The Coronado 114 … a new dimension – driven by Steve Brooks

New Dimension - Lead 4WEBDeveloped exclusively for the Australian market, the importance of Coronado 114 to Freightliner’s local ambitions can’t be underestimated. But while it looks great on paper, one of the big questions is how it performs in the flesh. After a long wait, STEVE BROOKS finally gets to find out.

From first look at the specs and a ‘touchy feely’ preview of the truck in August last year at Freightliner’s truck plant in Charlotte, North Carolina, Coronado 114 not only had my complete attention, but also a big swag of optimism.

This is, after all, the first Freightliner since the launch here in the late ’80s of the original and remarkably durable FLC 112 model to be purposefully configured for the Australian (and New Zealand) market. Sure, the 114’s fundamental cues obviously come from the Coronado 122 flagship but unlike its longer sibling, the shortened version comes in righthand-drive form only and as senior Freightliner operatives in the US were quick to point out, there are no current plans to offer it anywhere beyond our part of the world.

Emphasising the point further, Freightliner executives both here and in the US denied even the slightest suggestion of the 114 being simply a cut down clone of its bigger brother. Indeed, Freightliner insists there were four distinct design goals for this truck, all determined by the specific needs of the Australian market: a set-forward front axle to facilitate weight distribution compliant with Australia’s unique bridge formulas; a shortened 114 inch (2896 mm) bumper to back-of-cab (BBC) dimension to maximise trailer length; a cab and hood arrangement to accommodate a big bore engine within the shortened BBC; and an overall design package catering for a wide range of configurations and applications.

In short, a model that filled a gaping hole in Freightliner’s local line-up. Or more precisely, a model that filled the void in Daimler’s Australian stable created by the corporate assassination five years ago of the Sterling brand, specifically the 113 inch (2870 mm) BBC of the under-rated HX 9500 model.

Yet achieving these design goals obviously demanded a series of critical engineering tasks. For starters, the front axle was moved to a position just 756 mm (less than 30 inches) behind the front bumper which provides a frontal overhang substantially less than even the Argosy cab-over.

Meantime, shortening the BBC meant raising the aluminium cab about 50 mm (two inches) – a move which also provided significant cab and engine cooling advantages – and pushing it forward by around 200 mm (eight inches), thus allowing a big bore engine under a significantly shorter, steeper, one-piece fibreglass hood.

At this point it’s also worth noting that while both 114 and 122 Coronados carry a standard gross combination mass (GCM) rating of 106 tonnes, the 122 is available in ‘Severe Duty’ form and subsequently specified for GCMs up to 140 tonnes. However, as it stands at the moment, maximum GCM of the 114 will remain at 106 tonnes.

Parental power

It surprised no one, of course, that the first engine chosen for installation in the 114 was the 14.8 litre DD15 from corporate partner Detroit, rated up to 560 hp. What did surprise though was the announcement that the EGR-equipped DD15 would be the only engine available in the new model and unlike its Argosy and Coronado 122 colleagues, there would be no 15 litre Cummins ISX or Signature option in the stumpy conventional.

At the unveiling of 114 in the US last year, Freightliner’s local leaders – namely Daimler Trucks commercial vehicle managing director Kolja Rebstock and national sales boss Gary Wheatley – insisted that strong operator demand would be the only motivation for even considering the introduction of a Cummins option. More recently, both say there has been next to no call for the red engine so the likelihood of a Cummins implant now appears more remote than ever.

Of course, the Cummins absence precludes the availability of a 600 hp rating in the shorter Coronado but that may prove to be temporary with Detroit’s 15.6 litre DD16 SCR engine lurking in the shadows. In fact, we’ve already driven a trial DD16 at 600 hp in a Coronado 122 and with the engine sharing the same external dimensions as the DD15, it’s probably not a major engineering feat to fit the ’16 under the 114 snout. What’s more, engines with SCR emissions systems run cooler than their EGR counterparts, so cooling a 600 hp DD16 in the shorter Coronado for GCMs up to 106 tonnes probably wouldn’t be an issue.

And on the subject of cooling, a completely redesigned cooling package was developed for the 114. As we reported early this year, ‘Whereas the Coronado 122 runs a 1900 square inch radiator to meet the cooling requirements of a truck with up to 600 hp (Cummins) hauling gross weights to 140 tonnes, the 114 is fitted with a new 1700 square inch core which comfortably surpasses the model’s cooling needs and importantly retains Freightliner’s clever engine-mounted assembly for the radiator. Also retained are a nine-blade fan and one-piece shroud, with an air-to-oil transmission cooler forming part of the frontal cooling package.’

Development also included dual steering boxes mounted outboard of the chassis rails, revised mounts for the repositioned cab, and dual exhaust stacks mounted to the cab on slimline versions and on the leading edges of the bunk structure on sleeper models. There’s also an optional under-chassis single exhaust for specific applications but whether underneath or external, Freightliner’s exhaust design delivers a remarkably clear area at the back of the cab.

Importantly, plenty of attention was given to the routing and fixing of all hoses and electrical lines in a concerted effort to enhance reliability.

Additionally, the stylish chrome grilles on each side of the hood provide twin air intakes to the engine while up front the headlight and turn indicator are encased in the same housing rather than separate fittings. It’s understood the same light arrangement is now also being introduced on the 122 model.

At the pointy end, a front under-run bar sits behind a flat 400 mm (16 inch) deep chrome bumper, with Freightliner emphasising that both bar and bumper were developed to allow the front axle to be positioned as far forward as possible.

Likewise, fuel capacity was high on the agenda with a new underslung chassis crossmember purposefully designed to enhance tank combinations. Recent information from Freightliner shows tank arrangements totalling over 1800 litres on a long wheelbase 114 equipped with the premium 58 inch XT sleeper, and more than 1300 litres on a 5.15 wheelbase with the 34 inch mid-roof bunk. While we’re on the subject, 114 wheelbases run from 4.6 to 5.15, 5.3 and 5.6 metres.

Yet the 34 and 58 inch sleepers are the only two lengths offered on the model and it might surprise some that the 48 inch bunk available on the 122 is not carried over to the 114. Explaining the decision, Freightliner contends the 48 inch sleeper simply isn’t needed, with the shorter BBC of the 114 allowing the spacious 58 inch bunk to be used without detriment to trailer length in equivalent applications with the 122. Importantly, there’s said to be only a slight increase in tare weight with the bigger bunk on the 114 compared to a 122 with the 48 inch sleeper.

Meanwhile, on first impressions it can easily appear that 34 pallet B-double roles were Freightliner’s sole reason for development of the 114. But it obviously hadn’t escaped the brand’s attention that trucks such as Kenworth’s reborn SAR have achieved great success in applications requiring a conventional truck with a front axle pushed as far forward as possible. Consequently, while 34 pallet B-doubles are certainly on Freightliner’s hit list with the 114, company sources are keen to emphasise the new model’s suitability for everything from long single trailers out to 14.6 and even 14.9 metres (48 ft and 49 ft respectively), to 19 metre ‘pocket’ B-doubles, and truck and quad-dog applications where a set-forward front axle offers maximised weight distribution. And again on first impressions, it appears Freightliner has done its work well in developing a truck that fills and exceeds the void left by Sterling’s HX 9500.

According to the sales pitch, 114 also comes with significant advantages over cab-overs (including Argosy) specified for similar roles. Not least are better entry/exit to the cab than a ‘typical’ cab-over and perhaps most surprising of all, Freightliner’s contention that 114 is ‘safer in a head-on collision.’ Meanwhile, several sources have confirmed the new conventional also comes with a substantially sharper price over an Argosy equivalent, to the tune of more than $50,000 in one example.

By comparison though, development work on the interior appears to have been minimal. Still, there are at least new seats with integrated seatbelts and better adjustment controls, and in non-sleeper models there’s an optional ‘in cab’ battery storage arrangement under a wide, flat passenger seat which is said to save around 20 kg in tare weight over the standard battery cradle mounted outboard on the passenger side chassis rail. Obviously, the in-cab battery layout also frees chassis space for other items … maybe an AdBlue tank for an SCR engine!

Apart from these features though, along with effective cup holder ‘implants’ and a sporty white face on gauges, the 114’s interior layout remains largely derived from Freightliner’s Century Class.

Roadwork

Given that our first look at Coronado 114 was in August last year and repeated requests for a test drive on home soil were met with endless assurances of “soon”, the wait of almost nine months was a tad frustrating after so much early interest in the model. It’s to be hoped delivery times to customers will be somewhat shorter.

Still, at long last a well presented Coronado 114 with 15,000 km under its belt recently stood ready and waiting at Daimler Trucks’ Huntingwood dealership in Sydney’s western outskirts. Hooked to a Vawdrey curtain-sided B-double set, the complete outfit stretched just inside the 26 metre length limit and after contending with Sydney’s suburban chaos, the combination was run a few hundred kilometres down the Hume, then turned around and headed back to Huntingwood.

But even before turning the key, there are a couple of things about the truck that are undeniably confounding. For instance, the big, deep chrome bumper looks great and will certainly appease those with a liking for all things ‘Americana’, but from a more fiscal perspective it offers all the aerodynamic efficiency of a house brick. Consequently, the bumper’s impact on fuel economy surely must be negative, particularly at highway speeds. Meantime, comments about the slab bumper made last year at the US unveiling of the model obviously fell on either deaf or indifferent ears.

Freightliner, of course, isn’t alone in offering such a blunt bumper but when the brand’s ownership and promotion of North America’s only full-scale wind tunnel at headquarters in Portland, Oregon, is taken into account, it seems remarkable that a more efficient design wasn’t created. Go figure!

Moving on, it’s an easy climb into the cab and with a wide array of seat adjustments and an air adjustable tilt and telescopic steering column, it doesn’t take long to find a comfortable perch behind the wheel. But seriously, in an otherwise well appointed and relatively upmarket cab, the fitting of a budget plastic steering wheel hub is completely out of sync with the general standard of cab appointments. It is, in fact, beyond comprehension.

A cynic might suggest that because Coronado 114 was developed for Australia only, the classy chrome and leather-wrapped wheel fitted standard in the 122 model – which is sold in both Australia and the US – simply wasn’t warranted in the 114. But not being a cynic, I’ll suggest it’s just an unfortunate oversight and with a little encouragement Freightliner will soon be fitting the premium wheel to its newest model.

Fortunately, that’s largely where the gripes end and from here on it’s a report of a truck that this driver found a delight to drive.

It starts with a 5150 mm (203 in.) wheelbase, a cab attached to a 34 inch mid-roof sleeper, and a Detroit DD15 fuelled to deliver maximum outputs of 560 hp and 1850 lb ft into an Eaton RTLO-20918 18-speed overdrive manual shifter. Performance goes to the ground through a Meritor RT46-160GP tandem running a 4.3:1 final drive ratio, riding on Freightliner’s popular AirLiner airbag rear suspensioin.

Up front, a Meritor FG941 steer axle rides on taper leaf springs while fuel is contained in three cylindrical tanks – twin 378 litres on the driver’s side and a single 567 litre on the passenger side just rearward of the battery box. Alcoa rims shod with Michelin rubber were fitted all-round.

According to a helpful attendant at Marulan weighbridge, the combination grossed 57.84 tonnes with splits of 5.66 tonnes over the steer, 16.22 tonnes on the drive and 18.08 and 17.88 tonnes respectively on first and second tri-axle sets.

In overall performance terms, the truck rates extremely well and hauling along the Hume with 100 km/h ticking over at a tad under 1650 rpm, steering quality was one of the stand-out attractions. Direct and precise, there’s absolutely no inkling of kick-back through the wheel and overall road handling earns top marks.

Likewise, ride quality rates well while forward vision over the drooping snout is appreciably improved over its longer nosed sibling, with electrically adjustable mirrors including spotters providing a good view rearward. Gratefully, there was no vibration of the mirror heads.

Again, it’s easy to find a good driving position and seats provide firm support without being so hard to cause a numb bum, while line of sight to gauges and switchgear is clear and uncluttered. Critically, the integrated seatbelt is comfortable even when the seat’s going through its motions on rough roads.

However, rougher concrete sections of the Hume extracted an occasional banging of something on the underside of the passenger floor which to my mind was probably due more to a service or maintenance oversight than an intrinsic flaw.

As for stick work, gearshifts are sharp and direct with the lever ideally placed, at least for this driver. Also from a personal perspective, space and features in the 34 inch mid-roof sleeper appear more than adequate for one-up linehaul work. There’s ample storage space above and below the bunk and while anyone shorter than six foot will have no trouble standing upright, I’d be surprised if even the lofty types will get the feeling of being jammed into a tin.

Noise levels were, however, perhaps greater than expected, particularly considering Freightliner’s claims for high levels of sound and heat insulation under the 114. The thing is though, the engine in this truck sounded and performed noticeably ‘different’ to previous stints behind a DD15.

And as later discussions would divulge, this engine had in fact received Detroit’s newest electronic calibration, apparently refining performance and efficiency standards to new levels. The result is a deeper rumble and a bolder energy than those recalled from earlier experiences, leading to a performance which on the long southbound drag up Catherine Hill near Mittagong saw the truck briefly drop to 13th gear at 1400 rpm on the steepest pinch before picking up the pace with a split up to 14th.

Given the overall standard of performance, I’d be happy to keep the rumble.

Meanwhile, at the end of more than 400 km up and down the Hume, fuel economy of 1.57 km/litre (4.4 mpg) was probably reasonable, particularly with such a large flat plank of bumper bulldozing its way through the air.

So in conclusion, Freightliner’s Coronado 114 is a truck I found easy to like from the driver’s chair. Sure, there are undoubtedly a few features that could (and should) be improved and a few tweaks to detail that wouldn’t go astray, but the design goals have been largely met and with the right levels of support, this is a model with the inherent fundamentals to fill a big blank in the brand’s book.

From here on, the ball is squarely in Freightliner’s court.

 

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