Historically, the term Argosy goes all the way back to the 17th century, when large trading vessels built in the Venice region were used to navigate the coastal waters east of Italy. Despite boasting a large cargo capacity, Argosy-type vessels could typically be sailed with a relatively small crew, making them a highly economical alternative at the time.
The 2016 incarnation of the Argosy may be less ocean-going, but still aims to uphold that century-old legacy of efficiency and productivity. Still sporting the familiar, tough look – a highly customised Argosy was cast in the role of Galvatron in a Transformers movie – it is now only available in Australia and New Zealand, making it somewhat unique in the increasingly globalised world of trucking.
To make sure it will have a strong future down under, the US made cab-over truck was updated with an Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) engine package that should be able to handle any Euro VI or equivalent emission criteria once they become a reality in Australia. Freightliner’s SCR engine of choice is the Cummins ISXe5, which is now available alongside the ISX and Signature engines from Cummins and the DD15 from Detroit, all of which use Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) technology instead.
To find out just how well the transformation worked – and assess whether the Freightliner engineers have rectified the few remaining niggles that affected the Argosy’s reputation as a driver-friendly vehicle – we take the future-proofed vessel on a 900km journey along the Hume Highway.
The first impression is a positive one: The squeaking dashboards and rattling storage doors that contributed to driver annoyance in earlier versions are history. The now fibreglass reinforced dash serves silently thanks to some local strengthening work and additional sound-proofing; and the rattling storage door issue has been fixed by replacing the doors with elasticised mesh. Even the rumble from the vertical exhaust is now only noticeable if one of the electric windows is opened.
The Argosy’s unique swing-out staircase has also been criticised in the past, and it, too, has been re-engineered to ensure it is strong and reliable enough for use in Australia. In fact, the steps should now serve as a significant contribution to driver well-being in this climate of workplace health and safety, where falls when entering or exiting a vehicle make for are a major injury statistic in the road transport industry.
What’s more, they will certainly be appreciated by older drivers who prefer not having to abseil from the cab via ladders and grab rails. Incidentally, several other manufacturers have made attempts to emulate the Argosy’s unique access system – yet it remains intriguing not more have gone down that path.
It’s under the hood, though, where the biggest change occured on the Argosy – even though Cummins is technically no newcomer to SCR technology, with a number of its engine families employing the exhaust after-treatment for several years now, including the ISFe5, ISBe5, ISLe5 and ISMe5 engines.
In the case of the SCR-ready ISXe5 Freightliner has chosen, the basic format of the Cummins 15-litre ISX is retained but complemented by a new 30,000+psi XPI (Extreme Pressure Injection) common rail fuel system, a waste gate turbo and a single overhead camshaft to operate the valves and the engine brake. The design and the use of the XPI fuel system do away with the second camshaft used to operate the mechanical injectors in the EGR version. Maximum power on this incarnation is 550hp at 2,000rpm, and the 1,850 ft/lbs (2,500Nm) of maximum torque are spread across the 1,150–1,600rpm range.
Although saddled with new engine tightness (we managed to click up its first 4,000 km as we rolled into Melbourne), our test model pulls well and we manage to outrun just about every other loaded B-double in sight, including one European claiming to have in excess of 600hp.
The ISXe5 on our test vehicle also features the Cummins Intebrake engine brake with an effective peak retardation of 600hp, which is great on the long declines and also put to work a number of times slowing from 100km/h down to 40km/h as we travel through the inevitable maintenance road works at several points along the Hume. In doing so, we learn that the instant effectiveness of the engine brake can be increased by manually paddling down through the gears. This particular Argosy is rated up to 106 tonnes GCM, so it’s good to have the confidence that the braking system is up to the task.
Speaking of heat production: The same 1,650 square inch radiator and cooling system used for Argosys equipped with EGR Cummins or Detroit engines are retained for the SCR application. The two-speed Horton fan only comes into operation on four occasions during our trip, including the long slog up Yerinbool hill. The fan is intermittently activated while we are tangling with Melbourne’s heavy afternoon traffic, but this is more due to the air conditioning keeping the cabin cool than any requirements of the engine itself.
The transmission on board is the automated 18-speed Eaton UltraShift, which has benefitted from the latest application of fine-tuning to its electronics functions. With the gross weight coming in just under 60 tonnes on this trip, there are not a lot of circumstances that allow the Eaton to skip shift while accelerating, but it certainly does so when it can, improving both point to point times and fuel efficiency. The digital section at the centre of the dash keeps the driver informed as to which gear is currently selected. Other than manually holding gears when negotiating roundabouts, we are confident that the Eaton is capable of making its own decisions in conjunction with the Cummins engine to achieve optimum fuel efficiency and travel time – so for most of the trip, we simply leave the paddle alone.
On the inside, the Argosy provides a comfortable workplace, with the 51-inch bunk in the 110-inch BBC mid-height roof configuration proving to be a solid choice. What’s more, the flat floor cab interior now provides ‘open plan’ living that can be described as refined, yet durable. The burled walnut dash panels, the leather and wood rim steering wheel and the ivory gauge faces are appealing to those enthused by American style dashboards, and the soft coverings on other interior surfaces are what can be expected from modern passenger vehicles.
The optional Parrot entertainment and information system fitted not only includes a left hand side blind-spot camera to complement the various mirrors, but also boasts voice activation and satellite navigation. Plus, it can also receive and display text messages to improve both safety and communication.
Further improving the Argosy’s ergonomics, commonly used switches such as Engine Brake and Cruise Control now have longer toggles, which improves their operation and assists in keeping the driver’s attention on what’s happening outside of the cab rather than in it.
Despite these undoubtedly smart improvements, the Argosy’s key advantage over its cab-over competition is its ability to offer a choice of two engine brands and emissions technologies – especially now that it’s unique to the Australian market. While EGR engines, especially the DD15, are expected to remain the power plants of choice for the time being, the launch of the ISXe5 engine option shows that Freightliner is committed to keeping its history-making model afloat in the local market.
The full story appeared in the May 2016 edition of Prime Mover. To get your copy, click here.