A new Star is born

| October 30, 2006

SPECS AS TESTED
Engine: 435 HP ’07 Cummins ISX
Transmission: Eaton-Fuller UltraShift 13-speed manual/automatic
Clutch: Eaton-Fuller 15.5-inch ceramic AutoClutch
Rear end: Dana-Spicer DST41/RST41 single reduction 40,000-pound capacity
Drive shaft: Dana-Spicer SPL 170XL
Front axle: Dana-Spicer E-1202W Wide Track I-beam 12,000-pound capacity
Anti-lock brake system: Bendix roll stability, automatic traction control
Front brakes: Air Cam S-Cam 15-inch X 4-inch, MGM Long Stroke chambers
Rear brakes: Air Cam 16.5-inch X 7-inch, MGM Long Stroke chambers
Front & rear slack adjusters: Haldex automatic
Front wheels: 22.5-inch polished aluminum 10-stud, 8.5 DC rims, steel hubs
Rear Wheels: Single disc, 22.5-inch polished aluminum 10-stud, 14.00 DC rims, aluminum hubs
Steer tires: 295/75R22.5 G395 Goodyear 14-ply
Drive tires: (4) 445/50R22.5 X One XDA Michelin 20-ply
Starter: Delco-Remy 29MT, thermal over-crank protection
Alternator: Leece-Neville BLP2303H brushless 140 amp
Compressor: Cummins 18.7 CFM
Exhaust: Single horizontal, after-treatment frame mounted, right side
Driver’s seat: National 2000 model 1HP swivel
Passenger’s seat: National 2000 model 197
Circuit breakers: Manual reset SAE type III with trip indicators replace all fuses except five-amps
Front end: Tilting, three-piece, fiberglass
Cab: Conventional high-rise, 73 inches seat to back of cab, 42-inch wide bunk
Cab interior trim: ProStar Premium level
Gauge cluster: Top to bottom, left to lower right-engine oil temperature, transmission oil temperature, coolant temperature, oil pressure, tachometer, speedometer, voltmeter, fuel, primary air, secondary air, digital readout with gear, odometer, rear load indicator
Aerodynamics package: Air roof deflector with extension and cab side extenders
Wheelbase range: 221-inch to 270-inch
Gross vehicle weight: 65,000 pounds
Trip length: 145 miles

International Truck and Engine focused on the driver when it designed the new ProStar. Aiming to increase driver confidence, comfort and security – and in turn, reduce driver turnover – International’s ergonomics experts examined how drivers use the vehicle and created a truck that they say better meets drivers’ needs.

The ProStar’s designers also aimed for unprecedented uptime, fuel economy and low cost, but in my day and night in a ProStar, I concentrated on spotlighting its driver treatment.

The test truck was a Premium model with a 435-horsepower Cummins ISX, a 13-speed manual/automatic Eaton-Fuller UltraShift transmission and Dana-Spicer single-reduction, DST41/RST41 rears. The trailer was a 53-foot dry van loaded with concrete blocks. Total weight was about 65,000 pounds. The 145-mile test route looped south around Ft. Wayne, Ind., on I-465, then north on Indiana 3 to U.S. 20, then east to I-69 and south to Ft. Wayne, where I’d bunk overnight in the ProStar. The last leg was back to the International Tech Center via Indiana 930: across Ft. Wayne during morning rush hour.

A pre-test drive plant tour showed how ProStar’s designers rethought the truck’s every centimeter and submitted it to unimaginable trials and tortures at International’s Ft. Wayne technical facility and test track. They offer a rugged, durable truck, lower ownership costs and greater income.

International says the ProStar increases driver retention, too: a bold claim, considering driver turnover rates. So the driver-ProStar interface was my main concern.

The ProStar’s overall size, shape and color add up to an attractive vehicle. Its “grinning” bumper, racy headlights, trademark International grill, curved windshield and grooved, 73-inch condo roof add personality.

Before letting me go, International’s Heavy Product Center Program Manager Jodi Presswood showed me around the truck: explained the dash-mounted computer and the button-laden steering wheel.

To reduce frame and chassis weight while retaining strength, International uses computer programs that divide each component into thousands of puzzle-like pieces. The computer simulates a variety of stresses on each tiny piece, showing where added strength is required and where unneeded metal can be removed.

The computer’s stress predictions are affirmed by real-life tests with “97 or 98 percent accuracy,” says Body Strength and Durability Analysis chief Marty Blessing.

The computer is a plus. Its screen is big and readable, and its controls are simple and designed for big-fingered truckers watching the road. It provides complete, detailed information about the truck, trailer and trip, and it has geo-positioning and video capabilities, too, in anticipation of rear- and side-view cameras. Although the computer has dozens of functions – too many to list – it’s user-friendly. I was punching up fuel mileage, trip and engine information within an hour.

The rest of the dash reflects International’s attention to ergonomics and driver needs. The 10 dials and digital readout are all right in front and uncluttered, and the lighting and color scheme is easy on the eyes. The left steering-column stalk has windshield washer/wiper and directional signal controls; the right stalk has trailer hand brakes. The driver door’s wide windowsill is easy on the elbow, with fingertip-controls for door locks, windows and mirrors. On the right dash, engine brake, suspension, lighting, radio/CD player, computer and HVAC controls are uncluttered, organized, identifiable and well within reach.

Observing research findings, International made the seats bigger with multiple controls, including automatic inward swiveling on the driver’s. Without a standard shifter, the space between the seats is opened up.

But to me, the ProStar’s steering wheel controls, when combined with the built-in “on-center” steering, added seat width and controls, automatic shifting, dash computer screen and infinite-position steering column, are radical enough to alter truck driving. Soon after leaving the tech center I was stuck in heavy rain, construction and Ft. Wayne’s (pop. 280,000) rush-hour traffic. For more shifting control, I’d taken the manual option and was performing the many tasks the weather and road conditions required: stopping, starting, shifting up and down, using blinkers and windshield wipers, adjusting mirrors and, as traffic thinned, running the cruise control. But my hands never left the steering wheel; I hardly had to move in the seat. It felt futuristic: Han Solo, freight hauler, and I’d been in the truck less than an hour. If this is the future, bring it on.

International’s intent with the ProStar is to make the driver feel more in control of 70-foot, 80,000-pound vehicles. The sloped hood, tall, broad, windshield, lower side windows and bunk windows maximize visibility. I pulled out of one parking spot, did a 180-degree turn and pulled into the adjacent right-side spot, and the right-side wind faring didn’t come close to the trailer; the truck maneuvers and handles well. A left-turning four-wheeler without brake or directional lights stopped in front of me. I was at 50 miles an hour and anticipated a hard brake. The ProStar slowed quickly enough without “heavy pedal,” and I always felt easily in control of the vehicle, even on the wet roads.

The digital readout above the steering column shows what gear the truck was in, but I lost the shift buttons when rotating the steer wheel and switched to fully automatic shifting before 90-degree turns. Time in the truck and color-coding might cure that.

The ProStar would not let me start above second gear. It let me skip a gear up or down, but only one.

With its super-singles, the truck felt sure-footed at highway speeds on wet country roads narrowed from construction. On the interstate, the tachometer read 1,500 at 65 miles an hour. The fuel mileage increased, though the engine was only 1,350 miles old and far from broken in, the truck had idled a long while, traffic was heavy and so was the load.

It rained, sometimes very hard, for the entire drive. The bad weather stretched way down south, and I thought of driving out of it.

Instead, I toured a few neighborhoods in downtown Angola, Ind., testing the ProStar in tight quarters. I negotiated school zones, a mini-van army, four-way stops and 90-degree turns without incident, brought the ProStar back to Ft. Wayne and parked. After debriefing with International technicians, I showed the truck to a couple curious drivers back at the truckstop and then hit the bunk. The rain stopped; it was muggy but cool. I didn’t idle and slept well, though the old-school reefer next door coughed to a start and a stop and roared in between.

The next day I had breakfast and, for old time’s sake, a shower. It was rush hour and rainy again, but International awaited their truck and a flight home awaited me. I didn’t know the short way through town, but the city traffic was a better test. I took Indiana 930, didn’t rush, practiced finger-tip shifting and thought, “Back in my day, we had it tough.”

Visibility is key in heavy traffic, especially in strange towns. At 6 feet 4 inches tall, I could see the tops of mid-sized SUVs from the driver’s seat out the passenger vent window. While stopped, I could see the road separating the truck from the cars directly in front and directly to the left without moving in the driver’s seat. That kind of visibility helped take the stress out of test-driving a brand new truck during rush hour on unfamiliar roads.

I like the ProStar’s looks, and it’s driver friendly. But remembering the relaxed, sure-footed, almost uncanny ease of piloting 32.5 tons on wet, narrow country roads, city streets and interstates, I’d hire on to drive a ProStar, and I’d take it with me if I left.

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