Pinnacle of Performance

Steve Sturgess | June 01, 2012

Cover Story

Mack’s on-highway truck proves during well-rounded workout that it deserves its lofty name

 

In Europe, manual gearshifts dominate the passenger car field, but nearly all heavy trucks have automated gearshifts. Here in America, virtually every car is an automatic, while trucks are still shifted manually. That looks like it will change — and soon — likely led by the European makers.

In North America, Volvo is currently delivering 40 percent of production with its I-Shift automated 12-speed, which is an excellent, intelligent transmission. And partner company Mack is now delivering better than 40 percent automatics on Pinnacle highway trucks. Mack’s mDrive is like the Volvo I-Shift: an automated 12-speed that is smart and slick and that makes every driver a star performer.

That’s the conclusion I reached after driving the Mack Pinnacle from the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., to Mack’s Customer Center in Allentown, Pa. — a distance of about 700 miles that crosses the rugged West Virginia mountains en route. We pulled a loaded flatbed test trailer weighing nearly 80,000 pounds across Kentucky, West Virginia, in and out of Maryland and then across Pennsylvania to Allentown. I shared the driving with David McKenna, a 32-year Mack veteran.

We planned to drop off the Pinnacle at the newly commissioned Mack Customer Care Center in Allentown, which used to be the technical center with its own test track. With the 2009 move of Mack headquarters to the splendid Volvo campus in Greensboro, N.C., the center has become a place where customers can go to see Mack history, experience Mack products — and drive the Pinnacle and its mDrive transmission for themselves.

The Pinnacle is not new. In fact, it goes back to the launch of the Vision in 1999 and, in its basic cab structure, back to the launch of the Mack CH in 1988. But the Vision was a complete redo of the earlier truck with more room for the driver, a total aero package and the “M” shape to the grille.

The Pinnacle was introduced in 2006 to coincide with the launch of the MP engines as the truck and engine combination that would meet the upcoming 2007 emissions regulations and, more importantly, carry through the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 emissions standards into the next decade.

It’s Mack’s highway tractor with all the aero aids optimized. In fact, at the 2011 MATS, Mack Product Marketing Manager Jerry Warmkessel said the Pinnacle had been through the National Research Council wind tunnel in Ottawa, Ontario, and delivered a 6 percent gain in fuel savings. Further, Warmkessel said the combination of aero improvements and intelligent mDrive transmission with the new Selective Catalytic Reduction (Mack calls it ClearTech) emissions reducing technology could offer fuel savings greater than 12 percent over previous highway models.

And there’s a newer introduction — a low-rpm cruise package called the Super Econodyne debuted at this year’s show. Gearing so the truck cruises at 65 mph and 1,160 rpm means another potential 2 percent gain in economy for the right applications.

THE TEST VEHICLE

The Mack Pinnacle I drove featured the Mack MP8 at its highest rating: 505 hp with 1,760 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s the 13-liter version of the overhead camshaft engines developed to meet 2010 emissions regulations. Though the MP8 is basically the same engine as the Volvo 13-liter, the Mack has its own personality — in this case, the Econodyne profile, which has long been part of the Mack brand. A feature of this profile is EconoBoost, an on-demand torque boost when the full throttle is held for 3 seconds. The engine adds as much as 200 lb.-ft. at any speed from 1,300 rpm.

It takes an intelligent transmission to account for that. And that’s why the mDrive has to be so different from the I-Shift of Volvo-branded trucks.

The mDrive has common mechanicals with the automated Volvo I-Shift, which is used in Volvo trucks in Europe and around the world, including here in America. But mDrive is by no means the same transmission. In its Mack persona, it has all new programming to match it to the Mack engines, which have far different power and torque curves.

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