Tough enough: Volvo’s VNX easily transitions from on-road to off with I-Shift transmission

| May 29, 2014

Pulling a nearly full load of blocks, this VNX showed strength and grace on the curves and grades of the Appalachians.

When Goran Nyberg was settling into his position as the new president of Volvo’s North American operations a few years ago, he noticed an opportunity: a heavy-haul on-highway tractor that also could handle occasional off-highway work.

Nyberg knew well Volvo’s large presence in Europe’s high-horsepower/heavy-duty markets, but there was nothing comparable for North American buyers. So Volvo’s North American engineering team threw themselves into their work and crafted the VNX. 

The result, said Jason Spence, Volvo’s marketing product manager for long-haul business segments, is a truck that takes the best from the company’s aerodynamic VN tractors and VHD vocational truck models. The VNX handles well on the highway but is tough enough to work on the most rugged jobsites. 

I Shift

The I-Shift automated manual transmission has been so popular with new-truck buyers – 71 percent are choosing it – that it’s now the tractor’s standard offering, Spence said.

For our test drive, Spence selected a fairly arduous route through the Smoky Mountains near Asheville, N.C. The VNX was pulling a flatbed loaded with concrete blocks, rated at 77,500 pounds – a tough assignment on the steep 6 and 7 percent grades as I-26 winds its way into Tennessee.

“It’s a great chance to show the pulling power this 550-horsepower D16 engine offers,” Spence said. “And it’s also a great way to show how well our I-Shift automated manual transmission works in tough terrain with heavy loads.” 

I-Shift routinely is spec’d for severe service applications in Europe, he said. “In North America at the moment, automated manuals are making the most inroads in the on-highway/long-haul markets. But the I-Shift is not limited to those types of jobs. It was designed from the get-go to be robust and durable.”

Spence pointed to I-Shift’s Power Launch feature as proof. Stopping the VNX on an unpaved grade covered with loose gravel, he had me shift to neutral, rev the D16 up to 1,300 rpm and then shift into drive. The transmission immediately delivered a smooth, metered burst of rear-wheel torque that easily powered the truck forward.


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“This feature allows iShift to precisely deliver the power needed to get a big, heavily loaded truck like the VNX out of a deep hole or sandy soil,” Spence said. 

Stylistically, VNX shares more than a passing resemblance to the VNL family of tractors, though with a more robust look, bold chrome grille and wider stance. The truck stands tall on vocational floatation tires.

The daycab interior is appointed nicely with large windowpanes allowing ample daylight inside while providing panoramic 360-degree views that are helped by large rearview mirrors. And while Volvo’s D16 diesel is a quiet engine anyway, when you pair that with ample sound insulation, you get remarkably low cab noise levels.

Pulling oversize/overweight loads like the VNX is designed to do usually means lots of small-step shifting to get the truck going. But I was happy to let the I-Shift take over and do the hard work while I concentrated on traffic and steering.


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Deep wheel cuts helped me easily maneuver the long flatbed through the narrow mountain roads that started our drive. Despite the big flotation tires under me, I found the VNX to be pleasantly docile on the twisting, turning mountain roads. Later at highway cruise speeds, the truck held its place in the lane with little or no steering input. Spence said this was a result of a twin-steering gear design Volvo engineers gave the VNX to ensure excellent handling in varied conditions.

On the interstate, the integrated engine brake easily held our speed in check on long downhill runs with minimal braking. The cruise control works in conjunction with the I-Shift to maintain desired highway speeds, so even in mountainous terrain, you easily can adjust your speed settings to stay with a preset limit. The transmission will downshift accordingly and apply the engine brake on downhill grades to keep you within a given range. It’s a slick system that reduces driver fatigue, improves brake life and enhances safety. 

The VNX features head-turning conventional styling with a killer combination of brute power and refined technology. They work together well to get the toughest trucking jobs done.

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