Driving the International HX620

TORONTO, Ont. — Drivers who are accustomed to being jostled around all day inside a noisy old dump truck will soon discover there’s a much better option. The new International HX-series vocational trucks, set to replace the long-running International PayStar, boast an interior that’s in a completely different class than its predecessor when it comes to driver comfort and amenities.

Three of the four HX models were introduced at World of Concrete in Las Vegas earlier this year and the HX520 made its debut here in Canada, at Truck World. The HX620, expected to be the top-seller among the four models, starred at Truck World alongside an HX520 decked out in a Tackaberry Construction paint scheme. Tackaberry took delivery of the very first HX520 to be delivered into Canada.

The International HX620.
The International HX620.

But it was the set-back axle HX620 that I was able to talk my way into for a few hours following Truck World. A quick lap around a makeshift construction site in Las Vegas in February left me wanting some more time behind the wheel of International’s newest model.

I was given a corporate-owned demonstration truck that’s currently touring the dealer circuit. I picked the truck up at Tallman Truck Centre’s Mississauga location the morning of Apr. 18 and was joined by Chad Semler, product marketing manager with International Truck, for the drive. Upgrades from the PayStar can be found all around the vehicle.

What’s immediately noticeable at first glance is a more rounded front end, featuring a bolder grille. It’s a steel grille with a stylish chrome-plated grille surround and optional vertical bars to give it an even tougher look.

The chassis itself is carried over from the PayStar product but new options have been added, including a new “super-single” 12.5-inch thick RBM frame rail. It saves about 43 lbs from the previous double-10 frame rail but more importantly, it also reduces “corrosion jacking” that can occur between adjacent metals.

Also new is an optional centre tow pin rated to 150,000 lbs, so a truck and trailer can be pulled from sticky situations, in many cases without first needing to be decoupled.

The headlamps are a reflector-style halogen design with a smart-looking LED brow, which also doubles as the daytime running light. Traditionally, the headlight bulbs are run at a lower energy setting to meet Canada’s daytime running light requirements, but that reduces bulb life, Semler pointed out. Why not LED headlamps?

“In a word, cost,” Semler explained. “The LED headlights are still very expensive. They perform very well and use less energy but they’re still very expensive and for a vocational truck that tends to get beat up a lot, it made more sense to stay with something that was more cost-effective to replace.”

Aside from the headlamps, all other lighting on and inside the truck is LED. The headlamps can be replaced without tools, allowing for quick and easy on-site repairs.

The LED brow above the halogen headlamp doubles as a daytime running light.
The LED brow above the halogen headlamp doubles as a daytime running light.

The HX maintains an aluminum cab with a three-piece Metton hood. The hood is spring-loaded for nearly effortless opening; no more standing on the bumper and heaving open the hood. The hood opens to reveal easy access to all the fluid containers. The splash guards raise with the hood to provide even greater access to underhood components.

International will offer external air cleaners on the HX520 and HX620, the two longer wheelbase offerings (120- and 119-inch BBC, respectively) within the family. Semler said external cleaners offer longer service intervals because they can provide greater filtration capacity, but he noted they’re becoming more difficult to spec’ as on-highway cabs are increasingly being repurposed for vocational applications. In addition to the two longer wheelbase models, there’s also an HX515 and HX615, with 114-inch and 115-inch BBCs, respectively. Those shorter trucks will offer International’s N13 engine while the longer models will come with the Cummins ISX15.

My HX620 had an ISX15 rated at 500 hp and 1,650 lb.-ft. of torque, but you can spec’ this truck out with up to 600 hp and 2,050 lb.-ft. The HX620 is available in tractor or truck configuration for a variety of vocational applications, including heavy-haul, oilfield and of course, dump. The truck I drove was fitted with a dump body.

While the exterior of the HX620 is a noticeable upgrade over the PayStar in terms of styling, it’s the interior that really sets it apart. And it’s this interior that was heavily inspired by Navistar’s now-defunct partnership with Caterpillar. As luck would have it, with Caterpillar announcing its withdrawal from the truck business earlier this year, the stylish interior now belongs solely to International. I’d say it was a fruitful venture for them.

External air cleaners are an option on the HX620 and HX520.
External air cleaners are an option on the HX620 and HX520.

“Basically, between the A-pillars, the front dash structure was a Cat-inspired carryover,” Semler explained. There are subtle differences. The gauges look slightly different and the rocker switches are different, too. But for the most part, this is the dash that was co-developed with Caterpillar and found inside the now-discontinued Cat trucks.

Among the carryovers is a combined speedometer/tachometer. I like it because it makes better use of the limited real estate on the dash cluster, but it takes a bit of getting used to.

The steering wheel is designed to allow a full view of the gauges. A center console is tilted towards the driver to allow better access to other controls than the PayStar’s flat panel offered. The truck I drove had the Diamond interior, which included some styling upgrades such as faux wood panels on the dash and an ‘HX’ stitched into the door panels.

International slimmed down the door panels to create more interior space but this doesn’t appear to have increased wind and road noise. The cab is nicely laid out with small touches that contribute to a nicer work environment. Examples of this include hooks on the rear wall for hanging high-vis vests, winter coats and hardhats and extra large cupholders and storage areas that can be found all over the place. One such storage area sits on the dash and is rubber-lined so keys, phones or a tablet can be placed there without sliding around and making noise. If the owner forgoes the in-dash infotainment option – and most vocational customers do – that area is also used for additional storage.

It wouldn’t be fair to evaluate the ride of the HX, since we were completely empty and these trucks aren’t designed to run empty, but it was quiet. Semler attributed this to improved insulation in the floor and cowl areas. The HX has longer front springs – 52 inches versus the previous 48-inch design – which also improves ride quality, as does a new DriverFirst cab air suspension.

All International trucks now come standard with Navistar’s OnCommand Connection remote diagnostics platform and the benefits of this are starting to be appreciated among the vocational crowd. When a fault code appears, the operator is given insight into the most appropriate course of action and that’s not just useful information when the truck is on-highway, far from home. Think of the mixer operator who receives a fault code and needs to know whether to continue on his route or get the cement out of the barrel, pronto, before the truck is disabled and the cement hardens inside the barrel. That’s some pretty vital information customers now have access to.

Navistar is currently working with body builders to feed their fault codes through the same system, which would be even more beneficial to vocational customers. Telematics should no longer be considered the exclusive domain of the linehaul segment.

Visibility out of the HX620 is excellent, thanks to its sloped hood and large one-piece windshield. Mirrors are door-mounted so they don’t impede entry and egress. It’s a comfortable truck to drive and also a safe vehicle to operate. Weaving my way through typically heavy Hwy. 401 traffic was less stressful because of the excellent visibility. The 18-speed Eaton UltraShift Plus automated transmission also contributed to its drivability in traffic. Of course, Allison automatics and a full slate of manual transmissions are also available.

Chad Semler, product marketing manager with International.
Chad Semler, product marketing manager with International.

The HX-series has been well received by the market. Some 300 were sold at the Las Vegas launch and about the same number have been sold since then, Semler told me. Tallman Truck Centre has sold 23 HX units already as of this writing, and has another 15 on order.

“Among the first orders, we saw a higher concentration of orders from Canadian dealers,” Semler said. “The Canadian market has been very anxious for this truck.”

For good reason. The HX is a major upgrade in terms of styling and ergonomics over the PayStar. New options such as the 150,000-lb tow pin and 12.5-inch single frame rail add to its robustness, and the availability of the Cummins ISX15 with ratings of up to 600 hp mean this is a truck that can be deployed into basically any severe-service application. And as an added bonus, it will look good doing even the dirtiest of jobs.

The HX enters limited production this week and will be ramped up to full production by sometime in May.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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