Features, Test Drive

Saluting the new Mack Anthem

God Save the King? Definitely not. Advance Australia Fair? Star Spangled Banner? The latter is probably most apt as the Anthem in question is by Mack – that well known American brand. 

Then again, you’ll have to hum the Aussie anthem as the truck is built here at Volvo’s Wacol plant, south of Brisbane. That means you’d best include Du gamla, du fria, (Translation: Thou old, thou free) the Swedish anthem – and yes, I did have to Google that one.

The Mack Anthem has been around a couple of years now  and has just had a number of updates – hence the offer made by Volvo Group’s Matt Wood for me to jump behind the wheel and pilot the truck in B-double setup from Brisbane to Sydney.

Underneath the stylish, sloping bonnet lies the latest 13-litre donk and auto gearbox from Volvo group. 

Does this detract from the ‘Mackness’ of the truck? Not at all. Volvo sell more heavy-duty trucks in this country bar one other manufacturer – and they only miss out on number one by a gnat’s hair each year. With that popularity they must be producing good gear. 

Like every other OEM, they employ economies of scale so please no comments of, “it’s not really a Mack”, because you’ll have to apply that line to every other brand as well.

Here in Australia the Anthem is specced with just one motor, of which more later, and the only bunk available is 36 inches allowing it to fit nicely within our 26-metre B-dub rules.

Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but to me this is a great looking truck. It strikes just the right balance of design.  It has enough ‘American-ess’ to satisfy most people who like that country’s product. It is curvaceous and very aerodynamic without losing that ‘tough’ look that many truck owners are after, without going down the retro path. 

The curved, sloping bonnet meets a black mesh grill with chrome side strips flowing down into the bumper and a large chrome MACK logo front and centre. LED lights are chrome trimmed as are the side flutes. Originally white, this truck has been wrapped in grey and black. 

Originally white, this truck has now been wrapped in grey and black.

Hats off to the dude or dude-ess who came up with the design. Altogether they result in a very handsome prime mover, finished off with American-style wing mirrors.

While we’re on the mirrors, this test vee-hicle (using ma American accent), came with convex Antler mirrors mounted down on the bonnet. Not to everyone’s taste, they are a delete option. DO NOT DELETE! The vision down the side of the truck with these is second to none. 

Example: there is a car parked next to me at the lights right beside my door and I had a perfect view of it – as well as slip roads. They are bloody brilliant. You’ll get used to the look, and if not you can always take them off later.

Still talking vision, while that bonnet and the antlers give a great view, Mack has gone the extra yard and planted cameras everywhere. A camera placed under the Bulldog mascot which activates at low speed ensures that you’ll see anything larger than a bullant in front of the truck. 

There are cameras down each side that light up the multi-media screen when the indicator is used. If you have dedicated trailers the system will also allow extra cameras to be fitted to them as well. You can even have all cameras displayed simultaneously. 

Adding to all the above is the Bendix Wingman Fusion Safety System. This gives you automated emergency braking and lane departure warning. On the left-hand A pillar is a display that will let you know if there is anything metal beside you. 

If you flick an indicator on, not only do you get a camera feed, but you also get an independent warning from the A pillar light which is normally orange but will turn red if anything metal is beside you, this accompanied by an audible chirp.

It’s not just for other traffic that this has its uses. For example, you could be in the distribution centre and there may be a steel beam beside you which this warning device will pick up. To summarise, if you hit anything at all in this truck, you should be summarily sacked. There is no excuse.

Climbing up into the cab and the American theme continues with a heap of ancillary dials to complement the speedo and tacho. These are displayed with red needles on a black and white background, highlighted by a blue aura at night. They are super legible and look schmick after dark.

Your backside is going to be comfortable in the leather clad Isri seats. I sat in them for 12 hours and the bum-o-meter gives them a big tick. 

The passenger is not forgotten either, which is why Matt was happy to ride shotgun on the trip south. 

I grab the interior doorhandle to shut said door because it seemed the only option and was surprised to find that it felt like a solid billet of aluminium. You can use it in this way because you lift rather than pull it to open the doors.

As is the way with most trucks these days, this Anthem was an auto, meaning a clear floor space between seats. The high roof means standing and moving around is a doddle. While only a 36” bunk, it felt more spacious than others of the same dimensions.

You’ll have no trouble falling asleep on this mattress. Image: Graham Harsant

You’ll have no trouble living in this truck for your (probably) line-haul work, at which this truck is primarily aimed. 

You’ll have no trouble falling asleep either, because the inner spring mattress is cloud-like cossetting. If I could find a queen or king version, I’d buy one for home. There’s an overhead fan back there to keep you cool and plenty of storage bins around the cab to put your gear. 

There’s a big slide out fridge under the bunk which will easily swallow enough for days away from home. 

All in all, the cabin feels very well screwed together. This was borne out by not a single rattle occurring between the capital cities.

A feature of the dash is the new large multimedia screen sitting high on the dash to the left of the main instrument binnacle and angled towards the driver. Australian designed, it is excellent, both in the way it works and its clarity. 

The addition of this screen has necessitated the push-button auto controls to be moved lower down on the dash. Under them again are the ubiquitous red and yellow brake releases – again harking to the American origins of the truck. Finishing the dash, Mack have added a wireless phone charger.

As mentioned, the Anthem is an auto – the HD M-Drive 13-speed. Mack wanted a taller final drive ratio when doing 100km/h but if you do that just with a differential, you’re going to affect your low-speed manoeuvring. So, the 13-speed gives a crawler for backing up a B-double to a dock for example. 

The truck sits on a mere 1200rpm at 100km/h. This is achieved by 3.09 final drive ratio and the overdrive transmission which brings the rpm down. 

And why do we want to bring it down? Fuel efficiency…which is a nice segue into discussing the engine.

That is what this truck is all about. This has the new MP8 HE engine. It is a 13-litre with 500hp and 2800Nm of torque. That torque figure is right up there with some 16-litre donks.

Matt Wood makes a wry observation comparing the two: “Power is how fast you’re going when you hit the fence and torque is how far you will go through it. Torque is actually a measurable output whereas horsepower is a calculation. Torque is what will get you up the hill. This is not a sports car it is a commercial vehicle and it’s built to haul.”

Where they get the high torque from is that this is a turbo compound unit, meaning it has a turbocharger and then it has another pressurised turbine housing downstream. The exhaust gases go through this little turbine and they spin it at quite high speed and that turbine is mechanically connected to the crankshaft.

This is part of the new Euro 6 engine range. It also gets low drag cylinder liners, wave top pistons and new fuel delivery software. It is designed to deliver as much fuel efficiency as possible and in this case is delivered through an aerodynamically designed package. 

Mack don’t like to quote consumption figures, simply because everyone drives differently, but the company has seen figures as high as 14 per cent fuel saving over the equivalent Euro 5 13-litre. That’s a lot of diesel over the course.

Hitting the road at 6am from Wacol, I’m impressed by the LED headlights which give good spread and depth. 

Steering on the steel sprung front suspension gives nice feedback without you having to fight it and the truck feels sure-footed. The brakes are progressive, requiring a firm push – but one that won’t give you a ruptured ACL. 

Indicator on the left and the three-stage engine brake lever on the right. Pull it back to full retardation and a further flick back will see the gearbox drop down a gear, or more.

Well, it should have but in this case the engine brake lever was not working. 

It turned out to be a five-minute software fix but that doesn’t help when out on the road so that’s how I know how good the brakes are. And that led to another problem. Because, as mentioned earlier, the auto controls have been moved lower down the dash and are not as easy to reach to change down manually. This wouldn’t be a problem normally.

A feature of the dash is new large multimedia screen. Image: Graham Harsant

Interestingly, when on (adaptive) cruise control you leave the retardation in the full-on position, and on cruise it worked perfectly. So much of the drive was with it on. Makes sense anyway as it brings into play other safety functions.

While I’m having a minor beef, the wing mirrors need a spanner to adjust them and I find those small round convex mirrors, so popular in Yank Land not to my liking.

Maybe Mack could raid the excellent product on their Volvo cousin as an option. Still, I did have the fantastic antler mirrors so I’m just being picky.

I transgress a white line and the lane departure warning goes off, sounding like going over a rumble strip. Quite pleasant actually when compared to some of the ‘air raid sirens’ I’ve been greeted by on other trucks.

The cabin is well insulated, but you can hear the 13-litre working below and in front of you. It emits an interesting noise, this engine, and both Matt and I struggled to come up with a description. 

He suggested chug-chug, but it’s my story and I’m going with a quiet V8-like burble. It is very pleasant, accompanied as it is by the compound turbo whooshing away when you plant the foot.

Pulling 60 tonnes, this 13-litre Euro 6 behaved leisurely up the steeper hills. That said, the truck only had just in excess of 900km on the clock when I climbed in. 

Matt assured me it would loosen up considerably with some miles under its belt, a statement backed up by conversations I’ve since had on social media with people who know the truck and engine (albeit the Euro 5). I’ve no doubt that this would be the case.

Actually, ‘leisurely’ is a good description for the Mack Anthem, because a long day in this truck is not a chore at all. 

To these eyes it looks fantastic, the ride is great, the vision is brilliant, the cabin is well laid out, spacious and feels solid in all respects. All the safety gear you could ask for is there. 

The cruise control is the easiest to use that I’ve come across: hit a steep slope, let your left thumb knock back the speed by a few km and let the truck do its thing. 

If you’re going to drive up and down the coast or wherever doing line haul, ‘leisurely’ is by far the best way to do it in my opinion. With breaks we arrived at Blacktown some 13 hours after departure. 

I arrived feeling fit and relaxed, having spent a day of leisure – not a term you might associate with the job – behind the wheel of a very good truck. I commented to Matt that it had been a real pleasure to drive, and I meant it.

You should definitely put the Mack Anthem on your shopping list.

Dah da da da da dah! That’s the opening line of Star-Spangled Banner – as performed by Jimi Hendricks. 

Mack, I salute your Anthem.

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