Test Drive

Test driving the new Kenworth K220 cabover

When you get to drive a pre-production truck you have to expect that some things won’t quite fit, other things don’t quite work, and squeaks, rattles and fizzes haven’t quite been ironed out. That was certainly the case with the new K220 Kenworth I drove from Perth to Coolgardie earlier this month. 

There were two trucks on the run, an auto with a single trailer and a manual with a ginormous 2.8-metre sleeper, both used for dealer launch demos around the country. The manual was bobtail, so I avoided that like the plague.

With only one trailer, itself lightly loaded, the new K barely raised a sweat on the largely flat run to the Goldfields. The run was only interrupted by a couple of meal and photography stops, so after an uneventful six hours or so, I rolled into Coolgardie where the trucks headed right for Adelaide and I headed left for Kalgoorlie airport.

WA writer David Meredith found the new dash as good as it gets.

Of course, each stop was punctuated by other truckies who all wanted a piece of the new model. Everyone in the park-ups were drawn to the rig, emblazoned with Kenworth’s “Next Level” marketing message for the K220. And they all wanted a cockpit tour, which Kenworth’s regional sales manager Anthony Spence-Fletcher was happy to provide, along with commentary on the new features.

Most were impressed, but the indicated price put a couple off. Those operators will need to be taken on a deep dive into whole-of-life cost by their local Kenworth sales dude before opting for a cheaper alternative.

Even considering the pre-production foibles, the drive itself illustrated the yawning gap that still remains between the cab experience of this truck compared to the latest Europeans. With a cab outline and structure that is several decades old, it’s to be expected.

Of course, the Euros are all brand new cabs from the ground up and are designed for cruising continental Europe at 90km/h with a single trailer, while connected to massive electronic infrastructure pinpointing every turn of the wheels. But the design effort put into noise and vibration suppression allows you to have a pleasant conversation at normal room volume at any speed, under load or otherwise.

Not so in the K220. As always, the 550hp Cummins sounds like a chaffcutter, and the suspension reports all road irregularities directly to the steering wheel. This pre-production model was obviously ‘looser’ than the first production trucks due off the line next year, but some of the wind noise and component clatter was generic to the K Series and will be no surprise to seasoned operators. 

The major mechanical upgrade was the lighter, smoother Eaton Endurant XD Pro automated manual, which shifted between cogs with its usual efficiency, but with faster changes to smooth out the torque interruption. 

Using the manual mode on the few hills we encountered was easy to manage and allowed me to optimise fuel usage. There is more room for the driver too, and as with all K Series driver placement is as far to the RHS of the truck as you can get.

A new grille optimises cooling and there are LED headlights. The roof and fairings have been smoothed out to reduce drag, and wheel arches changed to reduce spray into the engine compartment.

The two K220s on the run drew plenty of attention from admiring truckies.

There is still acres of room in the cab – 1.88m tall Spence-Fletcher had no trouble standing up between the seats. Certainly, a life on the road will not be cramped in the K220.

Spence-Fletcher’s main job was to orient me to the new truck’s electronic features. It’s been a long road for Kenworth to assimilate the kind of digital technology that its stablemate DAF already has, but the wait has been worth it. 

A combination of radar and camera images is juggled by some tricky software that generates all the alerts and warnings that are now standard equipment on longhaul cab-over prime movers. 

I got beeped a lot for lane deviation until I factored in my seating position being much closer to the truck’s offside boundary. Even then the alert was perhaps too finely tuned – it got its knickers in a twist over bitumen seals and the like. But that’s some fine-tuning that Kenworth’s engineers will take care of with the volumes of driver feedback they’re gathering from the round Australia demos currently in progress.

There’s a massive 15” high-definition instrument panel that is switchable between displays. 

As usual now, exceptions to normal operating are displayed for attention, and the display includes features that many drivers will gradually get used to, in particular the driver performance and coaching tools that help make a big difference to fuel efficiency and component life. Additionally, there’s an 8” audio visual navigation unit that handle all your comms. 

Physical gauges are an option if you want to clutter up the new wrap-around dash. System switches are now in clusters that can be removed to shift switches for driver preference. I found the new set-up as good as it gets – didn’t have to stretch or look away from the road for anything important. 

The new grille optimises cooling and there are LED headlights.

The K Series engine brake was especially effective. Not as good as a retarder of course but Spence-Fletcher made the point that the combination of a driver who drives well ahead of themselves and the two-stage engine brake will minimise service brake use anyway. I’m pretty set on a retarder for B-double work and above, but Anthony pointed out that a retarder’s space and weight impact prompts many Kenworth customers to work without it.

Certainly, the transmission’s connection to the auxiliary brake was helpful, particularly as the first two clicks on the engine brake lever were followed by a spring-loaded additional click which instantly dropped down a gear.

The adaptive cruise was effective, as all these systems are now, and happily avoided any false readings from signs that would slam the brakes on for no reason.

Down the road, an overnight run would be good to assess the new cab, but so far there is no doubt that for Kenworth devotees the changes will be received with enthusiasm. And that’s already happening. 

Delivery is more than two years away, and those with K200 orders are being given the opportunity to convert their orders to the K220. 

A no-brainer, if ever there was one.

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