2010 VN780 With All the Trimmings

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What’s interesting about the 2010 engines is that if they work properly, I have no story to tell. Volvo’s 13-liter powerplant, the D13, in 2010 trim seems to work as advertised. Therefore, I’ll have to wax prolific about something else. Fortunately for all of us, there’s much to cover on this truck.

But seriously, for all the engine maker did to get here with the new emissions reduction technology, you can’t tell the difference from previous generations. It performs as you’ d expect, and the additions and alterations make utterly no difference to the way the truck operates — at least from the driver’s perspective.

We had to top off the DPF tank before we left, but that took all of 90 seconds. The DPF/SCR aftertreatment packaging is all quite neatly tucked under the passenger side of the cab, and invisible from the outside, but easy enough to access for inspection, repair, etc.

Volvo’s emission-reduction strategy actually uses NOx to facilitate the oxidation of soot in the DPF. It’s a chemical reaction that’s too complex to get into here, but suffice to say using NOx as a catalyst to eliminate soot reduces — or as Volvo claims, eliminates — the need for fuel-fired active regen events.

Volumes could be written on what it took Volvo — and the others — to get to 2010, but the results seem satisfactory from the left seat. We’re trusting here that the maintenance and operational demands won’t be any more arduous than expected, but we’d not be able to report on that in any case after six hours behind the wheel.

This was my first ride in a 2010-configured Volvo, and only my second 2010 test drive, but in my opinion, drivers have little to be concerned about. It runs like a top.

What are notable here are the numerous “smaller” enhancements Volvo has made to the product that take safety and performance to new levels.

Safety & Performance:

Volvo upgraded its proprietary I-Shift automated transmission last fall, adding some electronic trickery that boosts performance and drivability while improving fuel economy. The innards are actually the same across all three models, but the clutch was beefed up a little for 2010. The models mated to the 16-liter engines are rated for 3,100 newton meters (2,250 lb ft, while the smaller cousins are good for 2,600 NM, or 1,900 lb ft.

Located under the passenger side, the DEF injector is located
adjacent to the DPF. There’s more than 40
inches between the doser and the catalyst surface.

One of the electronic enhancements is a dual torque rating feature called Eco-Torque that cranks the engine up to 1,750 lb ft when it’s need — mostly in a climb and only in the top two gears — to minimize the need for a downshift, thus saving fuel. You can feel it kick in, and you’ll notice the boost gauge bump up a notch. It’s handy, in that it happens automatically. Drivers won’t feel the need to use the kick-down feature to initiate a downshift.

Among the other new features of the D-series I-Shifts are the optional Performance Mode setting for additional startability, and the ability to rock the vehicle back and forth to free it if it becomes stuck.

Also new to Volvo this year is Bendix’s adaptive cruise control technology. Bendix calls it “Wingman,” Volvo calls it Volvo Enhanced Cruise (VEC). VEC is a collision avoidance system that works with a truck’s cruise control to maintain a safe following distance between vehicles.

Frankly, given today’s litigious climate, you’d be truly nuts to delist this option from a new truck. It’s still optional, unlike the electronic stability system, which Volvo made a non-delete item. Any truck involved in a rear-end collision that could have had an adaptive cruise control system spec’d from the outset is lawyer feed. They would eat you alive in court.

Having said that, this trip was my first real-world experience with such systems — as opposed to some stick-time on a test track. In short, it works, but can be annoying. Depending on the following time settings (the system measures following time rather than distance), I found the pre-determined safe following distance to be reasonable on the open highway, but it made no exceptions for certain maneuvers that deliberately take a truck closer to a leading vehicle.

For example, while driving on a particularly hilly stretch of US 220 in Virginia, I’d roll down a hill letting it run out as I began the climb up the other side. Sometimes this brought me a little close to a car in the same lane, which prompted at least an alert, or when the system was engaged, an application of the engine and/or service brakes. That of course killed any momentum I had going into the climb.

Now, all you safety guys will be wagging your fingers at me for this, but in reality, the distance between vehicles was in the order of two seconds — nothing I’d consider too risky. And, having the ability to see beyond the car directly in front of me — unlike the VEC system — it seemed extremely unlikely that the car would hammer on the brakes and cause problems.

Allowing the distance to close a little in such circumstances is de rigueur — within reason, but the system doesn’t recognize the fuel-savings potential of such strategies.

I ran into similar problems on freeway on-ramps. While accelerating to highway speed on a few occasions I came up behind a slower vehicle in the right lane, which given my vantage point — as opposed to the bumper-mounted sensor of the adaptive-cruise system — posed little or no threat for collision.

ACCESS ABILITY: The DPF filler cap has been redesigned
for ease of use. A cover for the fill point is optional.

The system does a good job of distinguishing between vehicles that are accelerating away from the truck and those that are slowing. I got no false alerts in that regard. And to be honest, my sense of an appropriate following distance was pretty much in line with what the system would tolerate. Even in dense traffic at slower speeds, as long as the distance between vehicles wasn’t closing, the system kept to itself.

When cruise is engaged and the system is active, it will fire an audible warning if the incursion is what I’d call gentle. If you come up a little fast, you’ll get the warning and an engine brake application. If the service brakes apply too, the cruise control disengages and you have to hit the resume button. I experimented with this only in the name of science, you understand.

The Volvo electronic stability control system — another Bendix innovation — worked as advertised, and I’d say that drivers who are complaining about the sensitivity of the system maybe need a little coaching or training.

It’s not the system that is overly sensitive… I’ve driven similar systems on test tracks, where the objective was to engage the system by running too fast through a turning maneuver. Those trucks had outriggers, so there were no consequences in attempting to tip the truck over. Our Volvo had no outriggers, and taking the truck close to the edge of the envelope against my better judgment was an odd experience.

Running hot through a turn isn’t something I’d ever do intentionally — I pulled tanks for nearly my entire driving career, and have the highest regard for tight corners.

I did run a few bends on US 220 a little fast, and sure enough, the stability control rapped my knuckles for it. I heard and felt the brakes apply, which was enough of a warning. I can’t say how close I had come to the threshold, but that the system engaged — even gently –tells me it’s closer than I ought to have been. VEST is another no-brainer in my mind — and not just to keep the lawyers off your back. There is some real calamity-saving potential in this technology.

Other Goodies:

Adaptive cruise control has a higher wow factor than a bunch of blinking lights, but a couple of the other developments to the 2010 product line are going rate highly with drivers. One is the Pre-Trip Assistant function, designed to provide the driver with a structured, efficient means to inspect the operation of the vehicle.

Using the function menu on the dashboard, drivers can electronically inspect the condition and functionality of various switches and electrical circuits, as well as the function of the lighting system and the pressure loss rate in the braking system. And it’s all done from the driver’s seat.

Additionally, the lights can be set to cycle on and off for easy outside inspection. Each blinks on and off in turn, from the right and left turn signals, brake lights, high-beams, etc. Drivers won’t have to return to the left side of the cab each time they check a different light. Very cool.

There’s also a nifty little trim tab located on the roof of the sleeper that can be adjusted to optimize air flow over the trailer, depending on the height of the van. It’s a manual adjustment that will need to be tried and tested for best ­performance, but the instructions are easy to follow, and should produce quantifiable results.

So, while you wouldn’t know it to look at it, the 2010 VN780 has been given a serious overhaul.

What hasn’t changed are the drivability, the ride, the quiet, and the comfort of the VN series. It’s still right up there on all counts, and with the transmission doing the heavy lifting on throttle control, shifting, and power management, the driver has the advantage of being able to sit back and enjoy the ride — which I did immensely on a late spring afternoon in Greensboro, N.C.

The highways and byways there provide an excellent proving ground for these trucks, with a combination of Interstate, and windy, hilly two-lane roads. I can say the VN780 is equally at home on either, and it’s well equipped to handle both.

Now if they could just teach that adaptive cruise control system a thing or two about fuel economy.

The Volvo 2010 Driving Success Tour kicked off in the western U.S. this month and will travel to other regions of the U.S. and Canada through summer and fall.

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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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