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Rig Review: A date with a hellcat

TORONTO, Ont. - Even from a distance the 8500 is a sexy truck.Sitting off to the side of Toronto's Metro International Dealership, it instantly catches your eye from Hwy. 27.The combed-back chrome gri...


TORONTO, Ont. – Even from a distance the 8500 is a sexy truck.

Sitting off to the side of Toronto’s Metro International Dealership, it instantly catches your eye from Hwy. 27.

The combed-back chrome grille, rounded features and low windows make it appear to be crouching, as though ready to pounce.

But don’t let the stylish lines fool you – this is every-inch a working hellcat.

The 8500 single axle tractor (one of only three to grace Ontario highways thus far) comes equipped with the HT 530 engine, which answers every city driver’s dreams.

The HT stands for High Torque and the marketing folks who named it weren’t lying.

I found myself outgunning straight trucks at traffic lights.

While I don’t condone speeding, in the interest of safety when passing the rig easily topped 120 km-h on the freeways.

Its 320 horses provide lots of pedal.

(However, I suspect most fleet owners will be turning them down at least a little.)

But the 8500 is more than just a rabbit. With a GVW of 80,000lb, it’ll take a payload around 50,000lb, proving more than adequate for most city applications.

The truck rides on 11R22.5 tires and exhibits great stability and dampening qualities over its 144-inch wheelbase – either loaded, empty or somewhat surprisingly even when bobtailing.

The front axle is fitted with tapered leaf springs, and combined with International’s IROS rear axle air bags and air ride cab, the tractor comfortably handled anything Toronto roads could throw at it – from broken pavement and speed bumps to the city’s motley crew of “new drivers” who always seem to be at their worst around commercial operators.

The steering is tremendously responsive in the tight, challenging scenarios of city work.

Unbeatable maneuverability makes backing into the tightest docks a pleasure.

A set back front wheel and a 50 per cent front axle cut gives the unit a hairpin turning radius.

In reverse gear it handles more like an Ottawa shunt truck than a city tractor.

When it comes to transmissions, I’m a bit of a traditionalist.

So for my money the 10-speed Eaton Fuller was a perfect complement for this high performance engine.

The new gears were stiff at first, but I was soon running up and down the pattern like a busking accordion player.

(“How fast does this thing do zero-to-60?” I caught myself wondering).

Great bloodlines

I couldn’t resist a quick stop at Tim Horton’s, where truckers often sit and compare notes. Another International pulled in the parking lot – the 8500’s cousin and predecessor the 4400 series straight truck – powered by the DT466 engine.

Behind the wheel I find Brian MacDonald of Verge Transport of Newmarket, Ont. and he’s ecstatic about the new breed of Internationals.

He tells me two things: “The engine will rip your head off,” and “It drives like a car.”

So true.

Driver comfort rates high with this family of trucks.

The cab is well-padded and insulated.

Tightly-sealed doors and levered vents cut out most of the engine noise.

You can just barely hear the whistling of the turbo above the gentle purring of the powerful motor.

Sight lines are superb: forward, reverse and sideways.

The tall side windows and curved windshield extend almost to knee-height, and there’s even an overhead mirror so you can watch the side of the cab.

The break way mirror configuration offers a great peripheral vista.

Other driver-oriented features include a good set of climbing grips, a tilt steering wheel that can accommodate all bellies, and lots of leg room.

Fingertip controls for cruise, air and electric horns are among the long-list of well-planned ergonomic driver features.

An offset control panel wing keeps the rest of the switches a mere hand-span from the operator.

The temperature controls were more than adequate. The test drive took place on a partly sunny yet cool day, and the thermostat flipped easily enough between air conditioning and low heat settings.

Out of the cab

The driver’s pre-trip inspection is made easier by the three-piece sectional hood.

Only a small section of the aerodynamic cowl has to be flipped up, and good access is afforded to check oil and fluid levels.

Each new International regional truck is wired with its own multiplex electrical system, where each cable serves a varied list of functions.

This is supposed to be a simpler and cheaper wiring system in the long run.

Literature distributed by International also claims innovations in serviceability and easier diagnostics, “with overall repair times cut by 20 per cent.”

I found the 4.30 rear end ratio on the test model a little severe in low range (although it was a nice feature while backing the truck up).

In my estimation, most city P&D operations could do with 4.11 or even 3.90 rears, and probably get better fuel mileage to boot.

But overall, this is one fine truck. Four stars.

If, as International’s truck group president Steve Keate suggests, “this vehicle sets a benchmark in value-driving performance,” it won’t be long before you’ll see caravans of 8500s plying the city streets and regional roads across Canada.

And this is one trucker earning his living in the city who says, bring ’em on!


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