There has been much written about the Freightliner Cascadia and with good reason.
The Cascadia holds a dominating 40 per cent of US ‘Class 8’ market which is the equivalent to our own Heavy Duty sector, and after being subjected to comprehensive bumper to tail light engineering reviews and the most exhaustive truck testing regime imaginable, America’s most advanced conventional cab truck is now available in Australia and New Zealand.
The claimed investment of $100 million to develop and refine the already ultra-successful Cascadia for the Australian and New Zealand markets appears from every aspect to have been well spent and a good investment.
At various times throughout the development of the Cascadia for the Australian market, Prime Mover has driven left hand drive versions in Australia and right hand drive Cascadia’s in the US so we have a degree of positive anticipation about this opportunity to operate the truck with the steering wheel on the ‘correct’ side of the road.
For the purposes of road assessments by some fleets and the Australian media, this particular daycab Cascadia has been connected in both B-double and single trailer configurations. We opt for a single trailer set-up for sections of the route which includes roads on which B-doubles are not permitted.
The route taken is an eclectic mix of New South Wales highways and country roads, culminating in the testing haul up the west face of Mount Victoria before descending the more gentle slope on the east side of the Blue Mountains escarpment.
The 13 litre DD13 engine has the power/torque figures of 505hp and 1850 lb-ft which only a few years ago would have been considered good specifications from a 15 litre engine.
The advanced level of sophistication of the fuel control systems has resulted in the usable torque becoming available at significantly low crankshaft revolutions.
Maximum torque is available at 975rpm. This allows for the implementation of lower numerical ratio final drives to result in down speeding of the engine with the benefit of improved fuel efficiency and lower exhaust emissions.
As it already exceeds the stricter US GHG 17 emission standards, the engine comfortably meets Euro 6 standards despite them not being mandated here yet.
In addition to being very effective, the three stage engine brake is much quieter than expected and operates harmoniously with the Descent Control function to keep vehicle speed in check on downhill runs.
The transmission is the automated DT12 driving through Meritor driveshafts and diffs.
Our test combination has a gross weight just under 41 tonnes and at every point of the 460 kilometre test loop there is confidence that the right ratio is selected, even on the short but very steep ascent up from the flooding Abercrombie River gorge and the longer climb of Mount Victoria, thanks in part to the Cascadia’s GPS-based and ‘road reading’ Intelligent Powertrain Management.
An 18-speed Eaton manual transmission is available as an option.
The Freightliner AirLiner rear suspension rides smooth over the differing surfaces which is no surprise to us having witnessed the pounding Cascadia test trucks endured on the exaggerated corrugations of the Daimler Trucks test centre in Madras, Oregon.
Freightliner has made an applaudable decision to include many advanced safety features as standard equipment on the Australian-delivered Cascadia’s including the fully-integrated Detroit Assurance 5.0 which uses radar and high definition camera technology for Active Emergency Braking and to facilitate the Active Cruise Control.
The system has the capability to detect a slower or stationary vehicle or even pedestrians, and in an emergency the Autonomous Emergency Braking can quickly bring the truck to a complete stop with no input from the driver.
Tailgate warning, lane departure warning, intelligent (self-dipping) high beam and automatic wipers and headlamps are all also standard equipment, as are the expected anti-skid brakes, traction control and Electronic Stability Control.
The Sideguard Assist system uses two short-range radars (one aiming forward and one aiming back) on the kerbside to warn the driver of potential trailer collisions with objects such as utility poles or street signs when turning left (Trailer Sweep Assist) and, also warns the driver if they are about to merge left into an lane already occupied (Turn Assist).
This blind spot safety system uses audio warnings as well as a yellow light on the kerbside A pillar to alert the driver of a potential collision.
The Cascadia has tapered frame rails which provide the double benefits of a lower centre of gravity plus a lower and flatter cab floor.
This test truck is the Cascadia 116 daycab. It’s easy to get in and out of, and is comfortably spacious despite not being a sleeper.
The 116 nomenclature refers to the crucial bumper to back of cab (BBC) measurement which on this model is 116 inches or 2,970 mm which provides the flexibility for operating as a maximum length B-double or in most PBS combinations.
The interior ergonomics associated with the Cascadia’s operation are impressive as the instruments, controls and switches set out in a manner that is logical and readily accessible.
Forward vision through the one-piece windscreen is extensive thanks to the sloping bonnet.
The use of the single piece screen has aerodynamic benefits and permits the use of conventional channel rubbers to locate the screen which makes replacement more straightforward and avoids the time required for chemical seals to ‘cure’, meaning off-road time is minimised.
The batteries are positioned under the passenger seat and Freightliner offer other location options including behind the cab or between the chassis rails.
Aerodynamics to save fuel are a major factor in the design of the cab which also benefits from good insulation to smooth out external temperature extremes and reduce noise in the interior.
Triple door seals contribute to the exclusion of outside noises in addition to their primary function of keeping out dust and moisture.
The Cascadia has a corrosion resistant alloy cab fitted with steel doors which meets the ECE R29 cab strength criteria. Good design and manufacturing results in a cab free from squeaks or rattles which is just as well due to the quiet ambience of the cab.
The source of the only rattle detectable in this truck (which has travelled around 25,000 kilometers) is quickly determined to be due to the temporary installation of an aftermarket communication component rather than anything to do with Freightliner’s design or manufacturing processes.
Freightliner’s technical expertise results in the successful integration of European-like sophistication into an unmistakably American-style conventional truck and has given local operators the very best features of both, with negligible compromises.
In order to extract the most benefit from this level of sophistication Freightliner are providing a complimentary driver training program with each new sale which highlights the key elements of maximising driver experience, vehicle safety and fuel efficiency.
High profile local fleets including Linfox and McColl’s have been among the first in Australia to take delivery of the Cascadia.