Delivering on Its Promises

| August 01, 2005

The Volvo VT 880 offers space for living and power for working.

I chatted with Volvo’s truck marketing manager Frank Bio while negotiating the metallic blue pearl Volvo VT 880 through moderate traffic southbound on I-81 in southwestern Virginia. At 78,000 pounds, the VT 880, using Volvo’s 16.1-litre, 625 horsepower D16 with 2,250 pounds-feet of torque, an Eaton 18-speed manual transmission and 3:58 rears, was quickly making good on one of many claims.

“The VT 880, operating at 80,000 pounds, can maintain 65 miles per hour on a 3-percent grade running at 1,400 rpm,” said Peter Karlsten, president and CEO of Volvo, at a press conference I attended this February in Phoenix. We were a ton lighter, but some grades were much steeper, and the VT 880 held at 65 even on downgrades with the D16′s 335 braking horsepower at 1,500 rpm.

The truck is sure-footed and responsive and has an insulated, seamless, heavy-gauge steel cab. Normal driving sounds – engine, tires and engine brake – were audible, but we spoke in normal tones.

From a dead stop in the Virginia Welcome Center at the foot of Fancy Gap northbound on I-77, we reached and held 57 miles an hour ascending the seven-mile grade. I believe that if we’d hit the slope at highway speed we would’ve climbed it at 65 mph, 39 tons and all.

The ease with which the D16-powered VT 880 handled Fancy Gap and I-81′s steep upgrades and downgrades shows the truck and engine make a strong, sturdy vehicle that can handle the demands of heavy hauls and high gross weights over any kind of terrain.

This June test drive was part of a press event for trucking journalists. Our group had two VT 880s, virtually identical where it counts, and after lunch at the Glade Springs, Va., Petro, we swapped. I got to test the metallic red pearl with Volvo’s drivetrain product manager Ed Saxman as my new chaperone.

We continued south into Tennessee on I-81, and at exit 57 we headed east on I-26 into the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains and toward Asheville, N.C. I wasn’t familiar with this highway, and due to its grades and curves and our load’s high center of gravity – trash bails in stacks of three – I took it easier.

The eastbound side of this recently completed stretch of interstate includes a long, steep climb that ranges from 4 to 6 percent. The red VT 880 was also at 78,000 pounds and spec’d the same as the blue one, and I was again impressed with the D16′s power. The engine, drivetrain and suspension handled the heavy load on steep grades and sharp curves with ease. No strain or blocking traffic in the left lane while passing the other big trucks, and no surprises on the down slopes, either: just sleek, confident muscle easily hoisting 39 tons over some of the steepest grades east of the Mississippi. I pushed the truck hard, but even with the large engine, heavy load and continual climbing along most of the route, we still averaged more than 5 miles per gallon.

The VT 880 has economy, durability, safety and style designed into it. For example, the extended hood and enlarged grill are necessary to house the D16, but the hood is also aerodynamically contoured to ease wind resistance. Air filters are under the hood instead of outside-mounted for the same reason. The hood, grill and large, stainless steel, three-piece bumper with optional fog lights also offer the bold visual appeal and traditional styling popular among American truckers.

Increased cooling capacity is also designed into the truck by way of the larger grill, the gap in the bumper and the D16′s huge cooling fan and improved shrouds, so a large volume of air is efficiently channeled through the engine compartment and under the truck. This eases long climbs with heavy loads in August, but the D16′s extra cooling capacity is also designed for the higher temperatures EPA-compliant engines will produce starting in 2007.

Volvo’s I-torque system protects drivetrains and tires by limiting torque in the lower gears and increasing it in the higher gears, because the D16′s full 2,250 pounds-feet is a heck of a lot of turning power. Volvo’s non-torque reactive suspension minimizes cab rocking in high-torque situations. The front axle is pushed forward and the cab is pushed backward – 200 inches bumper to back of cab – to improve handling and comfort and decrease engine noise inside the cab.

The engine and transmission are designed to break away from mounts and slide back under the cab in collisions. The VT 880′s enlarged windshield and lower side windows maximize visibility. Maneuverability is guaranteed by a 45-degree steering cut. Twin exhaust stacks come exposed or concealed behind fairings. Styling can be customized with a variety of chrome and stainless steel trim options.

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