Shaking off the Shackles

The new-generation Mercedes-Benz trucks coming onto the market see the German brand shaking off the shackles of being a ‘niche’ truck brand and move into the mainstream.

For Australia, the models are being identified by their numbering, those which denote GVM and engine power, all the way from a 3263, 32-tonne GVM and 630hp, down to the 1630, 16-tonne GVM and 300hp. Benz is grouping them under the ‘new-generation’ banner, but the large prime movers are still referred to as Actros, the smaller 4×2 is still an Atego and the twin-steer models all come under the Arocs banner.

The twin-steer Arocs is instantly identifiable from its toothed grille, clearly differentiating it from the rest of the Actros range. This truck will give the Mercedes-Benz sales team a truck with which they can go to operators who consistently buy 8×4 trucks from other manufacturers, but have been unable to use the German maker’s trucks in the past, as they did not fit with the applications for which they were required.

The Arocs tested by Diesel News has the right dimensions and weight distribution to be able to work as a front-loading garbage compactor, plus many other applications, and looks likely to be able to find a home in some Australian fleets. This would have been unthinkable not that many years ago.

Sitting behind the wheel of this Arocs, the driver is holding a wheel showing off the excellent steering on this 8×4. It has been beefed up with more powerful assistance, making for quick and responsive turning, on a truck which could get up to its weights over the front axle, especially in applications like front loading compactor.

The cabin is called the Classic Space and is the just the right compromise between having enough room inside the cab, and the cabin floor not being too high off the ground. From this position the driver gets good visibility around the truck and is sitting high enough for highway driving.

Power comes from the 11-litre engine, the OM 470. In this case, we are driving a truck with the engine rated at 428hp (319kW), putting out 2,100Nm (1,550 ft lb) of torque. Other options available are the 394hp engine with 1,900Nm and the 455hp model with 2,200Nm available.

The engine features an asymmetrical turbo and, what Mercedes-Benz calls, the X-pulse variable high-pressure fuel injection system, where high fuel pressures in the common rail are varied by the injector itself.

The result is an engine which may appear lazy, but has plenty of low-down torque to keep the whole thing moving. These trucks need to be driven at a relatively low rpm level to get the best out of them. They are capable of holding onto a gear a lot lower in the rev range than many old-style drivers would allow.

To help resist the instinct to change down, the driver of these trucks simply has to put their trust in the 12-speed Powershift AMT. The changing is slick and well timed, there is little need to intervene out on the road. The gear controller, a stalk on the right-hand side of the steering column need only be touched when setting off or when transferring from forward to reverse.

There is little need to paddle the control up and down to manually take over gear shifting. The more effective method of control is to simply kick down through the detent on the accelerator to get a down change when climbing. Alternatively, when descending the lower gear, better deceleration from higher revs, can be achieved by simply pulling on the engine brake control with the gear control stalk.

Better still, set the speed limiter using the steering wheel buttons to set a sensible speed. This will remain dormant in normal driving, but on reaching the top of a descent, the driver simply hits the limiter-on button and the truck goes into a downhill mode. The AMT will start changing gears and activating the engine brake to achieve the desired speed.

A Little Big Truck

One of the innovations in the new-generation models is the uniformity of layout and style inside the cabs across the range. The Atego is now more like an Actros ‘mini-me’. It has smaller version of most of the major components on the bigger trucks. This scaling down means a driver jumping into any of the trucks in the Mercedes-Benz range is now greeted by a familiar look and feel, plus all of the controls are in the same location.

The Atego is a far more basic truck than its bigger siblings. It comes with one engine option, the 7.7-litre OM 936 with power at 299hp (223kW), and an adequate 1,200Nm (885 ft lb) of torque. This power is handled by the eight-speed Powershift AMT.

Although it uses a simpler specification set-up than the larger trucks, this model also feels like a contemporary and capable truck, with the extra sophistication you would expect from the German truck maker. Again, this engine will lug down low in the rpm range and keep pulling.