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Macks Across the Nullarbor

Cruising along the Eyre Highway, eying off the vastness of the Nullarbor on a road test is not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re on board the latest Mack Anthem, with its siblings in convoy, it’s as good as trucking can get.

Especially as this Anthem is the Australian version and has been the cause of some shifts in Mack engineering thinking since its US release back in 2018, when the word ‘pandemic’ was nothing more than a disaster movie theme.

Since then, Australian engineers and product people at the Mack HQ in Wacol have been pushing to have Anthem’s advanced architecture blended across into the Trident and Super-Liner, to create a whole new feel for the big end of the Mack range as well.

Importantly, future developments in mechanical and digital technology can now be accommodated in the new Macks, without a ground-up redesign. It’s already been done.

In short, the Anthem cab is now THE Mack cab, with the front end and underfloor components unique to each model and application of course. The different noses, wheelbases, BBC measurements, sleeper sizes and axle/driveline configurations are what differentiates the various models.

I found the new cab such a complete change from the last Mack drive I did just a few short years ago that it seemed the models had skipped a couple of generations. Unquestionably the Volvo European driver focus has prevailed in the design process. Every control needed to get the job done with minimal fuel, maximum safety and high productivity is now gathered together in a new wrap-around dash that bristles with smarts.

Volvo Group’s Matt Woods was with me. The former driver trainer, fuel efficiency specialist and now communications boss is usually mumbling a constant stream of tips for saving fuel on our drives together. But on the nearly two-hour rumble across the seemingly endless plains between Eucla and Madura he was strangely quiet. “Any tips for saving fuel Matt?” I asked. A few hundred metres later; “Nope.”

My last Mack drive was similar to my first, back in 2007. Lots for the driver to do, lots of noise from the then new MP8 engine and plenty of flitting fingers across the dash looking for engine brake, cruise controls and the like. But this new cab changes all of that. Vastly improved sound insulation reduces in-cab noise to wind and tyre rumble. To remind me the engine was operating I needed to keep my eyes on the gauges to note rpm and gear position - on the few occasions we weren’t locked into top gear at 100km/h.

I never had to take my hands off the wheel when exploiting the new adaptive cruise and engine brake combination. The best party trick was using the cruise control to drive DOWN the speed limited Greenmount Hill in Perth. Here’s how:

First set the CC speed at 35km/h, then adjust the maximum overrun at 3km/h. Pull out of the check bay and head on down. Engage cruise. The Mack will run up to and past 35km/h and three km/h later will engage the engine brake in stages to maintain the speed. If there is slower traffic, don’t touch any pedals, a thumb click can drop the CC speed back, which will automatically pull the overrun speed back and beef up the engine brake effect. QED.

You can run that exercise at any speed of course, so cruising anywhere on the Hume and dealing with traffic using an up/down adjustment to CC lets the Mack do all the work for you.

Of course it’s the lazy way and to optimise fuel efficiency you’ll always need a skilled driver to fully exploit up and down slopes and the forward view of traffic that only a professional can manage.

The Mack fleet was on its way to Perth for the WA leg of the Mack Evolution Tour, a spin around the states with a range of the new products for potential customers to get a hands-on look and drive. A Super-Liner B-double was joined by a Trident day cab rigid tipper and quad dog. Three Anthems made up the rest – a sleeper cab with a single curtain-side trailer, day cab 8x4 rigid tipper, and a day cab with a single skel. All were loaded to around 80 per cent payload.

The Granite range is now replaced by the Anthem. It boosts available power to 535hp and with the all-new cab and front-end styling, Anthem has leap-frogged into a broader fleet arena where it can perform a much wider range of tasks than Granite ever could.

The 13-litre MP8 engine and mDRIVE heavy duty transmission with additional deep reduction gear and multispeed reverse was a great package, whether in the Adelaide suburbs or the wide-open spaces. The truck’s ECU exploits the engine’s low rpm torque performance to keep gear changes at a minimum and revs much the same, keeping the emphasis of the truck and driveline focussed fully on fuel efficiency.

Anthem’s cab has taken a lead from the UD Quon, which has the best surround-dash layout in heavy-duty. Everything you need is an arm’s length away at most, with the wheel or steering column the centre of operations. Anthem’s 36-inch sleeper isn’t deep but it is high, with lots of storage space under and around the bunk.

I was particularly impressed with the Anthem tipper and dog. This configuration is Mack’s bread and butter on the east coast, and the horsepower boost qualifies the truck for anything from 45 to 57.5-tonnes under PBS with bridge plan axle placement.

It took two and a half day with stops for photography, comfort breaks and food for Mack technical specialist Tom Welsh’s constant hunger. In between I had plenty of time to sample each of the latest Macks. The common interior – except for sleeper/day cab configurations – meant for a seamless transition between the smallest Anthem and the 685hp Super-Liner.

These new models will represent an operator’s brand well and keep their drivers safe and satisfied to boot.

Adapted from Big Rigs. Published in April 2021

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