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Road Test: Kenworth debuts short-sleeper T680

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio -- A 52-inch sleeper variant of Kenworth’s new-generation T680 was available to drive at a mid-July Kenworth customer event at its Chillicothe, Ohio plant.

Steve Sturgess drove this T680 with 52-inch sleeper in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Steve Sturgess drove this T680 with 52-inch sleeper in Chillicothe, Ohio.

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — A 52-inch sleeper variant of Kenworth’s new-generation T680 was available to drive at a mid-July Kenworth customer event at its Chillicothe, Ohio plant.


Kenworth’s “new-generation” bowed in with the T680 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in 2012 and entered production later in the year. Featuring a 76-inch sleeper, the new model introduced a mid-width, highly tooled cab with a new concept in sleeper configuration and comfort.

This year saw the introduction of the 52-inch sleeper for length-sensitive or lower-cost regional applications, still offering the ultra-modern styling and quietly civilized cab, but with a 32- or 38-inch inch bunk and the option of a folding 32-inch upper bunk. The bunk effectively fills the space in the sleeper, though there is the option of the swivel passenger seat to open up into an L- shaped area. So the 52-inch T680 is for those applications where drivers – or teams – are out for a few nights rather than several weeks.

As a bonus, the mid-roof cab is more versatile for tank and flatbed operations as it pushes less air out of the way and, at the same time, saves 600 to 700 lbs.

Recapping the T680, it has a cab width that falls exactly midway between the 1.9 metres of the T660/T800 and W900 and the 2.3 metres of the full-width T700. Available initially as a day cab or a 76-inch full-height sleeper, the T680 was a joint development between Kenworth and Magna International and featured major input from customers in determining the optimum cab width.

Magna is a highly respected automotive supplier doing design and presswork for many passenger car brands. Its involvement has led to this highly tooled aluminum cab with automotive styling that is being assembled in an equally highly-automated production area at the big Kenworth Chillicothe production plant (see sidebar).

The design features complex double curvatures for the pressings and doors and door openings that are also highly tooled and sculpted. This makes for a cab that promises a quiet interior from engineering fits and excellent door sealing, easy door closing effort and a highly durable cab that, from its aluminum construction, is still a lightweight structure.

The construction is through Henrob fasteners that offer the clamping of a Huckbolt but without piercing through the material surfaces. This means less opportunity for leaks or corrosion, which is further proofed by using adhesive at the joints as well as the fasteners. Back from the B-pillar, though, the construction of the sleeper is conventional flat panel with Huck fasteners so any damage sustained in use, such as a rear corner impact, can easily be repaired by any body shop familiar with heavy-duty cab construction.

So, in its assembly, the 52-inch T680 is identical to the 76-inch and is in fact made in the same robotic assembly area. There, 15 multi-tasking robots assemble a cab in 12 minutes from pressings and sub-assemblies manufactured in Magna’s Spartanburg, S.C. plant. This is incidentally home to BMW’s US production plant and Magna brings to Kenworth the same production values as it delivers to BMW and a host of other car companies.

On the road

The 52-inch T680 is just now going into production as Kenworth takes orders for the new model. So an early production example was available during the ride-and-drive to touch and feel and compare with the earlier T680s we’ve driven. We were let loose with the tractor and a trailer, lightly loaded for ride, on the roads around Chillicothe, the demo unit featuring a Paccar MX-13 at 500 hp and an Eaton UltraShift Plus transmission.

The route was just a short blast up Hwy. 23 north to Circleville for a turnaround and pictures at the Walmart at the edge of town. Then it was back south again for an all-too-brief evaluation. No hills, no tight turns, no sound meter either as I had left it behind. But the T680 proved to be super quiet, a tribute to the cab design and the quiet-running MX-13 Paccar engine.

The short drive did include a couple of none-too-demanding grades, but they were enough to call for a downshift on this high-geared Kenworth (1100 rpm at 55 mph). At this point the 13-speed UltraShift made a double downshift from 13 to 11, but then quickly grabbed a gear again to breast the short climb in 12th before quickly getting back into top gear as soon as the grade eased.

The quietness of the cab was deceptive and I found cruise control necessary to keep speed down to 55 mph on this highly patrolled stretch of highway. The cab was tight with no rattles from the dash or interior and the lack of any road or engine-excited booming in the panels attested to the integrity of the construction and rigidity of curved panels that add to the styling. And the truck rode nicely on its air front axle too, something I’ve noticed on the four T680 and 880 models I’ve driven so far.

Less welcome is the vagueness in the steering that was apparent in this T680. Admittedly, it was way better than a short wheelbase T880 driven earlier this year where a Kenworth engineer described it as herding the truck down the road. This was nothing like that, but still noticeable. One day I’m going to get KW to build me a T680 with Sheppard steering.  

The controls in general are well laid out and combined with the rich softness of the Vantage trim give the Kenworth a Lexus-like feel. This is repeated back in the sleeper, though there’s little room to roam around and enjoy the space.  But this was a double-bunk unit. With a single bunk, there are upper cabinets and full-length hanging storage and even options such as a flat-screen TV. And even though this was a mid-roof cab, there was plenty of headroom at 6-ft., 4-in. standing up from the driver’s seat.

Another option is the swivel passenger seat that would add a lounge chair and additional floor space to make the 52-inch single-bunk sleeper a very versatile space for R&R.

So while the sleeper is way smaller and less sumptuously equipped than the 76’s, it is still a very comfortable place, especially in the anticipated role for this truck as a regional hauler. To have to spend several nights out of a week in this T680 would be no hardship at all and the comfort and driving experience makes it very much a driver’s truck in the strong tradition of Kenworth products. Throw into the mix the style of the new T680 line and you have a truck any driver will love.

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