Shifting gears

A 600-hp 2007 D16, with 2,050 lb.-ft. of torque, has the muscle to enforce this VT 880’s powerful image.

In 2007, Volvo Trucks North America introduces not only three new engines – the D11, D13 and D16 – but also a new automated transmission, the 12-speed I-Shift, available only on trucks spec’d with those new Volvo engines. “The truck, the engine and the transmission have all been engineered and designed to work as one integrated, exceptionally efficient machine,” says Scott Kress, Volvo senior vice president of sales and marketing.

To test that new package, I visited Volvo’s test track on Hutchinson Island near Savannah, Ga.

I first drove a VT 880 powered by a 600-hp D16 engine with 2,050 lb.-ft. of torque. The transmission was a standard-shift Eaton Fuller 18-speed double-over. I pulled a loaded dry van for a total weight of 75,000 pounds.

On one straight section, in upper sixth gear at 10 mph and 1,000 rpm, I floored the accelerator. The D16 easily grabbed its 37.5-ton payload, and our speed and rpm doubled in about four seconds.

On the same track, I drove a VT 770 equipped with a 500-hp D16 and the new Volvo I-Shift. I verified Volvo’s claim that drivers can idle-crawl forward and backward with the I-Shift, thus making traffic jams and parking easier.

Although the 2007 ultra-low-sulfur diesel generates a bit less power than low-sulfur diesel, drivers of these new engines won’t notice any loss of performance.

“Any loss of power from ultra-low-sulfur fuel will be felt only in pre-’07 engines,” says Bo Hammerlid, Volvo product marketing manager. “The ’07 engines are designed to compensate for that power loss.”

Volvo’s 2007 D16 does produce less torque than the 2006 version: 2,050 lb.-ft., down from 2,250 lb.-ft. On the other hand, Volvo says fuel economy in its ’07 engines is 3 percent better than ’06 models.

The Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge, which carries U.S. Highway 17 from Hutchinson Island to Savannah, has half-mile long approaches that are 5 percent grades. My first approach was in a VT 660 powered by a 435-hp D13 coupled to an I-shift. My passenger was Ed Saxman, Volvo drivetrain product manager. We were followed by a VT 770 with a 500-hp D16. Both pulled dry vans with a total weight of about 75,000 pounds.

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As we slowly rounded the steep, curved merge ramp near the bottom of the bridge, Saxman said, “Floor it.” So I did. Then I only had to watch traffic and steer: No worries about shifting to get that load moving uphill. The transmission downshifted two gears, and we accelerated onto U.S. 17.

On the downslope, Saxman pointed out the Eco-Roll feature. As the VT 660 coasted, the I-Shift went into neutral, and the engine briefly idled. A few miles per hour faster, and the D13’s powerful Volvo Engine Brake kicked in, keeping the truck within set speeds. We merged onto I-516 westbound, and each time I hit the throttle, the I-Shift immediately went down a gear, putting the D13’s 435 horses to their most efficient use.

Though heavily burdened, the D13 performed like a bigger engine, quickly reaching highway speeds and responding positively to subtler throttle commands as traffic required.

This ’07 engine performs as well as its predecessors – and, with the I-Shift, probably better. The cab’s air-ride suspension, combined with the automated transmission, has added comfort, control and security.

At I-95, we headed south, and the fuel-saving Eco-Roll performed well. On each downslope, the I-Shift sensed coasting and went into neutral for a few seconds, then re-engaged. I realized this only because of a dashboard screen alert.

At Exit 87, I joined Hammerlid and Frank Bio, Volvo truck marketing manager, in the VT 770, powered by a 500-hp D16 coupled to an I-Shift. We headed back toward Hutchinson Island.

I mashed the throttle as we merged, the I-Shift kicked down two gears, and we effortlessly accelerated. On downslopes, the Eco-Roll slipped into neutral for a few seconds and idled the D16, then re-engaged in 12th gear, all the while maintaining constant speed.

At some point the D16 used a liter to a half-gallon of fuel to vaporize soot in its diesel particulate filter. I couldn’t tell when this happened; engine data just showed that it had.
The digital dash screen provides a wealth of other information, too – from geopositioning to system diagnostics, all controlled by a steering column stalk.

Once in Savannah, we headed back over the bridge. I took the sharply curved ramp at 20 mph; we started the climb at very low speed. I floored the throttle, the I-Shift dropped two gears, and we reached 49 mph at the top.

On the steep downslope, I moved the I-Shift’s column stalk to B level and got off the throttle. The engine brake kicked in, and the 770’s speed dropped quickly.

As promised, the I-Shift adjusts the engine and engine brake for the most fuel-efficient operation and makes driving easier, safer and more enjoyable.