council is taking delivery of six Econics.

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Verdict

It’s hard to imagine either council having any problems with the engine — it’s the same power plant as in the tried-and-true Mercedes-Benz Axor, except that it’s located a bit further back in the cab — 40cm to be precise.

"If you take the cab off, the Econic is very much like our Axor and Actros for that matter," Account Manager for Government and Specialised Vehicles with Daimler Trucks Sydney, Tim Blackstock says.

"There is commonality of parts. Our customers are reassured knowing they’re not getting a vehicle that’s the only one of its type.

"This engine, the axles, they’re all standard for us, so from a product support perspective, in service and in parts, it’s all very similar."

In other words, the Econic might look a bit funny but it’s not a unique creature.

Specifications

Make/Model: 6x4 Mercedes-Benz Econic 2629LL

Body: MacDonald Johnston waste compactor

GVM: 26 tonnes

Engine: 7.2-litre Mercedes-Benz, SCR

Power: 286hp (210kW); max torque 1,120Nm @ 1,200-1,600rpm

Transmission: Allison 3000 series 6-speed automatic

Suspension: Air bags front and rear

 

 

 

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