Mercedes-Benz Drive Day 2011
Join Steele Carins, new Senior Editor for roadtrains.com.au as he undertakes his introduction into the world of Mercedes-Benz.
As a child, raised by a father whose appreciation of European engineering instilled a sense of awe, the brand Mercedes-Benz was up there in my list of top ten. Well, that was in my list of “Comfort and Leisure.” This childish benchmark has now been rewritten, after my experience of the Mercedes-Benz Drive Day held at the Mount Cotton Training Centre on the Gold Coast. Mercedes-Benz has now graduated to my list of “Safety, Economy and Practicality”. And is it any wonder, as Mercedes-Benz celebrates 125 years in the forefront of the automotive industry. In 1886 they released their first motorcar, following only two years later with a car gearbox, and the first V engine, a V2. In 1936 they produced the world’s first series production engine with petrol injection, and the world’s first diesel engine production car. 1951 saw them patent the world’s first safety body with crumple zones. The list goes on and on, and I have only been referring to cars, not trucks.
Now, you may wonder why I am referring to cars, more than trucks, and it’s very simple, if not inconsequential. I’m not a truck person. It’s not that I dislike trucks, it’s entirely the opposite, they, and their operators amaze me. It’s just that they stress me. Their sheer size, power, bulk, and did I mention size, overpower me. Yet, I have once owned a truck. A Bedford TK lazy axle, with a beaver tail flat deck, purchased for transporting machinery. No wonder trucks to me, equal stress. That rig had a gearbox determined to alert all within 500 meters that I had attempted a gear change. And steering, after driving it for a month, people suspected I had undergone plastic surgery to enhance my arms.
If only I had driven an Actros back then, life may have proceeded down a different freeway.
The first thing that struck me was the Astros’s ease of operation. The layout of the cabin is designed for total ease and comfort. The Power Shift transmission, with its additional functions of Rock-free mode, fantastic for loaded hill starts, high speed reverse gears, and direct first-to-reverse shift, are all every day features designed with three things in mind. Operator fatigue, safety and economy. As a non-driver, it was easy to see these functions being used and understand how any operator would benefit from them. With these features packed into this Telliigent system, the correct gear required is selected around speed, load and current engine mode. Even I could change gears in this. Coupled to any of seven different engine configurations, with four outputs for the 11.9 litre V6, from 360 hp (265kW) to 480 hp (350kW) and three outputs for the 15.9 litre V8, providing 510 hp (375kW) to 600 hp (440 kW) power is plentiful and incredibly smooth.
All on-road trucks are fitted with driver’s side airbag and seat belt pre-tensioner, which tightens the belt to the operator in the event of an accident, ABS, and ASR (Accereration Skid Control). Now this ASR was…clever. We were given the opportunity to test this on a wet and oiled skid pan in both a sedan and Sprinter van. With the system turned on, driving around the track, deliberately trying to lose control in a spin or slide, was very difficult. Whenever I oversteered or overpowered either vehicle, this ASR would take over my throttle, and brake the appropriate wheel to ensure steering and control remained. It would make an amateur handle black ice better than an expert. With the system turned off, it took all my skill to keep the vehicle under any sort of control, massive understeer and loss of rear end control occurring on every corner.
Telligent stability control (ESP) is a standard fitting on the 4X2 and 6X4 Actros air suspended prime movers. This system recognises instability, and helps to counteract it by precise truck and trailer braking in unison with engine torque adjustment. This was demonstrated to us and we were given the opportunity to experience it driving an Actros fitted with outrigger wheels on the trailer. It was a strange sight, seeing drivers throwing this truck around a circular track, trying to get it to topple over onto the outriggers, yet time and time again it recovered itself from their efforts.
Other features we tested on both truck and car were Active Brake Assist, Telligent Lane Assistant, and Telligent proximity control. Standard on all on-road air suspended trucks; the Active Brake Assist was strange to test. To be in a vehicle following another, and for the leading to stop, and to have to keep driving straight at the back of it without swerving or braking, was, well, odd! But firmly and smoothly, each vehicle warned the operator with visual and noise alerts in three stages, before taking over braking from slight, to full stop. Simply amazing to experience. The Telligent Lane Assistant is an optional feature that would be of benefit to any operator. It detects if the vehicle is unintentionally leaving its current lane and warns the operator with a warning buzzer in the relevant speaker, so if the vehicle is crossing unguided into the right hand lane, the right hand speaker buzzed. Very simple, but effective. Another option is Telligent proximity control, which can help to ensure that the speed of the Actros, and the distance from the vehicle it is following, are automatically regulated to the changing traffic conditions. All these systems are of huge benefit in safety and performance.
The appearance of the Actros is shapely and aerodynamic. What does stand out are the size of the windscreen, side windows and rear view mirrors. All designed to enable the most visibility for operators both day and night. The head lights appear average in size, but they are optional bi-xenon, both high-beam and dipped-beam. This equates to almost triple the luminous power available on high-beam. More than enough. The model we tried also had an optional roof mount spotlight cluster of four lights, which would not only light up the road to a much greater distance than the lower headlights, but also looked fantastic, in chrome tube moulding from beside the air horns on the roof, folding down towards the windscreen.
Sitting back now, as I prepare this article, I am still amazed at the innovation and technology available today with Mercedes Benz. As I have stated, I am a trucking novice, and went to this Drive Day with an open mind, but expecting to see trucks that were more efficient to run. How ignorant was I. No doubt Mercedes Benz trucks are not the only international company who are devoting as much time and money in the area of research and development into safety, comfort and economy, but I am sure that they are easily one of the forerunners, and intend to remain there.
Thanks Mercedes Benz, your day, like the weather, was superb, and I left with a new appreciation of the trucks of today. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!