On the Prowl

Jack Roberts | April 01, 2012

Cat has a lot of experience keeping operators comfortable and productive on loud, vibrating pieces of construction machinery, and its engineers clearly leveraged that know-how when they designed these truck cabs. All instrumentation is exceptionally well-lit, and switch and control placement is logical and ergonomic. There’s tons of extra storage space, and the burnished aluminum accents on the dash and door facings only add to the overall tough, durable feel. Climbing up into the Cat, the first thing that jumps out is just how macho this interior looks. Everything in the cab — from the dash covering, to the arm rests and gauges — fairly screams “testosterone.”

The cab is so well laid-out that getting the seat and mirrors adjusted takes no time at all. A quick scan to all quarters confirms what I expected: Views to the front, sides and rear are all outstanding, with the sight angle out over the dramatically sloped front hood clearly designed with safety foremost in mind. Firing up the big Cat CT13 engine, it’s obvious that this interior is more than just show. The cab is extremely quiet. Even better, Cat engineers feel strongly that any unintended noise is a productivity-draining distraction. Their efforts to eliminate “buzz, squeak and rattle” completely from the cab are to be commended: This is one tight, well-fitted interior. Ambient sound levels — even at highway cruising speeds — reflect that.

The combination of engine power and tight steering held all the way up into the hill country as sharp curves and steep grades appeared out of the mist in front of us.

Another nice touch is the Cat CX31 six-speed automatic transmission. You can get an Eaton-Fuller manual as standard equipment, of course. But the CX31 is definitely worth a look. It began its life in Cat’s line of off-highway, articulated haul trucks: trucks that spend long days slogging through gumbo mud or doing “light” quarry work. To say this is a tough transmission is an understatement. Cutting its teeth in applications such as those means the transmission is robust enough to manhandle any hill start you can find. But, interestingly, it also engages and shifts smoothly out on the highway. Even better, the CX31 has been programmed for both power and fuel economy. Shift points are logical throughout the power curve and even on tight, hilly back roads it doesn’t spend a lot of time searching back and forth for the right gear to keep you rolling on down the highway.

With 475 horsepower sitting under the hood, I’m not surprised to find the CT660 gets up and moving in a hurry — even with a full load in the dump behind us. The Cat CT diesel family consists of EGR-only engines. There is no diesel exhaust fluid tank or urea after-treatment in the exhaust system. Cat says this configuration simplifies life for both fleet owners and drivers while delivering reduced smokestack emissions without compromising power or fuel economy — which is rated slightly above 6 mpg right out of the box for this truck. All told, the CT13 is exceedingly quiet out on the road with plenty of smooth, on-demand torque and power. It’s an engine that has the raw power required to get a fully loaded dump out of a muddy rut but still cruise endlessly down a straight stretch of road without skipping a beat.

A nice surprise on this rainy Alabama day is the well-heeled handling characteristics this truck exhibits. Nothing highlights design defects in steering and handling like bombing down a rain-slicked interstate at 65 mph. But the CT660 was unusually sure-footed in the rain. Steering response to control inputs was intuitive and precise. The truck didn’t wander all over the road, even when blasting through deep puddles of standing water. It’s a nice shot of confidence that the truck is up to the task at hand when you’re behind the wheel.

As we transitioned off the highway and onto two-lane back roads, confidence levels remained high. The combination of engine power and tight steering held all the way up into the hill country as sharp curves and steep grades appeared out of the mist in front of us.

Another interesting aside was that very few cars behind us felt the need to pass — as is so often the case when you’re taking a big rig down a hilly, two-lane highway. Partly this was due to the poor weather conditions, but the CT13 accelerates so well no doubt some of those other drivers didn’t feel we were holding them up all that much. Ultimately, based on my time behind the wheel of the CT660, I think you can expect Caterpillar trucks to make their mark on the trucking industry in the months to come.


Cat CT660 Drive Test Specs

Model profile: 2012 660S SBA 6-by-4 (CF7AA)

Application: Construction dump

Mission: Requested gross vehicle weight rating: 58,000; calculated GVWR: 66,000

Calculated startability/gradeability: 36.30 percent/2.83 percent at 55 mph

Calculated geared speed (maximum road speed at governed rpm): 89.2 mph

FUEL ECONOMY: 6.47 mpg at 55 mph

DIMENSIONS: Wheelbase: 207 inches; CA: 145 inches; usable CA: 139 inches; axle-to-frame: 63 inches

ENGINE, DIESEL: CT 13; EPA 2010 emissions; 475 horsepower at 1,700 rpm; 1,700 lb.-ft. torque at 1,000 rpm; 2,100 rpm governed rpm

SPEED: 475 peak horsepower (max)

TRANSMISSION, AUTOMATIC: Caterpillar CX31, first-generation controls; six speeds, includes oil level sensor, with PTO provision for on/off highway

FRONT AXLE (nondriving): Meritor MFS-20-133A wide-track, I-beam type, 20,000-pound capacity

REAR AXLE, TANDEM: Meritor RT-46-164P, single-reduction, standard width, 46,000-pound capacity, with lube oil pump, with driver-controlled locking differential in both forward rear, and rear rear axle, gear ratio: 4.89 and 200 WheelCAB: conventional

TIRE, FRONT: Two; 425/65R22.5 G296 MSA (Goodyear) 468 revolutions/mile, load range L, 20 ply

TIRE, REAR: Eight; 11R24.5 G282 MSD (Goodyear) 475 revolutions/mile, load range H, 16 ply

SUSPENSION, REAR, AIR, TANDEM: Hendrickson Primaax EX 55-inch axle spacing; 46,000-pound capacity; 9-inch ride height with shock absorbers mounted in standard location

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