The new Kenworth T700 is curvacious and spacious

by James Menzies

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. –The T2000 era at Kenworth has come to an end and rising from its ashes is a truck that’s every bit as good, and then some.

The new Kenworth T700 has retained much of the styling that made the T2 stand out on the road: a wide, imposing wire mesh grille, sloped hood and broad stance. By using computational fluid dynamics (CFD), engineers have designed a truck that’s aerodynamically superior to its predecessor without sacrificing aesthetics or interior space. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare the T700 to the T2000 – after all, it’s a completely new design, not just the reworking of an old model that’s being put out to pasture.

Nonetheless, the T2000 was retired to make room for the T700, so comparisons are inevitable. The T2000 had its detractors, but occasional complaints of wind noise and cab sway won’t haunt its replacement. The solid door closes firmly and excellent insulation keeps wind and road noise about as muted as one could hope. The suspensions on the two versions I recently drove (Kenworth AG130 Front Air Ride 13.2K on the front and Kenworth AG400 40K on the rear of both tractors) provided a smooth ride absent of any rocking. The smooth-shifting UltraShift Plus surely contributed to that as well.

It was hard to find fault with any aspect of how the T700 performed on the road and the fact it’s aerodynamic as well as comfortable and fun to drive is a bonus -a bonus that pays big dividends, mind you. And how about that aero? According to Kenworth, the T700 is its most aerodynamic vehicle ever, boasting 3% less drag than the fuel-efficient, narrow-nosed T660. Somehow, that’s been accomplished without eating into the spacious interior which includes 60 cubic feet of storage, 25 more cubic feet of roominess than the T660 and a towering, 8-ft. “cathedral” ceiling that allows a driver to comfortably sit upright in the top bunk. This may be the ultimate team truck. Better yet, it’s a truck that makes financial sense in a package that even classic-styled truck fans can appreciate. It’s a slippery truck that doesn’t look too slippery, yet through the miracles of CFD every possible point of unnecessary air flow interruption has been eliminated through subtle design enhancements. Little things, like flush-mounting the LED marker lights and providing a nearly seamless transition between components such as the hood, fenders, windshield, roof and bumper.

The T700 also employs Kenworth’s excellent forward lighting system, with halogen bulbs that provide 44% better illumination than traditional sealed beam lamps. It’s a marked improvement, both functionally and stylistically, from the pupil-shaped headlights of the T2.

Inside, the T700’s dash is intuitive with easy to reach switches and an optional SmartWheel that I would consider a must-have spec’. It puts frequently- used controls such as cruise and the engine brake at your fingertips so you don’t have to reach for the desired rocker switches. The Smart- Wheel also features a flasher button that allows you to effortlessly blink your lights -a common courtesy that seems to be not so common anymore. Spec’ing the SmartWheel encourages courteous driving and promotes the use of cruise control -seems like a no-brainer to me.

New to Kenworth is a pre-trip inspection assistant that cycles through the lights so a driver doesn’t have to return to the cab multiple times as he or she does a walk-around.

On the dash, Kenworth’s driver display provides bite-sized nuggets of information without overwhelming the driver. It provides a sweet spot indicator to promote fuel-efficient driving and the driver can cycle through other messages as required. I kept it on the sweet spot indicator, which provided assurance that I was getting the most out of the engine -which wasn’t difficult with the UltraShift Plus.

I’ve written plenty about the Ultra- Shift Plus in the past, so I won’t go into much detail here except to say I like the way Kenworth packages the lever-less console out of the way, creating even more space between the seats – an ample 30 inches in the T700’s case.

The arm rests swing back behind the seats to clear up even more space at the entrance into the roomy, 75-inch Aerodyne sleeper cab. It wouldn’t take much to dress this sleeper up beautifully -it comes with an optional flat panel TV mount and drawer-style fridge as well as plenty of lighting. This is a sleeper cab you can live in.

Under the hood

Kenworth was kind enough to provide two similarly-spec’d T700s on my recent test drive, one featuring the Cummins ISX15 under the hood and the other powered by Paccar’s own, all-new MX. However, it was difficult to draw an apples-to-apples comparison since the Cummins was rated at 425 hp, 1,550/1,750 lb.-ft. torque at 1,200 rpm while the MX was rated at 485 hp and 1,650 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,100 rpm. Still, both engines were more than capable of pulling my 80,000-lb GVW load up the long uphill grade just before Exit 215 on I-5 south of Mount Vernon. Both engine brakes were remarkably quiet, a welcomed, if unintended benefit from the noise-reducing qualities of the SCR system.

Truth be told, it was difficult to tell the difference between the two engines.

A more discerning Cummins aficionado will no doubt find some subtle nuances, real or imagined, that will allow Cummins to retain its loyal following. But Paccar has produced a worthy alternative to the ISX -and once its promises of a million mile life expectancy are industry-tested, it will no doubt develop its own legion of followers.

Like Pepsi and Coke, both engines will satisfy, but customers will no doubt have their individual preferences.

The Paccar folks pride themselves on the quietness of the new MX -and for good reason. It is indeed a quiet engine, thanks in part to the use of compacted graphite iron (CGI) not only on the engine block (a sound-deadening tactic first employed in North America by Navistar on its International Maxx- Force) but also on the cylinder head.

But while the MX was quiet, the Cummins too seems to have gotten quieter, which may be a tribute to the insulation package and other noice-reducing features of the Kenworth cabs themselves.

The bottom line when it comes to engine selection is that with the departure of Caterpillar from the North American on-highway market, customers once again have a choice, and it’s a choice between two fine engines.

Emissions system

Speaking of engines, the EPA2010- compliant emissions system featuring selective catalytic reduction (SCR) can be packaged in one of four ways: right-hand under passenger access step (with a clear back of cab); horizontal crossover (offering the ability to shift weight forward and maximize frame space); vertical independent (allowing maximum frame space and clear access to PTOs); and horizontal series (for medium-duty offerings only).

Giving credit to the Kenworth engineering department, vocational product manager Samantha Parlier said the entire SCR emissions system including the DPF are now packaged as tightly as the DPF alone was in 2007.

The horizontal crossover configuration is expected to be most popular on highway trucks with sleeper cabs, Parlier predicted.

The exhaust travels through the DPF, crosses over the driveline and enters the mixing pipe which is housed above the SCR canister. Kenworth has a multi-stage derate strategy for when diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) runs low, and at no point does it involve putting the brakes on the truck at highway speeds.

As long as the DEF tank remains at greater than 10% full, it’s business as usual. Once it reaches the 10% mark, a DEF warning lamp lights up on the dash. At 5% full, the lamp begins flashing and it is soon accompanied by the Check Engine light. If DEF levels aren’t replenished, the engine will suffer a 25% power derate -enough to get the driver’s attention but not to render the vehicle undriveable.

“It’s enough that the operator knows something is going on but it won’t hamper their ability
to continue operating at freeway speeds,” Parlier explained. Once the driver shuts the truck down, however, there’s no getting back to highway speeds without adding DEF. A driver will be limited to five mph upon restarting the truck unless DEF is added, allowing them to limp along to a fuel station but little else.

Many EPA2010-related messages have been added to Kenworth’s driver information centre, to ensure drivers are warned of the emissions systems’ requirements. New messages include ‘Exhaaust SCR DEF Service Required’ -a note that drivers will hope to avoid, since it indicates the wrong fluid may have been added to the DEF tank.

Also new in 2010 is a message that indicates the DPF Regeneration Inhibit switch has been activated. Drivers have been known to activate the switch to prevent DPF regenerations and keep exhaust temperatures low, when fueling for instance, only to forget they did so. The DPF would clog prematurely as a result, negatively affecting fuel economy and necessitating an early cleaning.

You can remove the inhibit switch altogether, but Parlier advised against that, confident the new warning message alone will solve the problem.

Unique to Kenworth is the ability to spec’ any sized DEF tank, provided it meets EPA requirements. Parlier says other OEMs allow you to spec’ only the size of the fuel tanks and then slap on the corresponding-sized DEF tank.

“It may seem trivial, but if you’re a customer and you know you want that large tank because of the way your route goes and a small tank may not get you there, you can spec’ a larger tank,” she said.

Customers can also choose to have the tank mounted on either side of the vehicle to optimize compatibility with their own fuel islands or DEF dispensing equipment.

Final thoughts

The T2 had its detractors, but any shortcomings have been fixed in the T700. The T700 appears to be a better built truck all-around. The T2’s strong points, such as visibility, driveability, aerodynamics and spaciousness, have only been enhanced with the T700’s design.

If you were a fan of the T2, and I count myself as one, then you can take comfort in knowing there’s an even better truck waiting in the wings. It makes it easier to say good-bye.

Not only is the T700 a worthy successor to the T2000, it’s also gives the popular T660 a run for its money. I drove both trucks on my trip to Kenworth Country in the Pacific Northwest and there’s plenty to like about both rides. If I were a regional driver, the T660 would be my Kenworth.

But it’s hard to beat the roomy interior of the T700 if you’re living out of your truck for any length of time, especially with a partner.

It will be interesting to see which of these models proves more successful once fleets and owner/operators have had the chance to vote with their pocketbooks.

With the driver shortage on the brink of re-emerging, company drivers may have some influence as well. I’m told T700 pricing is still being determined, but it’s likely to be comparable to the T660.

The T700 is a truck that drivers can be proud to drive and owners can buy knowing that with its aerodynamics and quality construction, it makes smart business sense as well.

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