Scania R480 - Review

By: Matt Wood


There’s only so much you can learn from a daytime run in a new model truck, so Matt Wood went in search of the complete Scania overnight sleepover experience

 

Who said that I lack commitment to my job? I brave sub zero temperatures, endure sleepless nights, ingest some truly horrible roadhouse food and put my body on the line in an effort to find out what’s really going on with some of the new trucks hitting our highways. Sort of like a road-going Bear Grylls (except I draw the line at drinking my own wee).

Such was the case when I borrowed a Scania R480 for a couple of days recently. While I’ve driven a few Scanias over the past months, I’ve never had to sleep in one on the road. So I decided to take the new SCR six for a drive in the country and make the most of the on board accommodation.

The quest for fuel economy and the potential cost of emissions is starting to make the 13-litre engine a viable alternative for some operators. Our traditional 15-litre market is seeing some 13-litre alternatives being offered from European shores in a variety of horsepower ratings.

Not many people would argue that a B-double role that runs at maximum legal gross weights, or mass management weights most of the time, is the ideal environment for a 13-litre engine. But it’s worth considering the many applications that require the cubic capacity of a 26-metre B-double, but may only gross 45 to 50 tonnes. And it’s these kinds of roles that manufacturers like Scania are pitching their 13-litre contenders to, whether it is regional grocery distribution or diminishing load roles like tankers or regional express freight runs. Operators in these roles are the real audience for the R480. In the right gig, a smaller capacity engine can provide real fuel savings.

When we think of the R-series, the V8 range tends to spring to mind first, and of course it’s no surprise given that the V8s are the glory models of the Scania range. But behind the image of the shiny eight cylinder badge is a whole range of six cylinder-powered trucks quietly plugging away behind the scenes.

Scania released its ADR80/03 (Euro 5) compliant Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) five and six cylinder range earlier this year. The five cylinder 9.3-litre engine and 12.7-litre six share a common bore and, thanks to Scania’s modular approach to engine design, also share a lot of engine cylinder components. These engines are being sold alongside the existing Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) XPI engine range.

The R480 represents the base of the R series range, but that didn’t stop me from packing my bags and taking it on the road for a couple of days to get a feel for living in the standard height R cab. So I fronted up at Scania HQ in the Melbourne suburb of Campbellfield with a few of the things I figured a driver would usually take on the road for a few days. However, this truck was fitted with a built-in fridge which meant leaving my own fridge at home.

The prime mover was hooked up to a B-double set and grossing 56 tonnes, meaning that I was going to need all of the 480 ponies hiding inside the 13-litre engine block. I threw my bedding into the bunk, my luggage into one of the exterior locker boxes and gadgets, chargers, laptop and inverter into the cab. I figured I’d get going and make a mile before fiddling around in the cab for too long.

I got rolling out of Melbourne, tolerating the eternal construction zone that’s the Western Ring road before heading out of town on the Western Highway. My destination was the South Australian town of Keith, where I was going to camp for the night before heading down to Penola, then back towards home through Casterton and Hamilton before re-joining the Western Highway at Ararat for the run back into town. This works out to be 1,120 kilometres of rough, winding and undulating country highways and roads, and a decent enough test of ride, handling and power.

Get out of town

The 12-speed Opticruise transmission made the traffic out of town bearable, but the lack of cubic inches spinning the gears meant that the baby R-series used every ratio it could as I dealt with the ebb and flow of the traffic. Once out on the open road the six cylinder wound up to the legal limit and I started to settle in for the afternoon drive.

The climb up the Pentland Hills at Bacchus Marsh was the first real test of the day and the speedo needle fell quicker than the Greek share market. However, the transmission held onto eighth gear and the cabover maintained a steady 40km/h on the climb, lugging down to 1,300rpm easily.

As soon as the road started to level out, the Opticruise box tried for another gear. In this case I think that the ‘Opti’ in Opticruise actually stood for optimistic, because as soon as the truck started to make a bit of headway, the gearbox tried to up-change at 1,500rpm. This wouldn’t have worried its bigger V8 brothers, but it was a big ask for the six. But flicking the box into manual meant I could generate a bit more momentum before grabbing another gear with another couple of hundred rpm up my sleeve.

Once I was on more level ground I reverted to auto mode and resumed using the cruise control and hill descent. Having had the benefit of a few hours behind the wheel of various Scanias over recent months, I was cruising with my feet off the pedals and a thumb over each steering wheel-mounted cruise control and hill descent switch.

While this is a very easy way to drive, you still have to focus on the road ahead to get the best out of the cruise and descent system. And that of course brings us to the retarder. I have to say that the gear box mounted retarder is a fantastic bit of gear, and it works just as well on the six as it does on the bigger displacement engines. You can use it just to bleed off a bit of speed by pulling the steering column mounted retarder on a notch or two engaging the exhaust brake. Or, if more urgent braking is required, you can pull it around to full and you’ll get the full force of the retarder and exhaust brake, as well as gearbox downshifting.

The Dukes Highway is a rough, potholed, sorry excuse for a national freight route but the Scania soaked it all up with ease. That’s actually no mean feat considering how far back the turntable has to sit on the chassis. The Australian 6.3 to 6.5 tonne (mass managed) steer axle limit really disadvantages the European brands where, in their home markets, they are allowed seven tonnes on the steer axle.

I’d found cubby holes around the dashboard for my CDs, pens, mobile phone and log book. I noticed that the rubber coating on all of the storage surfaces kept everything from drifting around the cab on such a rough bouncy road surface. All my stuff stayed where it was put — a nice touch.

I rolled into Keith late in the evening and refuelled, the 700-litre tank meant that the R480 would need a drink before I headed back to the ranch. I brought up the fuel economy display on the instrument panel-mounted display, curious to see whether the six would deal with the heavy load frugally. My fuel consumption came out at 1.74km per litre on the trip west; not bad for a B-double at 56 tonnes.

I took a chance on a steak sandwich at the BP road house and immediately regretted it. I should have taken a leaf out of Bear Grylls’ book and chased down an unsuspecting steer with a couple of slices of bread in my hands instead. So, with stomach gurgling, I headed out to the Scania to settle in for the night. The standard height cab was easy enough to walk around in as I made myself at home, although the RSPCA would probably have issues if you started swinging cats around.

Shuteye in a Scania

The bed itself is 770mm wide but is extendable; all I had to do was tilt the steering wheel out of the way, slide both seats forward, sit on the edge of the bed, grasp the handle on the edge of the bed and slide myself forward. And voila — a 900mm wide bed. This may be all right for the occasional camp over but I doubt many could be bothered with the process of building their beds every night. Most drivers would probably just leave the bed as is.

So with curtains drawn and my Scania pyjamas on, I wriggled into bed and flicked off the lights and, five minutes later, on the edge of sleep, I found another drawback to the extendable bed. I needed a wee, but to get out of the truck comfortably meant sliding the bed back, and then sliding a seat back to get out of the truck. I briefly wondered what Bear Grylls would do, but immediately pushed the answer from my mind. Instead, I leant over the seat popped the door open and clambered awkwardly over the top of the seat and out into the night; not the easiest nor the most graceful cab exit or entry. But once safely installed back in bed, I started to drift off again and the last thing I heard between the whoosh of passing trucks was the somewhat worrying sound of a distant banjo; funny place, Keith.

With the pre-dawn light colouring the eastern sky, I woke up, packed up the bed, curtains and seats before cranking up the engine to take the chill out of the cab. I have to admit I slept like a baby, and I managed to find a place to stow all my gear neatly. Between the passenger side overhead compartment and the under cab locker boxes, which are accessible from inside the cab, bags and clothes were all neatly tucked out of sight.

I got mobile and the roads didn’t improve much as I headed south. Again the ride and handling of the Scania shone through on some narrow rutted bitumen. The 480 struggled with the climbs out of places like Casterton and Coleraine but, to be fair, most doubles at this weight would — at 56 tonnes on those long grades.

As an entry level model to the R-series range, the R480 proved that it can do the job when asked to, but I felt it would be happier shedding a few kilos. As a potential local and intrastate prime mover, the R480 is well-placed and, judging by my night in the bunk, a comfortable place to put your head down when required.

Where the cabover most shone though was in handling and ride and, base spec or not; the R-series handles and rides beautifully. There’s no nod or sway in the cab but it still saves the driver from jarring impacts through the seat, without any kick and buck.

On the road I was able to point the B-double at a corner and it behaved predictably and smoothly with no nasty surprises. Upon my arrival back at Scania Campbellfield, I climbed out of the cab fresh as a daisy. Fuel consumption on the trip back came in at 1.56km per litre, mostly due to the steep grades I insisted on pushing the vehicle up and down. The V8s may get all of the glory but it’s trucks like the humble R480 that will be the ones restocking the shelves of your local supermarket while you sleep.

As I passed the wind turbines that dot the ridges around Mt Langi Girhan, west of Ballarat, I decided to give the John Butler Trio a spin on the Scania stereo system. Again, for a fleet spec prime mover, I was impressed by the sound quality. The hippy vibe came through loud and clear as I passed the rotating blades while John Butler urged us to ‘treat our mama with respect’. The quality of the four-speaker, Bluetooth-enabled system with an auxiliary channel should be more than enough to while the hours away behind the wheel. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy to be driving the ADR80/03 (Euro 5) Scania with all of that green energy around.

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