A NEW ALTERNATIVE

Peter Shields

Prime Mover

06/07/2016

AFTER A LITTLE WAIT, PRIME MOVER WAS FINALLY ABLE TO PUT THE IVECO STRALIS WITH THE REVAMPED CURSOR II ENGINE TO THE TEST IN A REAL LIFE SCENARIO. WILL THE SHOW-STOPPER BE ABLE TO PERFORM UNDER PRESSURE?

Put together for the 2015 Brisbane Show, the Maranellored Stralis Series II Iveco showcased last May was loaded up with bling. But, one essential component was missing when Prime Mover magazine examined the unit after the Show - a loaded trailer set.

For our first 'official' long haul drive we are now taking a slightly less ostentatious, Red Bull Racing liveried truck out on the road to see whether what started as a show truck can also perform in the field. Our test vehicle is powered by the 500hp version of Iveco's revamped Cursor II engine rather than the 560hp one that was in the show truck, so the pressure is certainly on. The first generation Cursor always had a reputation for good fuel economy, but this was somewhat offset by reliability issues when faced with the type of punishment only Australia can confront an engine with.

The second generation has now been re-calibrated to optimise engine torque and also the operation of the fan, which should result in lower operating temperatures and contribute to a longer engine life, according to Iveco.

What's more, Series II engines are now fitted with revised aluminium pistons from a different manufacturer in order to reduce friction and increase heat dispersion. In a move to provide more efficient lubrication and further assist in heat transfer, the oil pump has a higher capacity, too. Other engine improvements include a new camshaft design for greater durability, rocker arms with a higher hardness coating to reduce friction, and a revised turbocharger and exhaust manifolds to best suit high-load applications.

According to Iveco, the total package has been developed to suit "typical Australian high load B-double duty cycles", so local engineers subjected it to an extensive bench, dyno and on-road testing regime across a range of conditions. The testing was then extended into the real world, with a number of B-doubles put to work with major fleets over a 12-month period, travelling more than a million kilometres. Such is Iveco's confidence in the new Cursor Series II that it is putting its money where its mouth is and offering extended warranty packages of three, four and five years.

But, does all of that translate into good on-road performance? Yes, it does. Throttle response from the 13-litre engine is crisp and the maximum torque of 2,300Nm is flat across the scale of 1,000-1,700 rpm, which is the same as for the 560hp engine. The 500hp spec is not a peaky engine by any standard, but the transmission takes advantage of the broad rev range to produce good fuel figures by keeping revs in the 1,000-1,500 rpm green zone. According to the on-board computer, we average 2.21 kilometres per litre on our Melbourne to Sydney test trip which, assuming it is accurate, is a good result when grossing 41 tonnes and not really driving to maximise economy.

The Cursor II and the 16-speed ZF Eurotronic II transmission fitted to our test model were engineered for each other, so take-off as well as up and down shifting are as smooth as with any other current AMT pairing. The Stralis hums along at the lOOkm/h limit at 1,400 rpm and the transmission takes advantage of the wide torque band by starting off in anything from third to seventh gear when automated mode is selected. Skip shifts are possible as the Eurotronic automatically selects the most ideal gear according to the load, road speed and road conditions, while also allowing the driver to manually shift gears if circumstances warrant it. Holding the 'D' or 'R' buttons for more than two seconds brings a 'crawler' mode into play that locks in the lowest ratios and limits engine revs to l,100rpm to make slipping into places like tight docks easier.

Even though we have skipped the Brisbane show truck for a slightly less attention-grabbing model, with the Red Bull Racing signage adorning the cab, conversations at truck stops inevitably turn to V8 Supercar racing, so the performance pressure continues all the way to Sydney. Naturally, we don't reveal that the Freighter EziLiner at the back is loaded with concrete ballast only, but keep moving north instead.

While there is no opportunity to perform a tug test - similar to many European models, there is no separate trailer brake control - the Stralis still cycles through a whole range of systems checks upon start up. Some operators will certainly miss being able to do their own testing, though. Back on the road, the drive for the versatile ZF transmission can be selected via three large buttons located on the dash, and the driver can take control at any time with the multi-purpose wand on the right hand side of the steering column that also operates the cruise control and the impressive two-stage engine brake.

The all steel cab is located on a fourpoint air bag mounting system with dampers at the rear, so the ride is smooth and comfortable - almost to a point where some drivers could find the cab ride too soft for their liking. The cabin itself is the Stralis AS-L (Active Space - Long) cabin with basic interior dimensions of 2.5m by 2.2m; providing plenty of interior space. Said interior has mostly plastic surfaces with a hard felt material covering the high roof ceiling. The flat floor is covered with heavy
vinyl too, making for a less luxurious impression than some competitors, but the Iveco's comfort level is still more than adequate.

Plus, Iveco arguably leads the cabin storage race with everything from a centre dash shelf that's perfect for the NHVR logbook to a small slide-out drawer that seems to have been included with an Apple iPhone in mind. In addition to the slide-out fridge under the bottom bunk, there's a bottle holder positioned in front of an air vent to keep drinks cool.

The front suspension on our AS-L is based on a parabolic leaf spring system, while smoothing out the bumps in the rear for driver and cargo is Iveco's proprietary eight-bag Electronically Controlled Air Suspension (ECAS). The axles are supplied Meritor and feature driver-controlled differential locks, while disc brakes, ABS and Iveco's Anti-Slip Regulator (traction control) are also standard.

Our test truck only has 36,000km on the odometer and hasn't developed any rattles or squeaks yet. Ventilation and climate management are first class and the roof mounted Viesa air conditioner will help to provide quiet and comfortable sleeping for whoever gets to drive our racing truck next. Double deck twin bunks are fitted, so doubling up is possible too.

With the impressive Brisbane presentation in mind, Iveco certainly hasn't made it a secret that it has big plans for its big truck range. There is now more stability within the local management team - which has been crucial to boost the confidence of staff, dealers and customers - and Iveco's commitment to local engineering is confirmed by the significant investment in improving the product for local use. What our test has shown is that the product is certainly up for the task, too - regardless of the amount of bling involved. The next challenge for Iveco is to overturn some of the preconceptions the first Stralis generation has left behind and get people to experience the new, locally tested alternative.