ISXE5-powered Kenworth K200 truck review

By: Matt Wood


With Kenworth engine choice limited to EGR Cummins only for the last couple of years, the arrival of Cummins’ new 15-litre SCR powerplant has been eagerly anticipated. Matt Wood gets behind the wheel of an ISXe5 powered K200 to find out if the wait was worth it.

 

 

The Kenworth K200, the emissions-compliant cabover platform, finally has a flat floor.

It’s worth mentioning that in the current global manufacturing environment, at a time when local manufacturing seems to be dwindling rather than ramping up, the fact that Paccar actually invested in a new model for the relatively low volume Asia-Pacific right-hand drive market is no small vote of confidence for the Australian market.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was initially critical of some of the aspects of the K200 when it launched. Not least of the fact that there were no cup holders in the thing and there was little in the way of accessible storage near the driver.

I mean, I’d spent years whinging about the engine hump only to wish it would come back so I’d have somewhere to rest my sandwiches.

However, Kenworth wasn’t long in retrofitting cup holders and the release of the Business Class interior in 2012 saw the addition of wrap around curtains, which meant no more flashes of butt crack in the middle of the night.

The addition of steering wheel-mounted cruise control and engine brake controls also took over from the old fragile, micro switch-equipped stalks.

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Engine

Engine wise, the K200 has only been available with Cummins exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) power. While the 15-litre ISX has plenty of loyal fans there are also quite a few that have had to cope with some fairly consistent EGR issues.

EGR forces an engine to run hot, and there’s no getting away from the fact that re-burning exhaust gasses, cooled or not, is always going to raise engine temperatures.

On top of this there were also issues with the variable geometry turbo (VGT) some of which were popping like blown fuses with monotonous regularity. Cummins moved to address these issues while some Kenworth buyers were counting their fuel costs due to engine fan run times, not to mention heat stress on the rest of the drive train.

If the K200 had an Achilles heel it was the heat thrown out by the red engine underneath.

However, late last year Cummins announced the release of the ISXe5. Now Cummins and Kenworth buyers have the choice of EGR or selective catalytic reduction (SCR) on the 15-litre ISX engine. About 20 ISXe5 engines had been in the country for more than 12 months, undergoing extensive field testing in a number of applications.

I was lucky enough to stumble across one of these engines during this time and my initial drive left me with the distinct impression that Cummins had finally really nailed it and now maybe Kenworth had a powerplant that reflected the credentials of the KW ‘bug’ on the front.

The ISXe5 is more than just an ISX with without the afterburner (EGR diesel particulate filter). This engine has a single overhead camshaft and has done away with the sometimes problematic VGT and now uses a waste gated turbo, effectively simplifying some of the more complex parts of the engine.

As far as the fuel system goes the ISXe5 uses common rail, constant high pressure XPI fuel injection, which maintains a constant pressure of 30,000psi regardless of engine speed.

While the basic architecture of the engine is pretty much the same, as I was to find out, these changes have had a dramatic effect on the performance characteristics of the ISX.

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Transmission

I was testing the ISXe5 Kenworth K200 with produce hauler Collins. The company has been early adopters of automated manual transmissions (AMT) and on climbing into the K200 for the first time, I see that this truck is no exception and is equipped with Eaton’s UltraShift Plus AMT.

This gearbox has no clutch pedal, unlike its AutoShift predecessor, and when set up right can be a nice bit of gear to use.

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Cab and Controls

The K200 itself is all the truck it needs to be, a smooth riding cabover that retains the feeling of driver involvement even with the AMT and keeps with the spirit of the original design.

The addition of the Business Class interior has dragged the KW into the new millennium with built in under bunk fridges, a walk in sleeper and wrap around curtains. Funnily enough one of the things I appreciated the most about the interior is how the radios have been moved down to the dash from overhead.

On previous models, at night you could go cross eyed trying to tune in a radio station or change a CD and when you finally did you’d have to wait for your night vision to return.

Under the skin the K2 now has a full complement of safety features including electronic stability control (ESC) and electronic braking system (EBS) available.

Performance

Regular users of the Sturt or Western Highway’s will be familiar with the gleaming green livery of Collins Adelaide. The South Australian-based refrigerated transport company specialises in trucking fresh produce from Adelaide to Melbourne and Sydney.

While the trucks on the road may be well presented, I wasn’t prepared for the sight of the Collins’ head office and depot in Wingfield. It was absolutely spotless. Even the older local trucks that I saw still had that cared-for look.

Not only that, even the two Daysworth yard tugs had been painted in the distinctive Collins green and sported the company logo.

Collins Adelaide runs a fleet of just over 80 trucks — though with the amount of them you see on the road sometimes, you could be forgiven for thinking that they had more.

My reason for visiting the depot was to take a look at a recent acquisition; a Cummins ISXe5-equipped K200, which is being used on Collins’s Adelaide-Sydney shuttle run.

I met Collins’ Services Manager Paul McPhee at the depot before we hit the road. The shiny, tyre blacked K200 sat on the workshop pits awaiting our departure.

Heading out to Virginia to pick up our trailer’s bobtail was a bit of a stretch for the AMT.

Understandably, for a company that runs at such high gross weights, the AMT has been locked into starting off in second gear, but this can make things a bit slow and jerky on take-off with no trailers on the back.

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Once out of town, we were able to motor along nicely and before long we had arrived on the broad, flat, fertile plains of Virginia to pick up the two trailers for the drive ahead.

On hooking up the A-trailer, I noticed that the clutch engagement of the AMT has only improved since the last time I’d used it. It was still jerky and reasonably difficult to judge when compared to a Euro transmission, however, this may be more down to my lack of familiarity with the truck rather than a huge shortcoming on the part of the transmission.

The ISXe5 sounds like it means business and at no time is this more pronounced than when it’s pulling a full load.

While the exhaust note may be muted, it has a throatiness that points to days gone by; even the waste gate turbo makes it sound more old school than any modern day engine has any right to. But, from my politically insensitive position, it sounds just fine to me.

However, more importantly the 15-litre seemed to be happy to dig deep with a big load on its back. With Paul at the wheel the AMT climbed through the gears happily while I looked on, as with my previous drive of the e5 I couldn’t help but note how cool the engine was running and little the engine fan came on.

On the pull towards Daveyston at 66-tonne gross, the green machine lugged to the top only one full gear down in the Eaton ‘box with the tacho needle tapping the 1,500rpm mark.

And again the coolant temp within remained in the realms of normality under 100C with short bursts of the engine fan which didn’t seem to suck too much horsepower out of the engine as it was working.

This K200 was one of the last evaluation units put on the road and it now has 273,000km on the clock.

These have been racked up very quickly given the 3,000km return trip every day but Paul says that on the whole they’ve been wrapped with the fuel economy with a fuel average of 1.63km/l and DEF usage of 5-8 percent of diesel burn.

Good figures for a vehicle running at such consistently heavy weights.

In fact, the e5 is light years ahead of the other EGR units in the fleet with many returning around 1.5km/l on a good day.

Though it’s worth noting that this K200 is running a 3.91:1 final drive, which no doubt would be a big help.

I climbed back behind the wheel for my turn and, as the combination idled away from the parking bay, I could feel the eagerness of the powerplant under foot.

This is no fire breathing 600hp (441kW) Signature, just a fleet-spec 550hp (peak 580) (405kW) engine putting out 2,508Nm (1,850ft-lb) of torque, however, it put power to the black top admirably.

While I may give the impression that the engine is like the Cummins of old it is smoother and has lost that rev happy chattering that Cummins used to be renowned for.

Many early ISX’s and Signatures sounded like they were about to detonate as they sat idling. The ISXe5 seems to have taken the best of the old and the new to give the new donk a feel of low down power and performance without feeling the need to sink the right foot.

You don’t feel as if you have to push the engine along, it seems to push itself along just fine.

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Verdict

This is no tarted up oldie but a new platform to see in more technological developments along the way and the ISXe5 in just one step along that path.

I hopped out of the K200 in Mildura and Paul retook his rightful place behind the wheel. As he drove away, I couldn’t help but think that I may have compared to K200 to a pair of denim jeans, but in the case of Collins Adelaide, those jeans have been washed, starched and ironed to within an inch of their lives.

Specifications

Make/Model: Kenworth K200

Engine: 15-litre Cummins ISXe5 with SCR

Power/Torque: 550hp (peak 580hp) (410kW-433kW)/1,850ft-lb@1,200-1,600rpm (2,508Nm)

Transmission: 18-speed Eaton UltraShift Plus AMT

Final Drive: 3.91:1

Fuel Capacity: 1,400 litres (Approx)

DEF Capacity: 200 litres

GCM: 90,000kg

 

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