IN PRINT — Neat Fleet: VNR 400 fleet spec’ offers plenty

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Cash-conscious fleets are often loathe to spend extra money on extra options. Their units are seen as workhorses; the no-frills machines to focus on specific tasks. But there are still plenty of bells and whistles available in the fleet spec’ version of Volvo’s new VNR 400.

“With a regional haul truck and their drivers, how we look at it is a common workday tractor,” says Chris Stadler, product marketing manager – regional haul. “They have different needs than their long-haul counterparts … They need good visibility when they’re -operating in these conditions; they need good maneuverability.”

Volvo expects regional tractors to play an ever-increasing role in market shares, and the VNR can be spec’d for a wide range of applications, from bulk haulers to tankers, city deliveries, Less-than-Truckload operations, pickup and delivery applications, and construction work.

Regional haulers are not all limited to daily runs, though, and that’s why the VNR comes in three different models – including the VNR 300 day cab, VNR 400 with a flat-roof sleeper, and VNR 640 premium mid-roof sleeper.

One of the most striking features of all models is clearly the visibility of the surrounding road. Built with tight urban spaces in mind, the corners of the hood have been tucked in about four inches when compared to the Volvo VNM that came before it, offering an almost-cabover-like view, and the tight turns are supported with a 50-degree wheel cut. The West Coast mirror can be supplemented by bumper-mounted mirrors – both of which can be heated – while a downview mirror above the passenger door will offer a view of curbs or adjacent lanes.

The VNR 400 used for our test ride in Winston-Salem, North Carolina offered plenty of comfort inside, featuring many automotive-like upgrades compared to the old VNM that hadn’t seen a significant upgrade since 2002.

And many of the new features are anchored in electronics and related controls.

The new “position-perfect” steering wheel has become the truck’s central command center for these electronics, with 19 buttons overall. Control for the lights, cruise control and phone are on the left side, with a mute button at the ready at the lower right of the cluster. The lower left button on this cluster also offers a quick flash of courtesy lights to thank those who offer added merging space. On the other side of the steering wheel are the controls for a new Driver Information Display. Two buttons at the bottom offer a city horn, and a push at the center of the wheel offers a blast of the air horn. While the display’s three lines can be customized, most of the changes need to be made when the truck is parked, with the exception of options like switching between miles and kilometers when crossing the border.

Allison AtheyThere are clearly plenty of buttons to choose from, but Allison Athey, a member of the marketing team who previously served as a powertrain engineer, puts it into perspective: “This truck has less buttons on the steering wheel than my car.”

The positioning of the wheel plays its own role in ensuring drivers have a clear view of gauges and the display. Push a pedal right to the floor and the wheel will tilt 35 degrees and make telescopic adjustments. But push the pedal half way and the neck tilts another 20 degrees, which will be particularly helpful for shorter or taller drivers who might otherwise have the wheel obscuring their vision of things like warning lights.

Options in the information display can offer details from transmission temperatures to fuel economy targets, or even the air pressure in the axles for those who have spec’d the fuel-saving adaptive loading feature.

The color screen plays its own role in the optional lane departure system, too. Stray over a highway marking without the turn signal, and a yellow bar appears on the appropriate side of the display, along with the audible warning that drivers can also control. Hit an override switch, and the warnings can be disabled for a couple of minutes when traveling through an area like a construction zone where the lane markings are unclear.

Even the turn signal itself has been upgraded, and with a tap of the stalk will flash for about five seconds before canceling on its own, easily enough time to complete a typical lane change. A -further reminder of a planned turn comes with an arrow that lights up in the West Coast mirror.

The dash

Looking to the dash, the number of switch blanks are minimized, even in the fleet-spec’d version itself.

This particular truck didn’t come with the VNR’s new dash-mounted infotainment system, which would otherwise display everything from radio controls to maps and the video from backup cameras. But there are several other features to support those who bring their own device. The storage cubby that sits in the screen’s place offers enough room for a cell phone, keeping things like navigation information in view. A pair of USB outlets are mounted at the top of the dash, with a third in the header, and with the mid-level trim package there’s a fourth port underneath, perhaps to power something like an Electronic Logging Device that doesn’t require constant monitoring. Collectively, they could power a satellite radio, cell phone, GPS unit and more.

Switches on the dash are also in easy reach, even for the 5’6″ Athey who has what she describes as “short, T-Rex arms”. The I-Shift controls in the test truck were are mounted here, too, although a rocker can be spec’d for beside the seat. Still, many fleets opt for the dash-mounted controls to limit the temptation to play with gears that are best left to the automated system.

Up above the driver and co-driver, lights can shine in a traditional white, or even red or blue to provide less glare when reading. Speakers in the door, meanwhile, have been moved from the driver’s hips to the hinged side of the door. That offers the better sound for audiofiles, or even those who just want a clearer radio sound.

Other upgrades to the door include fingertip controls for the windows, locks and West Coast mirrors. An optional lamp next to the hinged corner will spill a blue lamp onto the floor, less likely to wake anyone in the sleeper, while a puddle light illuminates the steps and ground. Storage has been increased with deeper pockets, and the windows are all powered. Window cranks that had been an option in the VNM are no longer available.

Down below is a modular rail that holds two cupholders that can be repositioned left or right. Further options in the aftermarket can add a storage bin or ram mount to hold small electronic devices, while the gap above could hold a small tablet or Electronic Logging Device.

One of the key options comes in the form of seven seats, which can be ordered independently of trim packages. Even the base-level vinyl and fabric X1 air ride seat is fairly comfortable. But an upgrade to the X5 to X7 seats offers the added advantage of a quick release to drop closer to the floor when exiting, as well as a memory to lift everything back into place. The X4 to X7 seats can be heated, while the X6 to X7 options come ventilated. RollTek and Bose Ride options round out the upper end of these offerings.

Their orange seatbelts offer more than a nod to Volvo’s commitment to safety, too. Those monitoring a fleet yard will be able to tell at a glance if drivers are buckled up. (Black or green belts are still available as options for those who want the same view of a belt that crosses an orange safety vest.)

An added option for under the -passenger seat comes in the form of a truly refrigerated compartment, complete with temperature controls and a dedicated compressor. That will keep chilled beverages and snacks within easy reach without having to load up a cooler.

A continuing feature from Volvo are the sun visors that offset each other, eliminating the gap in between. That could present a challenge for someone who wants to mount a dash camera at the top center of the windshield, but Volvo teams say they are working on a dash-mounted unit that will hold such devices.

Rain-sensing wipers used to clear the view have been tied in with the headlights, too. And tanker haulers will appreciate the switch that quickly disables Daytime Running Lights when in a yard, but ensures the lights reactivate at a pre-set speed between 25 and 70 kilometers per hour.

It all sits inside a heavily insulated High Strength Steel Cab that is remarkably quiet, and even helps to mute the bark of the D11’s engine brake.

Looking to the front of the cab, the LED headlamps rated for a 10,000-hour lifespan face directly forward, and are not exposed at the side of the fender. Volvo believes that will help replace the units from damage.

The hood itself can be unlatched from inside the cab, and swings open fairly easily. Now that splash shields have been mounted to the hood, mechanics can also gain quicker access to many components on the hot or cold side of the engine. Those who need to get a little closer can remove the end caps on the bumper by turning just two fasteners.

The grille at the face of it all has been tucked inward when compared to the VNM, and is also said to be easy to remove and replace. But the redesign also maximizes airflow, and curved intakes on both side of the hood more seamlessly follow the truck’s lines than the squared intakes that were seen on the older models.

With only 400 miles on the test truck, it is hard to tell how it will perform in terms of fuel economy to come with the D11 XE package and a rear axle ratio of 2.85:1. At this point, it is delivering 8.5 miles per gallon, which is still pretty impressive if most of them involved pulling the trailer and a Gross Vehicle Weight of 75,000 pounds. But the VNR did improve fuel economy by a reported 1% through aerodynamics alone. By spec’ing the D11-13 engine, another 3.5% can be found.

It’s all about improving productivity and profitability alike.  









Engine: Volvo D11, XE Package

Power: 425 hp, 1550/1350 lb-ft

Transmission: 12-speed Volvo I-Shift

Wheelbase: 219-inch

Rear axle ratio: 2.85

Gross Vehicle Weight: 75,000 pounds


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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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