Review: Custom Coaches Lightweight CB80

By: Steve Skinner


The team at Custom Coaches has shed some kilos from the girth of the popular CB80, but this lightweight variant still stands strong. Steve Skinner writes

Review: Custom Coaches Lightweight CB80
Custom Coach CB80

When a company’s had the same customer for more than half a century, it must be doing something right. That’s the case with bus builder Custom Coaches, which is in the process of delivering a batch of a dozen low-floor city route buses to big New South Wales-based operator Busways.

Busways is owned by the Rowe family, and it was Dick Rowe who bought his first bus from Custom Coaches in Sydney way back in 1958. That bus was on a Leyland chassis, whereas the latest batch is on MAN, a favourite of Busways.

As you can imagine, both chassis and body technologies have improved a lot in the past 50 years. One of the main developments has been reduced body weight, and Custom is taking that virtue even further with its recently-developed lightweight project, developed with the help of 3D modelling. The benefit for operators is better fuel economy and higher passenger payload.

Take Custom’s CB80 model — the ‘CB’ stands for ‘city bus’ but it’s only coincidental that the bus can carry 80 passengers, 30 of them standing.

The company says the stainless-steel bodied CB80 is more than 300kg lighter than a comparable aluminium model.

The company says this has been achieved without compromising structural integrity in any way, while also maintaining the Government-mandated 25-year life span.

About half the weight losses are under the skin, in the tubular stainless steel frame. Custom Coaches doesn’t want to give away too many secrets on this part of the project, except to say aircraft technology is used.

The ‘skin’ itself is composed of slim waist panels made of aluminium on the outside with a plastic core inside. The bumper areas at the front and back are high impact flexible plastic, the quick-release fibreglass skirt panels are lighter than previously, and the wheels are alloy.

Inside more weight trimming is evident without any apparent loss of amenity. Custom Coaches’ in-house seats have a small gap at the bottom of the backrest, which not only means less steel is used but there’s the added advantage of allowing rubbish and dirt to fall through.

The seat legs are scalloped on the inside and have a hole cut through the sides. Hole-cutting throughout the frame and body made much easier and more precise thanks to multi-million dollar laser-cutting equipment recently installed.

The air-conditioning is a lightweight Denso unit.

Apart from the weight losses, Custom Coaches points out numerous other features which the company says are virtues of the CB80.

For example, on the outside the plastic headlights panel is easily removed and the light bulbs are interchangeable. There is a front tow eye and pin.

Checking the coolant and oil down the back is easy for the driver, thanks to a viewing hole and a cute little trapdoor which opens adjacent to the dip-stick.

Perhaps most importantly as far as the driver is concerned, there are three anti intrusion bars positioned in front of him or her. If the front takes a hit, the bars distribute impact energy to the sides, away from the driver.

Another plus in terms of safety is that the passenger seating is capable of being fitted with seat belts should these be mandated.

The seats themselves are covered in blue vinyl for easy cleaning and the backs are of stainless steel for easier graffiti removal. There is no step at the middle door and there are eight security cameras as well as a reversing camera.

To check what the ride is like for passengers, I sat right up the back over a stretch of rough concrete and can report it was remarkably smooth. It helps that the Custom ‘Metro’ seat foam is firm but comfortable.

There was one downside as a back seat passenger though — no windows at either side. This is at the customer’s request, to save weight in glass and to reduce glass graffiti.

There was also a loud annoying ‘squeak’ coming from somewhere, but by the time we returned from the test drive the squeak had resolved itself. Custom says such bugs are ironed out before units are delivered.

THE DRIVE

The ride is comfortable, even over some of the roughest concrete road surface you’ll find in any city in Australia — along the Hume Highway at Yagoona in Sydney’s west.

The MAN chassis air-suspension works well and any roughness is looked after by the top-of-the-range Isri 6860 seat, which is air-controlled with a high back and a three-point integrated lap sash seat belt.

Take-off through the 4-speed Voith transmission is silky smooth. No matter how hard you plant your right foot, it’s hard to imagine standing passengers being lurched around.

Despite this there is plenty of power to keep up with city traffic, coming from MAN’s 10.5-litre Euro 5 exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) engine.

Driver vision is excellent thanks to the huge glass areas around the front and sides. The extremely thin A-pillars are hardly noticeable, and the windscreen is a massive single panel. Rear vision through the mirrors down the sides of the bus is good.

A reassuring aspect for the driver is that the clear but tough plastic protection panel comes far enough around that it would be impossible for a bad guy to get their arm around it, unless they are standing in the red zone near the door, which they shouldn’t be doing anyway.

The steering is responsive, and the manoeuvrability and turning circle are surprisingly good for a 12.5m vehicle. If there’s one downside for the driver, it’s the brake pedal. It feels like you almost have to stamp on it, and when stopped in gear without the park brake on, a fair bit of pressure has to be applied to the pedal to stop the bus moving forward.

MAN acknowledges the service brakes have an ‘unusual feel’, but says drivers get used to it. Rest assured the front and rear discs had no problem at all pulling the bus up quickly when we had to make a couple of very sudden stops during the test drive.

While the ownership of long-term customer Busways hasn’t changed, Custom Coaches was bought in June by Britain’s biggest bus manufacturer, Alexander Dennis (ADL), which operates worldwide. The company says its CB80 has been designed for all modern chassis brands.

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