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New Mercedes Actros First Drive Review

One of our heavy vehicle instructors had the opportunity to take a new Actros out for a drive this week. This article is his reflections on the changes that have been made from the previous model.

The new Actros could have almost been given a completely different name because there have been so many changes. All of which for the better. The trainer that did the induction was really thorough going through every part of the truck and making sure I understood how to use it. In particular, the interactive dashboard set-up was the first big change.

All the buttons and menus are now on a touchscreen. The menu is really easy to navigate no matter how big and clumsy your fingers are. After a few minutes of playing around with it, it wasn’t difficult to find what I wanted. The strangest part was turning the interior lights on from the menu.

Inside the menu are two new features. They are the Proximity Control Assist and the Proximity Braking Assist. The first one is the cruise control that follows the vehicle in front. It’s a bit confronting to be shown just how close you are. Sometimes when a car jumps in front of you the distance is much closer than you expect. One pleasant surprise was how smoothly the truck responded to that situation. I wasn’t expecting it to brake heavily and pull up, but it was really seamless.

The second is the Active Brake Assist. The trainer outlined how the truck is looking for something the size of a person at slow speeds. If someone jumps out in front of the truck it will do anything it can to pull up and stop in time. At higher speeds, it is looking for a car that is doing the same thing. I didn’t put myself in a situation where it was going to be required and I’m not looking forward to a time where it might be needed either.

One of the biggest changes was entering the cab. The cab itself is narrower. It’s not quite as narrow as a Kenworth 404SAR, but narrower than the previous Actros model. This, coupled with the wider steps, has made it much easier to get in and out. The previous model had narrow steps jammed right under the door hinge making it feel like you were Tarzan swinging on the grab bar when you were getting in and out. Now it’s much more like climbing a ladder with both the angle and the position of the steps. Big improvement from the previous model.

Once you are on the road the biggest difference is the cab suspension. The previous model was much softer. This made for a comfortable ride, but sometimes cornering and braking made the cab rock back and forth a lot. I used to say that you were at risk of getting seasick. This cab feels firmer and more stable on the road. I prefer the cab to stay firm and level while I’m driving, but I also recognise that different people have different preferences. One more thing on the road is just how quiet the truck is. The trainer told me it was quiet. I was amazed at just how quiet it was. Even vibration with engine speed is almost non-existent.

The gearbox programming has definitely improved. Many of the trucks of all brands I have driven have hit their peak torque by 1600rpm so taking the motor any higher was a waste of fuel and didn’t get you there any faster. The previous model had a habit of running up to 2000rpm particularly in the lower gears. This model is much more disciplined.

Mercedes have kept the gearbox function that allows the truck to coast in neutral when the motor isn’t under load. They call it Eco-roll. The first time this happened to me many years ago it took me by surprise and I didn’t know if I had done something wrong. I’m glad they have kept it. The coasting really feels like there is almost no resistance in the drivetrain allowing for maximum fuel saving.

The last difference was the engine brake. I remember taking one of the older models down Mt Ousley in a semi at about 30 Tonne. The truck needed to be in third gear (of 12) going 13 km/hr to maintain its speed without the use of the foot brake. While I didn’t get to take this truck down the same hill the engine brake is much more convincing. They have also programmed the tachometer to show the engine speed where the engine brake is most effective. It means drivers can confidently let the engine brake do its thing at the right engine speed.

On the whole, I was really happy with the drive. They are not everyone’s cup of tea. But both around town and on the highway it was a comfortable drive.