Change meets tradition

| February 01, 2007

Owners who opt for the factory-installed GPS unit will also experience less emotional strain. I became dependent on the device within an hour of starting my journey, constantly checking it for the names of upcoming towns and crossroads long before their roadside signs came into view. Like all other such units, this one will either track the vehicle’s movement or display real-time directions to a destination. It is also programmable to include repeat routes and favorite stops, such as a Waffle House or factory-outlet mall. Equally important, it’s easy to view, mounted in the middle of the B panel, and reasonably simple to operate, using touch-screen commands.

Complementing the GPS unit is a new proprietary driver information display, located above the speedometer and tach on the dash’s A panel. This digital readout shows numerous current and historic stats on the truck’s operation, from fuel economy to trip length to engine conditions to service intervals and much, much more. Some of the display’s numerous menus are deactivated when the truck is moving.

I would have used the system to monitor fuel mileage except that I was at the helm of a preproduction model suffering from some algorithmic sniffles. Had everything been working properly, though, I probably wouldn’t have impressed anyone with my mpg because I’d mistakenly chosen routes notable only for their stoplights, thick traffic and 90-degree corners.

It’s difficult to accurately predict how efficiently the 389 will run on a sparsely populated freeway. The truck will never get into the Guinness book for its aerodynamic shape. Still, it is slightly (2.4 percent) “slipperier” than the 379. In theory, this improvement should translate into a 1.2 percent fuel economy gain. Unfortunately, these trucks will be powered by ’07 engines designed to burn ultra-low-sulfur diesel, a fuel with supposedly 1 mpg less combustible oomph than that of the previous variety.

But this might all be academic gibberish to actual buyers. They’re not choosing a square hood for its ability to cleanly slice through the wind. They’re seeking gratification, the sort derived from running equipment that turns heads and generates pride and envy.

Since the mid-’60s, Peterbilt executives have recognized the allure of their premium owner-operator models, the 359 and 379. They’ve done well during the past four decades, updating the trucks incrementally to stay current with technology and driver comfort while maintaining an unapologetic traditional style. Now the corporate hopes hang on the 389, which is more refined than, yet much the same as, its iconic forbearers.

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