The next generation

| May 31, 2007

This test-drive T660 featured an 86-inch Studio Aerocab sleeper with Pendleton interior.

Kenworth’s T660 is the latest incarnation of the company’s first aerodynamic truck, the T600. With an optional APU and enhanced aerodynamics, the T660 sets you up to save money, and the comfortably appointed interior lets you do it in style, the company says.

To find out for myself how it measured up, I test-drove two differently spec’d T660s at Paccar’s Technology Center in Fredonia, Wash.

As snow started falling, I climbed into my first test-drive: a silver pearl T660 Aerocab with an 86-inch sleeper. Natural light from sleeper windows and the T660′s sunroof added to the Pendleton interior’s relaxing affect, even on a cloudy day.

The Pendleton interior styling and studio-sleeper room are eye catching. Wood-grain dash panels, slate-gray, diamond-tufted carpet and brown upholstery look refined yet sturdy. The seats, with numerous electric and manual controls, are heated, and when vertical, the armrests fold behind the seat backs for a wider walkway.

The package includes a refrigerator installed under-counter, television hookup and room for a microwave and coffee machine. It also has stainless steel lights, AM/FM stereo CD player with MP3 and Sirius capabilities, dash-mounted global positioning system, quiet-cab insulation and remote, keyless door locks.

The 86 inches of sleeper promise comfort, whether parked or rolling with a team. My 76-inch frame was comfortable stretched out east-west or north-south, with room to spare. The sofa bed has twice a single bunk’s width: just big enough for two, and there’s a folding upper bunk, too. Both bunks have clock, light and temperature controls.

There’s plenty of smart-looking cabinet and under-bunk storage, and the big shelves on both sides, up high with three-inch retaining risers, are particularly roomy, secure and convenient. The sleeper windows double as emergency exits, and snow won’t come through the open sunroof while you’re rolling.

This interior more resembles that of a comfy motor home than a traditional truck, but functionally the cab shows Kenworth’s heavy-duty experience. Dash gauges are numerous but organized, easy to read and more reliable (the company has simplified its dash wiring). A multifunction digital display provides on-board diagnostics, fuel mileage and also a gear display: handy with an automatic transmission. Driver storage compartments are secure and accessible, the adjustable steering column has a position for every driver, and dash controls, including the GPS, are within an easy arm’s reach.

The T660′s sloped, aerodynamic hood is computer-designed to reduce drag, increase fuel mileage and increase visibility. Under the test truck’s hood was a 475-horsepower Caterpillar C15 with 1,650 lb.-ft. torque hooked to an Eaton 13-speed Ultrashift fully automatic transmission and leading to 3.55 Dana DSP40 drive axles and Bridgestone 295/75R22.5 tires. It had a concrete-block payload and weighed about 80,000 pounds.

The test-drive’s first leg followed Kenworth’s suggested route: state Highway 20 east to I-5 and south to exit 215; then back north to exit 221 and down two-lane country roads back to Highway 20. The second leg was west on 20 to Oak Harbor and back again.

I was southbound on I-5 when the snow reduced visibility to less than 100 feet. But the roads were too warm to freeze and the test rig was heavy, so I continued south well below the speed limit.

Turning around at exit 215, I overshot the left turn onto the northbound entrance ramp by a few feet. While swinging onto the ramp I found that the T660 cuts a sharp turn if necessary. After a stop on the ramp shoulder for a map check, I drove north and got off at the 221. Following the route, I turned left under the interstate and promptly missed a turn that wasn’t on the map and headed south instead of north on a shoulderless, two-lane country road.

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