When the phone buzzes and the email says it’s from Scania, my hand goes to open it up almost before my mind has finished reading the headline. Hopefully they want to put me into something, I think to myself.
Yes, they do, with an invitation to go for a run in their R660, one of a range of the company’s glorious V8s. “Absolutely”, is my immediate response. I’ve always loved the way these trucks drive, and feel, and look, and particularly, sound.
The R660 (which denotes the horsepower) sits second from the top of the V8 range which kicks off with the 530. Those 660 horses match just about any other manufacturer’s donk, but Scania goes one further – to the top of the horsepower tree with the mighty V8 rumble of their R770.
The R660 adopts the latest Opticruise Gearbox as does the rest of the range, barring the R770, simply because that engine has too much grunt for the ‘box at the moment. Expect that to be rectified in the near future.
Behind me is a B-double with Scania’s Griffin emblazoned on the tautliner’s side and 60-plus tonnes of ballast on board.
Oh, there’s also ‘Driver Under Instruction’ plates fore and aft, because after some 14 years with an HC licence, I still haven’t gotten off my lazy backside and moved on up to an MC.
That’s not to say I haven’t driven a B-double before – I have many times; I’m just not as adept as the rest of you.
I’m joined on this trip by Lindsay Pollock, one of Scania’s driver trainers, and as it happens, an almost neighbour of mine, coming as he does from Shepparton.
In a past life, Pollock spent a couple of years as a driving instructor with DECCA Driver Training, so I’m pretty conscious of doing all the right things – dredging my own DECCA-trained memories to the surface.
We leave Scania’s Laverton base and head out onto the always busy Boundary Road, over and around numerous roundabouts before hitting the wide open spaces on the freeway to Ballarat.
Want to know when this occasional B-double driver started feeling comfortable behind the wheel? I reckon it took me all of a minute. Seriously, the truck is that good!
Driving many and varied prime movers, one of the first things I do is to line up something in the cab with the white line on my right. It may be the corner of the A pillar, something on the dash or even a speck on the windscreen. This simply to keep me in the middle of the lane and avoid the dreaded and usually VERY LOUD Lane Departure Warning from constantly harassing me.
Not in this truck!
I’ve gone through all those roundabouts, merged lanes, traversed a couple of narrow roads, and am well up the freeway before I realise that I haven’t set off the LDW at all and that I’ve not organised a ‘line of sight’.
I’ve simply got in and driven – such is the confidence that this truck gives you. And I think that this makes the case for Scania even more compelling, because this truck is just a breeze to drive.
Getting into the nitty-gritty, the V8 displaces 16.4 litres, putting out those 660 horses at 1900rpm and 3300Nm from 950 – 1400rpm. The gearbox is Scania’s latest overdrive 14-speed Opticruise fully automated gear-change with Eco-roll.
Seventy kilos lighter thanks to being smaller and cased in aluminium, the latest Opticruise does away with reverse gear, instead locking the planetary gears at the back which effectively put the whole gearbox in reverse – not that you’ll get those 14 gears of course.
Gear changes are so quick and so smooth that you’ll have to look at the dash info to see the truck moving up through the range. There’s a choice of Economy, Standard or Power modes (ex-factory) which is nice of Scania to offer and I suppose I should have played with them all in the interest of full reporting.
But I forgot. The truck did all I could ask of it, uphill and down dale – but the choice is there should you desire it.
On the safety front, Scania beats all-comers by having, not only a driver’s airbag, but side curtain airbags as well.
Should you, for some inexplicable reason lay the truck on its side, there’s a roof hatch to crawl out of.
Add in Electronic Stability, Traction Control, Lane Departure Warning, Auto Hill Hold, Disks all round, Advanced Emergency Braking, Adaptive Cruise, LED head and tail lights, checking of all lights from the key fob and air suspension front and rear.
For the life of me – and I value my life – I cannot see how anyone could get into trouble in this. The 5-stage retarder (plus engine exhaust brake – 300kW @ 2400rpm) is a beauty and will extend the life of those disc brakes.
Then there is the steering which I have raved about in the past. All those safety features are trumped by the best steering in the business.
Point it and that’s where it goes. The steering is why I had no need to find a sight line. On top of those air bags it is simply superb.
Inside the cab it is all classy Scania. The dashboard is black with red trim, complemented with a dark sand lower section.
The superbly comfortable seats are upholstered in premium leather with peripheral red stitching, embossed with a V8 logo because….well because you just like to be reminded of what’s under the bonnet every time you climb into the cab. Call it ‘Smile Factor’.
There’s a double refrigerator under a super comfy pocket spring mattress which extends in width from 800mm to 1000mm. There’s USB slots in the dash and the bunk area, DAB radio and a premium audio system.
A work bench folds out from the passenger side dash, that wonderful steering wheel is flat-bottomed, and leather wrapped and there is ancillary storage everywhere.
If you have to get in a truck, drive from Melbourne to Brisbane and get out at the other end feeling like you’ve just been around the block, then take a look at Scania. You won’t be disappointed. Did I mention that subdued V8 rumble?
Postscript: You’ve read that I’m an occasional B-double driver. Pollock suggests a quick break at a servo ahead so I drive in.
Now I could have taken the wide gap to the right of the pumps but no. I go between two of them and too late realise that 1: there’s not much room ahead and, 2: I’m too close to the RH pumps. Dutifully looking into the rear view I can see that the rear axle on the B trailer is going to wipe out said pump. Embarrassment!
I suppose this could have been a good time to practise backing a B dub but I sheepishly left it to Pollock to sort it. Still, as he politely put it, “You’ll know next time.”
Possibly to make me feel better, he also told me that I’d otherwise performed as well as most of the other (more seasoned) trucking journalists. Yay me!