The Australian requirements for a prime mover on Aussie roads are unlike those anywhere else in the world. We are also a relatively small prime mover market in the greater scheme of things, but every truck manufacturer likes to have a photo in their boardroom of their prime mover hauling a road train on a dusty red road in Australia’s outback. It infers ruggedness, durability and strength.
They have all had a crack at the market and have succeeded in one way or another. For the Japanese, however, the results have been patchy at best. The domestic Japanese heavy duty market does exist, but the heavy duty rigid is the dominant force at the heavy end of the weight range. There is also not much of a sleeper cabin tradition in Japan, most are fitted with something we would regard as an enhanced day cab.
All of the Japanese truck makers have offered a prime mover to the heavy duty market which has ticked some of the boxes in terms of Aussie requirements, but none have hit the mark squarely enough to have an impact.
Engines have not had enough power or torque, wheelbases have not been suitable to get maximum benefit in GCM terms. The marriage of the Roadranger gearbox and Japanese engine has not been one made in heaven, functional but not great. Cabins have been ordinary and often cramped. The trucks have been adequate for the task, but were up against the best North America and Europe could offer, and coming a distant third.
On the highway the UD Quon does demonstrate its strengths. This is a UD truck, so it sits down well on the road and gives the driver a relatively firm ride. The difference between the older models and this one become clear when manoeuvring. The steering is smooth positive and light, the influence of Swedish engineers in the steering system design.
The engine brake is a real engine brake, this is not a butterfly valve changing the engine note, this is a compression brake. At the top of a long descent this driver clicked the automated manual transmission (AMT) over to manual, selected a suitable gear and engaged the engine brake. The ability of the engine brake to hold back a fully loaded semi on a steepish grade was surprising. There are four stages available on the engine brake to give the driver some more control over speed of descent and engine revs.
The brake blending system is also in the European mode, touching the foot brake engages the exhaust brake, then the engine brake and then the service brakes, depending on how far the driver pushes the pedal when looking to slow the truck.
The Escot AMT shows its European pedigree by disengaging the clutch and allowing the engine to idle when the truck does not need engine power to maintain 100 km/h. This coasting feature is another of the modern fuel saving features coming into the Japanese truck sphere. Hill start assist is also included to make it easier when taking off on a slope.
This is one of those truck tests where the expectation of anything out of ordinary is quite low. This looks like the GW we have seen over the years. the familiar UD prime mover shape remains largely unchanged apart from features like the front grille and the headlights. These differences become much more obvious when the old and new are parked side by side.
Even climbing into the cab, the basic layout has changed little. Most of the controls, storage and so on, are in a familiar place. It’s when you get out on the road that the impact of the changes made really hit home. The ride is excellent, the steering spot-on, the transmission is virtually faultless.
The penny drops, this is a new truck. Then less obvious features like the coasting/rolling feature or the Traffic Eye come into play. The ACC makes life very easy for the driver, as long as it’s used properly. The engine brake also improves the driving experience, and if there were any doubts about the efficacy of this 11 litre engine in this environment, they are soon forgotten when the engine gets stuck in at the foot of a grade.
The truck starts to communicate with you, giving you a percentage score on your driving behaviour. It will also make recommendations, like suggesting the truck has been sitting at idle for too long. This is not the very basic UD prime mover from twenty years ago, this is a modern state-of-the-art truck, disguised as a Japanese one.