UD Condor

It’s the range of trucks UD needed, and needed badly. Yet the arrival of the medium-duty Condor line-up marks more than just a sharp new spearhead for a brand which has long languished on the lower rungs of the competition ladder. Critically, Condor also reflects the reinvention of UD from a tired, stale outfit to a smart, modern enterprise fashioned for the future. STEVE BROOKS reports.     

Back in the Game

It could be argued, of course, that UD has never been out of the game. In fact, operating under the direction of different distributors over the course of its Australian career, UD has been in the business of selling trucks in this country for a long time indeed.

What’s more, the early days were particularly encouraging and through the late ‘70s when all Japanese brands were forging their futures, particularly in light and medium-duty markets, UD was the only Japanese truck to also crack some semblance of respectability in the heavy-duty class. Sure, it wasn’t without its issues at times but overall, the cornerstone was being laid for a reputation of simple, uncompromising reliability which would stand the brand in good stead for decades to come.

Since those formative years though, UD has occasionally found itself rumbling over a very rough road. For some obscure reason, former parent company Nissan Diesel had never shown any desire to take direct control of its Australian offshoot and for the most part appeared content to let the brand sink or swim under the tutelage of distributors. And the apparent apathy showed, most notably during those lacklustre years when UD’s local fortunes were in the hands of the Marubeni Corporation, a giant Japanese trading company with little interest in truck development but a blatant, cold concern for the bottom line.

The simple reality is that despite the determined efforts and urgings of the brand’s Australian operatives, UD’s reputation, ranking and model range sank to dark depths under Marubeni control. And obviously, with Nissan Diesel’s full knowledge. The writing was subsequently on the wall: With the market’s wooden spoon firmly in hand and a quickly tiring model range, UD was becoming an increasingly insignificant player in a game of brutal conquest.

Then, salvation! In its ongoing quest for global greatness, the Volvo Group in 2006 took control of Nissan Diesel. It was the event that set UD on an exciting new path and by March 2007, after a confusing and somewhat long-winded integration process, the Australian operation formally became a member of the Volvo gang. So, after many years of wailing in the woods, the local entity finally found itself with a direct link to Japan, free of the vested interests of a mercenary middle man.

Consequently, the company now known as UD Trucks is a much different beast to anything that has gone before it, exuding an energy and optimism rarely seen in a brand of such modest market prominence.

However, nothing reflects the changes or the newfound optimism in the UD camp more than the actual trucks. It all started, of course, with the Australian launch in 2008 of the heavy-duty GW and GK models now grouped under the Quon nameplate alongside a reborn CW unit. Yet as important as the new heavyweights are to UD’s hopes, and the fact that UD has been the top-selling Japanese truck above 350 hp for the past six years, it’s the medium-duty MK and PK Condors which will have the greatest impact by offering the greatest potential for increased volumes.

And where Condor’s concerned, the focus is sharp and clear. With modern styling, strong performance and an enviable array of new features, it takes only a quick scan to accept that the newcomers are an ideal antidote to the aged design and modest abilities of the outdated models which had been doing UD’s medium-duty bidding for nigh on 15 years.

Heart of the matter

Like their Quon kin, the Condors are obviously configured for Euro 5 compliance and are the first Japanese medium-duty trucks to employ an SCR (selective catalytic reduction) emissions system. What’s more, UD boasts its new trucks do not require a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to meet Euro 5 and will need little adjustment – other than probably the addition of a DPF – to achieve Euro 6 compliance in years to come. Most important of all though, it’s an emissions system developed around UD’s own engine rather than the Hino-sourced unit powering previous MK and PK models.

As we reported in our July-August issue this year, the heart of the Condors is ‘ … a new 7.0 litre SCR engine designed, developed and manufactured by UD, and finally ending the strange situation which for many years saw arch rival Hino supplying the power for UD’s middleweight models.
‘The new engine is called ECO Fleet and reflects the Japanese brand’s critical involvement in Volvo engine development, specifically in mid-range displacements.’

As UD explained, ‘ECO Fleet is a six cylinder, common rail turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine … easily meeting Euro 5 emissions levels without sacrificing engine durability or oil change intervals.’
Furthermore, MK and PK Condors share many components other than the engine. Both use, for example, a 50 litre AdBlue tank claimed to provide an estimated range exceeding 2500 km for MK models and 2000 km for PKs while the standard interval between engine oil changes is set at 30,000 km.

Meanwhile, diesel fuel capacity on all models is 200 litres with a 400 litre option on some long wheelbase PKs. On wheelbases, the choice is plentiful and squarely aimed at satisfying the bulk of medium-duty needs with MKs offering lengths in numerous increments from 3770 to 5500 mm and PKs from 4500 to 6450 mm.

Furthermore, UD says chassis strength has been significantly increased with new materials, design and construction techniques delivering a 22 percent increase in chassis strength in all models except the longest wheelbase (6450 mm) PK. In this model, chassis strength is said to be only modestly increased but importantly, it comes with a 50 kg weight saving.
In performance terms, the engine known as the GH7 comes in two standard ratings available in both MK and PK models: 180 kW (241 hp) at 2500 rpm with 716 Nm (528 lb ft) of torque at 1400 rpm, and a healthy 206 kW (276 hp) and 883 Nm (651 lb ft) also delivered at 2500 and 1400 rpm respectively.

What’s more, there are three distinct models in each of the MK and PK ranges and along with manual transmissions, UD has wisely retained models in both line-ups fitted standard with an Allison automatic transmission. Most models are also available with the choice of leaf spring or airbag rear suspensions.

In the MK line-up are two versions of the MK 11 250, each powered by the 180 kW engine but separated by the choice of a six-speed manual box or Allison’s 2500 series five-speed auto. The third member is the MK 11 280 with the 206 kW engine and six-speed manual stirrer. All MKs have a gross vehicle mass (GVM) rating of 11 tonnes.

The PKs start with the 180 kW PK 16 250 model equipped with the Allison 2500 series five-speed auto and carrying a GVM rating of 15 tonnes. Then comes the PK 16 280 with a leaf-spring rear suspension and a GVM of 16 tonnes, followed by its airbag equivalent, the PK 17 280 with a GVM of 16.5 tonnes. These latter two models are obviously powered by the 206 kW engine and are offered with the choice of six-speed or Eaton nine-speed manual boxes, or Allison’s 3000 series six-speed automatic.

At this stage, however, all Condors are 4×2 only. According to our sources, a 6×2 derivative is definitely on the wish list but is currently unavailable due to the use of taper-roller brakes on the trucks and the lack of a ‘lazy’ axle supplier offering the taper-roller design. According to the same sources though, Japan is working on development of its own lazy axle fitted with taper-roller stoppers but it could be some time yet before it eventuates.

Further down the track, we understand a PK 6×4 version is also in the pipeline, powered by the current 206 kW rating or later, a version of the GH7 with up to 246 kW (330 hp) and 1250 Nm (922 lb ft) of torque.
Still, the initial absence of a three-axle Condor is almost certain to incite claims by some competitors and critics that UD’s medium-duty line-up is too narrow to do any significant damage to the market shares of competitors boasting a far wider line-up of medium-duty models.  On first appearances though, it could prove to be a lame claim because what the range may lack in numbers it appears to make up for with cleverly specified trucks capable of meeting the needs of most of the people, most of the time. 

Indeed, typifying the broad appeal of the new models, along with demonstrating superb road manners and potent performance standards, were the six test units assembled near Maroochydore on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. They were ….
• MK 11 250 – a six-speed manual model mounted on an airbag rear suspension, running through a 4.111:1 rear axle on 235/75R 17.5 tyres. Fitted with a 10 pallet FRP body, the truck was loaded to a gross weight of 10.18 tonnes.
• MK 11 250 – this version ran the same diff ratio, tyres and airbag suspension but stirred through an Allison five-speed automatic transmission and was fitted with a 10 pallet curtain-sider loaded to a gross weight of 10.56 tonnes.
• PK 16 250 – powered by the 180 kW engine mated to Allison’s five-speed auto, this unit drove through a 5.143:1 rear axle ratio mounted on an airbag suspension. Carrying a 12 pallet curtain-sided body, the unit was loaded to 13.42 tonnes.
• PK 17 280 – UD supplied three versions of this model, starting with a six-speed manual running a slow 5.875:1 diff ratio, followed by a nine-speed manual with a 4.111:1 final drive cog, and a six-speed Allison auto feeding into a 5.143:1 diff ratio. All were fitted with 12 pallet curtain-sided bodies sitting on airbag rear suspension. Their respective loaded weights were 13.68, 13.65, and 13.04 tonnes.

Roadworks

UD’s day-long drive program covered close to 300 km and whether intended or not, reflected the justifiable confidence in the new models by traversing a demanding range of conditions from open freeway cruising to rough country backroads, suburban crawls and the fiercely steep grades of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Across the board, performance and road manners of the trucks were supremely impressive. The lone exception was an MK unit in need of a wheel alignment but this aside, it didn’t take long behind the wheel to accept that UD designers have done a superb job of bringing the brand’s medium-duty models into the modern world.

Styling and looks are, of course, a largely personal judgement but in our estimation the Condor cab is a fresh, strong design, built to the ECE-r29 cab strength standard and encasing entirely new levels of refinement, comfort and practical efficiency. Nothing appears to have been overlooked, right down to a deeper bumper on PK models which provides an attractive shroud over the FUPS – front under-run protection – bar which is now standard to provide the PK with a 6.5 tonnes front axle rating.
Also under the front end is a particularly important improvement in the form of a new oil-to-water heat exchanger for auto transmission cooling, replacing the ungainly and easily damaged twin coolers mounted outboard on the chassis on previous models.

Surprisingly though, the electronic hill-start function fitted standard to MK manual models is absent on manual PKs. Choosing his words carefully, it was a somewhat sheepish Mark Hammond who explained that although the highly useful hill-start function was requested for both MK and PK derivatives, Japan somehow overlooked its inclusion on PK models. “It’ll be addressed,” Hammond said simply.

Fortunately, an SRS driver’s side airbag is a standard fitment in both Condor models as well as the heavy-duty Quon range, and apart from being an applaudable initiative, it’s also said to be a first on UD export models. Also on the safety front, ABS anti-lock is a standard item across the range.
What’s more, and despite the exclusion of the hill-start function on PK models, Mark Hammond was quick to acknowledge Japan’s commitment to Australian requirements, noting that even cab step heights have been tailored to enhance Condor’s OH&S attributes for local conditions. Indeed, entry and exit from both sides of the cab is sublimely straightforward.
Meanwhile, on the inside it’s an entirely new landscape. For starters, a deeper windscreen and heated, electronically adjustable side mirrors provide excellent all-round vision which can be further improved with the option of up to three reversing cameras. Spotter mirrors are also standard but on the test trucks they were strangely fitted above the main mirrors rather than below. Again, it’ll be addressed according to UD.

The dash layout is smart, neat and entirely new, and the overall layout of switchgear and controls – including the gearshift on manual models – is first-rate. Additionally, there’s plenty of storage space for the paperwork and odds and sods that need to find a home in most truck cabs, while behind the seats there’s enough space for a snooze if the need strikes and the torso isn’t too tubby. Sure, it’s an accredited sleeper bunk but like most trucks in this class, it’s not a place where you’d like to spend more than a few hours.

Particularly pleasing though is a new driver’s seat. According to UD, the new seat is ‘… designed by CVG, the largest commercial seat manufacturer in the world, it features a seven position adjustable seat damper, which allows the driver to tailor ride comfort by easily adjusting a shock absorber mechanism.
‘Other adjustments available on the seat include mechanical height, tilt, seat cushion slide and lumbar control. Catering for taller drivers, the head rest is also approximately 80 mm higher than in previous offerings, while the design allows for 25 mm more leg room.’ All up, the new seat a major and long overdue improvement while further down the track, UD says it will be able to offer an optional air-suspended seat for the passenger side.
It’s worth noting, too, that in a clever bid to provide the little things that count, behind the panel in front of the passenger seat is additional wiring for in-cab extras that a driver may want to fit such as a UHF radio or the like. It’s only a small thing but nonetheless thoughtful. 

Still on the inside, a new touch-screen multimedia entertainment and information system is now a standard feature in all Condor and Quon models. And make no mistake, this remarkably useful system is no gimmick. Comprising a typical AM/FM radio and CD player, the system contains USB, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity with a NavTeq satellite navigation system.

But it’s not until someone like Jeff Gibson from UD’s engineering department demonstrates the features and easy familiarity of the system that a true appreciation for its practical abilities becomes blatantly apparent. As just one example, the system will not only show where the nearest AdBlue outlets are from the truck’s current position, but also provide the most direct route applicable to the configuration of the vehicle. For instance, by entering the length and type of the vehicle, the appropriate route for a B-double or a dangerous goods unit will be provided which, in most cases, will be substantially different to that suggested for a rigid vehicle. It is a truly valuable piece of equipment and certainly worth the relatively short time it takes to become familiar with its features and operation. And as mentioned earlier, it can be optioned with up to three external cameras for 360 degree vision around the truck.
On another tack, Condors also offer a rear engine power take-off (PTO) option which UD says can be fitted to any transmission or wheelbase, and with output torque 75 percent higher than in previous models. Also, the PTO is available with under-drive or overdrive output speeds.
Meanwhile, performance standards of the Condors on the drive program were exceptionally strong at their tested weights. Both 180 kW and 206 kW GH7 ratings, whether operating through an Allison auto or the six or nine-speed manual boxes, and working under the various road conditions of the test route, portrayed smooth, responsive and strong qualities with none of the sluggish traits of UD’s previous medium-duty models.
In short, at their tested weights the new trucks lacked nothing in the grunt department and unlike their predecessors, appear to have more than enough muscle in reserve to comfortably cope with the eventual introduction of an extra axle.

However, the sharp and supremely intuitive traits of the five and six-speed Allison autos are as blatantly evident in the new range as they were in the past. It’s just that this time they’re performing in a vastly more modern and potent package.

As for road manners and general driving impressions, the new UDs win high marks. Ride, steering quality and overall driver comfort which obviously includes interior noise levels, all rate highly and are at least the equal of their Japanese rivals. In fact, Condor is a medium-duty truck which for the first time in a very long time provides UD with the clear and present potential to give the market’s main players a serious run for their money.

What’s more, UD’s confidence extends to far more than just words. As Brett Samuel, general manager of the brand’s after-sales division explained, UD is for the first time offering a package of service agreements additional to a standard warranty package of three years or 200,000 km on the PK range and three years or 150,000 km on the MKs. These can be optioned out to five years or 350,000 km and five years or 300,000 km on the PK and MK respectively.

Be in no doubt, UD is back in the game.

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