Freightliner Argosy

For Freightliner, the arrival of the new Argosy will probably be like a breath of fresh air, quite literally when you look at the new air management system. With a new, much more modern look as well as new engines, cooling system and automated transmission, the new Argosy is a major change from the previous model. The last model, given the name ‘Evolution’, was a compromise solution with limited engine and transmission options available. The new model, the ‘New Generation’, marks a distinct improvement in many of the options available to the truck buyer.

To see just how much has changed, Prime Mover took the new truck out of Melbourne on the Western Highway pulling a B-double. Travelling through the city and out into the rolling countryside, on the road to Ballarat, is a route enabling the driver to see how this cabover B-double prime mover is likely to fare on the kind of intercapital routes where it is likely to spend most of its working life travelling.

Apart from the dramatic new look, when seen head-on, the Argosy also includes the new engine from the Daimler organisation, the Detroit Diesel DD 15. Behind the newly styled grille is another major change from the previous model, a much improved air management system along with a much larger radiator in front of the engine.

Unfortunately, the test vehicle did not include another of the major improvements which will become available to prospective Argosy buyers, the Eaton Ultrashift automated manual transmission. The vehicle, as tested, uses the Eaton Autoshift and, therefore, also includes a clutch pedal for taking off and coming to a halt. Although it would have been preferable to see all of the new features tested together, the qualities of the new engine are still clearly demonstrated using the older technology transmission.

Apart from the DD 15 engine, rated up to 560hp, the new Argosy will also be available with the Cummins ISX and Signature engines all the way up to 600hp. This means the truck now has the kind of power options Australian truck operators feel they need for the sort of B-double type application for which the Argosy is destined.

Approaching the vehicle, the new grille and panels at the front of the truck have had a dramatic effect in modernising the look of the entire vehicle. The heavily barred grille makes a strong statement and echoes the strong ‘V’ shape becoming common on the front of a number of cabover models around the globe. The other new body panels on the front of the truck also demonstrate the more 21st century angular lines that we have come to expect from a modern truck.

Looking at the new Argosy from the side, it’s much more familiar with little outward change. Open the door and the familiar foldout steps are activated, then the driver can get into the truck with consummate ease. The new cooling system means Freightliner has been able to do away with the auxiliary radiator in the passenger side wheel arch, allowing the company to include foldout steps on the passenger door as an option.

Once the driver has climbed inside, the look and feel of the Argosy is very familiar. The basic design is little changed but the way the dashboard has been manufactured is. The dashboard is now made with an injection moulded material, as opposed to the previous vacuum formed components. The cab doors are also changed, now using a single piece of glass and improved handle positions in a design that has also been included on the new Freightliner Coronado.

Firing the truck up for the first time confirms the Detroit engine still retains some of that well-known growl. The DD 15 is a significantly different and much more modern engine than its predecessor, the Series 60, but somehow the engineers have managed to retain a similar kind of sound from the new engine. However, the engine note from the driver’s seat is considerably quieter in the new model than it was in its previous incarnation with the old Detroit. Things are considerably improved and a normal conversation can be held with the engine working hard at 100km/h.

The quieter engine does mean the fan noise, when it comes on, can be quite intrusive. A normal conversation between driver and passenger is more difficult after the fan kicks in. On the upside, the fan is on for much less time when cooling the new DD 15 with the much improved 1650in² radiator at the front, along with its improved air management.

The system only seemed to find turning on the fan necessary when the truck was working quite hard. The B-double was more than halfway up the long climb on the Western Highway at Bacchus Marsh before the cooling system needed any help. When the help comes in, it doesn’t take long to get the  emperature back down and knock the fan off.

In order to improve the airflow and make room for the new engine, the cabin on the Argosy has been set higher. From the driver’s seat it is almost impossible to notice the difference between position and overall driver visibility in this model when compared to its predecessor. The cab’s suspension works quite effectively and, even on the rougher roads, the driver can feel quite comfortable as there is no major rocking motion at high speeds.

Out on the highway the Argosy is in its natural environment and once the vehicle reaches motorway speed, the ponderous nature of the Autoshift becomes less apparent. When climbing, the auto chose to change down one gear, and sometimes two, just as the rpm levels dropped below 1300rpm. The quality of the torque from the new DD 15 is such that the driver can feel comfortable allowing the gearbox and engine to haul a fully loaded B-double and never venture far outside of the territory between 1300 and 1600 rpm.

The only time the driver would need to take the Argosy and its DD 15 outside of that rpm zone, in normal running, would be when descending grades. The exhaust brake on the new DD 15 appears to be quite effective. The driver simply engages the brake using the switch on the dashboard and selects the right gear to get the engine running at around 1800rpm. At this level the engine is comfortably holding back the 60 tonnes of the combination and occasional dabs on the brake pedal may be needed when the grade occasionally steepens.

The ‘low’ setting on the Autoshift helps keep the rpm levels high enough to make the engine brake effective. We can assume that when the Ultrashift arrives in the Argosy, its improved technology, with the inclusion of an inclinometer, will mean more effective descending and less driver input, like brake applications, will be necessary.

To those drivers used to the sound of the Detroit Diesel Series 60, and more particularly its engine brake, the noise levels when the engine is under exhaust braking are very low. By going with a European style compression brake rather than the ‘Jake’ system used in the past, the Detroit has lost its deep throaty roar under retardation.

Buyers of the new Argosy will also be offered the choice of a Cummins engine and those with a preference for the higher horsepower range are likely to choose the red engine over the Detroit. However, by bringing the DD 15 engine capability up to a maximum of 560hp, the company now has an engine to cover most of the preferred horsepower ratings for a standard B-double prime mover.

In fact, Freightliner has been pleasantly surprised by the level of interest in the new DD 15 when compared to the Cummins product. Initially, the company estimated there would be a 50-50 split between DD 15 and ISX, in terms of engine choice in the initial batch of orders. The good name Detroit Diesel has built up historically appears to have encouraged normally cautious truck buyers to try out the all-new engine and demand for the DD 15 version of the Argosy has exceeded that for the Cummins powered version.

Although the cabin interior is largely unchanged from the driver’s point of view, few of the changes that have been made are noticeable. The lower level of engine noise does make for a more pleasant driving environment. The new design for the doors is also effective with the large single pane of glass improving visibility and the double door seals adding solidity to the sound of the door being closed.

When the Ultrashift is introduced it will add some sophistication to what is quite a basic North American layout in front of the driver. Equipment available to the driver in the cabin, in terms of instrumentation and control systems, can be contrasted with the level of sophistication available to the driver of the Argosy’s stablemate from Mercedes-Benz, the Actros.

As the Daimler project continues to develop and the company integrates development and manufacture around the globe, the basic equipment underneath becomes more and more similar. The basic principles of the DD 15 engine also form the base of the new Mercedes-Benz engine to be fitted in the new Actros being released in Europe. At the same time, the way the trucks present themselves to their operators, the way they sound and feel, remains completely different. The new Argosy remains a very North American truck, with all that entails.

North American prime movers continue to prevail in the B-double market and the Freightliner Argosy can expect to capture its fair share of those truck sales. Initial reaction to the new DD 15 engine seems to have been quite positive and on the evidence of this test drive, the engine is certainly up to the job. The changes made by Freightliner in developing this new Argosy have freshened up the look and retain the comfort of the large roomy cabin with easy entry and exit, while bringing through new engine technology and improved performance.


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