Lap of Honour

One of the most eagerly anticipated trucks in recent years, the Mack Anthem makes its debut on Australian roads and proves itself on-song.

Mack trucks have been moving loads around Australia since 1919, and the latest Anthem model in 2021 demonstrates the manufacturer is able to meet the wants and demands of the local market with a contemporary truck which still respects its century-plus heritage.

Mack hasn’t merely fiddled at the edges in developing the Anthem and the new truck incorporates some significant changes in the areas of electronics and aerodynamics. The overall package is further enhanced by the availability of deep reduction gears and a 36-inch stand up sleeper cab option.

A fundamental change involves an all-new electrical architecture with the major benefit of full integration of the Bendix Wingman Fusion active safety system now included as standard equipment in the Anthem.

The integration of the multiple systems incorporated in such a package is a complex procedure and as the Anthem is an ‘American’ truck it is logical that a US-based system such as is available from Bendix is utilised rather than reconfiguring a system developed for European vehicles.

The state-of-the-art Bendix system uses a combination of radar, camera and brakes to deliver a number of safety related functions including adaptive cruise control, blind spot alerts and collision avoidance, plus autonomous emergency braking.

The Bendix ESP full-stability system assists in mitigating rollovers and loss of control situations and wet and dry roads and uses multiple sensors and almost instantaneous computing to initiate accelerator and brake interventions.

The Bendix Blindspotter feature uses a sensor mounted on the kerbside fuel tank to trigger audio and light indicators mounted on kerbside ‘A’ pillar if it is unsafe to veer or turn to the left.

Highway trucks such as the Anthem prime movers we’re test driving will benefit from Mack’s predictive cruise control which stores hilly terrain in the truck’s GPS data to optimise engine speed and fuel efficiency on saved routes.

Long haul drivers have been asking for a stand-up sleeper cab to be available on Mack’s for a long time.

Although not very different overall from the existing Mack cab, the good news is the Anthem’s significantly improved sleeper option will be available on Mack Trident and Super-Liner models as well.

Drivers no longer need to be contortionists to access their bunks or change their clothes with 1828mm of roof height in the cab and 2120mm floor to roof dimensions in the integrated sleeper.

Mack said there is 35 per cent more room in the sleeper than in previous models and is certainly apparent as soon as one climbs into the cab. The mattress has pocket springs and there is an abundance of storage lockers.

The exterior opening locker boxes can also be accessed from within the cab by lifting up the base of the bunk and there is the option for a 36 litre slide out fridge.

Switches for the LED bunk, overhead and reading lights are located on the control panel on the rear wall, which has a digital alarm clock, 12 volt and USB charging outlets and a handy pocket to store a smartphone.

There is also a small electric fan to circulate air and the windows in the sleeper feature self-contained insect screens and tilt out to let fresh air in but keep rain out.

The exterior of the Anthem has been significantly restyled from previous Mack models to allow it to better cheat air resistance with the sloping bonnet and smoothed and flattened fenders designed to direct the airflow around the sides and over the top of the truck and trailer.

The angular panels and flat headlights defy their chunky looks and present a reduced drag coefficient in order to improve fuel efficiency.

The quest for aerodynamic and fuel efficiencies hasn’t been at the expense of traditional solid Mack looks.

Viewed from the front, the fall off of the front section of the bonnet appropriately is quite reminiscent of a muscular bulldog, while the side profile view identifies this as an unmistakably American truck.

The bonnet on Anthem models has a single latch located at the centre front and assistance from gas struts requires only a minimal effort to tilt the bonnet to carry out daily checks. The gold bulldog mascot on the bonnets of the test trucks indicates Mack integrated drivelines covering the engines, transmissions and rear axles.
Air resistance has been further reduced by closing gaps in panels and minimising seams.

A ‘close-out’ flange between the bonnet and bumper directs air around the cab and a flexible air dam attached to the FUPS reduces turbulence under the vehicle. Even the front tow loops have snap down covers to help reduce drag.

The front bumper is of three-piece construction to minimise replacement costs in the event of damage. For similar reasons a two-piece windshield is used to provide a reduced cost of replacement.

The Anthem will be replacing the Granite model which had been limited to a maximum engine rating of 500hp. The Anthem gets a maximum spec of 535hp and 1920 lb/ft of torque from its 13 litre MP8 engine.

The effectiveness of the MP8’s ‘Powerleash’ engine brake is controlled via a stalk mounted on the right-hand side of the steering column. The first stage activates the exhaust brake function and moving the lever to the second stage activates the internal engine compression brake system.

The lever’s third stage is spring loaded and activates the electronics to down shift transmission when possible to maximise effectiveness without over-revving the engine. Maximum engine braking is achieved at 2000rpm.

The stalk also manages the CoPilot driver information system which is displayed on a five-inch screen between the large analogue main instruments.

The Anthem’s distinctive steering wheel carries over the imagery of the front panels of the truck and has back-lit illuminated controls for the cruise control with the phone on the left and the audio system on the right.

The flattened bottom section of the steering wheel is similar to modern racing and performance cars and contributes to the cab’s improved access.

Steering column rake can be adjusted by depressing a locking pedal located to the right of the accelerator. The touch button controls for the mDRIVE transmission have been moved closer to the driver and optional gauges can be fitted to the adjacent panel to monitor functions such as turbo boost, and the temperature of transmission and rear axle fluids.

The rocker switches located on the dash for items such as diff lock and power divider are laser etched and should prove readable for the lifetime of the truck.

Mack has partnered with ISRi to develop seats which are attuned to the cab as well as to the truck’s suspension.

The two leaf parabolic springs at the front combine very well with the Mack Air-Ride suspension at the rear. There is the option for a conventional inverted leaf rear suspension if that better suits a particular application.

The mDRIVE transmissions in the Anthem have been subjected to some refinement in their programming which was noticeable in the two Anthem prime movers during our test programme mainly in the smoothness of the upshifts where it’s almost as if a human was applying the accelerator.

Both trucks are also equipped with the 13-speed deep reduction mDRIVE HD option for their transmissions.

A 14 speed XHD is also available and the availability of much lower gearing in the transmissions permits the use of ‘taller’ diff ratios without compromising startability and gradeability performances. Also, the option for multi-speed reverse gears makes for better and safer trailer connections and activities such as backing up to loading docks.

The Grade Gripper function counters any awkward and dangerous roll-back when starting off on an uphill grade.

The day cab on our test drive is fitted with 3.40:1 rear axles and at 36 tonnes gross, spends most of its time in the top two gears when travelling along the undulating sections of the Hume Highway. At a slightly heavier GVM of 42 tonnes, the sleeper cab Anthem also doesn’t seem to drop many gears travelling along similar sections despite its fuel efficiency friendly rear end ratio of 3.09:1.

The Anthem is a sophisticated American truck combining the best elements of its Mack heritage with many of the features we have come to expect from European trucks particularly in the areas involving integrated safety, rather than being an after-thought tacked on to appease the market.

Mack is smarter than that, and knows its customers past, present and future are too. This forms a major part of the reason for the extended development which also involved extensive testing under Australian and New Zealand conditions.

It takes millions of dollars and many years – in Anthem’s case, five – to develop and bring to market a vehicle as complex as a modern heavy duty truck and in the final form of the Anthem it appears that Mack has spent its time and money very wisely.