WITH A WEALTH OF UPDATES AND IMPROVEMENTS, IVECO’S ‘GENERATION X’ – THE NEW STRALIS X-WAY – REPRESENTS A COMPREHENSIVE UPGRADE OVER ITS PREDECESSOR IN TERMS OF DRIVER SAFETY, COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE. DIESEL’S PAUL MATTHEI LOOKS AT HOW THESE SYSTEMS CAN IMPROVE DRIVER BEHAVIOUR WHILE DRIVING AN EXAMPLE FROM MELBOURNE TO SYDNEY HITCHED TO A SEMI-TRAILER AND GROSSING 40.5 TONNES.
A couple of well-known facts are that the Australian trucking industry is massively short-staffed and that the average age of drivers has been creeping up for some time and continues to do so. According to statistics documented in early 2018, 47 was the average age at that time which indicates the vast majority of Australian truckies are in the Generation X demographic.
Whether or not Iveco considered this when naming its latest Stralis is a moot point, but as a Generation Xer who started driving semis more than 25 years ago, I must concede that the old bangers I loved to drive back then now appear somewhat antiquated compared with the technically sophisticated and well appointed machinery now on offer.
And that is a good and necessary thing considering the aforementioned ageing workforce which now needs to be pampered a little more to ensure participants can keep going the distance for longer terms in the honourable cause of keeping Australia moving.
Perhaps it’s for this very reason that things are really ramping up in the new heavy-duty truck arena of late. The levels of safety equipment, interior appointments, quietness, comfort and convenience are being boosted at a staggering rate, particularly by the European manufacturers.
In essence, each manufacturer is trying to up the ante and attract the attention of truck owners and transport companies who, in turn, generally strive to provide the best working conditions for their valued drivers.
All these enhancements definitely serve to elevate the truck driver’s workplace environment and given the typically long hours truckies spend on the road every working day, any ameliorations that reduce fatigue and stress in addition to providing active and passive safety measures should be applauded in my book.
Iveco is clearly no exception in this respect and my steer of a Stralis X-Way between Melbourne and Sydney certainly opened my eyes to the extra strides the company has made in equipping this well-appointed and highly capable workhorse.
I say ‘opened my eyes’ in a metaphorical as well as literal sense, given my first ‘save’ of the day, thanks to a brilliant safety feature of the X-Way, came just a kilometre or two after I left Iveco’s Dandenong premises.
I was travelling at a steady 60km/h following an old medium-rigid Pantech truck which obscured my view of the road ahead. Passing through an intersection I was momentarily distracted and didn’t immediately notice the truck’s considerably less-than-brilliant brake lights come on.
A split-second before my brain twigged that the vehicle was slowing to a stop due to traffic congestion, the X-Way’s advanced emergency braking (AEBS) alarm chimed in, prompting me to bury the brake pedal which brought me safely to a stop. Whew!
While that was a prime and hardhitting (perhaps that’s not the best choice of words!) example of the latest technology helping the driver, there were many other subtle attributes of the truck, each working in harmony with the others, that made this linehaul journey a very pleasant experience. But more about that shortly.
DOING IT RIGHT
My aim was to complete the trip by doing it right, in a manner that would be considered ideal in a law-abiding operation. That is, the well-rested driver operating on standard hours departs from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and takes the two legally-required 15-minute rest breaks during the trip to arrive in south-west Sydney 10 hours later. A good day’s work. The caveat here is that there’s no time for dawdling and 100km/h must be maintained wherever possible.
With its ultra-smooth and quiet Euro-6 Cursor 13 (12.9litre) engine producing a healthy 510hp (375kW) between 1,600 and 1,900rpm and realising maximum torque of 2,300Nm (1,696lbft) at a super low 900rpm all the way to 1,525rpm, the X-Way made light work of the 40.5-tonne gross weight which, in turn, enabled a respectable average speed to be maintained. It has a gross combination mass (GCM) limit of 45 tonnes with higher GCMs available on application.
Similarly spectacular was the smoothshifting 12-speed HiTroniX automated manual transmission that is a standard feature of this truck. This was the first time I’d sampled this transmission and to say I was impressed would be a distinct understatement.
For many years I’ve been a fan of this unit’s predecessor, the ZF AS-Tronic, or Eurotronic in Iveco speak, but after this test drive it was clear HiTroniX has raised the bar considerably.
It has a number of new features that drivers will find very useful in low speed manoeuvring situations. There are ‘rocking’ and ‘creep’ modes which are activated by the steering column mounted wand. The former is designed to help the driver extricate the truck from soft or boggy ground. The clutch is disengaged by simply releasing the accelerator pedal, allowing the vehicle to momentarily roll back, after which it swiftly re-engages to capitalise on the pendulum-like momentum, thus helping to free the vehicle from the mire.
Creep mode provides a similar effect to a torque converter automatic whereby releasing the service brakes allows the vehicle to ‘creep’ forward. As I discovered while negotiating Melbourne’s morning peak chaos, this is a boon in stop-start traffic as it allows the vehicle to ‘inch’ smoothly forward without the need for any accelerator pedal input which can cause jerky progress at such slow speeds.
Another provision that will be valued in tipper applications and the like is the availability of four reverse gears. The two faster ratios, also selected via the column-mounted lever, give the potential for improved turnaround times for vehicles often manoeuvring in reverse.
Definitely one of the notable improvements in this quiet achiever over any previous Cursor-powered Iveco I’ve driven was the auxiliary braking performance of the X-Way – courtesy of a stronger engine brake combined with the optional hydraulic retarder.
According to Iveco, the X-Way’s engine brake packs 30 per cent more punch than the earlier version due to the combination of a new Garrett electronic variable geometry turbo (eVGT) and a new exhaust flap located in the exhaust manifold.
The exhaust flap is said to anticipate the activity of the after-treatment devices by increasing the temperature of the exhaust gas more quickly therefore allowing the selective catalytic reduction
(SCR) system to reach optimum working temperature faster for increased efficiency.
The eVGT features electronic actuators controlled directly by the engine control unit (ECU) and provides immediate response at low engine speed, hence peak torque being developed from 900rpm.
Other benefits, Iveco says, include improved air induction, easier fault diagnosis and a significantly higher contribution to engine braking performance.
Indeed, while phenomenal is a word that shouldn’t be used blithely, that is the best way to describe the retardation of the X-Way on the long declines of the Hume Highway. The fact that I only needed to use the first three stages out of the available six tells the story loud and clear. In fact, stages one and two were the most commonly used during the trip.
As with everything else about this truck, quietness of operation is a hallmark of the engine brake/ retarder package meaning it can be used at night in residential areas without fear of upsetting anyone.
Another feature that has the potential to improve fuel economy on a line haul stint like this is Ecoroll. As the term suggests, this enables the vehicle to coast in neutral down long grades, provided certain parameters are met.
Unfortunately, one of the parameters with this vehicle is that it must be travelling between 50 and 92km/h. This makes Ecoroll virtually unusable on the freeway if you want to maintain the best average speed and shortest trip time, and this may frustrate some drivers.
As I mentioned earlier in the story, the trip between Melbourne and Sydney can be legally done in 10 hours driving time with two 15-minute rest breaks if you keep to 100km/h wherever possible.
Slowing to 90km/h just to engage Ecoroll is clearly not something most drivers would be prepared to do which means this fuel-saving feature will go begging. A smart move by Iveco would be to reprogram Ecoroll to suit Australian line haul conditions, making it operable at up to 100km/h.
On that note, at the end of the trip the dash readout showed a respectable 2.42km/l (6.85mpg) which left me wondering if it might have cracked the magic 2.5km/l (7.0mpg) mark had Ecoroll been allowed to do its thing at the proper speed.
As for the interior, I found little to fault with the spacious high-roof AS-cabbed X-Way. All round visibility was superb including rearwards via the large all-electric adjustable and heated mirror groups.
The ride was smooth thanks to the air suspended cab and driver’s chair, and the interior noise level at least as quiet as any other European truck I’ve driven.
Perhaps not having cup holders on the dash, they are located close to the floor to the left of the driver’s seat, is a bit odd but there are two pull-out fridges, a small cooler box to the left of the driver and large fridge to the left of that, meaning a coldie (water, of course) is always close at hand. While I didn’t have time to try out the bed it certainly looked more than adequate for a good kip.
After my 10-hour stint behind the wheel I felt none the worse for wear, which is testament to the multitude of creature comforts, driving aids and safety equipment packed into this vehicle.
As such, the Stralis X-Way exemplifies the cutting edge of heavy-duty truck technology in that it is designed to capably perform the role for which it is intended while ensuring the operator is extremely well catered for in terms of safety, comfort and convenience.