Test Drive

No mirrors, no worries: road testing the new Actros

Every now and then Mercedes-Benz Australia lets me loose on one of its test and validation trucks to see how they shape up with a broader range of competition.

In this instance I was in for a surprise, not by what was on the truck, but by what wasn’t. The Actros looked naked and I couldn’t quite figure out why until I realised there were no mirrors on the doors – or the A pillars.

I double-checked and yep, the usual 500-600mm high mirror stacks on each side were nowhere to be seen. I also realised they hadn’t been forgotten – there were no mounting holes either. In place of each mirror set was a sleek, thin extrusion above each door, 3.0-metres off the ground containing an electrically heated camera coated with anti-fouling material.

I opened the (much lighter) door and climbed on board. The dash was similarly naked, devoid of the usual dials and switches, replaced by a large horizontal display screen directly ahead of the steering wheel, and a companion to the left.

On the A pillar on each side, was a 38.6cm tall high definition display screen, showing the view down the side of the truck in a conventional split display – main mirror and a spot mirror.

There was no key – it’s a remote access fob with just three buttons – lock, unlock and light test, the latter allowing me to do my walk around light check before getting in the cab.

I pushed the start button and the 13-litre 530hp Benz engine rumbled into life. That’s when the mirror displays lit up, and four dotted lines appeared from one side of each screen. The lowest indicates the exact position of the rear of the trailer on the road, and is adjustable for different trailer lengths.

The next three indicate the point on the road 30 metres, 50 metres and 100 metres behind the driver’s seat, allowing me to judge exactly how far a following vehicle is behind me.

I turn the gear selector to ‘D’ and press the throttle. As I turn, arrows appear in the top of the right-hand mirror display, and the display turns outwards, tracking the end of the trailer. No more leaning forward to check the inside tyres and kerbs. I straighten up and the display turns back to its usual position.

On the freeway there’s no wind noise from the clean doors, and lines appear on the left-hand display help to highlight available space. Reversing reveals new lines showing likely positioning in the park area.

If I was catching some sleep I could check the side of the rig without opening the curtains, a significant security feature in an isolated parking bay.

The new digital mirrors are part of a slew of electronic and computing power that has prepared the latest Actros for the next decade, and a generation of younger drivers. Because it’s not just a truck; it’s a device.

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