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On-road Editor: The 2007 ProStar

How can you tell if you're driving a great truck? It feels like it's not there. Literally, you feel at ease inside the shell and never have to fight the controls, or even pay much attention to them. T...

How can you tell if you’re driving a great truck? It feels like it’s not there. Literally, you feel at ease inside the shell and never have to fight the controls, or even pay much attention to them. The switches are an extension of your fingertips. The interior of the cab dissolves as you glide down the road listening to MP3s, on the lookout for those sleepy-headed, cellphone-addicted or nervous motorists.

My friend Bob Wilson gave up the keys for a week so I could try his International ProStar on a five-day linehaul run between Ottawa and Toronto (suggestion to OEMs, send me more trucks to test drive!)

It looks like a cross between the 8600 and 9200. Big smiling bumper face and Aero cap. The same combed-back grille as the 8600 regional tractor, while the cab interior is more derivative of the 9200.

What’s different is under the bonnet. The one I drove was fitted with the ISX 385-horse engine, certainly enough power for the gentle hills of the Canadian Shield, speed limiting aside.

This motor is Cummins answer to the stringent 2007 EPA regulations. Recirculated exhaust gases are pumped back into the turbo making the engine especially responsive at low speeds. Periodically, the soot is burned away with a high-temperature bake-off (1,000 degrees F). The muffler stack, itself, is expensive to replace and comes with four sensors and a catalytic converter.

Seeing the ‘Made in Canada’ sticker made me smile: the ProStar series are assembled in Chatham, Ont. and come in four models: basic, limited, premium and premium Eagle. My ride was a day cab, probably the no-frills package.

Right off the bat, I noticed the suspension of the ProStar is much superior to any of its 9000-series predecessors. It can handle a take-out coffee. And if you’re passing through Toronto you can take the Gardiner “wild mouse” challenge yourself: stay in the inside lane going westbound past the Humber River. It’s like a mechanical bull ride with most tractors, but the ProStar (albeit with only 30,000 km and still tightly strung) smoothed out the violent pitching and yawing. “Bob-tailing is like driving a car,” adds my colleague, Wilson.

And finally an automatic I can live with. I don’t know what those Eaton Fuller pixies have done with their UltraShift 10-speed automated transmission but there’s a world of difference between this model and the earlier ones in the 8600s. No lag or pesky back pushing, and easier coupling without draining all the air while two-footing under a parked trailer.

The shifting console is in a better place, located low in the wrap-around console. Much improved from the post-mounted shifter on earlier models with its bright green LED screens reflecting off the windshield.

Finger tip controls are another big driver comfort feature. With a touch of the steering pad, you can dim the headlights and markers, bleat the air horn, set the cruise control, and make adjustments to the stereo.

That’s a great radio, by the way, what International calls part of its “premium sound system.”

It did a terrific job tuning in Coast-to-Coast with George Noory on the AM band in the wee hours.

Truck drivers need to stay appraised of the latest in alien abductions, crop circles, ghostly occurrences, and conspiracy theories.

Other driver-friendly features include a revamped HVAC system. On the hottest day in Toronto this summer, the AC was colder than an ice box and didn’t need much adjustment between stops and starts and highway driving. There’s no way to test the defroster, of course, but the smaller windshield and better circulation should make problems with icing on the earlier 9200s a thing of the past.

With 3.73 rear ends, my ProStar put out 1,425 RPM at 100 km/h, achieving 37 litres per 100 km, or about 7.6 mpg. It also ran much quieter than the 8600 or 9200s, although the clutch fan clicked in frequently in the lower gears. And the ProStar’s aerodynamic lines appear to have eliminated much of the luffing and buffeting you receive from following another truck’s turbulence.

This test model was also equipped with a premium air ride seat manufactured by National. It has no less than seven pneumatic button controls to adjust weight and lumbar settings. One button actually wraps the seat sides around your torso.

It also comes with a “back cycler” option which provides an interesting sensation to the small of your back by pulsing the lower seatback section (although it may not be enough to keep the drivers out of the massage parlours in Vaughan, Ont.)

Good seating is crucial for drivers since we spend most of our time sitting behind the wheel. Both previous drivers of this unit cited problems with this seat: stress on the back of the legs among other things. For my part, I noticed some twitches in my back after the first night. Mostly, I think, because the inflated side flaps straightened out my chronic slouch. For the rest of the week my back felt fine.

Personal space is another issue that’s important to truckers.

“For years, truck manufacturers have been coming around and asking us what we want in a tractor,” says Wilson. “And we tell them more leg room and more inside space. Instead, we seem to be getting less leg room and our coolers are getting farther away from us.”

An engineer in Chatham, Ont. assured me that the ProStar has slightly more leg room than the 9200 – not much but a little (28.4″ as compared to 27.7″).

And Wilson is correct when he says there’s no room for the cooler beside the seat – the doghouse and wrap-around console don’t offer much space between them. Perhaps someone can design a special cooler that fits in that slot or straddles the dog house.

Visibility is great in the ProStar, and the fender-mounted mirrors seem to cover all the blind spots (no reason for those floppy overhead mirrors).

I also like the layout of the instrumentation which is classic Binder-esque. The gauges are basic and simple. The dashboard looks more like a Piper Cub than a 747. I really enjoyed my week in the ProStar and was sad to go back to the 9200.

International’s 2007 ProStar isn’t quite Nirvana-on-wheels, but it comes pretty close.

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