Test Drive: A sweet Pete

| November 03, 2005

Peterbilt’s new 386 is a classy new aerodynamic.

The Peterbilt plant in Denton, Texas, was just a few miles behind me, and I had the white Peterbilt 386 headed southbound on I-35W just north of Ft. Worth.

The highway looked inviting, but I jumped off at exit 65 and headed for a Pilot truckstop, partly because even test drivers need log books but mostly to give the 386 a maneuverability test.

I’d been in the truck less than 30 minutes and was unfamiliar with its handling characteristics. I backed into a parking space without incident: testimony to the 386′s ease of handling and, with a 50-degree wheel cut, tightened-up turning radius. I drove in circles, figure eights and lock-to-lock “S” patterns – some performed quickly like, say, by a driver in a hurry to pull in, park and make a pit stop – and did not draw comment on the CB. The 386, hooked to a 53-foot trailer and about a ton shy of 80,000 pounds, handled positively: no surprise cab rocking or over/under steer.

Maneuverability test completed and updated log book in hand, I once again headed south on I-35W. The 475-horsepower Caterpillar C-15 ACERT engine provided more than adequate power. A Fuller 9-speed transmission and Dana 3.55 rears completed the powertrain.

Traffic was moderate. The weather was clear and dry. The 386 uneventfully rolled through Ft. Worth in moderate traffic, and we headed south toward Waco.

The Model 386 joins Model 387 in Peterbilt’s selection of Class 8, on-highway, aerodynamic trucks.

“The Model 386 was developed to impact a customer’s bottom line through improved fuel economy, increased driver productivity, greater resale value and as a tool for attracting and retaining drivers,” says Dan Sobic, Peterbilt general manager and PACCAR vice president. “It’s an important addition to our 2006 model lineup and provides our customers with another premium choice for fulfilling their operational and business needs.”

The legendary 379 is and will remain Peterbilt’s flagship. The 386, however, comes in response to market demand for increased value and efficiency.

For example, the 386′s versatility answers to a variety of applications. Configured with Peterbilt’s Unibilt sleeper, it’s suited for regional or long-haul work. But the sleeper can be detached to reconfigure for daycab or vocational duties, increasing resale value.

As well, the 386 comes with Peterbilt’s custom engineering and proven durability, and that means more miles per dollar over the long term.

But the 386 speaks primarily to fuel efficiency that, as diesel fuel prices flirt with $3 a gallon, keeps step with industry needs. Peterbilt performed numerous lengthy tests using computational fluid dynamics and wind tunnels to find the most aerodynamically efficient design. The truck’s contoured sun visor, which comes with an upper “Gurney” ridge similar to those on NASCAR fairings, was selected after Peterbilt engineers tested 80 possible designs. This along with the side chassis fairings, dramatically sloped hood, integrated headlamps, swept-back fenders and form-fitted bumper, increase aerodynamic efficiency by 10 percent over the model 385-120, which Peterbilt says translates to a .3 miles per gallon increase in fuel economy.

Inside, the 386 effectively combines functionality and style. Three interior design packages – ProBilt, Prestige, and Platinum – are available. The test drive’s Prestige package features a one-piece dashboard for reduced vibration buzzing, wood finish and easy-to-read gauges backlit by longer-lasting light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Peterbilt selected dash materials and components commonly used in luxury automobiles.

Behind the dash, Peterbilt introduces “multiplexed electronic technology,” which uses a single wire for all lighting and instruments. This means more efficient performance, easier servicing and a lot less wire. From the driver’s seat, dash panel controls are easy to reach and well-marked, and a full, one-liter water bottle did not tip out of the beverage holder even on rough roads. Overhead compartments offer secure yet easily accessible storage, and visibility is very good, especially with the sloped hood.

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