It was a Friday morning and I’ve hooked up Freightliner to cruise three hours from Melbourne to Horsham in Victoria’s central west to pick up the latest iteration of the Cascadia where it had been showing off at the Horsham Field Days.
This particular Cascadia is the 126 version with a 36-inch bunk, replete with the mandatory bull bar – if not by law, by common sense, if you want to keep your nose the right shape.
With this setup Freightliner have gone the ‘whole nine yards’, or more specifically, the whole 26 metres to come up with a combination that makes the most effective use of bonneted prime mover and trailer combo with a bunk that will fit most drivers.
Whilst Cascadia can be ordered with up to a 60” sleeper, that iteration is going to severely test Australia’s 26-metre rule.
So, Freightliner came up with the perfect compromise. Let’s not forget that whilst we’d all like the most spacious prime mover our pockets will allow, it’s the cargo that makes the money.
More cargo, more dosh. Simples. Until the current laws catch up with sensibility, compromise is mandatory – which is why so many cab overs are out there pulling B-dubs.
But hey, there are some out there for whom nothing will do unless it’s got a bonnet on it. It’s called freedom of choice, and it’s these folk to whom the 126/34 pallet Cascadia is aimed.
As mentioned, the bullbar is a necessary inclusion and there were a few internal doubts as to whether the combo would be possible, so Freightliner went to Krueger Trailers who said, “No problem.”
And here we are this Friday morning with the result.
With the Cascadia’s obsession with aerodynamics, the shape of the truck is very different to its predecessor, the Coronado, and Daimler admit that they lost a few customers that they’d have liked to have brought along with the changes.
That said, the truck has been adopted by a pile of new customers, who’ve never had a Cascadia before and in many cases not been with the Freightliner brand at all.
That they love the Cascadia is reflected in the high proportion of buyers who tip their toe in the water, buying one truck and then returning to buy more.
That Cascadia is the biggest selling truck in America – the land of massive wheel-based, blunt-nosed behemoths – should also not go unnoticed.
Why is it so? ‘FUEL ECONOMY,’ he shouts in capital letters.
Work all you like on producing better engines that use less fuel – and Freightliner have done just that with their excellent 16-litre DD16 Detroit engine putting out 600hp and 2800Nmm mated to an also excellent Detroit DT12, 12-speed AMT gearbox – but you’ve got to push all that metal through the air at 100km/h, and a big blunt nose is going to drink fuel like a drunken sailor does rum.
The Cascadia runs parabolic springs on the steer axle and airbags on the drive. There’s a full suite of safety systems on board with Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and all the other acronyms you can think of.
Side Guard Assist, which lets you ‘see’ down the left-hand side of the truck, is an option that is becoming more popular, especially with fleets.
Sitting in the background as another part of the safety pack is Active Brake Assist or ABA.
The Cascadia’s radar is looking ahead all the time as is the camera, and if there is a potential collision the truck will warn the driver.
If the driver doesn’t intervene by changing lanes or applying the brakes, the truck will continue to warn them and if nothing eventuates it will go into a partial brake mode followed by full autonomous emergency braking. The truck will be doing its best to prevent nasty outcomes.
No one can prevent an accident completely but it is all about mitigation. That’s why Freightliner use the term mitigation rather than prevention.
The fact is, it’s not a perfect science but it will do its best to mitigate an outcome that could otherwise be an absolute disaster. As well as Active Brake Assist there is also ABS sitting in the background.
The view over the sloping bonnet is excellent. As mentioned earlier, it’s to aid the aerodynamics but it is also fairly short so you can place the truck on the road very easily.
You’re not going to lose sight of a car, or even a small child under this bonnet.
Freightliner achieved this by splaying the chassis rails and dropping the engine down some 3 inches, which comes with the side benefit of placing the ‘daily check’ items within easier reach.
The side mirrors, sitting on a single stalk aren’t big but they work as well as any others I’ve come across with great vision and the benefit of being able to see over them.
You’ll see some Cascadia’s with additional mirrors halfway down the bonnet – a bit like British cars of the ‘50s. They look a little strange but Freightliner tell me that those who’ve optioned them swear by them.
That 12-speed ‘box can change gears manually by flicking the column mounted stalk up or down.
You may use it once or twice as I did at first, but the ‘effort’ soon becomes too much and it becomes apparent that it is best left to its own devices.
There’s a three-stage engine brake that works a treat. Darryl Fourter, Freightliner’s southern region field service manager, tells me that the brake lights are required by ADR to come on when it is used, something I’d never thought of before.
Press the ‘check light function’ on the key fob and the all the trucks lights will flash until you deactivate the function.
You have no excuse of not knowing of a failed light. Climbing up into the cab and I’m greeted with the latest dashboard, nicked straight out of the Cascadia’s European half-brother, the Mercedes Actros. The two digital screens, to me at least, look aesthetically much better than the dials in the faux wood panelling of the earlier model – although I believe that can still be had for the diehards.
So, I’ve navigated the exit gate from the Horsham Field Days with those 44 pallets and Fourter starts to relax as I head down the tarmac. It’s not my first time in a B-double but I forgot to mention that to him.
The trip back to Melbourne is a mixture of B road and highway driving, so I get to experience the worst of Victorian roads along with the occasional smooth stretches of tarmac. The Cascadia handles itself with aplomb, requiring minimal input to the steering to keep the truck on the straight and often narrow. I pride myself on not setting the lane departure warning off at all on the ride.
With some 60-tonnes of ballast on board the truck hauls up hills with ease and the engine brake pulls it up smoothly and quickly when required. I reckon the cab is a little noisier than the similarly powered Actros but is by no means invasive, and Fourter and I can chat amiably on the trip without raised voices.
Where Freightliner has excelled is in reducing noise, vibration and harshness, particularly in the cabin. The old Argosy used to rattle around a bit, something Freightliner admit they can’t worm their way out of. The company spent a fortune in design to ensure that the Cascadia RH drive models would be world class in this area, and they have succeeded.
Fourter tells me of one he recently drove which had over 800,000km on the clock and was as tight as Lycra on an overweight pushbike rider.
But what is most important with this combination is that there’s space behind me for those 34 pallets and that’s money to the bottom line. And no NHVR lackey can relieve me of any of that extra profit for being over length.
If you want a bonneted truck and wish to haul the maximum payload you should look into the Cascadia.