New model Iveco test drive sways critical opinion

When our writer Steve Brooks hit the Hume Highway in Iveco’s new S-Way model he found more than a few reasons to smile

Expectations, assumptions, presumptions, predictions. Whatever, they’re all fraught with danger and let’s face it, we’ve all been there.

Sometimes, the thing you expect to be wonderful can turn out to be something not quite so captivating. Not necessarily woeful but not altogether appealing either. Simply, not up to expectations.

Other times, when you’re not overly excited or enthralled by the thought of spending time with something or other, the experience can surprise for all the right reasons. Hurtling hard and fast into those ‘other times’ was a recent run in Iveco’s new S-Way.

Still, it’s easy to admit that expectations weren’t bubbling at all brightly in the days before taking an S-Way B-double combination on a day-long drive down the Hume and back.

In defence though, the negative vibe wasn’t unwarranted.

Iveco experiences over several decades hadn’t been particularly kind up to that point, going way back to the lameness of early models like EuroStar and EuroTech and reaching all the way to the recently retired X-Way.

Expectations, even hopes, have almost always been shown to be greater than realities and historically, Iveco Australia’s heavy-duty sales figures tell a story of mediocre acceptance in a market bristling with high quality competitors.

Now, of course, there’s S-Way but with history barking in the background, early indicators weren’t doing much to light the fires of hope and renewal for Iveco’s heavy-duty future. In fact, on a grey March day at the Australian Automotive Research Centre’s Anglesea (Vic) proving ground, the official launch and first drive of S-Way models didn’t do much at all to signal an upward shift in Iveco’s heavy-duty prospects.

Sure, company insiders were upbeat and Iveco Australia chief Michael May, buoyant in defining a new era for the company since securing the $95 million sale of the historic Dandenong (Vic) production plant, announced S-Way as the motivation to “… reignite our network and our customers.”

However, Michael and his executive team didn’t stay long, apparently committed to being somewhere else while out on Anglesea’s familiar circuits, various S-Way configurations which had notched up reasonable mileage on shake-down duty, did their obligatory laps as invited media took turns sampling the new model’s manners. All routine and all predictably normal for a media drive day but hardly the stuff to reignite expectations of Iveco moving to a higher plane on the heavy-duty table.

Worse, a close look at a couple of early production models on static display prompted thoughts that Iveco Australia will need to keep an owlish eye on the build quality and paintwork of trucks emerging from Iveco’s Madrid (Spain) production plant.

So, fast forward five months or so to a mid-week morning at Iveco’s Huntingwood dealership on Sydney’s western rim and as already mentioned, expectations weren’t particularly high. Sure, the dealership had the demo truck and its B-double set spic ‘n’ span (which was in itself a notable improvement on some earlier experiences) with several Iveco operatives on hand to explain the flagship AS (Active Space) model’s finer features, not least a plethora of advanced telematics functions.

But of course, any estimation of a truck’s performance and operational traits comes down to time on the road and here’s the thing; just an hour or so after steering the combination out of Huntingwood and mixing with the motoring masses before striking down the Hume to Goulburn, there came the earnest yet genuinely unexpected realisation that this unit was, without question or hesitation, the most impressive and subsequently surprising Iveco truck I’ve ever driven. Bar none!

Taking the test

True, a day drive of barely 400km doesn’t tell the full story of any truck. Overall, such evaluations are simply a snapshot ­– but they do, at the very least, provide an indication of a model’s abilities in real world conditions and in this case, S-Way did everything right while equally highlighting vital improvements in fit and finish. In fact, concerns about build quality generated by static display units at Anglesea several months earlier simply weren’t applicable in what was an exceptionally well-presented test truck. And the hope, of course, is that all S-Way deliveries will be to the same standard.

Obviously enough, the high-roof AS model sits at the top of the S-Way range and as we reported some months back, ‘S-Way’s most apparent feature is unquestionably the redesigned cab with its striking, almost smiling, grille and new panel treatments. It is, in effect, a reworked design over an existing cab structure but further ahead, according to sources within Iveco, an entirely new cab and model range are under development in preparation for a European debut in two to three years.

‘Yet while S-Way may be the final evolution of Iveco’s current heavy-duty lineage, it is certainly not without the modern updates which take it a step above its X-Way predecessor.’ Way above, in fact.

There was, to put it plainly, a quality about the S-Way test truck well beyond its predecessors.

Sure, most linehaul drivers would probably appreciate a bigger bunk but that aside and with the advantage of a lower floor height, S-Way’s AS shed contains all the essential ingredients of a spacious, modern linehaul cab: Tall standing room, excellent seating for driver and passenger, extensive overhead and external locker space, good all-round vision, neatly arranged controls and switchgear, and driver niceties such as twin 50 litre fridges (one a cool box, the other a fridge\freezer) and a comprehensive multi-media unit based on a seven-inch LCD screen on a central fascia. What’s more, in place of a key, ignition is now controlled by a stop\start button on a neater and more functional dash layout while the driver sits behind a new multi-function steering wheel which provides finger-tip control of many functions.

In short, there’s a lot to like and the standard features list is easily on par with its continental contemporaries, including a typically European swag of advanced safety functions along with such modern-day developments as GPS predictive drive, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights with cornering fog lights and a top-shelf climate control system.

Still, in many of the control systems and functions, S-Way also retains Iveco’s unique form of logic. It takes considerable time to forge familiarity with the operation of some systems and in a markedly expanded telematics program. It would take far more than one day behind the wheel to assess the system’s operational attributes. As Iveco rightly insists though, telematics play an increasingly powerful role in the operation and administration of modern haulage fleets and as company insiders assert, S-Way’s telematics are as comprehensive as any in the market.

However, the thing that binds all S-Way’s suite of treats together are the levels of detail and an overall standard of finish which, at least in this instance, appear significantly better than previous models. Again, it’s to be hoped this is the rule rather than the exception. For Iveco’s heavy-duty aspirations, much depends on it.

Notably, as the wordage on the cab highlighted, Iveco is also making a major point of its Cursor engines’ compliance with what’s known as the Euro 6 ‘Step E’ emissions requirement.

Simply explained, ‘Step E’ includes cold starts in the emissions measurement process, making it Europe’s toughest standard for diesel engines, but why Iveco Australia would choose to promote this somewhat obscure point so vividly is even more obscure. More importantly perhaps, Iveco points out this revised crop of Cursors is fully compatible with the latest generation of biofuels.

Similarly, as the company explained at Anglesea earlier in the year, all Cursor engines in the S-Way range – 9, 11 and 13 litre – use its patented Hi-eSCR emissions control technology. With no EGR input, Hi-eSCR is described as a single after-treatment system featuring a passive DPF (diesel particulate filter) which does not require driver intervention for DPF regeneration.

As for AdBlue consumption in the SCR-only system, Iveco product manager Emilio Foieri reports, “Between seven and eight percent of fuel consumption.”

Fortunately, diesel consumption of the B-double demonstrator proved to be exceptionally good.

On the road

With the premium AS flagship model rated to S-Way’s maximum gross combination mass (GCM) of 70 tonnes, power obviously comes from the biggest engine in the range, the 12.9 litre Cursor 13 offered in two ratings – a standard setting of 530hp (387kW) at 1700rpm with 2400Nm (1770lb-ft) of torque at 950rpm, and an optional 550hp (410kW) version with peak power at 1600rpm and 2500Nm (1844lb-ft) of torque at 1000rpm.

In prime mover layout, there are four wheelbases from 3200 to 3300, 3500 and 3650mm, with the test unit built on the shortest length.

For B-double duties, the test truck ran the higher engine rating coupled with the model’s standard shifter, the supremely smooth and highly intuitive ZF Hi-Tronix 16-speeder. In the AS, the automated box uses a direct-drive top gear running into a standard rear axle ratio of 3.09:1 (a 3.4:1 ratio is also available) to deliver 100km/h at the engine’s peak power point of 1600rpm.

Meantime, with the front and rear of the cab mounted on airbags and underneath, a suspension system with parabolic leaf springs up front and an eight-bag electronically controlled air suspension at the rear, S-Way’s ride and road manners were exceptionally good. In fact, overall handling, road manners and cab comfort during the day-long exercise were at the very least equal to the best in the business and the first indication that the S-Way AS offers something special in Iveco’s linehaul lineage.

In performance terms, this latest evolution of the long-serving Cursor 13 may well have the potential to subdue the engine’s somewhat checkered reputation with some sections of the Australian market. Certainly, in this evaluation, and with the obvious support of a transmission completely in tune with the engine’s traits and abilities, Cursor was both impressively responsive and when it counted most, surprisingly gritty.

On the deceptive drag up Skyline, for instance, the combination comfortably held 12th gear with the tacho dropping no lower than 1500rpm.

Admittedly, cynics might suggest the test unit’s gross weight of 55 tonnes was perhaps on the light side for a B-double but then again, it’d be just as easy to suggest that most linehaul B-doubles run at weights considerably less than maximum GCM anyway.

Whatever the cynics might say though, S-Way’s fuel return of 1.95km/litre (5.5mpg) was stunningly good. It’s worth noting though, fuel capacity for linehaul duties is marginal at 1010 litres (630 litres right tank, 380 litres left tank) with an 80 litre AdBlue tank.

Yet for no one reason but rather, a collection of evolutionary refinements, Iveco’s S-Way flagship was impressively surprising. Or maybe, surprisingly impressive. Either way, this was a truck that blew perceptions and expectations out the exhaust.

Moreover, there’s a lot more to S-Way than the details mentioned here. Like, standard auxiliary braking in all S-Way models is a three-stage engine brake but Cursor 13 variants have the added bonus of ZF’s highly effective Intarder hydraulic retarder as standard equipment.

There’s one function, however, unlikely to win too many accolades from drivers. It’s called Eco-Switch, allowing a swap from the transmission’s normal fully automated operation to an ‘Eco-Fleet’ manual mode for 60 seconds if, as Iveco explains, ‘traffic or road conditions temporarily require the driver to manually override the auto mode.’ But Eco-Fleet also cuts engine power and torque, so it’s hard to see most drivers willingly making the swap.

All up, S-Way won’t be all things to all people, a fact acknowledged by Iveco insiders. Asked, for example, if the absence of a bigger bore engine than Cursor 13 is a drawback to Iveco’s bid for stronger heavy-duty sales figures, a forthright Michael May said simply, “Sure, a 15 or 16 litre would be nice, but we can only concentrate on what we have.”

True, but what S-Way gives Iveco more than anything else is a truck with evolution on its side and accordingly, the distinct potential to build a better business.

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