Features, Test Drive

Man oh MAN! Test driving the new TG3 Series

When I first moved to Sydney from Melbourne back in 1972, I lived north-side but worked in the city. 

Each afternoon as I travelled back across the Harbour Bridge, I would pass a tall office building with MAN in huge letters emblazoned on the top.

No idea why that building always stayed as a fond memory – possibly because it meant I was heading to the pub rather than the office. Whatever, the brand was cemented in the brain.

During Covid a truck manufacturer dropped off one of their vehicles at my front door to play with for a week or so and it was delivered on the back of a MAN truck. 

Looking inside, I was impressed with the fit and finish and asked the driver what he thought of it.

“MAN, I love it!” he responded. “Pun intended.”

Since then I’ve been keen to get behind the wheel for a test drive and the opportunity recently came to fruition with an invitation from Penske, to do just that.

An acronym for Maschinfabrik Augsburg-Nűrnberg, MAN has been around for 260 years. In the 1750s there were two foundries, one in each or those towns. 

They amalgamated and created MAN as a business in 1758, making machines, type sets, locomotives, railcars and even blimps.

One day a young bloke by the name of Rudolph Diesel knocked on MAN’s door and said he had a concept for a new engine, but not the funds to finish the design or commercialise it. 

They partnered together and MAN developed the first diesel engine – not Cummins, not Detroit, not CAT. That first engine still works and it’s in the main foyer of the Munich head office of MAN.

In 1924 MAN manufactured the first truck anywhere in the world featuring direct diesel fuel injection. 

So, the company has a long history of innovation, safety and latest technology all built on 260 years of engineering, know-how and excellence. Today the company is part of the Traton Group, in turn owned by Volkswagen.

The new MAN range has undergone extensive design work and won numerous awards.

So here I am in front of a couple of MAN TG3 Series S models at Penske’s Wacol facility in Brisbane. These trucks, which underwent some 170,000 hours of design work have won numerous awards – including 2021 International Truck of the Year – since their launch in 2020. Covid delayed any meaningful inroads into the Australian market thanks to supply restrictions, but Penske tell me that is now in the past.

The TGS is the narrow-bodied version of the range and first up I’m to drive the 26.440 Wharf Spec model. 

Walking around the truck and my minder, Sergio Carboni (how can an Italian support Essendon, and not Carlton?) points out a myriad of design features aimed at reducing drag to enhance fuel consumption. The overall look is appealing to the eye.

This ‘Wharf Spec’ is aimed at for example, container work. Wharf Spec conjures up images of a very basic truck, and indeed this is MAN’s idea of basic.

But it is here that the Volkswagen connection comes to the fore. Any of you who may have hopped into a VW product will know what a great job they do of interiors which are superbly put together and manage a look of understated class in any variant. 

I don’t know if VW talk to their truck division, but I’d lay odds that MAN take inspiration from them. This two-tone base spec cab is not covered in lashings of chrome but, by gee she looks smart.

Climb inside and the electrically adjustable steering wheel feels just right in the hands. Every button and knob is within easy reach. The dials and multi-media screen are big and super legible. 

Every storage shelf and cup holder is covered in grippy stippled rubber padding to stop stuff sliding around and to negate rattles that could drive you nuts at the end of a long day.

The passenger seat base lifts for more storage and cleverly the top half of the seat back folds forward to create a table. Slide the seat forward and sit on the very comfortable bed to use it as a desk or have lunch.

Under the bunk is more storage and space to fit a fridge (standard in up-spec models) if desired, although the space between the seats will comfortably take a decent sized portable.

The LH stalk handles indicators and wipers, while the RH is the auto gear shift and 3-stage engine brake. The wheel spokes have the usual stuff – scrolling through dash info, answering the phone and the most logical cruise control buttons I’ve come across.

Press an overhead button and the full width sun visor drops electrically to your desired position, complimented by pull down side window shades. Up top is a manual opening hatch.

Falling to hand on the left, under the multi-media screen is a palm-sized flap. Pull it back to reveal a knurled knob and you’ve uncovered MAN’s pièce de résistance.

Called Smart Select, this knob controls every function of the multi-media screen. No more taking your eyes off the road to try and hit the (usually small) correct icon. No more grubby finger prints on the screen.

Is it hard to learn? I had it down pat in the time it’s taken you to read the last two paragraphs – and that was without instruction. 

It is simply brilliant! The only truck in the world to have this system, Smart-Select is the result of focus groups conducted with operators and journos during the design of the truck.

The Smart Select knob controls every function of the multi-media screen. 

Another clever feature are the four buttons low down on the driver’s door that can be used from the ground. One opens or closes the window, another operates the hazard lights and the other two are programmable to do whatever you wish.

On the safety front the truck has every acronym on the market – both active and passive – so getting into trouble will probably be your own wilful fault.

The doors close with a solid thunk, again reminiscent of a VW, I fire her up and am greeted with… well sod-all actually. 

It is as silent as a church on a Monday and I’m to discover that the decibels in the cab don’t go up much at any speed.

Heading off around town and into the countryside and I quickly feel at ease. With parabolic springs at the front (I had to ask) and eight airbags behind me, the truck rides and steers beautifully over any type of terrain. 

The seat, a Recaro, is as good as any I’ve sat in. The ride is limousine-like. Seriously!

The 12-speed gearbox, developed in conjunction with ZF is a pearler and changes up and down the range seamlessly. 

We’re loaded to 26 tonnes GVM and the truck is loping along effortlessly. It’s then that I ask Sergio what size the donk is and literally don’t believe him when he says 10.4 litres/440Hp/2100Nm. This feels much more powerful!

We’re an hour or so into the drive, and having discussed kids, mortgages and Aussie Rules followed by a companionable silence, Sergio says, “Well, what do you think?”

“About what?” I reply.

Looking at me as though I’m stupid, he says, “The truck of course!”

“Seriously….I forgot I was driving one.”

The Recaro seat is as good as any this writer has tried.

And that folks is the absolute truth! In the afternoon I’ve moved up a notch into the 26.510 GM with Jayme Deves. This – apart from the 510Hp/2600Nm out of the 13 litre – has upped the ante with auto air-con, fancier interior, upgraded sound, fridge and an electric glass roof hatch.

This time we go find some crap roads to traverse and the truck handles them with consummate ease. Heading back into town and time to play with cruise control and let the truck do its thing – and it does it superbly. 

At one point, going downhill, the cruise is off, and Jayme tells me to just hit the brake and slow to my desired speed. I do, and the truck stays there all the way down; the gearbox, engine brake doing their thing. By the by, the disc brakes and pedal feel is also great.

This model has lane keeping which keeps you bang in the middle of the white lines. It works brilliantly without being overly intrusive. A gripe with the previous model was that it wallowed too much. I can’t comment on that, except to say that it is non-existent in these.

I’m really glad I’ve had the opportunity to drive these trucks, they are a great bit of kit. The ergonomics and the driver interaction is smooth and seamless.  I really tried to find something to gripe about and the best I could come up with was the lack of a footrest on the wharf spec model. Did the other truck have it? Dunno, because I really didn’t need it.

Fifty-two years after passing that MAN sign in North Sydney, I finally got to experience the product. It was worth the wait. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to drive the bigger bodied and engined TGX, designed for B-double work – the 26.510 will also haul B-dubs.  

I think Penske should invite me back, because MAN, I’m seriously impressed.

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