Volvo FH16 truck video Review

By: Steve Skinner and Matt Wood


Swedish models have lost that swaying feeling but gained even more creature comforts.

 

As anyone who has driven an FH Volvo on an Australian highway or rough urban road knows, their renowned driver comfort can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, the big Swedish trucks provide a beautifully smooth ride over the rough stuff.

On other hand, they can sometimes feel like a Viking longboat, with the cab occasionally lurching sideways on the chassis.

That swaying feeling was one of the reasons Volvo has engineered the first new FH cab in 20 years, after an intense research and development (R&D) process and input from 3,000 drivers around the world.

And judging by our drive of the new FH — which begins Australian mass production in Brisbane in December — the comfort is still there but the pitching has gone.

Engines

We drove four variants of the new model over a circuit west of Brisbane, taking in Warwick and Toowoomba.

They were a 13 litre 500hp (370kW) version pulling a single trailer; a 13 litre 540hp (400kW) model pulling a B-double; a 16-litre 600hp (440kW) variant in front of a single; and the flagship 700hp (515kW) big banger hauling a B-double.

They have basically the same engines and drivelines as before but the FH has a completely new cab with plenty of new pros as well as a few new cons.

Volvo -FH16,-700,-Globetrotter ,-truck ,-reviews ,-ATN

 

Cab and Controls

One of the first things you notice about the new FH from the outside is that it seems taller.

In fact it is — the cab is 4cm higher on the chassis, to allow for the addition of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) in the next round of engine emissions standards.

Volvo reckons the new cab also looks more aggressive than its predecessor, and let’s face it, image can be nearly as important for some truck buyers as car buyers.

There’s a new grille and the new straight A-pillar means the cab doesn’t slope back at the front as much as it used to, which gives it a ‘tougher’ looking side-on stance (and more space inside).

What really counts, but can’t be seen, is the cab is even stronger and safer than before, thanks to new grades of steel and a refined front underrun protection system that absorbs more collision energy without adding weight.

Twenty-six new FHs were crashed inside the Swedish R&D centre during testing.

After climbing into the cab I noticed a major change straight away — the dashboard is flat and lower. This means it’s great for filling out your logbook on, and to do that it’s easier to swing your left leg over the auto gearstick than it used to be too.

The dashboard being flat also means your bits and pieces could fly everywhere unless you also use the grippy storage pad with a lip all ’round. There’s a new and clearer instrument panel, which is still simple.

The Globetrotter cab is as high as ever, with an escape hatch which doubles as a sunroof that’s great for motoring in the daylight.

But it’s at sleep time you might be annoyed there’s no longer the XXL cab option for those operators prepared to pay extra for it. Nevertheless there is an optional 955m extendable bunk.

Volvo -FH16,-700,-Globetrotter ,-truck ,-reviews ,-ATN3

 

Performance

13-litre 540hp (400kW) FH 16

The first leg of our drive day was from the Volvo factory and HQ in Brisbane’s west to Warwick. My conveyance was the 13-litre 540hp (400kW) FH model pulling a B-double set at 54 tonnes all up.

I couldn’t start it at first though, because I couldn’t find the ignition, which has moved from the right side of the steering wheel to the left, to prevent knee damage from the keys in the event of an accident.

Looking right for pesky cars at the first couple of intersections was made easier by the numerous centimetres in extra visibility between the straighter A-pillar and the mirrors, which are no longer housed.

Later, when we got off the Ipswich Motorway and onto the rougher Cunningham Highway, the reduced sway became especially noticeable.

Volvo says it has achieved this through new cab suspension and redesigned suspension on the chassis, for example the rear sway bars have been inverted.

The steering felt nice and direct. The 13-litre engine seemed a bit sluggish up a few rises on the highway so I was a little concerned about how it would cope with Cunninghams Gap, one of the steepest long grades in Australia.

But I needn’t have worried. After expecting it to get below 20km/h, the 540 powered up at 35km/h at 1,800rpm most of the way, except for the last pinch at the tippy top when it got down to 20 but didn’t drop out of cruise control.

The engine fan only came on three times, briefly and remarkably quietly at that.

After a coffee stop at the Warwick Caltex (highly recommended) it was time to head further west along some undulating terrain.

Volvo -FH16,-700,-Globetrotter ,-truck ,-reviews ,-ATN5

 

16-litre 600hp (440kW) FH 16

This time I was in the 16-litre 600hp (440kW) FH16 pulling a single trailer at 41 tonnes, so needless to say the Volvo did it easily.

The quiet stretch of road gave an opportunity to experiment with some of the heaps of electronic wizardry in Volvos, which new drivers really need some expert guidance with in order to use effectively.

The electronics includes fuel-saving measures such as ‘I-roll’ and Volvo says it plans to offer customers driver training in fuel efficiency (keeping your foot off the accelerator and brakes as much as possible is the main thing).

It could be a case of the nut behind the wheel, but I couldn’t work out how to activate the over-run control to kick in at 100km/h, without setting the cruise control down at 96km/h. Now that’s not a bad speed to cruise at anyway, but realistically most line-haul drivers are going to want to go faster than that.

New technology for operators is a telematics gateway between truck and workshop; and the option of ‘I-See’ for long-distance applications, where journeys are recorded so next time an ‘auto-pilot’ in the transmission works out the best combination of gears, accelerator and brakes to minimise fuel use.

At this point it’s worth noting a few surprising omissions in the electronic line-up. One is an audible overspeed warning. For a little over a hundred bucks you can buy an after-market global positioning system (GPS) based gismo that does that, and I was surprised the FH doesn’t have an inbuilt beeper you can activate.

Secondly, another gismo you can buy for $140, a dashboard video camera which can be erased after each trip. If their trucking company hasn’t already beaten them to it, drivers are increasingly buying these out of their own pockets to cover their backsides if a lunatic car driver causes an accident and tries to blame them.

500hp (370kW) FH 16

The next leg was in a 500hp (370kW) FH at 40 tonnes, and the difference between coil spring and air bag cab suspension became noticeable.

The road was rougher, but so was the ride on the cab springs, but still comfortable.

It was on this leg one of the Australian Volvo engineers who has been working on the new FH for a couple of years (there have been more test kilometres done in Australia than anywhere else) explained the new braking capabilities.

Firstly the parking brake is no longer a handle, but more like a wide electronic button.

You pull to activate and push to release.

No big deal, but the clever part is the parking brake also acts as an emergency brake if the brakes fail. You can pull it out when driving along and it will activate the spring brakes in a graduated fashion while the ABS does its thing, so you don’t smoke the tyres up.

Meanwhile, the trailer brake is no longer a button on the dash, but a lever on the right of the steering column. Pull it up to the first stage for a tug test; and pull it all the way up while driving if you want to bleed off some speed using the trailer rather than the prime mover (it’s programmed so it doesn’t lock the wheels).

Volvo’s Active Cruise Control (ACC) is amazing and handy, using radar to keep a set distance between you and the vehicle in front.

I had been using it successfully on the open road in combination with the Volvo engine brake (a combination of engine and exhaust), but learnt the hard way you can’t assume the service brakes are always hooked up.

As we were pulling in to a truck stop outside Toowoomba, I thought I’d experiment with the whole hog of automatic activation, using the truck in front as a guinea pig.

The auxiliary brakes did their thing (and from memory the gears kicked down); the flashing light came on; but as the trailer in front got closer, nothing else was happening and I couldn’t take any chances, so I whacked my foot on the brake pedal. Turns out the trailer brakes need to have ABS for the truck brakes to come on automatically.

Volvo -FH16,-700,-Globetrotter ,-truck ,-reviews ,-ATN4

 

700hp (515kW) FH 16

Finally it was time to jump into the FH16 700hp (515kW) big banger towing a B-double and grossing 61 tonnes.

As you would expect the Volvo flagship was a pleasure to drive and the leather seat added a nice touch.

We didn’t need the grunt on the flat but it was handy going down the infamous Toowoomba Range, in fifth and sixth gears in manual mode.

The Volvo engine brake held the combination up well, with only a few taps on the foot brake needed.

Last but not least, for those who like familiarity, we should mention the mesh bug screen is the same on the new FH.

Specifications

Make/Model: Volvo FH16 700

Engine: 16-litre, 6 cylinder SCR

Outputs: 700hp (515kw) with 3,150Nm of torque

Transmission: I-Shift 12-speed automated manual

Wheelbase: 3.85m

Fuel Tanks: 1,200 litres (with Icepack)

Volvo -FH16,-700,-Globetrotter ,-truck ,-reviews ,-ATN6 

Another point of view on the Volvo FH

Words / Matt Wood

After talking and talking about the new Volvo FH it was great to be able to finally climb behind the wheel of the new heavy-duty contender.

It’s not often I get to drive a completely new vehicle, often we drive vehicles that have a new feature, an engine or transmission or even a face-lifted cab.

But the FH is all new from the ground up, except of course for the Euro 5 driveline which will remain with us, most likely until the introduction of ADR80/04 (Euro 6) emissions regulations.

Stairway to heaven

But, drive it I did. I started out the day in the flagship FH16 700 with a B-double set grossing 61,000kg. This meant I got the chance to throw the big 16-litre at Cunninghams Gap and see what the 700 was made of.

Climbing into the tall Euro cab requires a bit of effort, but this tends to be symptomatic of European cab overs.

If you’re carrying a coffee back to the truck you’d want to sit it on the floor before tackling the ascent to the peak.

Three points of contact and all that. 

The drive out of town gave me a chance to settle in and ponder the new features.

Within minutes of hitting the freeway one thing hit me straightaway: finally Volvo have a cab that doesn’t sway or nod. The cab suspension is light years ahead of the FH ‘Classic’ it replaces.

The 700’s Globetrotter XL cab was riding on air bags while the smaller trucks in our convoy, the FH500 and FH540 had cabs riding on mechanical struts.

Volvo -FH16,-700,-Globetrotter ,-truck ,-reviews ,-ATN7

 

One direction

A close second in the revelation department was the steering. A new chassis with new steering geometry has transformed the FH. The steering is well weighted but very direct. There’s very little rumble from the road surface feeding back through the wheel. And this is without the Volvo Dynamic Steering (VDS), slated to appear mid-2014.

The addition of the electric-assist steering system will be interesting and opens the door to a number of p ossibilities.

There’s even talk behind closed doors of the possibility of a loading dock assist function that lets you plot where you want the trailer to end up, on your smartphone, and the truck will park/dock itself.

Cab wise, it’s hard to picture the extra metre of cubic capacity until you climb behind the wheel of a new Globetrotter XL. I’m sorry to see the awesome XXL cab go but there’s plenty of room in the more ‘upright’ cab design. Just a narrower bed than in the old XXL shed.

All new clothes

In fact, the truck feels so different to its predecessor in terms of handling it makes the engines feel old-fashioned. It could just be the familiarity of the D13 and D16 engines but it was a little incongruous.

This isn’t a deal breaker, though, given the overall driving dynamics.

Of course, the 700 ate the climb up Cunninghams but still exhibited the same Volvo tendency to yawn, stretch, scratch itself then pull like hell rather than throw itself at the grade with guns blazing. By the end of the day I’d circulated through both of the 13-litre FHs and the two FH16s and come away impressed.

Even the more basic FH500 with a single trailer on board was sweet on the open road; in fact it left a lasting impression.

I ran back into town in the FH540 as a B-double via the Toowoomba Range which gave a chance to give the engine brake of the 13-litre engine a workout.

Running down the grade in sixth gear required only a few stabs of the brake pedal to keep things safe. I found the direct top gear in the I-shift tranny (1:1) ratio in the 13-litre made it easier to pull back on the open road than the overdrive geared 16-litre (0.78:1 ratio).

This made it easier to live with in undulating country as it didn’t have that 16-litre’s tendency to roll. But it’s all about the fuel economy, so throw on the 16-litre Volvo’s I-Roll free-wheeling function and overdrive ‘box and you’ll be rolling along in no time.

It’s new, it’s comfy, it’s well-appointed and it’s a smooth drive. Oh yeah, did I mention it’s safe?

 

You can also follow our updates by liking us on Facebook