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Cruising the Arizona hills in the Volvo VT 880

PHOENIX, Ariz. - North American truck journalists recently had the chance to test drive the new Volvo VT 880 owner/operator truck and the industry's most powerful new engine. A VT 880 equipped with a...

HEAD TURNER: We stopped at this scenic rest area to take some snapshots of the VT 880.Photo by James Menzies

HEAD TURNER: We stopped at this scenic rest area to take some snapshots of the VT 880.Photo by James Menzies

PHOENIX, Ariz. – North American truck journalists recently had the chance to test drive the new Volvo VT 880 owner/operator truck and the industry’s most powerful new engine. A VT 880 equipped with a pre-production Volvo D16 engine was unveiled at a recent product launch in Phoenix, Ariz. Volvo’s new flagship truck targets the owner/operator market. As for the high-horsepower D16, it should be a good fit for demanding applications such as logging, heavy-haul, drop frame or long-distance transport through mountainous terrain.

Volvo’s new 16-litre engine is available in four power ratings: 500 hp at 1,850 lb./ ft. torque; 550 hp at 1,850 lb./ft. torque; 600 hp at 2,050 lb./ft. torque; and 625 hp at 2,250 lb./ft. torque. The highest horsepower version of the D16 instantly became the industry’s most powerful heavy duty truck engine, offering an unprecedented combination of power and torque, Volvo officials claimed.

The 625 hp D16 is able to maintain a cruising speed of 65 mph on a three per cent grade while running at 1,400 rpm – all while loaded up to 80,000 lbs.

For the test drive, the VT 880 was fitted with the slightly smaller 550 hp, 1,850-lb./ ft. of torque version of the engine – even though we weighed in at 78,000 lbs., and were tackling an ear-popping stretch of Interstate 17 north of Phoenix. This stretch of asphalt included a long, six per cent grade that stretched for about five miles. The hill was so long and steep that roadside signs warned motorists to turn off their air conditioning to avoid overheating their engines.

The VT 880 provided for the test drive was equipped with an 18-speed Eaton transmission. The truck’s dash was the same as the one found in the VN, and there was ample storage space throughout the cab. And a massive, curved one-piece windshield provided a fantastic view of the road as well as the spectacular Arizona scenery.

Volvo’s quiet engine brake was barely audible from inside the cab on the downhill grades. When we tackled the long uphill stretch of road, the 525 horses easily pulled the 78,000-lb. load without complaint. We could’ve driven up the hill much faster than the 35 mph, but an inside trailer tire blowout required us to maintain a safe speed until we could find an appropriate spot to replace it. The unfortunate event also put a premature end to the test drive, but we had logged enough miles before the blowout to get a feel for the engine’s muscle and the truck’s drivability.

Truck News also had the chance to test drive the D16 engine when it was introduced to the Swedish market in June 2003. The North American version is slightly different – it’s equipped with EGR and is designed to accommodate impending 2007 emissions-reducing technology as well. By all accounts, the D16 is a hit in Sweden and with owner/operator horsepower demands trending upwards in North America, this engine will likely be a popular spec’ on the VT 880.

While taking pictures of the truck at a rest area just off I-17, the VT 880 attracted curious glances from drivers of other makes of trucks. The truck is not your typical Volvo.

Its massive chrome grille and long, broad hood gives it the traditional look that appeals to most owner/operators. And although its nose is a departure from the familiar sloping hood that Volvo is famous for, the truck is still surprisingly aerodynamic.

A large chromed steel front bumper channels the airflow towards the cooling system and also improves fuel efficiency, said Scott Kress, senior vice-president of sales and marketing with Volvo Trucks North America.

“And when we moved the cab back on the chassis, it also reduced the trailer gap which significantly improves fuel economy,” he told truck journalists during a press conference.

During the test drive, four truck editors and one Volvo representative fit comfortably inside the VT 880 and its 77-inch cabin. The new light-coloured interior provided a spacious, airy look and a husband/wife owner/operator team who tested the truck told Volvo officials it was surprisingly easy to keep clean.

Of the owner/operators who participated in in-depth product clinics 60 per cent said the VT 880 was a departure from Volvo’s current styling, 93 per cent said the front axle position was just right, 84 per cent thought the front axle enhanced the overall truck appearance and 60 per cent said visibility was “much” better than in their current vehicle.

Test drivers also said the Volvo VT 880 scored nine out of 10 when it came to turning radius and maneuverability.

The truck will be officially introduced at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky. at the end of March where the public will have the opportunity to drive it. Volvo plans to begin production slowly and ramp up to full production in the fourth quarter of 2005.

Volvo VT 880 Specs:

BBC: 200 inches

Front axle position: 43.1 inches

Cab size: 77 inch raised roof sleeper

Engines: Volvo D16 from 500 hp at 1,850 lb./ft torque to 625 hp at 2,250 lb./ft. torque; Cummins ISX from 475 hp at 1,850 lb./ft. torque to 565 hp at 1,850 lb./ft. torque.

Transmission: Eaton RTO, RTLO 10, 13, 18 speeds; Eaton Autoshift 10 and 18 speeds.

Front axle: 12,000-13,000 lb. spring suspension

Rear axle: 40,000-46,000 lb. rear axles (Dana Spicer, Meritor); Amboid rear axle (multi-torque).

Rear suspension: 38,000-40,000 Volvo air suspension; 46,000 lb. high-torque/high GCW non-torque-reactive suspension

Frame rails: Seven sizes RBM 1,382,000-2,448,000

Interior trim: Premiere (unique to VT 880), saddle colour with brick accent; Elite, aurora and prism with saddle accents.

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