New Generation Argosy Dressed for Success

Freightliner’s new generation Argosy is finally out of the box and with a striking new appearance, new engine and driveline options, a stack of new and improved features, all wrapped in a swag of newfound confidence by the folks at Freightliner, this Argosy is already being hailed ‘the best yet’. And on first impressions, it appears to be exactly that. STEVE BROOKS reports.

JAWS Strikes

Make no mistake, the importance of the new Argosy to Freightliner’s Australian performance cannot be overstated. Sure, new conventional models led by the premium Coronado are the spearhead of a rejuvenated Freightliner assault on the Australian market and executives within Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific admit they’ll be going all out to increase the brand’s coverage in conventional classes.

But again, make no mistake, it’ll be Argosy which will continue to forge the foundation for Freightliner’s Australian presence. In fact, Argosy already accounts for around 50 percent of all Freightliner sales in this country and the likelihood is that even with an increase in conventional conquests, this vastly reinvented version will maintain the momentum by accounting for at least half of Freightliner’s business.

So what exactly makes Argosy so critical to Freightliner’s local fortunes and perhaps more to the point, so successful given its well documented periods of disappointing durability dilemmas?

When it’s all boiled down, the simple answer is B-doubles. Whereas its bonneted brothers vie for business in a heavy-duty market congested with a motza of models from fierce competitors like Kenworth, Mack, Western Star and Iveco, Argosy is one of just two US-sourced cab-overs battling primarily for domination of the linehaul B-double business. The other contender is, of course, Kenworth’s K-series and collectively their grip on B-double roles remains unrelenting despite the best efforts of European brands.

Likewise though, competition between Kenworth and Freightliner has been brutally intense almost from the moment Argosy first set rubber on Australian soil in the late ‘90s, effectively ending Kenworth’s monopoly as the only all-American cab-over on the market.

And to be blunt, Kenworth had plenty to worry about! Argosy, after all, was an American cab-over with an unusually high regard for driver comfort and convenience, and most important of all, provided proponents of US equipment with a long overdue alternative to the long-serving K-series.

However, Freightliner’s local euphoria was short-lived and unfortunately for both the brand and those who eagerly jumped at the newcomer, a litany of durability issues quickly subdued the early excitement. Worse, America was snail slow in delivering the necessary modifications and the model’s reputation took a severe hit, sending many Argosy buyers back to the Kenworth showrooms from whence they had come.

Quietly, Kenworth’s local executives wiped the nervous sweat from furrowed brows.

Yet despite Argosy’s problems, several evolutionary versions over the past decade have done much to build reassurance and keep the classy cab-over firmly in the minds of operators. Consequently, the contest for B-double domination between Argosy and K-series has for the most part remained a neck ‘n’ neck struggle, with Freightliner claiming an occasional sales edge over its arch rival. It’s fair to point out though that Kenworth also enjoys considerable B-double success with a couple of purposefully designed conventional models.

That aside, there’s no question the arrival of the latest and by far most radical version of Argosy has come at exactly the right time for Freightliner. For starters, Kenworth’s launch late last year of the hugely refashioned K200 was a major achievement, finally bringing K-series into the modern world from a driver comfort and convenience perspective, and subsequently narrowing the ergonomic chasm between the two cab-overs.

Yet possibly the most beneficial factor of the new Argosy’s release is that it ends the life of its immediate predecessor, a model which some sources say has been one of the most troublesome and damaging in Argosy’s local history. The trouble, however, arose not from any particular problem with the truck itself but rather, the Detroit Diesel Series 60 EGR engine under the cab.

To state a complex issue simply, Freightliner initially offered two engines in the previous Argosy – Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel, but following Cat’s callous departure from the truck engine business, Detroit’s 525 hp Series 60 EGR engine was left alone to do the hard yards. However, Series 60 and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) were never made for each other and the Series 60 developed to meet the 2008 ADR 80/02 emissions standard was simply one durability step too far for an engine which for more than three decades had faithfully served a massive army of Detroit Diesel customers. Sadly, the final version of the iconic engine which had originally created an entirely new chapter in diesel engine design and efficiency, was probably the worst.

But out of those ashes, and tailored to comply with current and future emissions regulations, has come the new Argosy with not only Detroit Diesel’s new DD15 engine but also the 15 litre Cummins ISX and Signature ratings. For its part, the DD15 produces up to 560 hp and 1850 lb ft of torque while in Signature form the Cummins can be specified to 600 hp and 2050 lb ft.

And therein is the new Argosy’s greatest asset over K200: The ability to offer the choice of two engines whereas Kenworth offers Cummins only.

What’s more, in an obvious bid to capitalise on the corporate kinship of Detroit Diesel and Freightliner in the Daimler empire, Freightliner’s local principals make no secret of the intention to offer Detroit-powered Argosys at a sharper price than their Cummins counterparts. Not only that, but the Detroit engine comes with a standard warranty package extending to five years or one million kilometres, and that includes injectors and turbocharger.

Behind the grille

Yet the all pervading feature of the new Argosy is of course the striking chromed grille. It’s huge, heralding a dramatic redesign driven by a clever combination of new initiatives and lessons learned. This truck is much, much more than simply a model makeover.

But apart from an aggressive, even intimidating design which has already led to nicknames like ‘Jaws’, ‘the cheese grater’ and ‘Transformer’, the prime role of such a gaping grin is obviously to allow massive volumes of air to flow through the radiator and charge-air cooler, and similarly, an easy exit for heat and noise from the engine cavity.

As for the radiator itself, at 1650 square inches it’s the biggest in Argosy’s history and substantially larger than the 1300 square inch radiator in the superseded model. However, it’s worth remembering that to meet the increased cooling requirements of EGR engines, the previous Argosy also employed a 500 square inch secondary core mounted inside the passenger side mudguard. By any estimation it was an ad hoc fix to a cooling constraint created by the previous model’s inability to house a larger single radiator. To overcome the problem, Freightliner engineers raised the cab of the new Argosy by 50 mm, thus providing adequate space for the bigger cooler.

Importantly, the radiator assembly is mounted directly to the engine which, according to Freightliner, allows it to flex in sync with the engine rather than endure the contortions of a chassis-mounted design. Also in the revised cooling package is an 11-blade fan with a reduced fan tip-to-shroud clearance and a larger header tank, all amounting to a system which is said to have easily met the high cooling standards of Cummins and Detroit Diesel, and providing ample reserve cooling capacity for engines to meet future emissions requirements.

Meanwhile, the chassis has been also bolstered with frame depth now out to 283 mm, giving the new Argosy a standard gross combination mass (GCM) rating up to 106 tonnes compared to its predecessor’s 90 tonnes. Additionally, chassis rails are now powder coated for better paint adhesion.

In the driveline department, Eaton’s 18-speed transmission in both manual and automated form is the standard stirrer but gratefully, automated options now include the substantially smarter Ultrashift-Plus version controlled through Freightliner’s clever Smartshift wand mounted on the steering column. The other automated option remains Eaton’s Autoshift which retains a clutch pedal for starting and stopping, but it’ll be interesting to see how long it stays on the books given the far superior performance of Ultrashift-Plus.

Also on clutches, the new Argosy uses a cable actuated clutch linkage instead of the previous model’s mechanical system.

At the front end, a FUPS under-run bar is now standard to achieve a 6.5 tonne front axle allowance. Accordingly, a Meritor MFS-16 front axle is the standard offering complete with heavier capacity wheel bearings while further back, Meritor’s ‘Permalube’ drivelines have also become part of the standard package.

Behind the cab, the diesel particulate filter/muffler assembly is mounted vertically on a stout gantry behind the cab, freeing space on the chassis for plentiful fuel capacity in either square or round tanks, with quad square tanks available for maximum fuel storage. Square tanks can be further optioned with step inserts for easy access onto the chassis.

Again according to Freightliner, a great deal of work has also gone into strengthening and streamlining Argosy’s electrical components and systems. Starting with new dash gauges and a 185 amp Leece Neville alternator, Argosy’s reworked electrical architecture includes a new centralised ‘PowerNet Distribution Box’ to manage all electrical functions between the chassis and cab, an isolation switch fitted as standard equipment, a temperature sealed battery carrier behind the cab, and extensive use of conduit to seal and protect major power cables.

As for the Argosy cab, it still tilts through a generous 75 degree angle, contains copious storage cavities, and has lost none of its qualities for space and function, remaining available as a comfortable 90 or 101 inch mid-roof sleeper, or as a roomy 110 inch mid-roof or high-roof layout, the latter intended largely for two-up driving roles. Of course, entry and exit are second to none thanks to the remarkable swing-out staircase which, although problematic in early stages of Argosy’s life, has become the benchmark for workplace safety when it comes to cab-over entry and exit. It is optionally available for the passenger side.

Similarly, doors have been improved with a firmer detente to minimise accidental closure while there are also twin seals for better insulation from noise and dust. Further inside, Freightliner’s EasyRider driver’s chair is now finished in a durable black cloth trim, dash components are injection moulded from virgin (rather than recycled) materials for far better fit and finish, while cosmetically, faux timber furnishings and ivory gauges promote a premium image.

However, on the outside there’s far more to the Argosy cab than an aggressive new grille design. In fact, facial features of the vehicle are new in almost every area, with US engineers making extensive use of Freightliner’s full-scale wind tunnel in Portland, Oregon, to optimise aerodynamic efficiency. ‘The Argosy is designed to be more aerodynamic than a square-fronted conventional, as its frontal surface is shaped to push airflow around the sides and over the top,’ states Freightliner’s promotional material. The shape and style of the sun visor, for example, were finalised only after extensive wind tunnel trials defined the design which worked best with the 24 degree rake of the windscreen.

Likewise, aerodynamics are also said to have played a significant role in the shape and style of the new headlights, bumper and corner cowlings. Similarly, large deflectors on the front quarters are designed ‘… to provide a blanket of air above the front wheels, blowing spray and grime away from mirrors.’

On much the same tack, Freightliner says the flared bodywork above the front wheels reduces road spray to the extent that it meets B-double requirements and negates the need for spray suppression whiskers.

For now, that largely sums up the major elements of the new Argosy, except to add Freightliner’s assertion that since early 2010 all aspects of the truck’s design were subjected to rigorous testing in the US including brutal cab shaker tests, severe hot weather trials on long grades at high weights, all equating to the equivalent of around 2.5 million kilometres of durability testing. 

But is it enough? Well, Australian conditions will let us know soon enough but on first impressions this bold new Argosy appears to have a lot to recommend it, not least a history where critical lessons have been endured, absorbed and now enacted.

Here, it seems, is an Argosy fully and finally capable of realising its true potential.

 

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