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David Whyte heads south from Brisbane with the CT630S

Since 2010, CAT trucks have been making their way onto our roads in fairly modest numbers, with the opportunity for higher sales figures restricted by a number of factors, including lack of supply during 2013.

In the early days following their launch, customers were put off by high prices and questions over the ruggedness of the American Navistar cab. Following on from these concerns, the early models were subject to some criticism over components, including the bumper-mounted headlights, which were not quite up to scratch.

Those who persevered with the brand found that reliability and economy issues were rare, and for that reason many of the more recent sales have been to repeat customers. With the introduction of the second generation trucks, there have been improvements made in many areas, which have addressed many of the concerns raised with the early models, and resulted in an improved suitability for our market.

The new CAT CT630S is the latest offering from Navistar AUSPAC, aimed directly at the 26-metre B-double market. As you would expect, the CT630S is powered by the iconic CAT C15 and driven through an Eaton 18-speed transmission with manual as standard, and the option of the UltraShift Plus AMT version.

Rated at 550 hp (404 kW) and delivering 1850 lb-ft (2500 Nm) of torque, the C15 uses twin turbos and high-pressure fuel injection to reduce emissions. To help it meet ADR80/03 levels it uses twin DPFs (Diesel Particulate Filters), without the need for EGR or SCR treatment. While there has been some negativity towards CATS’s ACERT technology in the past, it would seem that it’s well sorted now, as it should be after so many years of development.

To see what the new CAT was capable of, PowerTorque climbed aboard a CAT CT630S for a trip from Brisbane to Melbourne over a couple of days. Hooked up to a B-double combination, and grossing 60 tonnes, this was the perfect example of the market for which the CT630S was aimed.

While the prime mover for our journey was the mid-range extended-cab version (the CT630S is available in day cab, extended cab and full-height sleeper), and not necessarily intended for long-distance work, the basics are the same across the range. With this in mind, it was a good trip to demonstrate the abilities of the C15, and the ride and handling characteristics of the new breed CAT trucks. That said, the bed in this cab would be suitable for the occasional night away, and is bigger than some other integrated sleepers I have seen.

The first thing that strikes you about the CAT is the aerodynamic shape, with a short, steeply sloping bonnet and a roof-mounted air kit to guide the air around the front of the trailer. The front bumper is specifically designed for the Australian market, and complies with the FUPS requirements of 26-metre regulations. In fact, there has been a lot of work done to make the CT630S capable of towing a 34-pallet B-double and still fit in under 26 metres.

For a start, the wheelbase has been shortened slightly, and for this model measures 4800 mm. To allow the swing clearance behind the cab, the cab itself has been moved forward 225 mm, which meant it needed to be raised by 50 mm to allow for clearance around the rear of the engine. This led to the need for a new bonnet to fit the changed cab position, and so the CT630S has an all-new design that is short and steep, and is basically invisible from the driver’s seat. The raising of the cab provides the added benefit of improved airflow underneath, which reduces heat build-up around the engine, and keeps the cab floor cooler – improving comfort in the cab.

The driving position is a very comfortable one, with a supportive seat providing plenty of adjustment to find the right seating position. The steering wheel is adjustable, for height and reach (an improvement on previous models), and gives a clear view to the gauges on the dash. The view out the front is excellent, with only the rear edge of the bonnet visible from the seat. Rearward vision is good, with large main mirrors and a convex mirror on each side, all adjustable electrically. Early model CAT trucks had a real issue with mirror shake, but this seems to have been addressed, and these units were perfectly suitable for B-double work. I even tested them out on some trees through Coonabarabran (due to cars parked at 90 degrees to the gutter), where they proved strong enough to stay in position.

Day one of our run took us from Brisbane, up Cunninghams Gap to Warwick, then on to Dubbo. I am sure a lot of readers are familiar with “The Gap”, a long, steep climb that really tests the pulling power and cooling capacity of an engine. The C15 managed to pull this combination up the range with the speedo hovering between 30 km/h and 40 km/h, but couldn’t quite manage the first gear in high range. This meant that low range was used for the climb, and the accelerator pedal feathered to keep the engine within a comfortable rev range. Cooling was not an issue, with the fan kicking in a few times to keep things in check. This was noticeable for a couple of reasons – the draw on the engines power and the rise in noise level. All in all, though, the CAT did a respectable job, especially given the low Ks on the clock (this trip up the range was made using one gear higher than its previous trip, suggesting that the engine was still loosening up). Even over this long drag, the heat through the floor was unnoticeable, amazing given the proximity of the turbo to the drivers feet.

Once we were through the Pilliga, the run from Coonabarabran to Gilgandra gave a good test of the engine braking. The drop from Spire View is a long steady slope, and is famous for having the constabulary parked at the bottom awaiting your over-speed arrival.

The C15 did a great job of holding the weight back, with only a few applications of the foot brake to keep the speed in check. For those who like a good exhaust note, the sound from the pipes under engine braking is sure to please, but is far from deafening. I must admit to being partial to a little “Jake noise”, and this truck sounded great. Driving through the Warrumbungles in the dark also gave a great example of how good the new LED headlights are.

Not only are they easy on the eyes, but the high beam gives great light for distance and spread. These really are a great piece of work, designed specifically for the CAT bonnet, replacing the previous bumper-mounted units.

After camping at Dubbo for the night, day two took us through the fairly flat country around West Wyalong and Jerilderie, and on into Melbourne. The CT630S just ate up the miles out here, and made for quite a pleasant trip. Over the two days the fuel consumption averaged 64.1 l/100 km (1.56 km/l), in good weather conditions. It was obvious during the trip that the whole truck was bedding in, and economy would be better given the chance to do another trip.

The overriding impression I got from this trip is that the CAT CT630S is a good, strong truck that should cover all the basic needs of a 26-metre B-double (or single trailer) operator. It may not have all the bells and whistles associated with other trucks in this segment, but it doesn’t carry the price tag any more either.

There have been huge improvements made over the first models released here, and these show through after just a couple of days in the seat. With a known and trusted driveline, plenty of service and support locations, and reasonably priced spare parts, this model puts forward a good business case.

For a limited time, CAT is also offering a one-million kilometre warranty, free UHF, some added bling and a 7” touchscreen entertainment unit to entice new customers. With all of this, and the legendary CAT reputation, the new CT630S could literally put the CAT amongst the pigeons and ruffle a few feathers in the heavy-duty market.

PowerTorque ISSUE 59
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