Luxury old and new: Test driving Volvo’s new VNL

| September 15, 2017

In addition to the interior upgrades, the VNL 860 boasts aerodynamic improvements that aid in a 1 percent fuel economy gain. All new VNL models, with the exception of the VNL 760, go into production this month. Production on the VNL 760 kicks off in November.

Volvo has made inroads with owner-operators with the roomy comforts and drivability of its VNL 780, but the truck maker is hoping a new super-luxury model will open even more doors.

Its Globetrotter package, which will make its U.S. debut on VNL 760 and 860 models next model year, was introduced in the late ‘70s in Europe to accommodate drivers who spent the most amount of time on the road.

Volvo hopes its highest trim level, which blends the best elements of trucker form and function, will resonate with long-haul drivers in the U.S. looking for premium comforts as the company phases out the 780 in favor of the 860.

“All along the way, drivers have had input on the design,” Trucks Product Marketing Manager Jason Spence says. “We always need that feedback.”

For more than 20 years, the VNL has been the torchbearer of the company’s U.S. truck catalog. Not only is it the historical leader in order volume, the long-haul tractor has served as a rolling proving ground for innovation.

The VNL gets a new look for the coming model year, borrowing design cues from both its VNR regional-haul sister that was introduced this year as the successor to the VNM and Volvo’s SuperTruck project.

Aerodynamic improvements, which aid in a 1 percent fuel economy gain, include repositioned turbulence-reducing air intakes, an aggressively sloped hood and tapered fenders. Chassis fairings are moved closer to the ground, cutting the affects of crosswinds.

Volvo’s Position Perfect steering wheel features a three-way positioning system that allows the 18-inch steering wheel to tilt up to 20 degrees.

The hood, now tightly shrunk around the cooling package, was redesigned for both aerodynamic and visibility improvement. The center section of the truck’s aerodynamic bumper has been pulled out 1.4 inches to give the front of a truck a wedge-like design, and the sides have been brought in 4 inches to give the truck a sweeping effect.

All lights are LED, which trims power consumption while providing softer lighting. The headlamps are the only ones on the market that can defrost themselves – a function enabled by fans in the back of the lamps that reverse the air flow.

While the exterior design changes are striking, the many of most obvious enhancements are at the driver’s fingertips.

The first thing you notice is that the ignition switch has been relocated to the lower left side of the steering wheel.

Volvo’s Position Perfect steering wheel, introduced on the VNR earlier this year, also will be available in the VNL. The three-way positioning system allows the 18-inch steering wheel to tilt up to 20 degrees in relation to the column as well as traditional column tilt and telescopic movements to accommodate drivers of various sizes.

The new steering wheel features 21 tactile buttons that bring many of the functions previously integrated into a stalk onto the wheel itself. The buttons allow the driver to navigate a 5-inch color LCD driver information display, use the phone hands-free and use the cruise control functions without having to take a hand off the wheel.

USB and 12-volt power supplies have been moved adjacent to a storage tray in the top of the dash, keeping charging wires from hanging down and obstructing switches and AC controls, and keeping mobile devices from clogging up cupholders.

Volvo introduces new long-haul tractor, makes driver assist system standard

Volvo Trucks North America on Tuesday unveiled its new VNL tractor, the first major overhaul of its flagship long-haul model since the VN model was ...

Every VNL truck features a modular rail system that allows for the addition of up to four cupholders and an assortment of aftermarket storage options. Removable floor insets hide fasteners to a rear engine access panel while also superbly insulating the truck against road noise. Interior door panels were redesigned to move the speaker for better sound quality and window and door switches moved for convenience.

The new-look VNL was also outfitted with a front sway bar that enables finesse steering and improves handling by mitigating over-steer. The more responsive steering is remarkable in that twitches to the wheel more smoothly center the truck in its lane rather than sloshing it from side to side.

Volvo’s Active Driver Assist, integrated with Bendix Wingman Fusion collision warning and mitigation platform, is standard on all VNLs. I was able to test the feature when a four-wheeler in front of me decided to skid to a halt to make a right turn from the center lane.

The VNL will be available in five configurations: day cab, 40-inch flat-roof, 70-inch mid-roof and 70- and 77-inch high-roof. The VNL 670 was the best-selling Volvo truck for long-haul for almost two decades, but the 61-inch high-roof sleeper will be replaced by the VNL 760 and its 70-inch sleeper. The 780 will be supplanted by the 860.

I spent one night tucked into a VNL 740 mid-roof. The sleeping quarters were a bit tight, but cozy, thanks to the interior fit and finish, including a mattress that’s as comfortable as the one in your home. A cabin control panel gives the driver easy access to USB and 12-volt charging and lights, audio and cabin temperature controls without having to get up. An additional door lock switch and panic button add a level of security.

Airplane-style shades replace curtains and fasteners and a dense magnetic blackout curtain chokes out what’s left of the sun or streetlights.

Bunk options include a dinette/work station and a reclining bunk introduced on the Volvo FH in Europe, which lets you sit up in bed while relaxing. The head raises and lowers with a lever mounted on the left side, similar to what you would use to adjust a seat. Combined with a wall-mounted pocket table, it makes for a comfortable workstation.

Volvo’s outgoing VNL is still by most accounts a modern design and was well ahead of its time at when it debuted in 2002. With its lineup refreshed, the venerable VNL leaps from modern to cutting edge with its 14.2 percent share of the U.S. long-haul market in tow.

Powertrain: Same work done with less fuel

Sales of the Volvo powertrain hit record levels in 2016 as Volvo engines made up 94.5 percent of all orders. With Greenhouse Gas ‘17 emissions regulations now in play, a new option was placed into rotation.

Volvo’s turbo compounding D13 uses a waste heat recovery system to increase brake thermal efficiency and is the company’s most fuel-efficient offering. The setup puts about 50 extra horsepower back into the engine, allowing for a high-degree of downspeeding at a range of 1,000-1,200 RPM. Peak torque is available down to 900 RPM – about 200 RPM above idle.

The engine is strong, pulling a 77,000 gross around the North Carolina interstate for roughly 150 miles with 455 hp and 1,850 lb-ft of torque.

Volvo’s turbo compounding configuration is unique in that one turbo doesn’t simply feed air into another. The single fixed turbo system sends exhaust to the compressor wheel that pressurizes intake air through the charger cooler in one direction. In the other direction, it supplies exhaust pressure to the turbo compounding unit, which uses an extra turbine wheel positioned in the exhaust stream and is connected to a fluid coupling. That airflow turns a network of reduction gears until the energy is returned to the crankshaft.

In earlier days of waste heat recovery, the extra horsepower was added to the top end of an engine’s power band, which meant drivers had to give the truck full throttle to get maximum horsepower. The Volvo now adds the 50 extra horsepower to a base of around 400, depending on engine spec, and takes work off the engine by turning some of the otherwise wasted exhaust heat into energy. Plainly put: You burn less fuel to do the same amount of work.

Integrated with the turbo compounding D13, the I-Shift transmission will run and hold in 11th gear at lower highway speeds as the load dictates. It doesn’t search for gearing and shifts are smooth and predictable.

With RPM of about 1,130 in direct drive, drivers will see full-efficiency even in city conditions, allowing trucks to run in slower speed zones without sacrificing fuel efficiency benefits. Turbo compounding accounts for a 3 percent fuel efficiency boost versus the standard D13 engine, thanks partially to the 2.47:1 rear axle ratio that was designed to optimize this engine setup.

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