Test Drive: DAF CF85

DAF trucks are often considered an important component of someone’s business, but rarely seen as key business factors themselves. As such, much of the brand’s popularity in Australia is with operators to whom the vehicle is more of an ancillary to the big picture. Think growers who use DAF equipment to cart fruit and vegetables to market, breeders who need to move horses around the country, or service providers in areas such as vacuum or concrete pumping.

Much of that is still true for PACCAR’s European brand in Australia, even though the addition of the flagship XF105 model has recently secured itself a place in the hotly contested B-double market – especially in applications such as car transport.

But the image is slowly changing, and the versatile DAF CF85 is part of that evolution. Originally designed to suit metropolitan, regional and intrastate freight work, it received an important engine upgrade at the end of 2016 that could see DAF break the glass ceiling and position itself at the very centre of Australian transport businesses.

The new engine – the 510hp version of the PACCAR MX13 – is essentially the same 13-litre unit, with the same power rating, that is available in the DAF XF105 and the Kenworth T409, which has been a good option for those wanting a European engine in a bonneted truck.

Taking the CF up into the 500+hp league is a logical extension of the range and must not be misunderstood as a downgrade of the XF105, which will remain DAF’s go-to prime mover model. Also, the 460hp rating coupled with a 12-speed AS-Tronic will remain available in the CF85 line-up. Instead, DAF is filling an important gap in the range that could prove valuable for the PACCAR Australia organisation as a whole.

The additional 50hp of power and the peak of 1,850 ft/lbs of torque (2,500Nm at 1,000-1,410rpm, which is 200Nm more than available with the 460hp version) will be well received by the local market, especially since the engine – known as the MX375 in the DAF world – benefits from the fitment of the 16-speed AS-Tronic automated transmission from ZF. An 18-speed overdrive Eaton manual is available as an option, but the combination of the ZF with the MX engine is hard to beat.

The truck provided by DAF for our test drive has covered just over 20,000km, mainly as an assessment vehicle with various operators. To simulate a realistic working load, it has been coupled to the PACCAR R&D department’s tri-axle, super-single trailer carrying a set of well-travelled concrete blocks. The standard fuel tanks, which have a combined capacity of 770 litres, are close to full as we pass over the scales to get 5,540kg on the steer, 13,540kg on the drive and 18,800kg on the trailer axles, thus achieving a well-balanced and typical gross weight of 37,880kg.

While we are driving the sleeper cab version, a day cab as well as a high roof ‘space cab’ are also available. The CF85’s cab is suspended on four coil springs and provides a good balance between smooth ride with an absence of any pitch and roll. The ride experience is complemented by an air-suspended driver’s seat, which – like most of the interior – is of a good, European-style quality, albeit clearly designed to serve as an effective workspace. Only few non-standard options are included on our test unit, but some of the dash panels feature a walnut finish that adds a touch of sophistication often found in American cabs and British saloons. Storage facilities within the cab are abundant, though.

The design of the main instrument cluster is concentric, thus echoing the curve of the steering wheel and providing a clear view of the white-lined instrument faces in all light conditions. The digital Driver Information System has an easy-on-the-eyes, orange-coloured readout that can be scrolled via a set of buttons located on the soft grip steering wheel. Other wheel-mounted buttons control the phone functions, cruise control, the active cruise control to maintain speed downhill, plus a suburban speed limiter that could come in handy for metropolitan and suburban work.

Most of the important switches on the cockpit-style dash are within ready reach, as is the manual control for the trailer brakes. Other than for ensuring that the trailer pin is properly connected before leaving the depot, the provision of a manual lever for the trailer service brakes may seem redundant in the age of integrated electronic braking, but we are always glad to see that control retained.

In line with that, gear selection for the AS-Tronic is made using a dial switch on the dash, which also permits the selection of forward and reverse crawler gears. Overriding the automated function is as easy as flipping the paddle lever on the right-hand side of the steering column, which also activates the engine brake.

During our test, the only time we use the manual shift function is under braking conditions, though. By manually downshifting, the effectiveness of the 320kW (430hp) engine brake is maximised. While there is only one setting for the engine brake, it has no difficulty maintaining 100km/h on all but the steepest of downhill stretches. Even then, flicking the transmission down a gear or two avoids any over-running, with only a slight increase in noise within the cab. Activating the adaptive cruise control will avoid the need to even do that, as the electronics will shuffle gears to keep everything legal.

At the gross weight during our road trip through suburban and country Victoria, the torque of the engine is sufficient to let the transmission skip a few shifts when accelerating, and when starting off from being stationary, the tacho swings smoothly like a metronome, with regular transmission shifts until the desired road speed is reached. As we negotiate some longer uphill grades, the electronics do their job to keep the engine right in the centre of the torque band at around 1,200rpm. The engine can drop down to 1,000rpm and recover without any concerns, too.

Matching that positive impression, the 13-litre DAF engine has gained a reputation for good fuel economy and according to the on-board Driver Information System, we achieve 3.06km per litre during our test drive.
The CF85 can be optioned up with similar electronics packages as are fitted to the XF105, including features such as Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control and Forward Collision Warning, as well as Vehicle Stability Control. These make it at least equal to other European trucks in terms of current driver assistance technology and should help place the uprated CF85 more firmly in the limelight.

The same is true in the running gear department: The Meritor diffs are fitted to an Airglide 400 eight-bag air suspension, which incorporates shock absorbers and stabiliser bars. The brakes on the steer axle are discs, matched with drums on the drive axles. The Electronic Braking System incorporates Anti-lock Brakes and a hill-start aid if the AS-Tronic transmission is fitted.

What also plays to the advantage of the 510hp version of the CF85 is that essentially nothing is new other than the additional grunt. The truck has already earned a reputation for comfort and flexibility, and the driveline components and integrated systems such as the brakes have proved more than capable in both the XF105 as well as the Kenworth T409. 

As such, the combination of a proven truck with a more powerful, equally proven engine is a prime opportunity for DAF to expand its footprint across the market and establish itself more prominently as a key business tool in the fleet market.


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