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Bush haulin’ beauty

PORTLAND, Ore. - You might want to slip on your boots because you're going to think that I'm shoveling some bull when I say that all you K-whopper and Petercar fanatics now have a reason to go look at...

PORTLAND, Ore. – You might want to slip on your boots because you’re going to think that I’m shoveling some bull when I say that all you K-whopper and Petercar fanatics now have a reason to go look at a Freightliner.

That goes for you loyal Western Star fans, too, though the Freightliner organization, which of course now owns ‘Star, would be happy if you stayed with that nameplate.

I’m talking about the new Coronado conventional, which is the finest Freightliner and one of the nicest trucks I’ve ever driven, period. It’s got the best of both worlds – traditional-type styling and a modern chassis and cab – so you get the looks you like with the features that’ll provide some cush to your tush as you come out of the woods and go down the road.

I’m talking to you loggers, because this particular day cab unit was built just for logging. That’s what they told me at the Freightliner Technical Center in Portland, where I picked it up for a brief morning drive, and that’s what it says on the build sheet.

Seems a guy in Oregon ordered it, then canceled probably for business reasons, what with the slowdown in the economy and continued assaults on the logging and lumber industries by tree huggers.

The Coronado CC132 (its official designation) is a latter day large car, using the up-to-date Century cab and chassis. With a really long, squarish nose, the unit offers most of the styling cues that traditionalists want: big, chromed grille and headlight bezels; big, 18-inch-deep chrome bumper; exposed, polished-metal steps, battery box and fuel tanks; stainless steel visor; and of course, chromed exhaust stacks.

Instead of air cleaner “cans” there are a pair of air intake grilles, one on either side of the hood. These offer less resistance to wind but still get the air inside the hood, where it’s cleaned and fed to the engine. The grilles forward-facing surfaces are chromed. Yes, there is a lot of chrome and polished metal on this truck, and it’s all there on purpose.

Freightliner goes easy on any claims of aerodynamics, but does say the Coronado is several per cent better than its aimed-at competition, including the Kenworth W900L and the Peterbilt 379EX.

Any aerodynamic benefits in these days of high-and-higher fuel prices should be welcomed.

Fenders are motorcycle-style, shaped to follow the wheels and tires rather than for wind flow, though there is a graceful curl at the lower trailing edges to give a sense of motion. Fenders are fiberglass, but are separate from the hood, so if one gets battered you can remove it and bolt on a new one, saving time and money. Peterbilt’s 379 and 357 are the only other trucks with this sensible design that I’ve ever seen.

But where the Pete has its headlight in a hood-mounted pod, up and out of the way of cornering collisions (whether instigated by you or someone else), Freightliner put the Coronado’s headlamps in the fenders. A marker light faces in either direction, right about where it can get smacked.

That big, deep bumper may offer some protection, but not much because it’s very close to the fenders and grille.

Jim Tipka, Freightliner’s chief test engineer, went over these and other things at the tech center before we took a short spin around Portland so I could get acclimated to the truck.

He had arranged the installation of a flatbed and five big concrete blocks for weight. I guessed that we grossed around 45,000lb., enough to settle down the chassis and give the big Cat C-15, 475 a slight workout.

On the way back to the shop we approached a traffic light that’s prone to sudden reds and sure enough, it changed to amber when I was about 100 feet away. But the brakes pulled us down just right with no fuss and, as Tipka remarked, “no ABS intervention.”

Then I headed out of town, taking I-5 north to Marine Drive, which runs atop the levee along the Columbia River’s south shore. This joins I-84 east of the city, and I took this out to the Multnomah Falls rest area, about 35 miles east. Along the way several people stared at the truck as I trundled by; they were apparently impressed with its gleaming good looks, from its show-truck “lazer red” and black paint to all the shining trim.

It was a relief after many trips in semis with 48- and 53-foot trailers, which of course have to be watched in any tight turn, to drive a simple 10-wheeler, even if it has a longish wheelbase.

This truck measures 260 inches (660 cm) from front axle to the center of the tandem – typical of a tandem-drive logging rig in the Pacific northwest and in line with the length of a tridem-drive logger north of the border. It did, however, measure a little longer than the common B.C. tandem drive length of about 250 or 252 in.

It’s also got a l-o-n-g bumper-to-back-of-cab measurement: 132 inches, and that’s the only way the Coronado’s offered, Tipka says. This fits in with its premium image and Freightliner’s marketing strategy.

“This will be built only as a premium truck,” he explains. “If you want one, you’ll pay a premium price. We don’t intend to build them in quantity, like the Classic XL, which is a nice truck. But when you turn them out in high numbers, that hurts resale. We’ll sell them to fleets if they want them, but they’ll pay the same as an owner/operator buying just one.”

The Coronado is way ahead of the FLD-based Classic in smoothness and quietness. But Freightliner has no plans to kill the FLD or the Classic any time soon. The market will decide when that happens, Tipka says. Even then, the Severe Service version of the FLD will continue, partly to take care of the U.S. military business (which includes road tractors and dump trucks) and to satisfy its popularity as a civilian construction vehicle.

The Columbia River Gorge has some of the nicest vistas you’ll find in the Lower 48, so it’s a pleasant place to take a ride.

The road is level and the Cat 475 was more than up to this job; and the Fuller 18-speed was fairly easy to shift, even with low miles on the odometer. I split many of the gears just for fun; driving it as a nine- or seven-speed.

There’s a turn-around in the rest area’s parking lot that tests any rig’s maneuverability, and the Coronado took it tightly. That’s because engineers designed the truck to turn. Wheels on the steer axle cut as much as 50 degrees, just as though they were on a setback axle. But this axle is forward-set, as on a proper large car. It was almost strange to feel this long-nose machine go into the corners like a nimble fleet unit, but that’s what it does. In the lot I U-turned the truck a couple of times to get it facing into the sun for various photographic poses. Again, the steering helped and maneuvering it was almost fun. The inside of the cab is also nicely trimmed. Note the big, comfy EZRide seats, with their sensible controls, and all the faux wood trim and chromed bezels around the many gauges (which show pressures and temperatures of about everything, but your loan officer’s heart).

Returning to Portland on I-84 I noted the excellent visibility to the front and sides. That long hood slopes downward, giving you a good view of the pavement and a lot of what’s on it.

I never felt uneasy about the lack of a fender-mounted spot mirror over on the right, which might not look good, anyway, on this rig.

Once in a while I drive a truck that I don’t want to turn in. The Coronado was one of them. But there’s that premium price (well into the US$100,000 range) to consider. n

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