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There’s no better way to trial a prime mover than being on the road

Dave Whyte heads north to Brisbane with the CAT CT630SC

It’s not hard to see how important the B-double has become to the Australian transport industry. With the increase in productivity they offer, and the ongoing driver shortage, this popularity is only set to increase until a better option comes along. For the East Coast at least, with the slow adoption of B-triples, that won’t be any time soon. What this means for truck manufacturers is that without a suitable long distance B-double prime mover in their line-up, they are missing out on a share of this huge market. This is where CAT Trucks have been languishing for some time now, without a suitable sleeper option for the B-double market. That is until the recent release of the CAT CT630SC, a purpose designed and built prime mover for the 26 m B-double market.

The CAT CT630SC is based on the CT630S, and shares the same driveline, with the 550 hp/1850 lb-ft C15 engine up front, matched to an Eaton 18-speed manual gearbox (with UltraShift PLUS AMT option).

The difference is entirely in the cab design, from the seats back. While the CT630S is available with an extended cab, with a narrow “parcel shelf” mattress, the CT630SC offers a cab with room to stand up, a 40” sleeper with a 700 mm wide bed and the extra storage space you need to live aboard for days at a time. Fitted in Brisbane, with virtually seamless integration, the bunk is built to stand up to local conditions, and includes thick insulation to reduce interior noise levels. There are external toolboxes on each side, with large doors for ease of access and touch on/off lighting. They can also be accessed from inside the cab by lifting the bed. Between the toolboxes is internal space under the bunk, which in this case was filled with an Engel fridge on a sliding rail. The fitment also includes wraparound overhead storage compartments, which not only adds to functionality, but also looks good.

In order to really see how functional this cab was, I took one for a drive from Melbourne to Brisbane over a couple of days. Starting out in the miserable Melbourne winter weather, I headed north up the Hume Freeway, just past Albury to the Olympic Highway, and then picked up the Newell Highway at West Wyalong. I then followed the Newell to Goondiwindi,on to Warwick and down Cunningham’s Gap into Brisbane. In order to give you the full story, the trip included a night parked up at Gilgandra, sleeping in the bunk.

An early start meant the run out of Melbourne was uneventful, with the CAT behaving nicely in the traffic. The first half an hour in a new truck is always a bit strange, but the CAT cab is well laid out, and very easy to adapt to. I have yet to drive a bonneted truck with forward vision to equal that of the CAT, with the bonnet barely visible from the driver’s seat, and narrow A-pillars reducing blind spots to a minimum. Combined with good mirrors, this makes life much easier in the city traffic.

The CT630SC has the exhausts mounted to the rear of the cab. I assumed this would increase the noise level inside, but the rear wall is well insulated, and does a good job of reducing the amount of exhaust noise entering the cab. There is certainly none of the “drumming” usually associated with cab-mounted exhausts. The aero shape of the bonnet and cab mean there is almost no wind noise at all, and, as a bonus, also meant the truck stayed clean, even after four hours of driving through the rain. The weather heading out of Melbourne was atrocious – strong winds, rain and cold – but the environment in the cab was very quiet and relaxed. There was a little noise in the cab when the engine brake was working, but I don’t mind a little Jake noise, and may have even wound the window down to indulge my ears.

The run on the Hume provided the expected results, with a good road surface meaning a smooth ride, and only a half-gear split over Revenue Hill at Glenrowan. At 60 t gross, this is a very respectable result for an engine with less than 3000 km under its belt. Once on the Olympic Highway, though, the short wheelbase came into play, and as the road deteriorated so did the ride.

The rear of the LS cab sits on an airbag and shock absorber setup, which managed to keep up with all but the worst bumps. It seemed to suffer more on those sections where the road either dropped away or stepped up, such as at the beginning and end of bridges or where previous roadworks had started and finished. The seat took most of the shock for me, the driver, but everything else got shaken about. For the most part though, on any decent surface, the CAT rode nicely. The steering was good on any surface, with the same small amount of correction required on all the roads I encountered, including a couple of short stretches of gravel roadworks.

Day-one saw me make Gilgandra, where I decided the Caltex would be a good place to camp for the night. This is a busy place, with trucks coming and going all night, but once I hit the pillow, I didn’t hear a thing. The soundproofing around the cab did a great job, and meant a good night’s sleep. The mattress was wide enough for my ample frame, and long enough for even tall drivers. The CAT cab also has full wraparound curtains that allow you to move around the cab in privacy, and do a great job of keeping the daylight out when required.

Day-two started with a run through the hills between Gilgandra and Coonabarabran, where the C15 seemed to suffer a little. At one stage I was forced to go into low range, and the recovery was slow. I’d like to drive this same truck up here in six months, with a few more Ks on the clock and compare the result, as I assume it will pull better when it has loosened up a little.

The road between Goondiwindi and Warwick provides a good test of any suspension, and the Cat performed well. Again, only the biggest bumps and drop offs caused me any discomfort, but on a few occasions I was bounced forward until the seatbelt was tight. I have driven that road in various trucks, and the CAT was far from the worst ride I have experienced.

With so many options in the 26 m B-double market, it would be hard to say one is better than the other. What I will say, though, is that I got out of the CT630SC after two days of maintaining good travel times, and would have been happy to turn around and drive it back. My only issue was the lack of foot room, but this will be encountered in any short wheelbase bonneted truck. The CAT CT630SC is a good, basic, working truck, and did the trip comfortably. After a slow start, I think CAT Trucks has finally got a truck that can take on the long-distance 26 m B-double market – and succeed.

PowerTorque ISSUE 60
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