HAVING carved out a reputation for being engineeringly functional, MAN brought some pizzazz to its production range at the start of the year with a brand new cab launch.
It was February at an exhibition centre in Bilbao, located in the Basque country in northern Spain, where the covers came off the £1.2 billion (1.3 billion Euros) project. That money delivered new exterior panels and all new interior of the cab ranges, electronic architecture, sales and production, with around 500 million Euros (£420 million) spent on research and development.
Finally, the first right hand drive arrived at great fanfare during the summer and now Transport News has finally got its hands on it with a test drive.
The new TG heavy truck range is built on the same basic cab shell that first saw the light of day in 2000. What hangs on the shell is all new, with the focus on airflow.
There’s a new air dam at the bottom of the cab, redesigned air deflectors at the side, and a new air intake for cooling. Out goes the old shiny grille, and in comes a new matt version. And there is an eye on the next powertrain too with the cab floor height in TGX raised by 100mm to allow additional space for engineering and better airflow through the driveline.
Redesigned headlights, with this test vehicle fitted with the optional ‘Light and Visibility Plus’ safety package, means all exterior lights are in LED technology, as well as rain-sensitive windscreen wipers, automatic headlights, and Headlight Assist, which automatically dips when it detects oncoming vehicles.
There are changes to the side of the cab too, with revised door aerodynamics. This has been done to lower the air pressure, and direct dirt and grime below the windows and door handles. There are three instead of five aerodomes (MAN’s name for the horizontal styling moulds towards the rear of the cab), and in front of them is a fake window.
This truck is the flagship TGX 26.640, which has the GX cab (XXL in old money), and there are no changes to engine specification. For the record it’s the D38 15.2 litre, 6-cylinder Euro 6d diesel engine, which delivers 631hp at 1,800rpm and 3,000Nm torque from 900 to 1,400rpm. Helping turn power and torque into motion is the MAN 12-speed direct top Tipmatic (ZF TraXon) transmission.
Inside the cab, a drive westbound on the M4 from MAN Truck & Bus UK head office in Swindon towards Bristol provided an opportunity to try out the new interior.
Access to TGX is better. The doors open to 89 degrees and the bottom two steps are now attached to the chassis and are wider, replacing the outgoing design that had just the bottom step attached to the chassis. The door also comes with a wing tip, which has been added to fill a gap rather than any minimal gain in aerodynamics or for decadence.
Another innovative feature is the new EasyControl buttons, located inside the bottom of the driver’s door. These are operated from outside the cab and can be configured to suit drivers’ specific requirements.
Climbing into the cab it becomes apparent that this is where the lion’s share of MAN’s investment has gone. It’s unrecognisable from the truck it replaces.
In addition to a new digital instrument cluster, with its crisp and well organised display, there is a small colour screen set into the dashboard towards the driver’s left, which is not touchscreen.
Instead it’s the new SmartSelect control, which is a pair of push-button rotating dials. A touchscreen could easily have been borrowed from within the car part of the group; instead, MAN chose to develop its own more expensive truck-specific screen.
Why? The manufacturer suggested touchscreens aren’t user friendly when a driver is bouncing around on an air-suspended seat and requires more eye contact and concentration when using it, which is a distraction from looking at the road.
To lessen eye movement from road to monitor, the screen is positioned in the top of the dashboard. When in motion there are only three functions the driver cannot do; change the language, add a new contact to a paired phone, or send a text/email.
This means you can scroll through much of the data or information en route. Personally, more restrictions to the system when the truck is being driven (if only an initiative by MAN) would have been welcomed.
And there is the added opportunity for right-handed drivers to develop fine motor skills by using the SmartSelect control with their left hand.
The mechanical handbrake located on the floor behind the driver’s left arm has been replaced by a dash mounted electronic version, which is a notable improvement.
Gone is the oversized bay window replaced by a more traditionally-sized windscreen, which is less glass to chip and provides better protection from the sun.
In a similar vein, the small side windows and the upper windows in the top of the biggest cab have been deleted. Even with considerably less glazing than before, the GX cab is still light and airy thanks to two-tone beige for the walls and plastics, and darker colours for the footwells and floor.
The central floor space is now freed up. Gone is the chunky box next to the driver’s seat, with gearshift controls now on the steering column, and gone is the front end of the fridge/cooler. That is now right underneath the bunk and out of the way.
Standard issue ‘large steering wheel’ is still available, whereas the option is a new smaller one that is part of the ComfortSteering offering.
The dashboard is completely new and slopes down towards the windscreen improving the drivers view towards the front of the cab. For your essentials there is 1,148 litres of storage to choose from.
It’s got conventional stick-out-the-side-of-the-truck mirrors, for now, but these visual aids have at least been modernised. They are narrower, the offside mirror has a better view approaching roundabouts and junctions, whereas the nearside mirror has a more acute angle so the driver can see daylight and movement between the door post and the mirror.
Out on the road the ZF TraXon transmission, rebranded Tipmatic, remains an excellent box. It is a direct top with a new low-friction drive hypoid axle HY-1344, which features an efficiency optimised 2.31 final drive. Working with the new EfficientCruise and aerodynamic changes, the manufacturer claimed that this provides a better fuel economy.
Cruise at 53mph and the revs sit at around 1,050rpm, ramp it up to 56mph and that rises to 1,100rpm which is right in the middle of the green band.
To get the best out of the torque band in top gear travel at 50mph, here revs drop to 995rpm. It leaves 50rpm to cope with rises on undulating terrain.
For Scottish hauliers on the single-carriageway A-road network it’s 40mph, here the transmission drops to 11th gear and cruises at 1,025rpm.
Driving TGX is a relaxing experience helped by a comfortable seating position. An ideal combination is with the adaptive cruise control (ACC) engaged, the armrest down, cooled seat switched on and a selection of tunes from your paired phone.
Driving past Bristol to Avonmouth with James Brown singing ‘I feel good, I knew that I would now…’ was perhaps just coincidence but it was apt. Mind you, the next song was Evidently Chickentown by John Cooper Clarke…
This section of the M5 between the M4 and M49 junctions is notorious for congestion and it proved ideal to test ACC’s new capabilities with its enhanced stop-start.
Braking is smooth and gradual, almost statesman like, even when other drivers perform their traditional ‘cut in first ask questions later’ routine when joining the motorway. Likewise, when you press the resume button, the acceleration is smooth and refined.
The D38 is quite a high-revving engine and doesn’t lug like the D26. If you select the power mode, it holds gears for an additional 100rpm. As you’d expect with 631hp on tap even at 44 tonnes the drive proved effortless, even up the steep climb eastbound to M4 J18 and the exit for Bath, with just one gear dropped.
For those concerned by kerbweight, this model weighs in at 8,705kg, which is 20kg lighter than the like-for-like test two years ago (TN, May 2018).
Traditionally, MAN’s priority has been functionality. After all, trucks are a means to an end. Known for its fuel efficient driveline and a spacious cab, MAN frustratingly lacked that something special to cap its product range.
The challenge MAN set itself was to traverse the thin line that separates a cabin with car-like trappings without discarding the practical element, which it has achieved.
It is a radical improvement. That significant investment has delivered a driver-friendly vehicle with neat innovations, industry leading comfort and a spacious environment for the driver.
Eliminating the crowded floor space in the centre of the cab and reducing the size of the wing mirrors, better storage, a smaller windscreen, and the innovative controls for the SmartScreen show that MAN has listened to drivers.
Important milestones include a kerbweight that is like-for-like with the outgoing model and improvements to the driveline with a new rear axle and final drive ratio means the extra comfort should not come at an extra cost when travelling down the road.