Sleek Muscle

The VT 880, with massive power under the hood and a price more than $130,000, marks Volvo’s entry into the premium owner-operator market.

Truckers spoke, and Volvo listened. “Our research told us owner-operators want a big hood, an aggressive visual presence, an axle-forward position, a big-bore, high-powered engine, a large, comfortable sleeper and a long wheelbase,” said Peter Karlsten, president and CEO of Volvo Trucks North America.

After $67 million of research and testing, Volvo rolled out its response: the VT 880. The truck has a strong conventional look and is available with a new, hill-taming D16 engine.

“It is our entrance into the premium owner-operator market,” Karlsten said during a press event in Phoenix.

The D16 is a 16.1-liter in-line six-cylinder rated at 625 hp with an unmatched 2250 pounds-feet of torque – 200 more than the nearest competitor.

“With that horsepower and torque option, the VT 880 operating at 80,000 pounds can maintain 65 mph on a 3 percent grade while running at 1,400 rpm,” Karlsten said.

Yet it’s still an “authentic Volvo,” he said, following the company’s traditional emphasis on safety, environmental friendliness and the latest technology.

The VT 880 has a big, polished, all-steel bumper, but with built-in aerodynamics, recessed fog lights and a three-piece design for cost-effective repairs. The chrome grill, 38 percent larger than the Volvo 780’s, creates an imposing presence. The truck’s extended hood is slanted for greater visibility and aerodynamics. Air intakes on the sides of the hood are framed in chrome with inset LED marker lamps. The 77-inch condo’s sleeper berth converts to a table and bench seats that comfortably hold four.

Moving the cab rearward and the front axle forward created 200 inches between bumper and back of sleeper for a smoother ride and more space between engine and cab, which reduces noise. Lighter-colored interior packages, featuring leather seats and coordinated trim, make for a roomier feel and tasteful style. “We wanted to create the same feeling you get in a custom yacht or private jet,” said design director Ruben Perfetti.

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The D16 is cast and machined in Sweden and assembled in Hagerstown, Md. Its Volvo engine brake provides 335 braking horsepower at 1500 rpm. The exhaust pressure governor decreases warm-up time and allows plenty of cab heat in cold weather at a 600-rpm idle – consuming only a half-gallon of fuel an hour – without damaging pistons or cylinders.

Using electronic sensors, the driver can drain the fuel filter and check the oil from inside the cab. The huge, 1.1 square-meter radiator and enlarged cooling fan provide the increased cooling necessary for the heat that will accompany tougher emissions standards in 2007 and 2010. The big-bore, short-stroke design decreases piston, cylinder and crankshaft wear.

The D16 introduces Volvo’s Intelligent Torque, or I-Torque, to protect drivelines from excessive torque at low speeds. I-Torque should extend tire wear and protect drivelines by limiting engine torque output to 1650 pounds-feet in startup gears, switching to 1850 and then 2250 pounds-feet as speed increases. Two stages are used to phase in the higher torque for the 600-hp and 625-hp ratings.

For a test drive in Phoenix, Volvo provided a prototype with the Eaton 18-speed standard shift, 3.55 rear axle, 11R22.5 tires and the 550-hp D16. It had comfortable seats and excellent visibility through the large, one-piece windshield and deep-cut side windows. Dashboard controls were large and efficiently located. With 45-degree steering, the truck was easy to maneuver through the parking lot.

Headed north on I-17 at 76,000 pounds, Volvo’s usual smooth, sure-footed power was more pronounced in the VT 880. Noise and vibration were minimal, and rough pavement went by unnoticed. In high gear, the 880 handled slight grades effortlessly, staying at the 75 mph speed limit. At the designated exit, a soft jab on the brakes, a one-gear drop, and Volvo’s engine brakes smoothly brought the truck to a slow roll down the ramp.

For a large, unfamiliar truck, the 880 was surprisingly easy to drive.

“Nine out of 10 owner-operators who tested the VT 880 prototype said it would be their next truck,” said Volvo spokesman Jim McNamara.

Karlsten expects to sell about 800 VT 880s this year and about 1,500 in 2006. Deliveries will begin in June.

2006 VT 880 SPECS
PRICE: $130,000 to $140,000
ENGINES: Volvo D16: 500 hp @ 1850 pounds-feet to 625 hp @ 2,250 pounds-feet; Cummins ISX: 475/565 hp @ 1850 pounds-feet
TRANSMISSIONS: Eaton standard 10-, 13- and 18-speed or automatic 10- and 18-speed
WEIGHT: Under 19,000 pounds
FRONT AXLE: 12,000- to 13,200-pound leaf spring
REAR AXLE: 40,000- to 46,000-pound Dana Spicer or Meritor, or Amboid multi-torque
REAR SUSPENSION: 38,000- to 40,000-pound Volvo Air or 46,000-pound non-torque-reactive Hendrickson Primaax
CAB SIZE: 77-inch raised roof sleeper; 520 cubic feet of interior space.
INVERTER: 1,000-watt optional