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EXCLUSIVE: We drive the Actros in South Africa

The new Actros has arrived in South Africa – finally! FOCUS is the one and only South African magazine to have put the vehicle to the test on South African roads. CHARLEEN CLARKE drove the truck – and reports that, at the end of the drive, she had new respect for the truck and truck drivers, too.

I bet that local operators must be really chuffed that the Actros is here at last. I say this because it offers a trailer-load of benefits – not least of which is terrific fuel economy.

According to Jasper Hafkamp, executive director Daimler Trucks & Buses Southern Africa, the arrival of the new Actros brings trucks with European technology to the South African market.

In an exclusive interview with FOCUS at the Actros launch, Hafkamp stressed that operators had a lot to gain from the arrival of the new Actros. “Significantly, we are offering low fuel consumption, which is ensured by three key factors: our fuel-efficient engines, the fitment of Mercedes PowerShift 3 as standard and the trucks’ optimised aerodynamics.

“The new Actros addresses our customers’ most significant cost, offering up to seven-percent fuel savings compared to its predecessor. In fact, the new Actros is the most efficient long-haul truck in South Africa,” he said.

Furthermore, he said that he had no doubt that the Actros would perform well in South Africa. “We have conducted more than 60-million test kilometres worldwide. This includes rough-road testing of over 40-million kilometres, durability testing of more than 23-million kilometres and testing in extreme conditions (we’ve tested in Finland and Sweden at up to -40°C) and also in southern Italy and Spain, in conditions of up to +40°C. Then, of course, we have also conducted more than 16-million test kilometres in South Africa,” he revealed.

Unlike its predecessor, the new Actros is exclusively available as a truck tractor, with both air and steel suspension. Rigid distribution, construction, off-road and specialised-application vehicles will be supported by the new Arocs models, which will be available from September 2018.

The new Actros is initially available in the guise of eight new air-suspended models (four 4×2 air-suspended truck tractors and four 6×4 air-suspended truck tractors). Further steel and air-suspended truck tractors are to be launched during the second part of the year.

The launch models are powered by two 12,8-litre, in-line six-cylinder engine variants – the OM460 and OM471 – in Euro-3 and Euro-4 guise.

The OM460 engine is available in four engine output ratings from 265 kW (360 hp) up to 330 kW (450 hp) and torque ranging from 1 800 Nm to 2 200 Nm.

The OM471 engine is available in two engine output ratings of 310 kW (420 hp) up to 330 kW (450 hp) and peak torque from 2 100 to 2 200 Nm.

FOCUS has tested the Actros all over the world (most recently in Dubai). However, in order to get a feel for the performance of the new truck on South African roads, I drove a new Actros from George to Cape Town. It was a distance of about 510 km, because we travelled via the Karoo.

FOCUS was the only magazine in Africa to be invited to join the test drive. Two other international journalists – one from Italy and one from Germany – also joined the drive. There were three vehicles in our test fleet – two Arocs and one Actros. However, because the Arocs will only be launched here in September, I spent most of my time in the Actros and I will also focus on that vehicle in this article.

Our test truck was a new-generation Actros, but with a Euro-6 motor, the OM473. It generates 460 kW of power and maximum torque of 3 000 Nm. Naturally, our test truck was fully loaded to a gross vehicle mass of 56 t.

As we wrote earlier this year, the new Actros models are fitted with Mercedes PowerShift 3 fully automated 12-speed transmissions as standard for fast, correct and precise gear changes.

The economy drive program, which is standard on all on highway truck tractors, ensures a particularly economical driving style. Mercedes PowerShift 3 relieves the driver’s workload – and therefore also helps to prevent errors. To my great delight, this transmission was also fitted to our test truck. I honestly cannot imagine why anyone would want to equip a modern truck with a manual transmission…

Before we left George, I made myself comfortable. This was easy to do; the seat is easily adjustable to the perfect driving position. I popped a bottle of water in the cupholder – we had a long drive ahead of us – and we were off!

The route up through the Karoo was chosen because of the numerous mountain passes that one traverses. Lesser trucks would have cringed at the thought of tackling these passes, but our test truck, which has been in South Africa for durability testing and already had 455 640 km under its belt, certainly didn’t flinch.

Despite the immense gradients (the foreign journalists were somewhat shocked) the Actros made easy work of the passes. We passed through Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Barrydale (my Actros was approaching
90 km/h as we whizzed passed Ronnie’s Sex Shop).

The roads were extremely busy, and so I was grateful for the arsenal of safety features that are part and package of each and every Actros. To actively prevent accidents, the new Mercedes-Benz Actros is equipped with five new additional safety systems, which help the driver to remain in control in critical situations.

New safety features include Attention Assist, Active Brake Assist 4 (including Proximity Control Assist) as well as Roll Control Assist. These are in addition to the list of already comprehensive safety features, which were introduced for the predecessor model: Lane Assist, Stability Control Assist (ESP) and a driver airbag.

Like all good truck drivers (safety is important), we did stop en route for lunch – in the gorgeous town of Montagu (I’m not sure that the delicious calamari that I munched on at Route 62 Restaurant and Farmstall is typical trucker fare though).

We then drove through Ashton, Robertson, Worcester and Paarl – before finally arriving in Cape Town. Thanks to the busy roads and construction en route, the 510-km drive took 11 hours.

Parking the Actros in a massively busy and chaotic truck stop in Cape Town, I decided that I have new respect for the Actros, itself, and also for truck drivers. Yes, I was privileged to be behind the wheel of an utterly magnificent, safe, advanced and comfortable truck, but, still, I was knackered! Quite how truck drivers do it day in and out, I don’t know!

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.

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