ROAD TEST: INTERNATIONAL 9900i

Jim Park

Last winter we ran a story about the building of the Mackenzie Highway in northern
Alberta (‘When Men Were Men,’ February 2000, highwaySTAR), and I remember thinking it would be fun to drive it for myself. Little did I know that my chance was so close at hand.

In an interesting twist of fate, while visiting Grimshaw earlier this summer to cover
the Black Gold Truck Rodeo, I had the chance to test a fresh-from-the-factory
2000 model International 9900i. It’s the latest incarnation of a venerable line of trucks that included the 1948 KB-8 pictured above. And where do you think I took
it?

The folks at Prairie Truck and Trailer of Grande Prairie and Peace Truck and Trailer of Peace River made the necessary arrangements, and the day after the show I was on my way north from Mile Zero on the Mackenzie. Fred Lorenzen, owner of the Mile 0 Museum, offered me his traveling museum display trailer to add a little realism. I only made it as far north as High Level in the limited time I had to play with the truck, but I still did nearly 300 miles – a trip that would have
taken several days in the early years of the highway.

The KB-8 ran the Mackenzie back then, sporting a Hay River Truck Lines banner.
Its great-great-grandson may some day haul three times the payload up the same highway into the Northwest Territories – in about a tenth of the time. Talk about
progress.

Five-Year Facelift

Time hasn’t exactly been standing still for International’s premium long-nose highway trucks. International has been slowly moving forward from its popular 9400 Eagle line to today’s new 9900i series. The changes have mostly been
subtle, but the results rather dramatic.

Gone is the boxy look of its predecessor, but the engineers elected to keep one of the Eagle’s more sensible features – its aluminum cab. They did a little tinkering
with its shape though, and they’ve relocated the firewall, the A-pillar, and the doors. The result is more leg and belly room for the driver, a 22-degree slope and
gently curved edges to the once nearly vertical windshield, and more surface area on top of the dash. The revamping of the doors allowed the designers to drop the sill height of the side windows, enhancing the lateral vision from the driver’s seat.

What you don’t see under all these cosmetic changes is the extensively redesigned heating/air-conditioning system, added insulation inside the doors, and the benefits of modular componentry and cross-model commonality of many of the 9900i’s parts. International says its premium over-the-road tractor should offer up to 5% better fuel economy, lower cost of ownership, and greater driver comfort than the 9300.

I couldn’t prove the first two in the brief ride I took, but International has the
driver-comfort angle pretty well covered. When you get right down to it though, one
of the most appealing aspects of the revamped 9900i is its sturdy good looks.

Another one is International’s Diamond Spec system, which offers several
pre-spec’d models – with engineering approval even before you walk in the
showroom – that group together common options for common applications. It
won’t save you any money, but it will get you an extra year of warranty and a free
replacement vehicle in the event of a serious mechanical problem.

Style and Substance

I suppose what makes or breaks a truck is how the driver feels about being inside the thing. Everything else being equal, external style and interior amenities and layout are what make you feel good about your buying decision. International has
done a fine job in making the inside of the 9900i as pleasing to the eye as it is
functional.

The cabinetry in the bunk is pretty solid, and features molded steps to ease the
ascent into the upper bunk. I’d prefer the fridge to be mounted at eye level rather
than on the floor where it was in the test truck, but the TV/VCR space and the
clothing lockers are more than adequate. The bunk is well ventilated and features
a climate-control system that operates independently from the cab.

What I really like about the 9900i, and many other International offerings for that matter, is the dash layout. For all you gauge junkies, there’s lots of room for all the chrome bezels you can handle. The standard 15-gauge package fits nicely into the available space directly in front of you, and when you flip on the lights, the white lettering in the backlit black-face dials creates a pleasing ambience.

The real test of a well designed truck comes when you stick it into the wind. Don’t
let the good looks fool you – the 9900i is a serious driving machine.

The Mackenzie Highway between Grimshaw and High Level, Alta., isn’t exactly a rally drivers dream. It runs prairie-straight for miles at a time, but throws a few
twists and turns in for good measure. The road is relatively narrow with a high
crown and soft shoulders, so it can cause its share of grief. The day I headed up
there was as windy as it gets in northern Alberta, with a constant crosswind of 50
to 60 km/h, gusting to more than 80 at times. An interesting ride.

What really impressed me was the lack of wind noise. It was windy indeed, but you’d never know it from the inside. When I lowered a windward window, the large
pane of glass rattled around considerably, but the leeward side gave hardly any
notice of the slipstream created by the big square nose.

The beauty of the Cummins ISX/Eaton Fuller 18-speed combo is the tight, quick
shifts you can make. It drives like a sporty little roadster, despite the long shifter.

Once I got it into top gear, the 1850 lb ft of torque cranked out by the 475-horse
ISX meant I pretty well stayed in the big hole. Climbing out of the Meikle River valley forced me to drop a full gear, in two steps, but that was the extent of the workout my right arm got all day.

My overall impression? The big gold 9900i was sure-footed and competent.

Maybe that’s an odd description, but even as I write this story, I can feel the urge to take it down through the Fraser Canyon in some nasty weather. It’s as rough and ready as its little red great-great-grandfather, but a darn site more
comfortable.

The Nuts and Bolts

Model – International 9900i SFA 6X4

Sleeper – 72-in. Hi-Rise Pro w. upper and lower bunks

Wheelbase/BBC – 244 in./120 in.

Engine – Cummins ISX 475 hp @ 2000 rpm, 1650/1850 lb ft torque @ 1200 rpm, with Cummins Intebrake engine brake

Transmission – Eaton Fuller RTLO(F)-18918B 18-speed double overdrive

Clutch – Eaton Fuller HD Solo 1552 XL50 Easy-Pedal Plus 15.5-in. adjustment-free

Front axle – Meritor 12,000-lb FF981/FF986 w. integrated hubs

Front suspension – taperleaf, parabolic steel springs

Front brakes – 15 X 4 S-cam w. MGM long-stroke chambers

Rear axle – Meritor RT-46-160 46,000 lb

Rear suspension – International Air Ride, 40,000-lb capacity, 55-in. spread

Brakes – 15×4 front and 16.5×7 rear S-cams w. MGM long-stroke chambers and
4-channel Bendix ABS

Miscellany – polished aluminum 24.5-in. disc wheels, Holland FW35 fifth wheel, Michelin tires, National Cush-N-Aire II seats w. swivel option, Panasonic
4-speaker am/fm/cd/weather-band stereo w. sleeper remote and headphone jack.

Jim Park

Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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