DAF CF85 Truck Review

By: Steve Brooks


It won’t be easy in such a fiercely fought market, but DAF’s desire for a greater slice of the heavy-duty class will be certainly empowered by the introduction of Paccar’s 510hp MX-13 engine under the classy DAF CF85 cab.

It has surely taken a while, but DAF finally appears to have done everything right in development of a model specifically for the Australian market.

And that truck is the versatile DAFCF85 with the top 510hp version of Paccar’s MX-13 engine.

Not for a moment is that meant to suggest DAF will be anytime soon stealing Volvo’s crown as the leading continental cab-over in this country. Absolutely not! As things stand at the moment, the thought is farcical.

What it does dare to suggest, however, is that DAF now has a spearhead model with the attributes to kick-start a new era for a brand that has struggled for consideration as a contender, let alone a serious competitor.

True, there’s nothing revolutionary in taking an existing model such as the CF85 and slipping a higher-powered version of a current engine under the cab.

Nor is there anything earth shattering about giving it a transmission with more speeds. Likewise, there’s nothing especially notable about testing a new combination under Australian operations to make sure it can cope with the vagaries of this country’s conditions.

Standard practice, you’d reckon!

Well, maybe in some minds, but, until now, such standards haven’t been particularly prominent in the history of DAF trucks in this country.

In fact, DAF’s early days under Dutch rule were riddled with examples of ill-conceived and poorly executed attempts to crack the Australian market.

DAF CF85 on the road

More muscle. With 510hp, DAF CF85 will target metro and regional work in either single trailer, truck-and-dog or B-double configuration. Line-haul will be left to the flagship XF105 model.

Still, things have at least improved on the corporate front. Since Kenworth and Peterbilt parent Paccar took control of the troubled truck and engine maker in 1996, DAF has evolved to become one of Europe’s most successful brands.

Vitally, DAF has also been the design and technology platform for Paccar’s hugely successful push with the MX engine range into North America. As we’ve previously reported, at the end of last year there were more than 135,000 MX engines powering Kenworth and Peterbilt models across the length and breadth of North America.

Obviously enough, it’s a different story in our neck of the woods, where DAF has struggled to even partially emulate its European experience. Despite repeated assurances from Paccar’s local leaders that the continental cab-over is on the cusp of a brighter future, the brand has hung tenaciously to the lower levels of the heavy-duty sales charts. 

Paccar MX-13 engine on a DAF CF85

Good match. Performance of the 510hp Paccar MX-13 engine through ZF’s 16-speed automated shifter is smooth and strong. Manual cab tilt, however, is something of a leftover these days

The 510hp Paccar MX-13 Engine

That said, though, market stats are now indicating the first hints of a turning tide and, critically, a smarter mindset highlighted by a 510hp CF85 model configured to specific market segments rather than trying to be all things to all people.

And those segments are the metro and regional applications where the current 460hp version of the MX-13 engine already does a respectable job but lacks the firepower to seriously challenge for a regular spot in the burgeoning short-haul and regional B-double business. Or, for that matter, those single-trailer and truck-and-dog duties where 500-plus is increasingly preferred.

As DAF Trucks Australia general manager Rob Griffin said recently: "The CF85 at its 460hp rating is DAF’s best seller but the industry has a psyche around 500hp and that’s where the 510 rating under the CF cab opens up new market segments to DAF."

A realist in every sense, Rob Griffin is intently confident the 510 rating will carve new business for DAF, but he’s equally intent it won’t be at any cost. Griffin, like many others, has long believed the majority of the Dutch truck’s dilemmas – and its subsequent reputation – were spawned by a ‘one truck fits all’ mentality which saw various versions sold into applications that were simply too onerous for the available specification.

That’s why, he insists, the flagship XF105 will continue to be DAF’s line-haul specialist while the uprated CF85, with its comfortable yet considerably lower cab, will essentially target metro and regional work, even though both models now share the 510hp rating.

Still, an adamant Rob Griffin knows it won’t be easy. He takes nothing for granted and gives no suggestion of reaching for the unreachable. It is, after all, a market segment packed with high-quality continental contenders from the likes of Volvo, Scania and a renewed Mercedes-Benz. 

DAF Dimension interview

Nonetheless, if DAF were to finish this year with 5 per cent or more of the heavy-duty sector, it would be a significant improvement and Griffin admits he’d be satisfied. For now!

Much depends, he concedes, on the success of the 510hp CF85 but so, too, does plenty depend on getting people behind the wheel to replace aged perceptions with modern reality. And it’s that reality we found recently in a test run of the 510hp DAF CF85 over the hills and highways of regional Victoria.

Testing in Australian conditions

DAF CF85 on the road

Class act. Ride quality, road manners and general handling of the CF85 on a demanding and diverse test route were first rate

Admittedly, it would’ve been good to have more weight in the Freighter trailer. But, even with gross weight at just 32.5 tonnes, there was plenty to keep the truck honest and, likewise, more than enough to sample the manners of a model on which so much hinges for the DAF brand.

For starters, this particular unit was on its maiden voyage with little more than 100km on the clock as the truck headed out of Paccar HQ in Bayswater, followed soon after by a steep and sharply winding route up and over the foothills of Victoria’s high country. All up, the DAF would notch more than 600 km of vastly varying terrain, from country backroads to fast freeways and stints in the ‘burbs to and from Bayswater.

Yet other than a recent short run around Brisbane’s Mt Cotton test track in the uprated CF85, it’d been seven or eight years, maybe longer, since I’d last driven a DAF. Still, it was quickly apparent that evolution has had a hugely positive influence, and any previous concerns or even presumptions were quickly quashed as the DAF CF85 strolled around the Mt Cotton circuit with consummate ease and comfort.

In short, there was plenty to like, and the opportunity to run an identical model in real-world conditions was simply too good to miss.

The 510hp rating is known in Paccar parlance as the MX375 and, like all MX engines used in Australia, including in Kenworth’s T409 model, Euro 5 compliance is achieved with an SCR emissions system.

On the performance front, peak power of 375kW (510hp) is on tap from 1500 to 1900rpm and top torque of 2500Nm (1850lb-ft) from 1000 to 1410rpm. What these figures define is an engine delivering an impressively strong and smooth supply of effort across a wide rev range.

The 16-Speed ZF Automated Transmission

Making matters even smoother is the 16-speed version of ZF’s AS-Tronic automated transmission, installed as standard equipment (as it is in the top-shelf XF105) to enhance the operational flexibility of the 510hp CF85. Opting for the overdrive 16-speeder instead of its 12-speed sibling was a wise move by DAF, particularly when you consider the 510hp CF’s gross combination mass rating of 70 tonnes and the inevitability of operating at B-double weights in the stop ‘n’ start snarl of metropolitan conditions.

Again, with operational flexibility in mind, the standard diff ratio in the Meritor drive tandem is 3.73:1. By comparison, the XF105 employs a faster 3.58:1 ratio for line-haul work.

What it all boils down to is an extremely responsive and highly intuitive combination across a diverse range of conditions. Compatibility between the MX engine and ZF transmission is exceptional, providing smooth and consistent performance through quick and entirely appropriate shifts, whether hauling through suburban traffic or running up and over the demanding high-country hills. 

DAF CF85 badge

It’s also worth noting that, despite a modest gross weight of just 32.5 tonnes, the retardation performance of the optional MX engine brake (an exhaust brake is the standard retarder) on several steep descents was both strong and surprisingly quiet.

Likewise, an electronic braking system of discs on the front axle and drums on the drive – complete with anti-lock, anti-slip and hill-hold functions – provided the smooth, powerful braking expected of any modern combination. 

DAF CF85 Fuel Efficiency

Meantime, on the flat southbound dawdle back to Melbourne along the Hume Freeway, the DAF strode to 100km/h at a flick over 1550rpm, and while some minds may figure this a tad high for efficient country cruising, it’s worth remembering DAF’s desire to provide a drivetrain with a high level of operational flexibility. All up, it’s a good compromise.

Besides, it’d be a hard marker who would consider the fuel return of 2.21km/litre (6.24mpg) at the end of the exercise to be anything other than respectable considering the wildly varying demands of terrain and traffic on a truck with just a few hundred kilometres under its belt. 

Still on fuel, the test truck was fitted with twin rectangular tanks holding a combined capacity of 770 litres, along with a 45-litre AdBlue tank. Not the sort of capacities you’d like for long-haul work but certainly adequate for most city and country runs.

Critical as they are, though, fuel and performance factors are far from the only considerations in the modern assessment of any truck and as expected, DAF’s CF85 typifies the high standards of comfort, convenience and road manners found in European cab-overs of most persuasions. It doesn’t take long to realise why the CF is DAF’s top seller.

Comfort in the DAF CF85 Cab

The relatively low-slung cab is available in slimline and sleeper form, the latter with a standard or raised roofline, and in all cases offers the easy entry and exit qualities deemed a prerequisite by most fleets, particularly in the local and regional fleet work DAF intends to target.

DAF CF85 cab

Class act. Ride quality, road manners and general handling of the CF85 on a demanding and diverse test route were first rate

Meanwhile, ride quality is first rate thanks to the combined qualities of a cab mounted on four coil springs, a front axle riding on long parabolic leaf springs and a back-end on Paccar’s popular Airglide eight-bag air suspension.

In fact, in any overall assessment of ride, road manners and general handling, including a great turning circle for manoeuvring in tight spots, the qualities of the CF85 on this exercise were exceptional and equal to any in the business. And I mean any!

Make no mistake, this is a nice truck to drive.

On the inside, the driver sits on a high-quality seat in a cockpit-style layout where gauges and switchgear are generally well placed. Though, like all trucks, familiarity takes a little time. At first glance, the trailer brake lever sticks out like a sore thumb, but its convenience for momentarily holding the truck at traffic lights and the like soon outweighs first impressions.

Of course, the relatively low stature of the cab also means there’s a substantial engine cowl, so getting in and out of the bunk is something of a managed movement. The bunk itself, however, is more than adequate for those occasions when you’re caught short of sleep or driving hours, or both.

Conclusion

There are plenty of other aspects about the CF85 worth a mention, like excellent forward vision and good mirrors, and a level of standard and optional features comparable to most European cab-overs competing in the same class. According to DAF’s inner circle, there are also the benefits of sharp pricing, long service schedules, generous warranty and financial packages all designed to give the brand something it has long lacked: appeal!

The key for DAF now, as general manager Rob Griffin consistently states, is to get backsides into the driver’s seat of the 510hp CF85 to not only demonstrate the new model’s merits but, perhaps more importantly, to add muscle to the message that the DAF of yesterday is long gone. 

The way he sees it, the truck will do the rest and, after putting this particular backside in the seat, it’s a message that comes through loud and clear.

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