Test Drive: A sweet Pete

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.

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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.

What test drive would be complete without a thorough examination of the sleeper? Airport problems got me into Dallas late the previous night, and I didn’t get the required hours of shut-eye. Shortly after lunch the bunk started looking mighty good, so I pulled into the next rest area and gave the mattress a thorough test: about 90 minutes, to be sure, and the mattress performed as intended.

The sleeper also has windows on both sides for better lighting, ventilation and visibility, and Peterbilt’s innovative shelving around the sleeper top, at the foot of and beneath the bunk and on both sides provides room for a television, a refrigerator and personal belongings. The top bunk converts to an additional secure storage space, and the bunks also have radio, light, clock and ventilation controls. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, I was able to stand and move about comfortably.

From the windshield back, the 386 retains the 379’s cab and sleeper designs and interiors, but the hood, forward chassis and front end are completely new innovations. “This is more than just a new hood and headlights,” says Peterbilt Program Manager Mark Cooper. “It’s just about a from-the-ground up design.”

The front end and chassis are ready for the modified cooling and exhaust systems on 2007 engines. “The chassis preparation is complete,” says Todd Acker, Peterbilt’s marketing manager for on-highway products. “We’ve developed the front-end envelope to support the 2007 engine installations.”

The mechanic-friendly hood opens a full 90 degrees, exposing the entire engine compartment. For safety, the hood locks open to prevent unintentional closing. State-of-the-art headlights last longer and illuminate the road better, which cuts down on driver fatigue. They’re also protected by chip- and crack-resistant covers and can be adjusted without opening the hood.

The 386’s bumper is made of Metton, a composite material that’s 60 percent lighter than steel, yet tough enough to handle on-highway environments.

On the highway, the 386 performed problem free. Nothing is out of the driver’s reach in the traditionally narrow Peterbilt cab, which makes for easier and safer operation. The stereo, seats and steering column all adjust to driver comfort. The 386 was solid and handled well on the highway, and the truck’s maneuverability made city driving easy.

While the 386 can serve as a day truck or in vocational applications, with the sleeper added it’s also perfectly suited for long-haul, over-the-road duty. It’s a good-looking, durable, concisely designed and well-made vehicle with built-in fuel efficiency, adaptability and 2007 engine requirements.

I enjoyed driving the 386 and can confidently say it does what Peterbilt intends it to do. The only thing missing was a side-view mirror on the right front fender and a load of freight bound for Seattle.

Spec Sheet As Tested
Vehicle: Peterbilt Model 386
Body Style: Conventional with sleeper
Color: White
Test Drive Length/Time: 200 miles/6 hours
Tractor Weight (Dry): 17,943 pounds
Wheelbase: 240 inches
BBC: 126 inches
Frame: 10 5/8 X 6/16 inch rails
Engine: Caterpillar C-15 ACERT 475 HP, 1650 LBS/FT
Alternator: DENSO 130-amp brushless
Starter: Mitsubishi 12V
Air Compressor: Bendix 15.8 CFM
Air Dryer: Bendix AD-IS with heater
Fuel Filter: Spin-on, frame-mounted
Air Cleaner: Donaldson firewall mounted
Exhaust: Single 5-inch rack mounted right side
Compression Brake: Caterpillar
Transmission: Fuller 9/13-speed convertible
Clutch: Eaton Fuller 15.5 inch
Front Axle: Dana Spicer
Front Hubs: PHP10 Aluminum LMS
Front Brakes: Bendix disc
Front Suspension: Taper leaf spring with shocks
Power Steering: Sheppard M100
Rear Axle: Dana Spicer 3.55 Ratio
Rear Hubs: PHP 10 Aluminum LMS
Rear Brakes: Dana Spicer cast drum
Slack Adjusters: Haldex/Dana auto
ABS: Meritor Wabco 4S4M
Rear Suspension: Peterbilt low air leaf
Tires: Bridgestone 14 Ply 295/75R22.5
Wheels: Peterbilt 22.5 X 8.25 aluminum
Fifth Wheel: JOST Air Slide
Cab: Aluminum w/ fiberglass hood
Bumper: Molded aero one-piece
Fuel Tanks: 135 Gal BOC
Battery Box: Polished aluminum under cab left
Batteries: 4 PACCAR Premium 12V 2800 CCA
Tool Box: Polished aluminum under cab right
Interior: Prestige, Arctic Grey
Seats: UltraRide HighBack Fabric Air
Sleeper: 70-inch UltraCab
Additional: Stainless steel grill, interior noise reduction package, tilt/telescope steering, power windows, Peterbilt electric wipers with intermittent, side trim tabs, Fleet Spec instrument package with bright bezel gauges
Price as Tested: Varies according to dealer location and spec

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