A pleasure for driver and passenger
VIC OLIVER gets behind the wheel of the Volvo FH 440 6×4 truck tractor and comes away impressed.
Our FOCUS Volvo FH 440 6×4 truck tractor test unit was coupled to a set of flat-deck inter-link trailers complete with fully loaded 6 m and 12 m ISO containers, bringing the total gross mass of the rig to 53 740 kg.
Using our normal test route along the N12 highway to Witbank (new name: Emalahleni) and back, we recorded a total distance of 240 km and used 111,1 l of fuel, which equated to a good consumption figure of 46,29 l/100 km (2,16 km/l). However, according to the trip information displayed by the on-board computer, the overall fuel consumption was a slightly higher 2,2 km/l.
On the road, I found the Volvo to be extremely quiet and driver- and passenger-friendly. Being behind the wheel was a pleasure, with all controls easy to use and, as a driver, I immediately felt at ease and in complete control of the 54 t rig.
The Volvo D13 six-cylinder turbo intercooled engine, which produces 324 kW (440 hp) and 2 200 Nm of torque at low engine revolutions, is well suited to South African road conditions when operating at the 56 000 kg permissible mass allowance. Indeed, the 324 kW output is exactly the power that many professional long-distance operators have found to be optimal for vehicle productivity and fuel consumption.
In my opinion, the 12-speed I-Shift automated manual transmission combines the best characteristics and benefits of both a manual and fully automatic transmission. The electronically controlled splitter and range-change gearbox is designed for automatic changing and this is one of the factors making this vehicle so driver-friendly.
Travelling at the permissible speed of 80 km/h in top gear, engine speed is exactly in the middle of the maximum engine torque band, proving that the gearing is well matched and correct.
Seeing as this modern truck transmission can be operated in either automatic or manual, a clutch is necessary, but can be automatically engaged and disengaged without the driver’s intervention. To optimise fuel consumption, it is recommended that the Volvo be driven in automatic, with the manual gear change mode only being used in adverse road conditions.
Our test unit was not fitted with a retarder, which is available as an optional extra on this model. As a result, I was initially concerned about being able to slow the heavily-loaded vehicle on steep downhill gradients without overheating the foundation brakes of the truck and its trailers.
Surprisingly, however, I found that if driven correctly using the Volvo engine brake – which develops an amazing 300 kW of retardation – and by selecting the correct gear via the simple flick of a switch on the gear-change lever, I could slow the vehicle almost to a dead stop by using the truck brakes.
When cruise control is engaged on the downhill, the selected speed is kept constant by automatically engaging the engine brake and using the correct gear – another nice safety feature.
A three-spring bogie-type rear axle and suspension system is fitted, giving the rear axles good oscillation, which is an added advantage in tough operating conditions. Rear axle diff-locks are standard.
The FH 440 6×4 has automatically adjusted drum brakes incorporating an ABS anti-lock braking system. Spring brakes are fitted to the front and first rear axle, making the braking system as safe as possible.
A trailer brake hand control is standard and, when operated, engages the trailer brakes without engaging those of the truck. The driver can test that the trailer brakes are working while travelling, and has the option of applying the trailer brakes to reduce the risk of a jackknife.
Cab comfort is supreme and well suited to long-distance haulage, with double sleeping bunks and adequate storage space. Air-suspended driver and passenger seats are fitted, while electronically adjustable and heated rear-view mirrors and an outside sun visor add to driver comfort and safety.
During the test drive it was difficult to find anything that I disliked about the vehicle. Indeed, the only negative comment I have is that the test trailers were old and the rear trailer had a bad air leak. This resulted in a marginal waste of fuel, as whenever the vehicle was stationary the air pressure dropped and we had to idle for a few minutes to build up sufficient pressure to release the spring brakes.
In summary, if I were a road transport operator looking for a long-distance vehicle capable of pulling a 35 ton load, the Volvo 440 would rank as one of the top contenders.