Although long dominated by Japanese trucks, Australia’s 12 to 18-tonne urban and regional distribution market might just have a new contender with the introduction of the new DAF LF. Sufficiently distinguished from the competition with contemporary European lines, it immediately sets itself apart in appearance, but how about the driving experience?

To find out, Prime Mover is taking a new LF 280 4×2 rigid for a drive around the city of Launceston, Tasmania. Before hitting the road, though, we run through a typical pre-work check, which DAF has simplified with a new remote key fob that activates each light in sequence at the press of a button, including brake and reversing lamps. Handily, the LF also has a large flip up front panel to provide access for engine fluid, electrical relay and foot brake treadle valve checks.

A quick walk around the vehicle also gives us the opportunity to admire the cab’s metallic orange paint and Rice Graphics curtains, which make it stand out from the standard ‘kitchen appliance’ white. More than just for looks, the new design includes large air vents in the front of the cab to stop spray coming off the front wheels on to the mirrors and the factory rooftop spoiler aims to enhance the vehicle’s aerodynamics.

Getting into our test vehicle’s two-metre cab is easy and safe with 90-degree opening doors, wide illuminated steps and conveniently located grab handles, a must for metro deliveries that have the driver frequently hopping in and out.

On the road, the driver is kept comfortable on an ISRI air suspended and heated seat with three lumbar support settings plus side supports on the squab, and there’s a 700mm fold up mattress in the back for the long haul drivers. While our test vehicle is the sleeper cab version, there is also a 1.6m day cab and a two-metre ‘extended day cab’, which is essentially the sleeper without the mattress.

The dash layout reveals logical thought behind the design, with a set of buttons that operate the ‘personal speed limiter’ to help the driver comply with varying limits, such as school zones, which are common in metro delivery territory. The heating and cooling controls are arranged in a vertical line and the switch for the diff lock requires secondary actuation to guard against inadvertent activation.

Between the main instruments in the dash is a bright 12.7cm LCD screen for the Driver Support Assistant (DSA), an electronic driver coaching system that provides a variety of technical data in real time. In fact, DAF’s standard electronic analysis package is just as comprehensive as those found in many a current European prime mover, and its inclusion in the Australian LF version is an indication of the value that industry is beginning to see in data assessment.

Fleet managers can also access the data to measure drivers’ performance in terms of fuel economy and brake application efficiency. The DSA real time coaching can help improve driver efficiency by recommending different gears or giving advice on correct tyre pressure and roof spoiler settings through the dash-mounted screen.
Outside of the dash, the buttons for the cruise control, audio system and Bluetooth phone connection are all located on the soft grip steering wheel.

The low dash and high windscreen lend to first-rate forward vision, which becomes immediately apparent when turning the LF out onto Launceston’s city roads. The streets offer an ideal testing ground for the DAF, providing a similar range of traffic conditions that would be experienced in most Australian cities, with the narrow streets and roundabouts that are part of many an urban distribution route.

We also encounter a few steep gradients to test the braking systems and the hill climbing capabilities of the 18-tonne test vehicle, which we’ve got sitting at a GVM a few kilograms under 14 tonnes. The driveline copes very well, even on the steeper inclines, and the 165kW (225hp) exhaust brake does an excellent job of holding a constant speed, especially on the downhill sections of the freeway. Likewise, the hill start aid can be used with confidence, taking stress off the driver and reducing wear on the automated clutch.

Back in the city, we test out the six-speed ZF AS Tronic Automated Manual Transmission’s (AMT) crawler mode, which combines the lowest ratio forward and reverse gears with a change in engine response to make delicate manoeuvres in tight situations a breeze. Even when manually overriding the transmission, a bright and clear colour-coded tacho makes it easy to keep the engine within its most efficient range with a just a quick look.

The engine itself is a 6.7-litre Paccar GR rated at 286hp at 2,100-2,500 rpm and the maximum torque of 1,020Nm is available between 1,200 and 1,800 rpm. The engine uses SCR to meet Australia’s ADR 80/03 (Euro V) emission criteria. Coupled to the AMT, the power train delivers some long legs and at our test weight of 14 tonnes, it pulls in top gear from 65 kph at 1,200 rpm all the way to the maximum legal 100kph at around 2,300 rpm.

The tare weight of the from-the-dealer cab chassis is 5,460kg with 100 litres of fuel in the 430 litre capacity tank. The new lighter chassis design runs the full length of the body and provides support for tailgate loaders, which are common in the metro delivery environment. The top surfaces of the chassis rails are perfectly flat and parallel and the sides are smoothed out with the air tanks and electronic brake system components mounted on the inside of the rails, leaving plenty of room on the outside for the fuel tank, the 70-litre AdBlue tank and tool lockers, while still remaining rather compact overall.

The 2,130mm width of the LF seems built to manoeuvre around in the city streets, especially with its tight turning circle courtesy of the 50-degree wheel cut angles on our 18-tonne test version and 53 degrees on the 12 or 16-tonne LF models. The tyres are energy efficient Michelin XZA2 295 x 22.5 that combine with DAF’s own electronically controlled four-bag air suspension system to contribute to the LF’s good ride.

Front suspension is typical parabolic leaves and shock absorbers with the addition of a hefty stabiliser bar to control body roll.

Keeping a city’s pedestrians in mind, the exhaust exits underneath the truck and is directed towards the centre to avoid blasting heat at passers-by, and the truck’s visibility is improved with impact-resistant halogen Lexan headlights. To further improve safety in built-up areas, the LF can be specced with the optional integrated LED daytime running lights and bumper-integrated cornering lights, which illuminate into the direction the driver is turning.

As well as the lights, the LF is packed with standard safety features, including front and rear ventilated disc brakes, Electronic Braking System (EBS), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Hill Start aid. Further options include a driver’s side airbag and seatbelt pre-tensioners.

Although the new shape of the DAF LF was introduced in Europe in 2011, it only just made its debut in the Australian market. As such, it’s good to know that the delayed introduction of the truck’s new face hasn’t stopped the Dutch truck maker from fully integrating the latest technology and safety features for urban and metro distribution work. Especially the driver ergonomics and electronic systems stand out, with a quality equal to what is available on many a larger European truck.

Overall, the DAF LF provides operators with a premium vehicle with a good blend of comfort, performance and fuel efficiency, and could be real competition for the Japanese brands that have long dominated the 12 to 18-tonne market.


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