Test Drive

Jack Roberts | April 01, 2012

On the prowl

Cat truck proves it’s ready for all hauling terrains.

 

Cat engineers worked hard to put their stamp on the new CT660, most notably with exterior design cues taken from the company’s equipment line.

Caterpillar has come back strong into the on-highway truck market. For its CT Series, Cat redesigned a Navistar “donor truck” from the frame rails up. The engine choice is the Cat CT13 or CT15, which are Navistar MaxxForce diesels collaborated on by Navistar and Cat. The fuel system is a Caterpillar design.

Adam Ackermann, who serves as Cat’s dealer liaison in the South, joined me for an extended drive of a Cat CT660. It’s a dual-axle straight truck – not the usual rig you see in on-road trucking magazines, but Cat is concentrating on producing construction-specific models. The company is secretive about any plans for long-haul, sleeper-cab models, though it has such a model for sale in Australia.

On this rainy January morning, I’ve picked a route that will give us a good mix of interstate, two-lane roads and hills. We’ve got a full load of pea gravel in the dump body.

Executive Editor Jack Roberts finds the CT13 engine with Cat’s CX31 six-speed automatic transmission to be a strong combination for smooth shifts and strong power.

I’m struck by the progressive styling and attractiveness of this truck, which borrows many styling cues from Cat’s wheel-loader line. It’s tough, yet modern-looking, combining a highly aerodynamic hood and front fenders. This blending of old and new design elements appeals especially to contractors and truckers everywhere.

Cat has experience keeping operators comfortable and productive on loud, vibrating pieces of construction machinery, and its engineers leveraged that know-how when they designed this cab. All instrumentation is exceptionally well-lit, and switch and control placement is logical and ergonomic. There’s extra storage space, and the burnished aluminum accents on the dash and door facings add to the tough, durable feel.

The CT660’s cab gets high marks for its ergonomic layout and sound dampening qualities.

The first thing that jumps out to me as I climb in is how macho the interior looks. Everything – 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 confirms that views to the front, sides and rear are outstanding. Firing up the big CT13, it’s obvious from the unusual quiet that this interior is more than just for show. Cat engineers feel strongly that any unintended Cat noise is a productivity-draining distraction. This is one tight, well-fitted interior. Ambient sound levels – even at highway cruising speeds – reflect that.

Another nice touch is the Cat CX31 six-speed automatic transmission. You can get an Eaton-Fuller manual as standard equipment, but the CX31 is definitely worth a look. It began in Cat’s line of off-highway, articulated haul trucks that spend long days slogging through gumbo mud or doing quarry work. Cutting its teeth in those applications means the transmission is robust enough to manhandle any hill you can find, though it also engages and shifts smoothly on the highway.

The CX31 has been programmed for power and fuel economy. Shift points are logical throughout the power curve and even on tight, hilly Alabama back roads, it doesn’t spend a lot of time searching for the right gear.

With 475 hp under the hood, I’m not surprised the CT660 gets moving in a hurry – even with a full load. The Cat CT diesel family consists of EGR-only engines. Having no diesel exhaust fluid tank or urea after-treatment simplifies life for owners. It also delivers reduced smokestack emissions without compromising power or fuel economy, which is rated slightly above 6 mpg. All told, the CT13 has the raw power to get a fully loaded dump out of a muddy rut but still cruise down a straightaway without skipping a beat.

A nice surprise is the truck’s unusually sure-footed handling. Response to steering was intuitive and precise. The truck didn’t wander all over the road, even when blasting through deep puddles of standing water.

As we moved off the highway onto two-lane back roads, my confidence remained high. The combination of engine power and tight steering held into the hill country as sharp curves and steep grades appeared out of the mist. The CT660 gobbled up everything the road had to offer without a hiccup. Very few drivers behind us seemed to feel the need to pass, even on this hilly, two-lane highway.

Based on my time behind the wheel of the CT660, you can expect Caterpillar to make its mark on trucking in a new way.

 

2012 CAT CT660 DRIVE TEST SPECS

GVWR: 66,000 pounds.

STARTABILITY/GRADEABILITY: 36.30 percent/2.83 percent at 55 mph

FUEL ECONOMY: 6.47 mpg at 55 mph

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

ENGINE: CT13, 475 hp at 1,700 rpm; 1,700 lb.-ft. torque at 1,000 rpm; 2,100 governed rpm

AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION: Caterpillar CX31, six speeds, 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. Rear axle gear ratio: 4.89

REAR SUSPENSION, TANDEM: Hendrickson Primaax EX 55-inch axle spacing; 46,000-pound capacity

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