International LoneStar truck review

By: Matt Wood


Matt Wood heads stateside to get his hands on a big shiny International LoneStar and satisfies the super trucker within.

International LoneStar truck review
The LoneStar

Recently in a small town in regional New South Wales, a five-year-old boy stood staring in wonder at the contents of the box that his dad had just given him. He looks up at his old man "Can … can I have it?" Wide-eyed, he says "Is it for me?"

Inside the box is a scale model of an International LoneStar, the hero of the American International heavy-duty range.

"Sure," is the reply.

"Wow, I’m taking this to show and tell!" he squeaks as he scurries out of the room.

The LoneStar tends to have that sort of effect on people.

Only days earlier in the United States, a bigger kid of the adult variety finds himself standing in front of the real thing. A black International LoneStar glittering in all its retro chrome glory and his reaction is only marginally more mature.

"Wow", he thinks. "I hope they let me drive it."

He even takes some pictures for show and tell.

It’s probably fair to say I’m easily amused. But that day at the Eaton test facility located in Marshall, Michigan we were introduced to a cross-section of the International range. From the baby TerraStar 4x4, the WorkStar vocational hauler to the ProStar highway hauler and of course the range topping LoneStar, International’s king of bling.

During the summer months, Eaton’s 600-acre (243-hectare) facility is pretty much booked solid with manufacturer testing schedules, training days, customer drive days and of course the occasional bunch of blow-in media, like us.

The circuit has a mix of highway, and off-road circuits, and like most test facilities it has lots of very interesting bits of gear tucked away to be flogged around the track when nobody is looking.

Enduring image

The enduring image of American trucking is often a Peterbilt 379 or Kenworth conventional with a towering chrome shrouded snout, but emissions targets are now also mandating fuel economy for Class 8 (heavy-duty) vehicles.

The aero look of most new American prime movers is at odds with the flat, portrait style radiator grille and vertical snorkels and stacks that we associate with a big American conventional. The reality is however, that all American manufacturers now have a slippery-shaped prime mover for the US long-haul market.

From the Freightliner Cascadia, Kenworth T680, to the Volvo VN and the newly launched Western Star 5700EX, a streamlined bonnet and cab is now the new face of trucking in the US. As the guys from Navistar like to point out, the International ProStar was the first real cab off the aerodynamic rank way back in 2007.

While aerodynamics are becoming a huge part of fuel saving targets in the US, engines, transmissions and final drive ratios are all now under scrutiny as OEMs all clamour to find that competitive edge with fuel savings.

Navistar itself is starting to claw its way back out of the advanced exhaust gas recirculation (AEGR) mire that it had become marooned in. The manufacturing behemoth had started to crumble under the weight of punishing warranty claims for the MaxxForce 13 and 15 engines, the payment of non-compliance penalties for making engines that didn’t meet the EPA10 regulations, a shareholder revolt and litigation from competitors.

Today, however it’s a different company that is climbing back into the ring.

Eaton Fuller Advantage

While we may have all been gazing longingly out the window at the assembled trucks, the guys from Eaton were keen to showcase some of the work they’ve been doing to chase fuel. The new Eaton Fuller Advantage range of on-highway transmissions has been designed to reduce weight and drag from the driveline.

Initially targeting line-haul applications, the 10-speed Advantage transmission is available as a manual shift or as an automated box and features a thinner iron case wall, a semi-dry sump lubrication system and the use of aluminium components where possible.

EatonFuller

The reduction in oil churning and drag on the driveline and the reduced heat and friction from the new unit has also seen the dropping of the transmission cooler as well. A reduction in the ratio gap between direct and overdrive is also new, allowing for lower rpm in direct while maintaining power.

The N13 and Advantage package is aimed at 1,150 to 1,240rpm as the optimum cruising revs with an amazingly tall (by Australian standards) diff ratio of 2.64.

Fleet testing to date has seen fuel economy improvements of up to 1.9 per cent.

As the American line-haul gross weight is only 36,000kg, it’s pretty clear this package won’t be landing in Oz anytime soon. But it does give an interesting indication of where Eaton is heading.

While Eaton has concentrated on long-haul applications, initially the company will also be developing more efficient trannies for higher gross weight and vocational applications. But what is heading for Australia in the near future is a free-wheeling function for the UltraShift Plus automated.

Indications are from Eaton that this will be available locally in the first quarter of 2015.

Navistar was the first to adopt the new Advantage cog box to slot behind the N13 engine in either manual or UltraShift Plus form.

Just to save any confusion, the N13 engine is actually a revamped MaxxForce 13.

The N13 uses a Cummins-sourced selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system in conjunction with a much reduced EGR flow rate to meet current US emissions standards and develops up to 475hp (354kW) and 1,700ft-lb (1,305Nm).

The 15-litre MaxxForce has also been dropped in favour of the 15-litre Cummins ISX.

The overwhelming consensus among those that I spoke to in the States was that the 13-litre product was going to be the engine of choice for most operators going forward. It’s also interesting to note everybody I spoke to in the US was talking about fuel economy and emissions; yet nobody was trying to slow trucks down.

While the Australian heavy-duty market becomes a battle ground between European, American and to a lesser extent Japanese engineering philosophies, much of the competing hardware can’t help but be influenced by the market of origin.

Most of the hardware of US origin has been developed in a market where trucks can legally maintain highway speeds of between 65 and 75 miles per hour (104 to 120km/h), though to be fair, at much lighter gross weights than Australia.

The Terrastar 4x4

Then it came time to drive the trucks, and, being a bit slow off the mark I was trampled in the stampede for the LoneStar. So I picked myself up, dusted myself off and headed for the smallest and perhaps the most ungainly looking offering at the track, the TerraStar 4x4.

Terrastar

The extended cab TerraStar was powered by a 7-litre MaxxForce engine that provides 300hp (223.7kW) and 660ft-lb (895Nm). An Allison auto shifts the gears and a Fabco shift-on-the-fly transfer case allows a quick shift into four-wheel drive.

The little International was unladen, so it was more like driving a larger than usual pick-up truck and it actually was a great little thing to drive.

I made a quick left turn onto the off-road circuit and engaged the front axle to see how it would behave — and it really did surprise me. The perky little 7-litre worked well with the auto box and was surprisingly quiet as well.

As much as I liked it, I doubt the TerraStar would make much sense on the current Australian market as there is just so much Japanese product already in this niche. But while its looks may have given some in our party indigestion, I actually thought it was a cracking little truck.

The International WorkStar

I ended up working my way up the food chain size wise and climbed aboard the International WorkStar. This 8x4 was fitted with the obligatory lift-up lazy axle that plagues many tippers in the northernmost states of the US.

Workstar

Some of the bigger tipper combinations seem to have so many axles that they look like a centipede on roller skates.

There was an N13 under the hood and a 10-speed Eaton UltraShift Plus automated manual transmission (AMT) bolted on behind it. Aside from the additional emissions technology bolted to the engine, the basic characteristics of the MaxxForce 13 engine are still there.

As with the Cat branded CT13 engine, that is currently on the Australian market, the N13 with its compacted graphite iron (CGI) block was very quiet and smooth. The 4.1 diff ratio of this truck also added to the familiar feel of the WorkStar performance wise and the 10-speed box wasn’t really challenged by the drive.

Both the cab superstructure and interior were very similar to the Cat product currently available in Australia.

The Prostar

I was very curious to climb behind the wheel of the ProStar. This is the truck the Australian Cat truck range is based on.

Prostar

I’ve clocked up quite a few kilometres behind the wheel of the Aussie product over the past couple of years so I really wanted to see what its American counterpart was like on the road. And on climbing in, with the exception of the steering wheel being in the wrong spot, it was all very familiar indeed, though the bad taste fairy had been swinging her magic wand around the cab when this particular truck was specced up.

The combination of the bright blue exterior, the grey plastic interior and the brightest, fakest-looking fake wood grain I have ever seen in my life was something to behold. I’m not sure what the official name for that wood grain finish is, but it should be called something like ‘Reflux Dreaming’.

However, badges aside, it felt like I was sitting in a Cat truck back home. Under that familiar looking swoopy hood was the N13 engine at 450hp (335.6kW) and between 1,550 and 1,700ft-lb (2,102 and 2,305Nm) at a mere 1,000rpm. But it was also equipped with something virtually unheard of in Australian heavy trucks — a 2.47 final drive ratio.

The tranny was a 16-speed Eaton UltraShift Plus AMT, the extra cogs of the AMT especially come into play when slotted behind a multi-torque engine such as this one.

At American weights with a bogie trailer on the back, the combination rolled away with ease. The 16-speed tranny responded well to the right foot, skipping nicely where it needed to.

This box is a new LSE version which stands for line-haul small step efficiency. There’s only a 17 per cent step between the gear ratios to keep the engine working in the most fuel efficient part of the torque band.

Out on the track, the ProStar felt extremely light on its feet yet it steered very well, exhibiting many of the handling characteristics that I’d praised the Cat product for back home. The LSE box did a good job of keeping the tacho needle low but punted the combination along quite well.

Cab wise, I do have to say I’m definitely a fan of a big American bunk. Anything more than 60 inches (152.4cm) seems like the height of luxury.

Finally, the LoneStar

Then it was LoneStar time. This truck set out to make aero sexy, a slippery alternative to the old school face of the heavy-duty 9900; you either love it or hate it.

The retro-styled LoneStar was launched in 2009 and took its styling cues from the venerated International D Series pick-up of the late 1930s.

Lonestar Nose

The LoneStar has since been the small fleet or owner-operator offering for International, giving a higher level of spec. Interestingly, some fleets have also bought into the LoneStar in an effort to attract drivers.

It goes without saying the LoneStar is an imposing sight in the flesh; this one was finished in black with vertical stacks to finish off the super trucker look.

I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.

This truck was powered by a 15-litre Cummins ISX at 500hp (372.8kW), torque was the expected 1,850ft-lb (2,508Nm) but at a low 1,200rpm.

In line with current emissions regulations, this Cummins used both EGR and SCR to keep the exhaust clean.

A 13-speed Eaton MHP automated box sat behind the Cummins. In this case, the MHP stands for multipurpose high performance and featured electronic clutch actuation, and can deal with higher torque ratings of up to 2,250ft-lb (3,051Nm). Power got to the ground via a 3.55 final drive.

On climbing into the shiny black tractor the little extra bits of interior bling really gave the cab a lift.

The basic layout is the same as the ProStar dash and it would be easy for it to drown in mediocrity under the weight of grey plastic. However, the LoneStar does make you feel a bit special.

Even as I was idling away for my first lap of the track I was searching for a shop window to see my reflection in. Visibility from the driver’s seat was far better than I was anticipating and I had a good sense of where I was on the road and my lane.

At such a light 36 tonne gross weight, the 15-litre hardly raised a sweat yet it was somewhat comforting to hear familiar chortle of a 15 litre chugging away under that striking bonnet.

As with all of the Eaton AMTs I drove that day, the MHP box skipped through the gears nicely and clutch actuation when reversing was impressive. That said I didn’t have a chance to drive any of the trucks bobtail.

Lone Star

Final Thoughts

A combination of the glittering bonnet out front and that big well-appointed bunk out back was giving me the nagging urge to hit the nearest interstate in search of big American horizons. Unfortunately, all too soon the fun was over and I had to give the big jigger back.

I had to ask the guys from Navistar Auspac about the possibility of the LoneStar making its way onto Australian soil and "never say never" was the official response.

A couple have made their way to New Zealand already via a local dealer. NZ also still gets the 9800 cab-over which is also assembled and sold via a local dealer.

As a hero truck the LoneStar makes a great brand ambassador and a definitive visual statement. It’s a shame they won’t let me have one to take to show and tell.

 

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