Pete Cochrane

A Different Point of View

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Volvo Truck UK

Volvo FH460 Turbo Compound Demo

The brilliant Volvo FH460TC Demo
The brilliant Volvo FH460TC I-Save Demo

I’ve been trying to think of how to start this report in a way that conveys my views of this vehicle sufficiently enough. For 55 years (since age 7) I’ve been playing with engines, cars, motorcycles and trucks. In that time I have probably driven, ridden or had a very close up look of probably well into the hundreds of vehicles. I’ve studied Motor Vehicle Engineering and Computer programming at college, I’ve raced Motocross and also worked in F1, MotoGp and WRC with a lot of the top teams as well as owning my own small fleet of trucks running to Europe for 12 years. Furthermore, I’ve seen vehicles that have made step changes in these disciplines over the years and that consequently raised the bar that other manufacturers have had to catch up with. Some of the more notable ones on my list that I consider to have achieved this step change are as follows: Suzuki’s RM370A Motocross bike back in 1975 made most of the paddock want to load up our machines and go home, it was so advanced at the time. Volvo’s steel cabbed F86, that came into the UK when everything we made was fibreglass and wood. The Volvo F88 290, that had rubbish brakes but a cab strong enough to save my life in a bad accident. The 1978 Volvo F10, sporting cab suspension never before seen on a truck. My Scania 113 Topline, one of the very first in the country in 1988 and was an eye-catcher wherever I went at the time. Ferrari’s F360 sports car, the first Ferrari road car that you could use every day without getting a huge bill in very few miles. The Ferrari F399 F1 car, the first F1 car by Ferrari for a long time that didn’t have bits falling off it more often than not. Volvo’s FH04, a vehicle I consider to be one of the best fleet vehicles about. Scania’s Next Generation S500 truck, the truck I would have bought had I still been an owner driver/small haulier, at least that was until I drove Volvo’s FH460 Turbo Compound I-Save Demo! Definitely a vehicle that is going to be included in my step change list.
If I was in the market for a truck I would have given Andy Wright from Volvo, the money for this truck and told him not to bother wrapping it. Impressive does not describe how much I enjoyed driving it. I did five shifts to Scotland with this truck and after reading Volvo’s quick start leaflet included in the truck, decided to follow the instructions to drive wherever possible in cruise control.
The first shift had me going across country from Abington to Livingston as the M74 had severe delays at Hamilton, so really I only had the distance from Penrith to Abington to gain confidence in the trucks abilities on cruise control especially with regard to safety. The first thing I noticed was the broad spread of torque this truck had. It just out-pulled most similar trucks on hills and went over Beattock at 50+ MPH on cruise control without any input from me, something the Mercedes Actros 450 can’t do even if you manually change down a gear as suggested by the Mercedes Trainer.
The safety features on this demo are absolutely incredible and assist the driver in a predictable manner to a level higher than we currently have on the Mercedes Actros or previous Volvo FH460 trucks. The Mercedes Actros has a habit of doing some very unpredictable things to the point I think its sensors are sometimes hallucinating! The Volvo was a far more relaxing drive in the way the safety features work. One very good thing on the Volvo that might be part of the DAS system, is the heads up display that shines a red light on the windscreen when coming up behind a vehicle. The distance can be adjusted when you need to close up a bit before overtaking, but nevertheless I can see it being a really good safety feature. The Mercedes trainers have always said drive the Actros on cruise control as much as you can even on non-motorway routes. I have never been quite happy about doing that with the Mercedes mainly because of the way it reacts when it sees something that it considers a danger rather than that of the driver, by that I mean things that are not a problem and sometimes for no reason at all. However, I was quite happy to drive the Volvo on cruise control on non-motorway routes and never felt or experienced any unpredictable behaviour.
The Mercedes Actros 450 is not very good performance-wise on non-motorway routes and uses a lot more fuel trying to make progress while failing miserably unless you go over the speed limit to attack a hill and even then its lacking in torque. No such problem with the old Volvo 460 and even less of a problem with the new Turbo Compound version.
On a couple of occasions I came across Next Generation Scania’s and out dragged them on the hills. I wasn’t totally convinced that it could be that good torque wise until I came up against a Next Generation Scania with an empty plant trailer on Douglas Moor. I think we would be similar weights as I had 8 pallets of Milk in a fridge trailer, he was trying to keep level with me up the hill but the Volvo did pass him before we got to the top. Similarly I had a lunatic in an Actros and fridge tried the same thing and I passed him up the hill as well, and after he passed me down the other side, I passed him again before the weigh station at Beattock summit. Going down the last bit of Beattock I was coasting on the limiter and the said Actros passed me well in excess of 60mph and had the camera van been out at the bottom as it is sometimes, he would definitely have got a ticket. I had one or two people even asking if it was a 500 with 460 badges on as well.
At the end of the first day I was concerned that the AdBlue gauge wasn’t working and rang Andy Wright to report it. He assured me it was because the new engine uses a lot less AdBlue than the previous model. It certainly uses a lot less than the Actros and the gauge never moved hardly all week. As fuel economy is maybe slightly better than the Mercedes and at least on par with it, its frugal use of AdBlue has to be taken into consideration.
Other points of note are that Volvo seem to have made panels fit better and doors sound less tinny when you close them giving it an improved feel of quality. It’s also very quiet and this was commented on by the other drivers who drove it. The ride is also comfortable with no cab nodding like the Actros does at times. These features probably contribute to feeling a lot less fatigued at the end of the working day.
As with all Volvo’s and Swedish trucks in general, it is very manoeuvrable in confined spaces with none of the unpredictable surging that the Mercedes and MAN trucks exhibit, especially but not confined to when reversing.
When testing a truck it is pointless and shows a lack of integrity if you don’t say truthfully what you think, and I have always reported things as accurately as I can. With that in mind, it was hard to find anything wrong with the Volvo and considering that I’m a Scania man and even found a few problems with the Next Generation Scania R450 I tested a year or so ago, says a lot. I thought I had found two little things I didn’t like by being really picky, but when I told Andy Wright, one of them turned out to be me not knowing how to find where to adjust the speed limiter for such as driving in conditions where average speed cameras may be in use at a lower than limited speed. The only other issue was when you are finished using the adaptive speed function it was necessary to disengage the cruise control to cancel it altogether, then re-engage the cruise control. I would have much preferred the ACC button to both engage and disengage the function without disengaging the cruise control as sometimes you only activate it in case you need it or if you are going to use it for a short while.
In conclusion this may sound a like a character assassination of the Mercedes, but I did point out these concerns in previous reports while testing the Mercedes. Furthermore, in nearly every other report I have submitted I have stated what I consider best for the fleet and what my personal preference would be in comparison if I was buying a vehicle for my previously owned transport company, most notably that has always been a Scania. Well, I hope you are sitting down because that is not the case this time. I think my truck of choice would be a Volvo FH460 Turbo Compound. I believe it has the right power, economy, safety and comfort for any job that I have done in my 42 year career. Anybody who knows me will probably be astounded by that revelation. This truck is without doubt a step change and sets a bench mark that other manufacturers will have to reach.
Just a reminder that these are my own personal views and do not reflect anything that my employers may think about this vehicle. Thank you for letting me try it and also thanks for reading another long winded report.

Volvo FH04-500 Tractor Unit

The very impressive Volvo FH04-500
The Volvo FH04-500

Tested 08/04/2017-12/04/2017

I feel I have let this truck and Volvo down in my fuel values during this test, mainly because I drive an FH460 all the time and this truck is the same office but with a very different heart. I truly believe that had I driven it without having driven an FH before, my fuel would have been better. This is because it coasts forever and also because I do the same run every day and I am driving it to the same power off points as I would the 460 when in fact I could come off the power much sooner, in fact much, much sooner! As a result my brake count is way more than I should have done. The Volvo FH04 500 is doing exactly what I expected in comparison to the 460 version. The extra 40hp makes just that little difference when it’s on cruise control by having a bit more torque. You can see on the dash real time fuel data that it is more economical when it needs fuel. Places where you would see 1.9mpg you now see 2.5mpg as the low figures and a much better cruising fuel figure sooner.

The whole vehicle is less stressed at 500hp and does as I said run on forever, I believe this is due to the fact that it is on top of the power requirement instead of pulling the load up to the power requirement. A bit difficult to explain what I mean but would be easy to demonstrate. Power delivery is very smooth and as with all new heavy trucks its built to be on cruise control as much as possible, especially the higher horsepower trucks, and not just on motorways but whenever its safe to do so.

The cab is exactly the same as the 460 except this particular vehicle it had an electric sun blind and better seat coverings. Unfortunately I have the same little grumbles about it, namely the space in front of the passenger seat is very cramped compared to the Scania, and I can’t help thinking that if I was using this truck on long haul European work like I used to, then I would have been a bit uncomfortable if I was parked up for extended periods. Next is the fact that it is a dirty truck compared to either the new Next Generation Scania or its predecessor the Scania Streamline, and gets very dirty mirrors that really impact your rear viewing capabilities quite quickly in damp weather. On a positive note, the Volvo is a brilliant truck on smart motorways or average speed camera controlled roadworks compared to the Scania’s. This is because on the Volvo you can press the Eco button on the steering wheel and bring the speed down to 1mph instead of the default 3mph for economic operations, then set the cruise control at 49mph and let the truck get on with it. It will not exceed 50mph and it will not fall away speed wise either as the Scania’s seem’s to. The only thing you have to remember is to press the Eco button and set the value back to 3mph for the best economic running when the speed restriction ends.

Interpretation of the Dynafleet data needs to be correct as quite often while you are on cruise, the vehicle goes into coasting mode in exactly the same way as you would have done it by dropping it out of cruise. The difference is in the data on Dynafleet because as the coasting value seems to reflect coasting when you coast off cruise and is the total value of coasting above and below 89kph OFF CRUISE. If it coasts in cruise, the overspeed value increases but the coasting value doesn’t! If the Eco button is in the default 3mph setting, the truck shouldn’t exceed 59mph on cruise and the overspeed is referring to coasting between 56mph and 59mph. Therefore the true coasting value should be the total of the two values as long as the cruise control usage value is high. It took me a while to work that one out! There is something more to this observation that is important but escapes me at the moment, but I will add an addendum when I remember.

Overall in the five days of testing, I have had a double-deck fridge fully loaded, square and round edged fridges, extreme variations in traffic and weather including worsening high winds on some days and a routing cock up that added an hour and a half onto a normal runtime. So a consistent test as planned has not worked out. As usual I have recorded everything daily as I do with my regular truck and other demo units. Plus as is usual with a test truck a physical fuel fill test. Dash fuel figures range between 8.8mpg and 9.8mpg which is either better or consistent with my usual FH460 figures (This vehicle had only 16000 kms on it when I started testing, so is still not run in properly yet), Physical fuel on three of the days was 9.35mpg, 9.59 mpg and 9.38mpg respectively. From experience of other manufacturers test vehicles this is fairly good. Physical fuel checks confirm the accuracy of dash and telemetry data. Adblue use seems consistent with the FH460 values with this vehicle.

On the final day of testing the 500 really showed how good it is. Through no fault of the Volvo I was held up with a breakdown which resulted in me leaving my last drop quarter of an hour later than my due loading time three quarters of an hour away. Making progress while keeping to the national speed limits across country is no problem for the 500 and I arrived at my loading point bang on the time I had given them. With the high winds I had been experiencing all day and severe congestion on the Scottish road system, the Volvo was showing only 8.3mpg which to be fair was still better than the 460 would have achieved but not what I was happy with. Even worse was the fact I had no time to try and get the figure to improve, or so I thought. As soon as I was loaded with the cargo of 16 pallets of Milk, I left Bridge of Allan via Stirling to join the M80 at Stirling services before tackling a very congested M73 and even worse M74 at Raith. Wherever possible I had it on the limiter and it never broke stroke. Even better by the time I got back to Penrith, the fuel figure had improved to 9MPG, a figure that the 460 would never have done under the same conditions. Stunningly impressive is the only way I can describe it.

In conclusion, all I can tell you is that whenever I test a truck, I evaluate it as if I was buying it for myself and apply the same comparison techniques I used when I owned my own truck operation. The main things I am looking for in a truck are comfort, reliability and above all else a good balance of power and economy. I have never been a subscriber of just buying high power trucks other than unless the job requires them, and in my humble opinion 500 hp is about as much as you need pulling a fridge.
I can’t believe I am going to write this next bit, but here goes. I have tested a lot of the best trucks meeting our requirements including the superb Next Generation Scania R450, but if I was given the choice between the Next Generation Scania R450 and the Volvo FH04 500 I have just been testing, then I would have picked the Volvo. Anybody that knows me, also knows that I am a dyed in the wool Scania fan and would not say this lightly, but in the absence of not having tested the S500 Next Generation Scania, I would without doubt have picked the Volvo 500. It is a truly awesome truck and if you are buying one or just driving one, you will not be disappointed.

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