The MBE900 Engine from Mercedes

by Steve Sturgess

A brief test drive in a couple of Freightliner Business Class trucks showed the MBE900 to be a very willing and civilized option to the Cummins and Caterpillar power available in Freightliner’s medium-duty chassis.

Last March, Freightliner announced plans to buy up to 20,000 MBE900-series engines a year from the heavy-duty powertrain unit of its corporate parent, DaimlerChrysler AG.

The engine will be standard in all FL50, FL60, and FL70 Business Class trucks.

DaimlerChrysler-built transmissions and axles will follow, Freightliner says, creating a fully integrated powertrain.

Freightliner has six targets for its Mercedes-powered trucks: beverage delivery, food services, refuse collection, municipal utilities, tow trucks, and emergency vehicles. These are all vocational applications where a small, high-torque/low-rpm engine that’s durable, electronically controlled, and easy to mate with an automatic gearbox is desired.

The trucks available for the test drive included a somewhat abused FL 60 crew-cab truck, loaded to a 26,000-pound GVW and powered by an MBE900-280, which drove through an Allison MD3060. The other was a sweet FL 70, with the 230-horsepower MBE900 coupled to the G85 six-speed MB transmission and loaded to a GCW of 40,000 pounds, a substantial load for this relatively low-powered tractor.

Fortunately, we tested the low-powered truck first. This was a near-production unit with excellent sound insulation and cab sealing to complement the MBE900’s quiet, yet competent performance.

The lack of noise is in part due to the fully electronic-controlled, unit-pump injection system. The electronics can squirt fuel into the combustion chamber with great precision, reducing both noise and exhaust emissions so the engines are fully 1999-compliant with no exhaust aftertreatment.

The electronics also allow for tailoring of the torque curve, which peaks with a completely flat curve from 1200 rpm to 1800 rpm, before tapering off as the engine runs out to its 2300 rpm rated speed, with a further 200 rpm of governor droop. The 660 pound-feet of this engine over such a broad rpm range made it a much better performer than the eliminated horsepower would indicate. Indeed, with the 210-hp unit, Freightliner says the torque is nearly 30% higher than Navistar’s International DT-466, and 35% higher than a T-444E.

Over a varied route around Portland, Ore., we found the Business Class tractor competent, with more pickup than the diminutive 6.4-litre displacement would suggest.

The six-speed Mercedes-Benz transmission was a delight, with an ease of shifting especially in the lower ratios that was as light as a passenger car’s.

Any driver who can handle a standard shift should feel right at home with this powertrain spec. The 280-hp engine coupled to the Allison in the 26,000-pound straight truck shows what a rocket the little Business Class can be with some extra horsepower.

Shift points still had not been optimized, but the step-off of this combination was impressive and the ability to keep up with urban traffic meant it was a delight.

Freightliner is not keen to compare its MB option with existing North American drivetrains, but it is impossible not to prefer the much lower noise levels from the Mercedes-Benz engines. The transmissions will not be available for a year.

That is a great shame, as the low shifting effort and fabulous match of ratios with the torque characteristics of the MBE900 engines make the little Business Class a really easy truck to live with on a daily basis.


* Freightliner offers two displacements and several ratings for the MBE900: a 6.4-litre, in-line, 6-cylinder MBE900 engine, and a 4.3-litre, in-line 4-cylinder version (available later in the year). The 6-cylinder is rated from 190 to 300 horsepower with peak torque of 860 lb. ft. @ 1250 rpm. The 4-cylinder offers ratings from 150 to 190 hp with up to 520 lb. ft. of torque.

* The MBE900 will eventually have a couple of transmission options, as Freightliner tries to source automatics from someplace other than Allison Transmission, where product has been in short supply. Freightliner wants to mate the MBE900 with a DaimlerChrysler automatic, and it’s been stocking up on five-speed Aisin A581s, an automatic transmission made by Aisin Seiki Co. Ltd. of Japan, a Toyota subsidiary. The A581 weighs 360 pounds.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.


  • Hello,

    I am researching the purchase of a bus with the Mercedes 6 cylinder engine. It’s a 2008 with 174,000 miles.

    “fully 1999-compliant with no exhaust aftertreatment.”

    Does that mean it can run low and high sulfur diesel with out problems? Are there any issues I should look in to regarding the mileage?