Highway Heaven – Roadstar Drive & Review
Words and photography by Howard Shanks.
Western Star’s 4964FXT ‘Roadstar’ is the latest Limited Edition vehicle to roll onto Australian highways and it boasts a long list of five star features to commemorate Western Star’s 50th anniversary of the brand from 1967 to 2017, as Howard Shanks discovered.
Like most trucking aficionados my excitement to see this Limited Edition truck had been brooding since I’d first heard rumors about it’s pending release sometime back. Now, here in the foyer at Western Star’s, Australian HQ at Wacol, QLD, glancing through the ‘Roadstar’ brochure, my enthusiasm stirred as it certainly painted a glamorous picture of a machine that would more than stand out in the crowd.
“You’ll be impressed when you see inside,” Western Star’s Pat Cook informed as he passed the keys to ‘Roadstar’ moments later.
He was right!
As you open the driver’s door you’re greeted by the custom black leather door trim with a lavish white leather inlay panel and 6-inch top-of-the-range Alpine speakers that form part of the 5.1 surround sound system. Then as you step up into the cabin you notice the synthetic wooden floor. The seats are premium ISRI with matching upholstery.
One advantage for the interior designers is the ‘Roadstar’ is based on the 4900 series platform, consequently there is no engine intrusion into the cabin, then combine that with the dash mounted Eaton Ultrashift-Plus transmission control panel means there is plenty of space to move around between the seats.
“As well as commemorating Western Star’s 50-year heritage the ‘Roadstar’ concept builds upon the company’s long tradition of providing drivers with the best driving environment but takes it to the next level,” Pat informed. “Most blokes would remember the original Road Boss that was produced here at Wacol by the White Corporation before it evolved into Western Star. The model name draws on those roots with “Road” from the Road Boss and “Star” from Western Star.”
“But with this Roadstar we have gone one step further, by introducing a comfortable and practical living environment with all the features that modern drivers would typically use and need when they’re on the road away from home,” Pat added.
Now standing between the driver and passenger seats looking into the Stratosphere sleeper, my first impression is of a spacious up-market Winnebago motorhome – the type a Hollywood film star would enjoy. That’s largely because the interior of the 54-inch Stratosphere sleeper was customised by Gold Coast based specialised off road Caravan-Camper, Motorhome and Expedition-Vehicle manufacturer SLRV. Since the company opened their doors in 1972 they’ve gained an enviable reputation for building high quality vehicles where spacious live aboard facilities are required. All their vehicles are hand built by skilled craftsmen, using premium materials and componentry throughout with a focus on attention to detail and meeting specific customer requirements to ensure they are capable of enduring the most demanding terrain. “Put simply they are built to last” Pat added.
“When you visit SLRV’s facility and see how much attention to detail they put into their vehicles it really instils confidence that their equipment in this ‘Roadstar’ is built much like our Western Star trucks and more than capable of enduring our Australian conditions,” Pat informed.
On the driver’s side of the sleeper there’s a sizable counter top that houses a handy sink with a double tap which pumps both hot and cold water as well as potable water. Underneath the counter is a set of drawers, slide out the top drawer and there is the cutlery, cups, glasses and plates for living in the cabin. Below this is the door for the Microwave oven and finally a spacious 65-litre fridge/freezer lives in the bottom slot with ample room for enough tucker to keep even the biggest truckers fed for a week.
Located in the draw directly behind the driver’s seat is just what every Australian truck driver needs, a Nespresso coffee maker on a slide out draw. How convenient?
All the drawers and cupboards are fitted with secure locks to ensure they won’t open while the truck is in motion.
Above the counter and next to the rear sleeper wall is an upright cupboard and wardrobe space. Along the remainder of the rear wall is a stylish two-seat leather lounge. On the left hand side of the sleeper directly behind the passenger seat is another cupboard with a foldout desk that is easily accessed when seated on the lounge. And it’s here where you find all the switches and controls required to operate the interior workings of the cabin. The controls for the hot water and chassis mounted Ecowind auxiliary air conditioner are located above the counter on the right side of the sleeper.
About now you’re probably thinking, well this is all very good, but have they forgotten the all-important bed to sleep in, because there is no visible bunk.
However, look closely and there is a slight giveaway to its whereabouts. Those three steel rods fixed between the counter top and ceiling are not merely to give the kitchenette a fashionable retro style look. These are the guides that the bed uses when it lowers itself from the ceiling.
To lower the bed, simply ensure everything is clear on the bench tops, and then flick the button on the console and the bed slowly lowers itself. In the process the wardrobe lowers into a hidden space behind the cupboards. The process takes a little over a minute for the full size single bed complete with inner spring mattress to lower itself onto the counter top. A small slide out stepladder conveniently located behind the driver’s seat provides easy access into the bed. With the bed lowered there is plenty of space around the sleeping area and no obstacles to bang your head on, if you happen wake up suddenly in the middle of the night.
After the driver has had his required sleep, he simply makes the bed and flicks the switch to return the bed back to roof to reveal the kitchenette and living space.
However there’s more. After a long hard day on the road, you’ve cooked you dinner, washed the dishes and now you can enjoy a hot shower. The shower cubical can either be located on the ground beside the right hand side of the sleeper, for the not so shy truckers, or on the deck plate between the trailer and sleeper for the more modest drivers. But best of all not more disgusting truck stop showers.
Now you’re clean, you can sit in the lounge and use your laptop on the desk or utilise the on-board entertainment system. This system includes a number of different essentials to give the driver that extra feeling of luxury.
Above the driver’s head, when sitting in the driver’s seat, is a control system to adjust volume and the source for the audio coming out of the speaker, but thankfully the inclusion of a remote control means you don’t have to get up every time you need to adjust the volume.
Fixed to the inside of the angled roof at the front of the Stratosphere sleeper is a 32-inch curved TV screen. Its location is perfect when the driver wants to unwind on the lounge. While the driver is sitting on the lounge he can insert a USB stick in the handy slot provided to their left, and access its contents whether it is either audio or video or slip a DVD into the Alpine player. Meanwhile the main control centre will accept SD cards, if required.
In keeping with the theme of maintaining an environment where a driver away from home on the road can communicate easily with family back home or their trucking company management, the supplied keyboard with Wi-Fi capability makes connecting to the Internet a simple exercise. Below the curved screen there is a small camera, making Skype video calls possible out of the truck’s cabin. The system also includes a hard disk where further media can be added. This means drivers can access their photos, music, or anything else which takes their fancy.
There is no shortage of speakers fitted around the cabin including a discreetly hidden powerful subwoofer, when combined deliver a cinema style surround sound for watching movies.
Located on the passenger’s side in the overhead console that is also viewable from the cabin’s lounge, is the main control module for entire entertainment system. But the good news is there is a Bluetooth keyboard and remote control for the sound control which enables the driver to operate the system from anywhere in the cabin.
When the driver is at work behind the wheel, there is large LCD screen located in the right side of the overhead console. This screen displays a wide range of information, however when driving, the radio channel and volume can be seen easily and adjusted using the touchscreen. This screen will also display the picture from the GoPro camera that can be mounted in the middle LED light on the front bull bar or the image from the blind spot camera located under the left hand air-cleaner, which is activated when the left hand indicator is turned on to display a picture of what is in the truck’s blind spot.
Like most modern campers, this truck also catches its own grey water, which can be discharged at the appropriate disposal stations. The rear left hand 450 litre alloy tank traditionally used fro diesel fuel is, split into two with 300 litres used for fresh water storage and 150 litres used for the Ecowind power pack’s diesel. The grey water tank located underneath this tank.
There are two additional cell batteries located under the left side of the sleeper that power the internal workings of the custom sleeper, leaving the trucks main batteries free to operate the truck as per normal.
Under all the frills is a Western Star 4964 FXT, powered by a Detroit, DD15, rated at 560hp (412kW) at 1,800rpm and putting out 2,500Nm (1,850 ft lb) of torque at 1,100rpm. The transmission is Eaton’s Ultrashift Plus transmission, with dash mounted push button controls. The rear axles are Meritor 46-160GP with a rear axle ratio of 4.3:1. The wheelbase is 5,800mm with a 1,475mm overhang at the rear. Up front is a custom-built bull bar from renowned bull bar manufacture King Bars.
Nevertheless, one needs to ask if there is a down side to this lavish machine, and while most folks would be hard pressed to find any, from a management point of view loosing the left hand rear fuel tank might be considered one. Also a minor point might be to the inclusion of a floor mat for the driver to protect the wooden floor.
On the bling side, given the theme and roots of the ‘Roadstar’ I think it would have been a nice touch to use the old retro Detroit Diesel badges that were prevalent when their two-stroke engines were the preferred choice on the highways, rather than the current model badges. But then maybe that’s just me being a little nostalgic.
However you’ll get no argument from me that the ‘Roadstar’ goes along way to improving the living environment and lifestyle for long distance drivers. It is certainly trucks like this that will attract more professional operators to the industry.
Make: Western Star
Model: 4964 FXT
Engine: Detroit DD15
Horsepower: 560hp (418kW) at 1800rpm
Torque: 1850lb/ft (2508Nm) at 1100rpm
Transmission: Eaton Ultrashift Plus FO-20E318B-MXP
Front Axle: Meritor FG-941 6.5T
Front Suspension: Parabolic Taper leaf 6.6T
Rear Axles: Meritor RT46-160GP
Rear Axle Ratio: 4.30
Rear Suspension: AirLiner 46K with Dual levelling valves
Turntable: Jost JSK37
Brakes: Meritor S-Cam with auto slacks
Safety: Wabco ABS with traction control and roll stability control
Fuel Tank: Polished Alloy with PJ’s Stainless wrap
Sleeper: 54-inch Stratosphere
Interior: Black Leather with while inlay trim
Dash: Burl woodgrain with bright finish instruments
Seats: Premium ISRI driver’s seat with armrests
Extras: “Roadstar” Chrome LED rear light bar
7-inch slash cut stacks
PJ’s Stainless air cleaner wrap
PJ’s LED lights
PJ’s Stainless headlight protector
Lenox stainless rear guards
Front guard mounted indicator
LED driving lights
Custom two tone vinyl wrap cabin
Alemlube Auto greaser.