Mercedes-Benz upgraded Actros has been described as ‘a truck ahead of its time,’ and after spending a few hours behind the wheel, taking in the Northern Ireland countryside, it is difficult to argue with that, as Export & Freight’s Phil Eaglestone has been discovering.
When we picked up our Actros, complete with Gigaspace cab, at Mercedes-Benz Truck & Van NI, we knew we were in for a treat. Packed with technology, vehicle safety and driver assistance features, it is no surprise it was voted 2020 International Truck of the Year by a jury of 24 commercial vehicle editors and senior journalists from across Europe.
Designed specifically to meet the continually growing demands in long-distance and heavy-duty distribution haulage, this new Actros may not outwardly look a whole lot different from its predecessors, but there are some subtle differences – like the absence of conventional exterior rear-view mirrors.
Instead, Mercedes-Benz has introduced a MirrorCam system. The clue being in its name, MirrorCam utilises cameras and screens to provide views of the sides and rear of the truck, thus supporting the driver in manoeuvring, cornering or changing lanes; this improved all-around visibility also contributes to the truck’s aerodynamic efficiency. MirrorCam can also work with the optional Sideguard Assist system that can warn the driver of cyclists and other obstructions that may have moved into the previous blind spot on the offside of the truck.
Another bonus is the fact that the driver can turn on the cameras from the comfort of his bunk bed, if they hear a noise around the truck while parked at night, providing additional safety without having to exit the cab or open the curtains to investigate. How good is that?
The MirrorCam system works really well with the Actros’ Multimedia Cockpit. The new, state-of-the-art workplace includes a primary colour display screen which replaces the conventional instrument cluster and offers a clearly arranged presentation of all vehicle and operating statuses and vehicle information, while a secondary multi-touch-display screen comprises an integrated radio infotainment system and facilitates handling of functions such as heating/air conditioning, telephony and interior lighting.
The MirrorCam system really came into its own when we arrived at the Transport Training Services site at Nutts Corner to carry out some challenging reversing manoeuvres!
Always in Control
That exercise completed, we headed back up the road to put some of the truck’s other innovative features to the test – not least Predictive Powertrain Control.
Employing GPS and mapping data to keep the truck in the correct gear on motorways, Predictive Powertrain Control now also comes with a function that enables use of the system’s benefits on A and B roads, too, meaning you can tackle twisting hilly rural roads without needing to use the pedals at all.
The system also identifies junctions, roundabouts and traffic signs integrated in 3D maps. On the basis of this data, Predictive Powertrain Control optimises shift points, gear steps and the set cruise control speed.
What’s more: the vehicle’s kinetic energy is used to avoid unnecessary acceleration, shifting or braking. This means that cruise control can be used in virtually all driving situations. Predictive Powertrain Control can be used in conjunction with cruise control at speeds between 25 and 90 km/h. It all combines to make driving so much more relaxed and stress free – and we are told it allows fuel savings of up to 5% to be achieved.
Now fitted as standard, the latest generation of Active Brake Assist 5 is an innovative safety system that can perform emergency braking when approaching stationary and moving objects, and perform partial or full braking for moving or standing pedestrians in certain conditions up to a vehicle speed of 50 km/h – improving safety for you and other road users.
The parking brake is activated automatically on switching off the engine, but it can also be switched on and off using the lever in the cockpit. The integrated HOLD function is activated when the vehicle is at a standstill simply by pressing the brake pedal more firmly, for example at a red traffic light or on an uphill gradient. It is released as soon as the accelerator is pressed again. This avoids the danger of the vehicle rolling back when moving off on an uphill gradient.
As with many family saloon cars these days, the Actros features keyless start. In order to start with the engine start-stop-button it is merely sufficient for the key to be anywhere in the vehicle, which means it can remain in the driver’s jacket or trouser pocket while on the move.
A convenience central locking system is also available as an option. In addition to the mandatory light check, it also allows separate locking and unlocking of the driver’s and co-driver’s door. The simple handling functions also include closing of the side windows and the sliding/tilting roof at the push of a button.
The truck’s comfortable working environment – akin to a home from home, really – is further enhanced by the provision of an air-suspended seat that can be adjusted to meet the driver’s requirements; it is equipped with pneumatic height adjustment, seat cushion angle and depth adjustment, plus it has a headrest with an integrated, height-adjustable 3-point automatic seat belt.
The multifunction leather steering wheel with touch control buttons enhances ease of operation. A diverse range of vehicle systems and functions can be operated, and information called up by swiping and pressing the buttons.
In addition to the interior light to illuminate the entire cab and two reading lights, it also comprises a subtle blue night light to help the driver find their way around the cab while on the move.
Anyone who spends a lot of time on the road, of course, needs space of their own – and space for the essentials that are on board during long journeys – and the Gigaspace cab on our test model didn’t disappoint; it has vast amounts of stowage space in addition to good sized bunk beds; there are, for example, two spacious drawers under the bed, one of which can optionally take the form of a refrigerator.
The GigaSpace offers not only lots of stowage capacity, but also excellent freedom of movement and headroom on the co-driver’s side. The upper stowage compartments with hinged lids are illuminated on the inside, lined with slip-resistant felt and offer two drivers adequate space for everything they need to take along with them.
We were only behind the wheel for a couple of hours, and it would take more than that to get your head around all the various innovative driver assist and safety features, but for the time we did spend on the road, this latest Actros not only lived up to our expectations, it exceeded them in all areas. It was a dream to drive, pure and simple.