The Measure of a MAN
Steve Brooks road tests the new MAN TGX with the new 15.2-litre D38 engine.
No doubt about it, MAN’s flagship TGX model with the recently released 560hp D38 engine is a fine truck with plenty of positives.
However, the big issue for MAN and its Penske Commercial Vehicles distributor is not the truck itself. It’s the fierce level of competition in a market jam-packed with fine trucks, including some big names with big resources.
Breaking through the barriers won’t be easy but perhaps now more than ever before, MAN at least looks ready to rumble.
And arguably the biggest indicator of a revitalised MAN effort came at the Mt Cotton driver training facility in Brisbane towards the end of last year with both the official introduction of the 560hp D38 engine in MAN’s TGX 26.560 flagship model and the appearance of the somewhat legendary Roger Penske.
It was Penske’s first appearance at an Australian truck media event since the formation of Penske Commercial Vehicles almost four years earlier and as we reported at the time, ‘… there’s certainly something noteworthy in the fact that Roger Penske chose the introduction of the D38 to make his first appearance at a commercial vehicle presentation.’
His appearance at the event and strong support for the German brand certainly dulled any speculation that MAN would take a secondary role behind Penske’s other star attraction, Western Star.
Quick to shrug off MAN’s inconsistent history in this country, Penske said simply, "I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward.
"There is a trend to this type of truck," he said emphatically of the latest MAN, citing a fully integrated engine, automated transmission and driveline package as the increasingly preferred choice of truck operators at all levels but most prominently, among major fleets.
The emphasis, however, went up a few notches when talk turned to service and support functions, and dealers specifically.
Stating the obvious, "This is a very competitive market," Penske professed, "and things like fuel economy and service are the big ongoing issues today.
"We have to get better in our own business. We’re going to ask a lot more of our dealers, and if they don’t stand up, then we’ll do it with our own dealers."
Therein, of course, resides a ‘make or break’ factor in MAN’s future prospects under the Penske banner. Good or otherwise, trucks are just one part of the picture and in this "very competitive market", service and support are often the deciding factors in whether a customer comes back for more or goes shopping elsewhere.
Given the level of competition, it won’t be an easy road but the new 560hp TGX flagship has a healthy regard for fuel efficiency and will certainly go a long way towards softening the bumps.
It may not be everyone’s idea of a desirable colour scheme but if the aim was to stand out in the crowd, then the bold black, grey and slashing red graphics of the TGX 26.560 test truck sure had the desired effect.
Even so, MAN product and operator training manager Steve Gibbins had the truck and Penske B-double outfit superbly prepared for what he quickly explained would be its maiden linehaul voyage, hauling a tad less than 62.5 tonnes down the Pacific Highway from Brisbane to near Newcastle.
Maiden voyages, of course, aren’t particularly conducive to good fuel figures but it was an entirely confident Steve Gibbins who espoused the firm belief that fuel consumption would be one of several notable features of the TGX with its new 15.2-litre engine.
Obviously, time and toil would tell soon enough.
Meanwhile, inside the cab it was time to take stock and after an easy climb into the broad expanse of what MAN terms its XLX high-roof sleeper cab, a few things were quickly apparent.
For starters, the steering wheel is probably bigger than anything else on the market but then, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, a small wheel in a big Euro cab with supple suspension can create twitchy steering response but as the big MAN soon showed, steering quality and road handling on the Pacific’s various pavements were entirely acceptable.
On the arms of the wheel are control buttons for a wide range of on-board functions and information systems, but operational logic isn’t as straightforward as some. Familiarity takes time and patience.
Likewise, while the interior layout is for the most part practical and comfortable, there are definitely areas where the TGX cab is lagging behind more recent designs.
For instance, while the modest rise in floor height above the engine is not particularly intrusive and there’s at least standing room for six-footers, the design and location of a fridge and storage bin protrude considerably into standing space between the seats and subsequently infringe on access to the bunk.
As for the bunk, it wasn’t ‘tested’ on the daylight run south but even a cursory look suggests it’s equal to most of its continental competition. Still, you’re left to wonder about the wisdom of the upper level second bunk in a cab not particularly conducive to two-up work.
Meantime, the transmission control knob on a pedestal beside the driver’s seat isn’t necessarily intrusive but it certainly lacks the ergonomic ease of more modern contemporaries.
Put simply, the TGX cab is in some areas showing its age.
That said though, the standard feature list is appealing with a high quality Isri driver’s seat, touchscreen stereo with integrated Bluetooth and USB, electric windows and likewise, electrically operated heated mirrors. Yet like many mirror designs these days, particularly in the cab-over class and most notably at roundabouts, forward vision at the front quarters is impeded by the depth and width of mirror frames.
Back on the plus side, there’s the undeniable benefit of a ‘hill hold’ function which makes hill starts easy on driver and driveline alike, especially with a full load on board.
For all the odds and sods there are ample storage recesses above the windscreen while spacious under-bunk storage is also accessible through outside lockers. Definitely a notable asset is a ‘light test’ function which, as MAN puts it, ‘cycles through all lights on the truck and trailers, allowing the driver to safely check operation.’
Typical of the continental class, safety rates high on the list of standard inclusions with items like electronically controlled disc brakes all-round, ABS anti-lock, electronic stability control, ASR anti-skid, front cornering lights, and deformable cab mounts which, as MAN states, ‘allow the cab to move rearward while absorbing the energy of a collision.’
For the really safety conscious, there’s an optional Safety Pack Active+ kit with systems called Emergency Brake Assist, Lane Guard, Active Cruise Control and Emergency Stopping Signal.
All fine features, of course, and all fitted to the test truck, but from a purely pragmatic viewpoint it’s the powertrain and driveline where MAN has most to crow about.
For starters, the TGX 26.560 comes with a gross combination mass (GCM) rating up to 120 tonnes (and more with engineering approval) and importantly, MAN insiders eagerly extol the success of cooling trials at even higher weights during early testing of the D38 engine.
In simple terms the D38 is a 15.2-litre, twin turbocharged and intercooled in-line six with common-rail fuel injection and Euro 6 emissions levels achieved with the combined inputs of SCR and EGR, and a modified diesel particulate filter known as CRT. It is, says MAN, ‘a continuous regenerative system’ which negates the need for servicing of a typical diesel particulate filter.
For its first foray on the Australian market, the D38 delivers 412kW (560hp) at 1800rpm and pugnacious torque of 2700Nm (1991 lb ft) on tap all the way from 930 to 1350rpm. Importantly, it also offers up to 600kW of retardation power through a graduated and highly effective retarder.
Coupled to the engine is the latest evolution of the ZF-developed MAN TipMatic 12-speed overdrive automated shifter, otherwise known as TipMatic2 or Traxion. While there are a number of new features, the great attraction of the upgraded shifter is unquestionably the exceptional speed and smoothness of each shift, and a grade-sensing intuition which is nothing less than remarkable. Top marks!
Putting the grunt on the ground is a hypoid drive tandem with diff locks and power divider mounted on an eight-bag electronically controlled air suspension. Diff ratios are 3.08:1 to 3.76:1, aimed mainly at single trailer and road train roles respectively, and 3.36:1 for linehaul B-double combinations such as the test unit.
As the run south quickly revealed, the 3.36 diff ratio delivers 100 km/h at a touch under 1350rpm and combined with an overdrive transmission obviously programmed to provide the best blend of fuel efficiency and pulling power, allows the D38 to do the vast majority of its work below 1500 rpm.
Sure, there were instances when the approach to a long climb provoked a swap to manual mode for an early downshift, but for the most part it was easy to feel entirely content with the automated MAN’s ability to run low into the rev range yet make the right shift at exactly the right time. And again, the speed and smoothness of the automated shift are second to none. Very impressive!
Consequently, early indications were that fuel consumption would be extraordinarily good. The on-board computer, for example, revealed an exceptionally frugal fuel return of 2.16 km/litre (6.1 mpg) for the 310 km between Brisbane and North Grafton.
However, 300 km further on at Coolongolook, consumption had peeled back to 2.07 km/litre (5.8 mpg) as the undulating terrain, road works and the slow, sharp grinds through Coffs Harbour took their collective toll.
Things didn’t change much over the next 150 km to or so to the NorthStar dealership at Heatherbrae where overall fuel consumption for the 760 km trip was a highly respectable 2.06 km/litre.
When it’s all boiled down, the 560hp D38 engine gives MAN two vital attributes: a truck with more muscle than ever before, and top-shelf fuel efficiency.
Sure, a design upgrade of the TGX cab both inside and out wouldn’t go astray and some might argue that a 15-litre engine in this day and age should be dispensing more than 560hp. Fair enough, but it’s still a comfortable, well-appointed truck with good road manners while on the performance front there are already indications that Penske’s MAN team has plans to bring higher powered versions of the D38 to the Australian market within the next year or so.
In the interim, there’s no denying the 560 rating has the potential to enhance the brand’s standing in the market, particularly in B-double roles.
Again though, a good truck is only part of the picture.
Any doubts, just ask Roger Penske!