The Australian truck industry has been waiting some time for the point at which DAF got with the program. Tim Giles drives the new flagship model pulling a B-double to find the new DAF range really is right up to date.
When the new DAF range was introduced earlier this year, it was the opportunity on the part of the Paccar owned truck maker to pull up as an equal alongside all of its European rivals in its offering to the Australian truck market.
A new DAF on the Australian market today has all of the latest gadgetry that European truck buyers have available. The fast moving safety and vehicle control systems which are appearing at an increasing rate, are now fitted, in their latest form in the DAFs on sale here.
For many years the DAF had been virtually one generation behind its rivals, but now the DAF brand is playing on a par with the likes of Mercedes Benz, Scania, MAN, Volvo and Iveco. These new models reflect the leadership position DAF holds in its homelands. Last year DAF had a market share in the European truck market, over 15 tonnes GVM, of 16.6 per cent, in a tight run race it kept its nose ahead.
Here in Australia, the Europeans, led by Volvo, with Scania and Mercedes in pursuit have kept the technology on sale here as close as possible to that available in Europe. It has been an arms race with Volvo getting ahead before Scania take it one stage further, and then Mercedes Benz go one step forward again.
In this race DAF, MAN and Iveco have been also rans, keeping up but always a couple of years in arrears. With these new models arriving, DAF has skipped a generation and is now selling 2020 model year trucks.
This is probably just the right time for the Paccar organisation to ensure it has a genuine contender in the part of the market which prefers European trucks. The last few years have seen an increasing heavy duty market share going to European cabover prime movers. The traditional US dominance is waning and truck buyers are looking for fuel economy and high level safety equipment on board.
The truck model which the Australian truck market examines most thoroughly is the B-double prime mover. Diesel drove the DAF contender in this fiercely fought market segment over a test route taking in the busy routes around Brisbane and the very demanding ascent of Cunningham’s Gap, where torque is tested to its limit.
The truck in question is the DAF XF, the brand’s flagship prime mover. This is a truck with a 13 litre engine, the Paccar MX rated at 530hp. At the moment this is as much power as you can get in this brand, there is no 15 or 16 litre engine offered in Europe by DAF.
There seems to have been a new trend in recent years. After many years of just going for higher and higher power rating putting ever more strain on drivelines. Some rationality is appearing with preferred power ratings lowering in some instances. Many fleets now run with horsepower in the 500s rather than the 600s, searching for a sweet spot in fuel consumption, cost and tare weight.
A truck like the XF looks likely to be a contender in this part of the market. It will also make an excellent top of the range single trailer prime mover.
Climbing up into the truck is a familiar experience, the Europeans seem to match each other in step heights and widths, almost to the millimetre. The new look of these models is much more modern than we have been used to from DAF. The previous model dated from the noughties and DAF in Australia have skipped straight over the first Euro 6 models up to the new models which won the International Truck of the Year for 2018.
There is no mistaking the smoothness both of the driveline and the ride in these latest models. It’s also very quiet inside the truck. The B-double was loaded to just over 60 tonnes and seemed relaxed heading out on the highway at Yatala, just South of Brisbane.
It has been quite some time since Diesel took a top end DAF truck out for a test, but this one does bring the brand into the same ball park as the other high performing Europeans, like Mercedes, Scania and Volvo.
Yes, there is only a 13 litre engine under the cab, but there is no sensation of a driveline being over worked as the truck winds up on the highway. The engine is the Paccar MX-13, 6 cylinder diesel engine with a capacity 12.9 litres. The power output of 530 hp (395kW) at 1,600 rpm is complemented by a maximum torque of 2,600Nm (1918 ft lb) available from 900 to 1,125 rpm. The fuel capacity on the truck is just over 1000 litres, with an AdBlue tank capacity of 85 litres.
On the rolling roads going West from Brisbane, this power and torque are more than capable of keeping up the momentum and making an efficient mile. The driving felt relaxed and by this time all of the various auto settings had been made on some of the many state-of-the-art electronic safety system included.
The features fitted on these new trucks from DAF include Active Cruise Control (ACC), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Advanced Emergency Braking System (AEBS), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). This is the kind of level of sophistication the modern truck buyer is looking for.
The relaxed driving style needed to get the best out of the truck is simply a matter of pointing it in the right direction. This gives the driver the time to contemplate the next challenge, climbing Cunningham’s Gap with a fully loaded B-double.
At the start of the climb I tried pushing the accelerator through the detent to get over the message I am looking for maximum power. As the grade increases, the truck is comfortable at 1500 rpm and holding the gear. The message it is on a grade is coming from my right foot and the reading from the inclinometer in the 16 speed ZF TraXon transmission.
The tachometer runs up to 1700 rpm when the grade eases off and then sits back comfortably at 1600 rpm. The system knows how much load there is on board, decides to keep revs high and changes according to its calculations. It is possible to develop a confidence in the system, which is borne out in practise on the climb.
The communication between the engine, gearbox and all of the other systems on this truck are one sophisticated whole which can be trusted to get the job done without fuss and without revving the guts out of the engine. Weight, incline, temperature and many other parameters are going into the calculation the truck is making many times a second.
Climbing the grade the temperature gauge remained unmoved by the pressure being put on it by the two trailers and 60 tonne load it is pulling. This is achieved despite the fitting of taller rear axle ratios to help with improved fuel consumption.
Still in 10th gear the engine runs from 1300 to 1500 rpm and back again at 40 to 50 km/h and the TraXon seems to be in a comfortable situation pulling the fully loaded B-double up the grade. It feels effortless from the driver’s seat. Even on the steeper part of the climb, near the summit, the transmission lets the revs drop well below 1100 rpm before making a change.
The way this transmission changes gear means there is minimal loss of momentum. There is no nod from the prime mover as the ratio changes. This TraXon transmission makes the shift so quick and smooth the truck simply powers on through.
As the grade steepens at the top, the transmission reads the situation well and grabs three gears at just the right moment to get the load up and over the top. This can be a tricky situation for some systems, the prime mover is levelling out but the two trailers are hanging down the grade. If the driveline tries to speed up at this point and change up, the truck will stall. The TraXon is way too smart to get caught out like that.
Coming down the grade later, the old rule of going down in the gear you used going up saw us take the conservative decision to descend in ninth gear.
The engine brake is on a steering wheel stalk and has three settings. Setting number one shuts three cylinders down to hold you back, two has three cylinders off plus it makes a downchange to get the revs up. Pulling the lever to the third position sees a shut down of all six cylinders and the TRaXon grabs two gears to maximise retardation.
In fact, the retardation worked out better than expected and because the AMT can handle it, the change was made to 10th gear and the speed modulated using the retardation stalk. In fact, toggling between positions two and three made light work of what can be a tricky descent.
There is full information on the screen directly in front of the driver and scrolling through the various screens, the number of options and data sets available to the driver seem endless. It is possible to drill down as far as you like to find out what’s going on, or just look at a couple of overall indicators to keep an eye on just what’s going on.
DAF’s turn and push controller to the driver’s the bottom left makes it easy to control what’s happening on the screen. This controller is unchanged in twenty years, but it is simple to use and there is no need to improve it even as the functions available have multiplied.
The screen which is probably the most useful to leave as the default when driving, is the ‘ECO performance’ screen which shows the driver’s overall performance score and then breaks it down into anticipation, efficient braking and fuel consumption.
The bottom right of the screen tells you what is going on in the transmission. There’s the gear as well as the mode, manual, auto with eco mode set and auto with eco off. The difference between eco on and off does make for more aggressive gear changing and sees the engine reach a higher rpm before an up-change. However, the system will inevitably revert to the eco setting.
Most drivers will not need to turn eco off, in most situations the system is flexible enough to adapt. The auto is getting the job done in just about every eventuality and if the driver does feel the situation needs a bit more urgency then pushing through the detent on the accelerator gets the message across very precisely.
Of course, other drivers will feel the need to intervene more as the low revving can be a bit unnerving for drivers brought up on roaring high revving engines. This is where the driver score comes in. Letting the computer do its own thing is the most efficient way to drive this truck, most of the time and get a higher score. The skills required by the driver in this situation is to be able to discern just when intervention is needed.
You can take a deep dive into all of the options on the truck’s information system and it could be quite some time before you come up for air. The different options within all of the sections are considerable. Unfortunately, in the strictly limited timetable for a truck test drive the chance to play with this system is severely limited. Any driver stuck somewhere waiting to load or unload can have countless hours of fun trying to explore all of the DAF control system’s nooks and crannies.
The steering wheel is a little less complicated, with three buttons on each side of the wheel, placed to be able to be pressed by the driver’s thumb while driving. To the left there’s the phone and stereo controls, to the right it’s all about cruise control, speed limiter, idling speed control and adaptive cruise control settings.
The ACC parameters can be set beforehand through the central screen directly in front of the driver. To activate the ACC it’s a simple thumb press on the steering wheel. The important numbers here are the time gap between the truck and the vehicle in front and the amount of overrun allowed before the engine brake is activated.
As in many of the latest trucks coming out of Europe on the market, all of the dash switches can be moved around to any position at all to suit the preferences of the operator or driver.
LOOKING AROUND THE INTERIOR
There are three cab options in the XF range. This test took out the middle of the three, and the one most likely to be the top seller. The Space Cab has a raised roof that is high enough for the driver to walk about in the cabin, and has an overall roof height of 3.56 metres. The other cabin options are the Comfort Cab, without a raised roof and a height of 3.26 metres and the much higher Super Space Cab at an overall height of just under four metres.
The bulbous panels on the front of the cabin give it a distinctive look and also help with a much improved aerodynamic performance. There is an improved design of the sun visor which is claimed by DAF to also improve fuel consumption.
The latch to open the front panel on the cabin is inside the door by the steps up into the cabin. This is a security feature. Opening the panel reveals a couple of small panels inserted into the design behind the front grille, which look quite insignificant, but are said to provide incremental help in improving airflow and cooling.
The basic layout is little changed from previous models, but it has improved over every iteration and has a modern look. There are a few giveaways of the older design, the slide out tray at the top of the binnacle has not changed in nearly thirty years.
Two clever and good looking fold out drinks holders on the central binnacle are nothing like as fragile as they are on some trucks. The size is adjustable to take a larger bottle or smaller coffee cup with an adapter which swings out of the way when not needed.
There’s a slide out fridge under the bunk, with the fridge on one side and a bin on other. There is an option to include a slide out fridge and a separate freezer.
Overall, this is a very easy to drive, smooth riding and quiet, European truck which should be capable of mixing it with its European rivals. It also has the advantage of being sold through the very capable Paccar network.
In the past, this network gave the impression it didn’t quite understand what was going on with the DAF product. However, the combination of increasing truck sales for other European brands and a brand new product which can match them toe-to-toe should be enough of an incentive to get these new models out there and competing hard. In fact early signs in the truck sales figures in thefirst half of 2020 suggest this is, in fact, the case.
There is also likely to be more to come from DAF here in Australia, especially if market share continues to lift. The one thing holding the DAF back from total acceptance is that lack of an engine over 13 litres.
On this score, there is a suggestion that Paccar are already considering engineering the ubiquitous Cummins X15 engine into this top of the range prime mover. Add to this the fact that the Paccar AMT used in the Kenworth product here, is already being coupled with the X15 in some applications in the US. We shall wait and see!
Story by Tim Giles
Article reproduced courtesy of Diesel Magazine (July-August 2020)
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